ORG CHART: Maher Al Rwahnih at FPS, Plus Appointees to Board of Regents



  • Maher Al Rwahnih, Foundation Plant Services
  • Robert Penman, Enrollment Management
  • José M. Hernández, Board of Regents nominee
  • Priya Lakireddy, staff advisor-designate
  • Marlenee Blas Pedral, student regent-designate
  • Lucy Tseng, staff advisor to the Board of Regents
  • Alexis Atsilvsgi Zaragoza, student regent

Maher Al Rwahnih has been named the director of Foundation Plant Services where he has worked as a plant virologist and administrator for 17 years.

Maher Al Rwahnih headshot
Maher Al Rwahnih

Foundation Plant Services, or FPS, a self-supporting unit of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, produces and distributes disease-tested, true-to-identity propagation stock for grapes, strawberries, fruit trees, nut trees, olives, sweet potatoes and roses.

Al Rwahnih joined FPS as a postdoctoral research fellow in 2004. He subsequently became an academic administrator and had served since 2016 as director of the Diagnostics and Research Laboratory.

Now he is the director of all of FPS, succeeding the founding director, Deborah Golino, who retired in June after 27 years in her post.

In announcing Al Rwahnih’s appointment, FPS said his extensive work with clean stock programs and viral diseases of woody plants along with his development of advanced diagnostic tools make him uniquely suited to advance the unit’s mission.

Al Rwahnih holds a Bachelor of Science degree in plant protection from the University of Jordan, Amman; a master’s degree in plant virology from the International Center for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies in Bari, Italy; and a Ph.D. in plant virology from the University of Bari.

He pioneered the characterization of plant viruses in FPS crops such as grapevines, roses and fruit and nut trees through the application of a novel process known as high throughput sequencing, or HTS, and bioinformatics. Those advances have translated into improvements in clean stock programs for the management and eventual elimination of diseases in vineyards, orchards and fields.

Al Rwahnih has established an important and highly productive national and international research program, sharing his work and expertise developed at FPS and elsewhere. He has contributed more than 100 peer-reviewed journal publications and seven book chapters and has numerous presentations at scientific meetings to his credit. He also serves as an instructor in the UC Davis Department of Plant Pathology.

Read the complete FPS announcement.

Robert Penman headshot
Robert Penman

Robert Penman joined UC Davis on Monday (Aug. 30) as executive director of Undergraduate Outreach, Recruitment and Admissions in Enrollment Management.

He brings to his new role nearly two decades of experience in undergraduate admissions, most of that time at the University of California. He spent the last three years at Berkeley as associate director and, for the two months prior to coming to Davis, senior associate director of admissions.

He led Berkeley’s outreach and recruitment strategies and oversaw statewide, national and international recruitment to meet campus enrollment and diversity goals. One of his key accomplishments was increasing freshman and transfer applications by 28.2 and 8.5 percent, respectively, while also significantly growing the number of applications from Chicanx/Latinx, African American, first-generation college going, rural and international students. 

In his new role at UC Davis, he looks forward to supporting the university’s commitment to making a world-class education accessible to students of all backgrounds and to maintaining a diverse student body. 

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Mary Croughan announced Penman’s appointment Aug. 6, saying: “Robert’s extensive experience in all aspects of university admissions, and his proven ability to increase opportunity for historically underrepresented students, will be invaluable to UC Davis. We are very fortunate to have him join our community in this new role.”

Read the complete announcement.

Screenshot of man behind desk, smiling during webinar.
Screenshot shows José M. Hernández on a UC Riverside webinar, Feb. 17, 2021, as the guest speaker for a Chancellor’s Distinguished Lecture.

José M. Hernández has a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from UC Santa Barbara. He was a researcher, group leader and program manager at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He was a mission specialist aboard space shuttle Discovery, among other duties at NASA.

And, as of Aug. 20, the San Joaquin County resident is up for a seat on the UC Board of Regents, nominated by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Hernández is a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2012; Newsom is also a Democrat. Regent appointments are subject to Senate confirmation; appointees join the board upon confirmation. Regents receive no compensation.

Hernández worked at NASA from 2001 to 2011, as a legislative analyst, branch chief, materials research engineer and astronaut. He flew on the STS-128 mission to the International Space Station, Aug. 28 to Sept. 11, 2009.

He has been president and chief executive officer at Tierra Luna Engineering LLC since 2012. He was president of PT Strategies at PT Capital/PT Strategies from 2013 to 2016, and executive director of strategic operations at MEI Technologies Inc. from 2011 to 2012.

He is a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, the Society of Mexican American Engineers and Scientists, and the League of United Latin American Citizens.

In a statement, Board of Regents Chair Cecilia V. Estolano said she looked forward to working with Hernández “to expand UC’s affordability and accessibility for all Californians.”

“José’s personal story of perseverance, hard work and success is inspiring,” she said. “With his deep ties to California, his commitment to education, and his expertise in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, I know that Jose will be a strong advocate for the university.”

President Michael V. Drake said Hernández “exemplifies the power of a UC education.”

“His deep and diverse expertise will be a tremendous asset to the board as we work together to serve students and families across the state,” Drake added in a statement.

Read the full statements by Chair Estolano and President Drake.

Priya Lakireddy and Marlanee Blas Pedral headshots
Priya Lakireddy, left, and Marlanee Blas Pedral

Other additions to the Board of Regents: Priya Lakireddy as staff advisor-designate and Marlenee Blas Pedral as student regent-designate.


Staff advisors and student regents serve two-year terms, the first as staff advisor-designate or student regent-designate, the second as full-fledged staff advisor or student regent (the latter of whom has voting rights on the board). Here’s who moved up for 2021-22: Lucy Tseng of UCLA as staff advisor and Alexis Atsilvsgi Zaragoza, a Berkeley undergraduate, as student regent.

Lakireddy, a contract administrator in procurement services at UC Merced, said she is looking forward to sharing with the regents some of what UC staff have learned during this past year. “We come to work as caregivers, as parents, as members of our community,” she said. “Granting UC’s staff the flexibility to balance their work and home lives, when we can, will help us attract new talent and retain top contributors. We know this works.”

Mentorship is another one of Lakireddy’s passions. “UC staff members deserve every opportunity to develop and thrive — especially people who haven’t traditionally received those opportunities. I’m excited about continuing UC’s work toward becoming a truly inclusive workplace, where staff members can grow.”

Read more about Lakireddy’s appointment.

Blas Pedral, a second-year law student at UC Berkeley, is a first-generation college student who received a bachelor’s degree with honors in global studies from UC Santa Barbara and a master’s degree in higher education and administration from the University of Vermont.

She brings perspective not only as a student but as a former staff member, having been a career counselor at UC Riverside and associate director of UCR’s Center for Social Innovation.

Her priorities as student regent are to promote access to an affordable, quality education for all Californians, and to establish innovative solutions that empower students and ensure their success. She also wants to use her knowledge of UC campuses and experience as an undergraduate student, professional student and staff member to advocate for policies that will provide an inclusive campus climate for the entire UC community.

Read more about Blas Pedral’s appointment.

Media Resources

Dateline Staff: Dave Jones, editor, 530-752-6556,; Cody Kitaura, News and Media Relations specialist, 530-752-1932,

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