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As a researcher, Bernacchi pursues questions about the intersections of science, policy, and the public through quantitative and qualitative social science research methods. She is particularly interested in how the communication of scientific concepts affects public participation and natural resources management.
She brings four years of experience in research coordination and outreach to her new position as Program Director of CITRIS UC Merced, the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society. 
She joined UC Merced in 2015, as the program coordinator for the University of California Water Security and Sustainability Research Initiative. She helped develop CITRIS and UC Water's partnership with the UCTV Sustainable California channel, an online video media resource on sustainability research across the UCs. 
Hailing from Mariposa, California and with a background in agriculture and natural resources management, Leigh applies social science theory to the practice of communication. Her research interests include public understanding of science; climate change adaptation; and water, especially the Tuolumne River within Yosemite National Park where she was a naturalist ranger. She holds a PhD in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences from Texas A&M University, a MS in Environmental Humanities from the University of Utah, and a BA in Environmental Science from Willamette University.