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James Youngblom, longtime Central Valley professor and researcher, found dead in Yosemite National Park

Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park's high country.
Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park’s high country.
(Al Golub/Associated Press)

James Jerome Youngblom, a Cal State Stanislaus biology professor admired for his research in molecular genetics, died while hiking alone in Yosemite National Park. He was 64.

Youngblom was hiking from White Wolf to the Glen Aulin trailhead, according to park officials. His body was discovered in LeConte Falls on June 25.

The genetics professor taught at the university for nearly 31 years and served as chair of the Department of Biological Sciences. He taught genetic biotechnology courses and led undergraduate student research programs.

Youngblom was “a great department chair” and “one of the kindest people I’ve known,” David Evans, dean of the College of Science at Cal State Stanislaus, said in a statement. “He loved his job and worked incredibly hard. His focus was always on students. Our hearts go out to all [his] friends and family at this difficult time.”

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James Youngblom.
(California State University Stanislaus )

Students and peers described Youngblom as a kind, passionate educator whose dedication to teaching and his zest for being outdoors could be superseded only by his love for San Francisco Giants baseball.

“I believe his passion for biology and genetics was infectious,” Cassandra Morden, a former student said in an email. “He inspired and bolstered my love for genetics and helped me define my career path.”

As a professor, Youngblom was enthusiastic about genetics and the gene-editing tool known as CRISPR, former student Ethan Dawson said. He would often invite students to get involved in his genetic research lab, providing real-world exposure to cutting-edge technology.

He also often advocated for underserved students of color, Livier Camarena-Sanchez said. Before becoming his student, she was seeking research programs to join at the university. Because she was unable to join a federally funded program, Youngblom invited Camarena-Sanchez to join his program, which eventually landed her a position in his research lab during her senior year.

From 2011-15, Youngblom led the Central Valley Math and Science Alliance, a five-year, federally funded club at the university aimed at providing resources and aid for underprivileged STEM students like Camarena-Sanchez.

Before arriving at Cal State Stanislaus in 1990, Youngblom graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Winona State University and attended graduate school at the University of Minnesota, where he received his doctorate in cell biology.

Youngblom is survived by his wife and two children.

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Anyone who may have seen Youngblom in the area of White Wolf, Pate Valley or the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne from June 22-25 is asked to contact the National Park Service Investigative Services Branch at (888) 653-0009 or submit an online tip on its website.


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