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Graduate Peers' Schedules

Fall 2015
Peer Advisor Availability

Writing Peer
Kyle Crocco

Mon, Wed: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Funding Peer
Stephanie Griffin
Mon: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Wed: 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Fri: 9-11 a.m.

Diversity Peer
Charles Williams

Tue, Thu: 11 a.m.-1 p.m.

The peers sometimes hold events or attend meetings during their regular office hours. To assure you connect with your Graduate Peer Advisor, we encourage you to contact them by email and make an appointment.


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Graduate Student Spotlight: Tanya Das Finds Success by Starting Small

Tanya DasIt’s probably no coincidence that Tanya Das, a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in Electrical and Computer Engineering, is studying nano-optics. She’s been finding success by starting small for a long time. This strategy has allowed her to attempt new things as diverse as hip-hop dancing and science writing, while working her way toward her degree.

You could say STEM was a family tradition for Tanya. Growing up in Rochester, Michigan, she had a father with a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering, a mother with an M.S. in Computer Science, and an older sister pursuing medicine as a surgeon. So while you might not be surprised to learn Tanya went on to earn a B.S. in Electrical Engineering at the University of Michigan, you might raise an eyebrow to find out she became a published poet at the same time.

Tanya, as I came to learn, had a variety of interests both in and out of academia. We sat down in the Graduate Student Resource Center to talk about her research in nano-optics, one of the best places to get cupcakes in Santa Barbara, and how starting small can lead to bigger success.

Let’s start with your research. How would you best describe your research to someone in an elevator who wasn’t in your field?

I study how light interacts with nano-scale objects. Most of the previous research in this field has been on how changing the properties of the object affects the interaction. Instead, I look at how changing the properties of the light affects the interaction, specifically the light polarization, or the direction of the electric field. 

You’ve been in school five years now. What advice would you give to a new graduate student?

Grad Spotlight logoGrad school is pretty straightforward when you start: you take classes, there are lectures, homework, and exams, so lots of structure. But the moment you finish classes, things become completely open-ended. That’s when it’s important to impose your own structure on your schedule. You need to identify what your specific research goals are and then break them down into small, manageable steps in order to make progress. Without this, it’s very difficult to get anywhere in your research.

You seem to have a lot of extracurricular interests (e.g., poetry, dancing). Can you tell me about them and also how you manage to structure your schedule to pursue them and graduate school?

I’ve always been a very curious person. In undergrad, I took film, creative writing, and religious studies classes. In grad school, I’ve taken hip-hop and dance classes and I’m taking an acting class right now. For me, the best way to manage my time is to start really small.

For example, I once thought I wanted to be a science writer. At a conference where I was presenting a talk on my research, there happened to be a science writing workshop, so I gave it a try. I got to learn about techniques of science writing, and I also volunteered as a science reporter at that conference and wrote brief news articles on the scientific talks being given. I got a small taste of what it might mean to be a science writer, and even though it was only for a few days, the experience helped me hone my personal and career goals.

So basically, I like to explore things in small ways. When I discover something I like, I dig deeper. That way, I make the most of my time that I spend outside of research.

How do you relax from all your structure?

Tanya BreakfastCulinary adventure in cooking breakfast. Credit: Tanya DasI really enjoy reading. I’ve recently gotten into nonfiction and I’ve been going through all of Atul Gawande’s books. He’s a surgeon at a hospital in Boston and I’m currently reading his book called “Complications.” I feel like I’m learning secrets about my sister’s life by reading it. And I really enjoy cooking. I’ve tried all kinds of dishes. I enjoy making complicated things from scratch, like pizza, samosas, and fresh pasta. I love the process of cooking because it’s fun and creative. And at the end you get something delicious to eat, unlike research, where you might get one small result after months of hard work that you can’t eat.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

When I’m feeling really down, I treat myself to sushi, cupcakes, and the Gilmore girls. I especially like Enjoy Cupcakes at the Santa Barbara Public Market. They have a variety of really good mini-cupcakes in interesting flavors

What’s in high rotation on your playlist these days?

I’ve been listening to the NPR Tiny Desk Concert series. One performer I discovered through them is Sylvan Esso. They do electronic stuff with a good beat but with soft vocals on top.

Who helped shape who you are today? 

Friends at danceTanya and her best friends at the junior year homecoming dance. Photo courtesy of Tanya DasWhen I was in middle school I fell into this group of five friends. We grew up together and have stayed incredibly close over the years. They are my best friends in the world, but we do completely different things. One friend recently started her own company to guide actors in building their careers, one is an ESL teacher, one is a medical writer, one works for the Boy Scouts of America, and another works in the radio business.

They are all incredibly kind, curious, and passionate people. They’ve kept and continue to keep me grounded and have opened up my mind to so many things outside of engineering and science. I’m better for them.

What would people be most surprised to know about you? 

When I was in college, I won third place in a poetry contest. I was completely mortified when the poems were published with my name because they were supposed to be published anonymously. In the long run, it turned out well, as it forced me way out of my comfort zone and to own up to my identity as a writer.


Zion ParkTanya at the top of Angel's Landing with some college friends on a camping trip at Zion National Park. Photo courtesy of Tanya Das

What is your biggest accomplishment in life and why?  

During my fourth year of graduate school, I decided I wanted to get involved in some meaningful volunteering, and in particular, something outside of science because I felt I wasn’t giving enough value to my interest in writing at the time. I contacted a volunteer coordinator at Partners in Education, a Santa Barbara nonprofit that coordinates many volunteer efforts in Santa Barbara County, and she helped set me up a weekly poetry workshop at the local juvenile probation center in Goleta. I started completely from scratch with the poetry workshop and made up my own structure, lesson plans, and rules. 

SnowmanTanya making a snowman named "Francois" in Michigan. Photo courtesy of Tanya DasNervous barely captures my level of fear when I arrived at the center for my first workshop. I wasn’t sure how the kids I was working with would respond. I was afraid they would be rude, dismissive, and extremely uninterested, but they turned out to be the complete opposite. 

I had to stop after a few months because I didn’t have the time to balance research, classes, and a weekly poetry workshop, as it was pretty taxing. But it is something I hope to return to later if I get the time, and something I am proud of myself for pulling off.

What do you hope to be doing 5 or 10 years out of graduate school?

I’m interested in careers outside of academia relating to science policy, science education, and generally bridging the gap between science and society. When people hear I’m an engineer, they always say, “That’s hard,” and it really bothers me that science has this elitist status with the general public. I want to change that by making science a level playing field, and convince people that anybody can understand science. 

My immediate goal after graduate school is to pursue a position in a science policy fellowship. I feel that there are not enough scientists contributing their expertise to positions outside of science. 


California Forum for Diversity in Graduate Education a Huge Success at UCSB

About 1,300 students attended the California Forum for Diversity in Graduate Education and its accompanying recruitment fair on UC Santa Barbara's Sciences Lawn. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

On Saturday, November 7, thousands descended upon the UC Santa Barbara campus as the university hosted the biannual California Forum for Diversity in Graduate Education. About 220 private and public universities from throughout the nation joined more than 1,000 undergraduate and master's students in an all-day event designed to recruit students from underrepresented backgrounds (low-income, first-generation college students; and African-American, American Indian, Latino, Filipino, Pacific Islander, and Asian American students in non-professional degree programs) to doctoral-level study. The majority of the student participants in the Forum, now in its 25th year, were members of the University of California and California State University system.

Recruiters from Mills College, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, and Kansas State University speak with students about graduate education opportunities on their campuses. Credit: Patricia MarroquinAfter a welcome by UCSB Graduate Division Dean Carol Genetti, UC Santa Barbara Chancellor Henry T. Yang kicked off the plenary session, held on the Sciences Lawn, with his own welcome and a personal testimony of the importance of diversity in graduate education. Following Chancellor Yang was keynote speaker Dr. Victor Rios. Dr. Rios provided a riveting account of his rise from a marginalized graduate student at UC Berkeley to his current position of full professor and educational ambassador to the White House. Rios emphasized the importance of perseverance in the face of adversity and the trend in higher education to diversify both student and faculty populations – a trend that students in attendance were encouraged to take advantage of by pursuing a graduate education.

Following the morning plenary session, students attended informational workshops held in nearby classrooms. Topics included how to finance graduate education; how to write a winning statement of purpose; demystifying the GRE; the relationship of the master’s degree to the Ph.D.; how to prepare for the GRE; and the role of undergraduate research in graduate admissions.

The main event of the day was the recruiter fair held from noon to 3 p.m., also on the Sciences Lawn. This is where all 215 universities set up tables with representatives to promote and share information on graduate programs to potential students.

Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my! Actually, nothing scary here. These are just some of the college and university mascots and freebies displayed at recruiter booths at the California Forum for Diversity in Graduate Education on Nov. 7 at UC Santa Barbara. Credit: Patricia MarroquinAdditional workshop sessions on the aforementioned topics were held in the afternoon for students interested in attending more than one session. The Forum concluded with discipline-based workshops. Disciplines included social sciences, engineering and computer science, behavioral science, physical sciences and math, business and management, life science, education, health and human services, fine arts, and humanities.

Several students from UCSB's McNair Scholars Program participated in the recruiter fair alongside visiting students from across California. They spoke of the importance of the Forum to them.

“The Forum provided the route for me to explore my future," said Buki Akinyemi, UCSB McNair Junior Scholar and a biopsychology major. "Talking to different graduate program reps about their experiences in grad school and struggles to success made me want to achieve that high level as well. The future is looking pretty promising as the faces of higher ed are changing to look more like me.”

Joshua Hudson, UCSB McNair Junior Scholar and a Sociology and Global Studies double major, also praised the Forum: “The Diversity Forum impacted me a lot because it showed me that people from underrepresented communities – including myself – have the opportunity to go further into higher education and make a difference in academia.”

UC Irvine Ph.D. students, from left, Sean Drake and Soledad Mochel, spoke about the keys to success and survival in graduate school during a Forum workshop. Credit: Patricia MarroquinFor Victoria Melgarejo, UCSB McNair Junior Scholar and a Linguistics and Spanish double major, the event "made me realize how important it is for students of color to be represented, not only in graduate school, but later in academia.”

And Ema Angeles, a UCSB McNair Junior Scholar and Anthropology major, called the Forum "a great experience that helped me answer questions, meet with graduate schools, and feel prepared to move onto the next step in my education. It was great to realize the diversity that is about to enter academia.”

A large event of this magnitude required support from university leadership. Chancellor Yang, the UCSB Graduate Division, and McNair Scholars Program were key in the coordination and implementation of the Diversity Forum. In addition to university leadership, more than 150 UCSB student volunteers helped with various logistical issues during the day. The Graduate Division would like to give a special thanks to these volunteers, who helped to make the event a success. For a snapshot of the day's events, view the video below.

“The Forum provided the route for me to explore my future. Talking to different graduate program reps about their experiences in grad school and struggles to success made me want to achieve that high level as well. The future is looking pretty promising as the faces of higher ed are changing to look more like me.”
– Buki Akinyemi, UCSB McNair Junior Scholar and a biopsychology major



Shawn Warner-Garcia Named Professional Development Program Coordinator for UCSB Graduate Division

Shawn Warner-GarciaShawn Warner-Garcia, previously the GradPost’s and Graduate Student Resource Center’s Professional Development Peer Advisor, has been named Professional Development Program Coordinator for the UCSB Graduate Division.

Warner-Garcia, a linguist by trade who has worked for many years in job training and program management, is a Ph.D. candidate in the Linguistics Department. Her research focuses on the discourses of sexual ethics among Baptists in America.

Warner-Garcia joined the Graduate Student Resource Center as Professional Development Peer Advisor in the summer of 2014. In that role, reporting to Graduate Division Director of Graduate Student Professional Development Robert Hamm, she provided support for large events such as the New Graduate Student Orientation, fall fellowship receptions, the Grad Slam, and the Beyond Academia conference. She has also offered workshops of her own (writing CVs and cover letters, the Versatile Ph.D., and maintaining one’s digital reputation) and conducted one-on-one advising. She has worked with Academic Services Director Rickie Smith on the quarterly dissertation and thesis filing workshops and helped Director of Admissions and Outreach Walter Boggan with his summer research scholars.

Shawn Warner-Garcia presents a workshop to summer scholars in July 2015. Credit: Patricia Marroquin“Shawn does a lot for the Graduate Division and our students,” said Hamm. “I have no doubt that she will be instrumental in growing the services and trainings we offer through the Graduate Student Resource Center.”

As the Professional Development Program Coordinator, Warner-Garcia will continue to provide workshops and advising to help graduate students identify and achieve their professional goals. She will also continue to report to Dr. Hamm.

“I hope to continue and expand professional development programming for graduate students,” she said. “There are three areas that I am particularly committed to: (1) ensuring that graduate students feel supported and prepared to pursue a variety of career options after graduate school; (2) improving the visibility and accessibility of the Graduate Division’s professional development resources to graduate students; and (3) expanding resources available for targeted populations of graduate students, including new students, student parents, and underrepresented students.”

Shawn Warner-Garcia, right, attended a fall fellowship reception in October 2015 with colleagues Don Lubach, Associate Dean of Students, and Lana Smith-Hale, Graduate Career Consultant. Credit: Patricia MarroquinWarner-Garcia says she has learned a lot in her previous role, and looks forward to future opportunities that her new role affords. “Working at the Graduate Division, first as a student employee and now as a staff person, has already opened up a lot of doors for me,” she said. “I’ve learned so much about the administrative side of the university, and I’ve been able to develop skills in event management, advising, marketing, and many other areas that will serve me well within or outside of academia. Plus, getting to work with graduate students is immensely rewarding because I get to know some truly brilliant individuals and hopefully play a small part in helping them find success and fulfillment both in grad school and afterward.”

Warner-Garcia, her husband Jonathan, and 2-year-old son Austin have lived in Storke Family Student Housing for the last two and a half years. “It has been an amazingly supportive community for us!” she said. “We have made great friends and have been integrated into the campus and surrounding community in really enriching ways.”

She holds a bachelor’s degree in Language and Linguistics from Baylor University and a master’s degree in Linguistics from the University of Texas at Austin. Warner-Garcia has worked as a job training specialist at Goodwill and as the program coordinator for the SKILLS academic outreach program at UCSB. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her husband and son, reading, traveling, and watching football.

“One of my favorite things about working in the university administration is the camaraderie and collaboration,” Warner-Garcia says. “There is a growing groundswell of support for graduate students across the UCSB campus, and lots of people are brainstorming to find new and better ways to help graduate students. I’m really looking forward to being a part of that movement.”

You may contact Warner-Garcia via email at or phone, 805-893-4649. For more information on graduate student professional development, view the Graduate Division’s Career and Professional Development page.


Graduate Alumnus in the Spotlight: Museum Curator Michael Darling Is a ‘Rock Star’ in Chicago

Dr. Michael Darling at the "David Bowie Is" exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 2014.Michael Darling believes that graduate students should take control of their destinies and “make things happen rather than waiting for an opportunity to fall into their lap.” Throughout his life, this Art and Architectural History M.A. (1992) and Ph.D. (1997) alumnus of UC Santa Barbara has adhered to this philosophy, doing what he could to make himself stand out.

And stand out he has. Dr. Darling, 47, is the James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Chicago, a role he has held since July 2010. The Chicago Tribune listed him among “Chicagoans of the Year 2014,” calling Darling a “rock star” for taking a gamble and securing the highly successful “David Bowie Is” exhibition for its only U.S. stop. Chicago magazine followed up in 2015, placing Darling at No. 93 on “The Power 100,” its list of Chicagoans who have the most clout. “Snagging the blockbuster” Bowie retrospective, the magazine said, is “a testament to this curator’s international reputation.” Darling shared the Power 100 list with luminaries such as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and filmmaker/philanthropist George Lucas.

Far from the Windy City and his future rock star persona, Darling grew up in the Los Angeles County coastal city of Long Beach. Michael was artistically inclined but “never very talented from a technical standpoint,” he said, and his “true epiphany” came in middle school when he came across Picasso and Kandinsky in a textbook. He and his parents and two younger brothers enjoyed water-based activities of all kinds, including boating, surfing, and water skiing; and Michael competed on his high school’s water polo and swim teams. With relatives living in Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez, Michael and his family spent a lot of time in the Santa Barbara area even before he came to grad school at UCSB.

Michael Darling, right, and friend Joe Scott took to the waves in San Onofre in the early 1990s. “Checking out the waves at Rincon on the way up was always a milestone on those road trips!” he recalled.

Stanford University, taking notice of his water polo talents, recruited him to play there. So Darling and three other close friends who were water polo and swimming standouts headed to Palo Alto for their undergraduate studies.

Darling earned his bachelor’s degree in Art History from Stanford in 1990. He wanted to pursue a graduate degree, but didn’t know exactly what area of art history to study.

“My interests were quite wide and varied,” Darling recalled. “UCSB had one of the most diverse and large art history faculties around at that time, with professors teaching in many different disciplines, so that was attractive to me and even suggested by one of my art history advisors at Stanford. It was also the era of multiculturalism, so I was exploring and getting to understand that at the time as well, which made UCSB a good fit.”

Darling’s doctoral dissertation at UCSB was on the furniture of 20th century American designer George Nelson.

“I was going around to a lot of rummage sales and garage sales in Santa Barbara during those days, and discovering mid-century furniture (Montecito was a fabulous hunting ground for this material). ... At the time there was very little on George Nelson, who was a contemporary of Charles and Ray Eames. I felt I could fill a void in that area by writing on Nelson, and luckily I had two advisors, David Gebhard and C. Edson Armi, who did not feel that furniture design was an inferior art and that it was worthy of scholarly study.”

Narrowing his research, Darling decided to “focus on the work that George Nelson did with domestic spaces, which coincided with a modernizing of the American home after World War II and was a pretty fascinating sociological period as well.”

During the time of his graduate studies and shortly thereafter, Darling worked in many art-related roles: security guard at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art; researcher at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles; and even an art critic, first for small art magazines, then for Santa Barbara publications, and eventually gaining his own columns in the L.A. Reader and L.A. Weekly.

Darling said he loved critiquing art, one of his extracurricular activities while a grad student at UCSB. “As a critic with a byline, I felt like a full contributor to culture. I saw an ad in this little West Coast magazine called ArtWeek and I sent in a few of my grad school essays. After writing several columns there, I sent my tear sheets to the Santa Barbara Independent and magazines like Flash Art and Art Issues, and then things started taking off. It wasn’t a lot of extra work. I was interested in exhibitions happening in Santa Barbara and L.A., and it was a way to engage with them. It was weird being a critic, and sometimes uncomfortable, and I even got hate mail, once getting mean posters put up all over Santa Barbara about me!”

Darling ended up working for eight years at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), where he was Associate Curator. From that job, he moved to Seattle, where he served as the Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) from 2006 to 2010, before heading to Chicago’s MCA. He and his sons Max, 16, and Theo, 11, live in Evanston, Illinois.

In an interview, we learned more about this multifaceted man. He talked about his appreciation for libraries; the importance of internships; what he likes most and least about his job; the value of a Ph.D.; and more.

What was graduate student life like for you at UCSB? What kind of a student were you here, and how did you manage a work-life balance while in grad school?

I was able to primarily concentrate on my studies during my time at UCSB, so I remember spending a lot of time in the library, which has really served me well in my subsequent career. It was a true luxury to work in a good art library where I could just pull books off the shelf at random and explore. That broadened my knowledge base a lot and I find that I have a wider frame of view on art than many of my peers because of this freedom. I have always been good, however, at maintaining a balance between work (or school) and my personal life and was able to find plenty of time to be with friends or be in nature or see movies during that period, which I did a lot. I also met my wife during my first few days of school at UCSB (she was also an art history grad student) so it was an important time for me personally too. I like to think I was a serious student, but I must say that I also always had one eye on life beyond school, so I was doing extracurricular things when I was in Santa Barbara such as writing art criticism. I was also curating independently at places like the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum [today the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara] and a little independent space in Santa Barbara called Spanish Box. I think I knew at the time that my degree was just one aspect of my professional development and I needed to work on other things at the same time if I wanted to find my way into a museum job.

What was your first job out of graduate school?

I got a job working as a security guard at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art after I finished my master’s and before I started on my Ph.D. I wanted to make sure I knew what I wanted to concentrate on before I started so I could be focused. It was an important job for realizing the various layers to a museum, both from an organizational standpoint and from a visitor standpoint. Most guards in museums are very interesting and accomplished people but perhaps are working in creative fields where it is a way of putting food on the table and allowing them to pursue other less lucrative passions but still working in an artistic environment. But when I was really done with school, post-Ph.D., I got a job as a researcher at the Museum of Contemporary Art in L.A. I had wanted to work there since I was an undergrad and it was like the holy grail. I went against my personality type (at the time) and went up to a MOCA curator at an art opening and introduced myself and told her I admired her work. I think I asked if I could take her for coffee some time and learn more about how she was able to do what she did. That led to her offering me a part-time position, which grew and grew into an eight-year run at MOCA. That experience has led me to offer similar advice to other aspiring curators to approach the people they admire and ask for help or advice.

Before you graduated from Stanford, you did summer museum internships in Long Beach. It was there that you discovered the job of “curator,” a job you hadn’t known existed. What did you do in those internships, and would you recommend that grad students do them as a way to explore career options?

Yes, I think internships are important windows onto potential future job options. I did research and worked with artists and thought it was the best job in the world to think about art all day. I see internships here at the MCA leading to real jobs all the time, and in a way my research position at MOCA was just the same, a foot in the door and an opportunity to prove yourself.

Curator Michael Darling at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.Describe your current job.

I am in charge of all programming at the museum, which ranges from exhibitions to talks and performances. Of course, I have amazing people working for me who help create these things and I don’t do it all myself, but it is fun to have a hand in shaping the overall tenor of the program. I also oversee the growth of the museum’s collection and personally curate exhibitions too. It involves a lot of coordination between departments and keeping on top of projects happening simultaneously, from logistics to visionary things and also fundraising to support the programs. It is an extremely busy job, but very rewarding too. I also travel a lot to see art all over the world, as I feel I am expected to be on top of all kinds of developments occurring all over. I try to keep a normal day to 9-5, but it is a pretty social position and there are often dinners and lectures and events I need to go to in a given week.

What exactly does a “museum curator” do?

The basic job is organizing exhibitions. But that also includes writing the books that go with them, writing grants that support them, asking for money from patrons to fund them, writing the interpretive materials that explain them, and doing interviews and tours that help to bring them to life.

What do you like most about your job and what do you like least?

I like the travel the most because I learn so much and find time to think more expansively, but I also like travel the least because I fall behind on email and miss my family and it can be quite lonely at times.

You grew up in California, moved to Seattle, and now live in the Chicago area. How important is it for students to be open and willing to move away for their career?

I think it is important to get different experiences and perspectives, both in an academic and a work environment. I know it has been really beneficial for me to consider how art works in such different contexts and also how different each of the museums I have worked in are. On the other hand, I do worry about the loss of depth of connections that results from moving around. I don’t feel I got to know Seattle and its community as much as I did L.A. from only being there four years, and as a result, I don’t think I was able to contribute as much as I would have liked.

Do you have any advice for graduate students while they are in school? 

One thing I see when I am hiring people, especially for entry-level positions or fellowships, is that the competition is really fierce and a lot of people have the same degrees. I often look to see what self-directed work the candidate has done in their field, where they are showing that they are trying to take control of their destiny and make things happen rather than waiting for an opportunity to fall into their lap. I guess I base that on what I was able to do to make myself stand out but it also bespeaks a desire and commitment that makes me want to hire them.

Do you have any advice for graduate students as they explore career options and/or do job interviews?

I think sensing someone’s passion and curiosity is a very persuasive thing to find in an interview and having a broad world-view that shows you are a well-rounded person. Read the newspaper every day! Or better yet, multiple newspapers!

How do you think your doctoral studies prepared you for your non-academic career? What skills, knowledge, and education gained in graduate school have helped you throughout your career?

When I started at MOCA, I was the only person in the whole building with a Ph.D. It seemed like overkill, but it did help my resume stand out. When I went to the Seattle Art Museum, a few curators had Ph.D.’s, but it was still unusual, and when I came to the MCA I was again the only person in the whole building with a Ph.D., but that has since changed and now there are several people here with them. The field is changing and the competition is such that a Ph.D. helps you to stand out in a sea of M.A.s. We have Ph.D.s here at the MCA who edit books and who devise interpretation strategies and who do archival research, so there are jobs beyond curating where it is applicable. I know that all that time I spent in the stacks, which only a Ph.D. can provide, has given me a breadth and depth of knowledge that can’t be matched by an M.A. in museum studies.

Do you have any suggestions for the UCSB educational system (or universities in general) on how to better prepare our grad students for careers?

Michael Darling with octogenarian Mexican contemporary artist Eduardo Terrazas in Mexico City in February 2015.I haven’t been too close to the university system in a long time, but I do sense that the attitude that Ph.D.s were only to pursue academic work has loosened considerably. I felt I had to keep my museum interests as a dirty little secret. I’m sure a lot of that has to do with the changing nature of tenure and employment in academia and the growing number of grads who want to put their degrees to use. I think being open to the various applications of a grad degree is something that would be good for universities to consider and would ultimately lead to a wider impact for their respective fields.

What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishments and/or something you are the most proud of professionally and personally?

Personally, it is being a father; professionally, it may be the Isa “Genzken Retrospective” I organized for the MCA and with MOMA New York and the Dallas Museum of Art, or the “Target Practice: Painting Under Attack 1949-78” exhibition I did at the Seattle Art Museum.

You were written about a lot when you secured the Bowie exhibition (which ran through January 4, 2015). Can you briefly discuss this and how it came about?

We just hit it at the right time, and picked the right project. I heard about it and contacted the V&A [Victoria and Albert Museum] in London and as it turned out we were the first American museum to approach them and they didn’t have much of a tour at all. I negotiated that we would be the first American venue and it turned out we were the only American venue and then our team here made the most of that. It looked like a big coup but it was a pretty banal transaction. It ended up being the most well-attended show in MCA history, drawing 200,000 people.

Who has been and/or is a hero, mentor, role model, or inspiration to you?

I have had a lot of great female curator role models that have given me big breaks in my career, including Josine Ianco-Starrels for my first internship, Elizabeth Smith for giving me a chance at MOCA, Mimi Gates for hiring me in Seattle, and then Madeleine Grynsztejn for tapping me to come to the MCA. All have been enormously influential on me. Paul Schimmel at MOCA is another one, however, who I learned a lot from and who I think about a lot as an example.

What do you do for fun and relaxation?

Michael Darling enjoyed scuba diving in Kauai, Hawaii, in June 2015.I love the water, and here in the Chicago area love to go to the beach at Lake Michigan. I have been trying to sail on the lake as much as possible. I also like food a lot and exploring new restaurants and cuisines. I do both with my kids, which is a lot of fun.

What is something very few people know about you or that would surprise people about you?

That I have a secret passion and growing knowledge about vintage Italian sports cars, even though I don’t own one myself.

What’s on your bucket list of things to do that you haven’t done?

I’d like to check off more countries in the world to travel to. Travel is one of my favorite things. ... On a quick count, I think I have been to 22 countries. Strangely, I have never been to Portugal, which I would like to see, and I think it is about time I find a way to visit South Korea, India, and Vietnam.


More on Dr. Michael Darling:

Fear No Art Chicago’s video interview with Dr. Michael Darling, 2011

Q&A: Michael Darling talks about curating “David Bowie Is,” TimeOut Chicago

New Curator Is Chosen for MCA, New York Times


Check Out the Graduate Division's New Career and Professional Development Pages

The Graduate Division has recently revamped its Career and Professional Development web pages, and there are now even more resources and information to help you identify and pursue your professional goals.

Headlining the new Career and Professional Development section is the Graduate Student Resource Center, where you can find out about the programming and support available to you to help you succeed in grad school.

Click above to check out the new home page for Career and Professional Development

The new section also houses eight topical pages that feature on-campus and external resources. Click on an icon below to explore more about that page.



Graduate Student in the Spotlight: Alex Kulick on Community, Autonomy, and Activism

"Grad school is 'real life,' and our happiness, fulfillment, and health during graduate school are just as important as the long-term gains we can attain from our studies and work."

Alex KulickThis is the advice that Alex Kulick, a second-year Ph.D. student in UCSB's Sociology Department, says he would give to fellow graduate students. Alex, a native of Michigan, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Women's Studies from the University of Michigan and now serves as the graduate assistant at UCSB's Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity. He sat down with us to answer some questions about his community-based research, his biggest challenge in grad school, and who his hero is.

Tell us a little about your childhood and upbringing.

I grew up living with my parents and brother, and I was connected to a supportive and loving extended family and community. Growing up as a queer young person certainly posed some challenges for me – especially socially – but after coming out in high school, I was lucky enough to find a strong LGBTQ community through a local community-based teen center.

Is there any particular event that had a big impact or influence on you and helped shape who you are today?

The process of coming out as queer has been hugely influential on my life, values, and work. While the process of self-discovery and self-expression has certainly been important within this, I think that it’s been more so the strength, diversity, compassion, and love of LGBTQ communities into which I have grown and developed. This has been the most key in helping me to critically examine and improve my relationships with myself, others, and the communities in which I live.

Tell us a little about your research and how you came to choose the topic.

My research focuses on processes, potentials, and challenges of collective social change efforts, with a particular emphasis on the leadership and strengths of queer and LGBT communities. I am currently working on a few different projects: one is examining the discursive strategies used in same-sex marriage advocacy; the second is examining the experiences of LGBTQ college students nationwide; and the third is documenting and analyzing the creative strategies of queer youth advocates in Michigan. This work has grown from my experiences as an activist and organizer with LGBTQ communities, including my belief in and commitment to the mutually beneficial relationships among academics, intellectuals, organizers, and activists.

Alex, second from right, presented research findings with queer youth leaders at a social work conference in Chicago.What has graduate student life been like for you?

Grad school has been full of surprises! Going from working full time in southeast Michigan to living and being a graduate student in Santa Barbara has been a culture shock in more ways than one. While this has certainly been trying at times, it has also allowed me to put in the time and work into readjusting my expectations for work, school, life, and – of course – balance.

What do you wish you had known before you started grad school? What do you like most about grad school and what do you like least?

I think the biggest surprise and challenge of graduate school has been a combination of learning to pace myself and developing strategies to sustain a healthy and fulfilling life while being a graduate student. Although I knew going in that grad school would be a place of intellectual challenges and professional growth, I was less prepared for the emotional, mental, and physical adjustments it would take.

I am incredibly grateful for the amount of autonomy and independence I have as a grad student, both in shaping the trajectory of my graduate studies, as well as in day-to-day life.

On the flip side, the ambiguity and lack of structure that comes with this autonomy is also my least favorite part of navigating grad life.

What has been a source of motivation or drive for you in your graduate studies?

The strAlex, center, spoke at a University of Michigan community forum to address violence, incarceration, and the use of the death penalty.ongest source of motivation and drive have been my connections to family, community, and work outside of graduate school and academic life. The relationships I have in these spaces are really key in holding me accountable to the enormous privilege that being a graduate student affords. As well, these connections also help me continually feel grounded in the applications and implications of my research and writing.

Who is your hero and why?

One of my many (s)heroes is Adrienne Rich, the lesbian feminist poet and theorist. In particular, I love this passage from the convocation address she gave at Douglass College in 1977:

“Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work. ... It means that we insist on a life of meaningful work, insist that work be as meaningful as love and friendship in our lives. It means, therefore, the courage to be ‘different’; not to be continuously available to others when we need time for ourselves and our work; to be able to demand of others – parents, friends, roommates, teachers, lovers, husbands, children – that they respect our sense of purpose and our integrity as persons.”

As well, I feel lucky and blessed to have a number of different mentors and co-mentors with whom I’m able to be vulnerable with my work, professional development, goals, dreams, strengths, and challenges. It’s been especially helpful for me to reach out to my peers, including other grad students, as co-mentors as we go through this journey together.

Alex introduced Dr. Angela Davis with other student activists at the University of Michigan.Name an accomplishment you are most proud of and why.

I think the accomplishment that I’ve been most proud and excited about recently has been learning to travel alone. Although embarking on journeys by myself is often scary, I’ve found that learning to be independent in this process of setting out has opened me up to a whole new set of experiences and people that I’m eternally grateful for. 

What are your favorite hobbies?

One of the great joys of my life is taking long drives, despite the ever-present guilt from the feeling of wasting time, money, and gas. I’ve also recently begun a meditation practice, which has immeasurably helped me cultivate a sense of peaceful, calm determination. And of course, Netflix. My favorite shows include (but are certainly not limited to) "Gilmore Girls," "Parks and Rec," "Steven Universe," and "Avatar: The Last Airbender."

What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

I’ve seen every episode of "Malcolm in the Middle" and "Roseanne."

What do you hope to be doing 5 or 10 years out of graduate school?

Following graduate school, I am hoping to be working in a position that enables me to engage with and balance research and writing, community work, teaching, and organizing. Although this setup could be ideally located in a university setting, I could also see myself doing non-profit work, consulting, and/or some combination of part-time work.

Alex, in back row middle, poses with the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity staff.


Grad Student in the Spotlight: Stephanie Griffin on the Peace Corps, Food Security, and 'Brennies'

Stephanie Griffin. Photo courtesy of Stephanie GriffinStephanie Griffin is proof that graduate school can be a positive, fulfilling, and career-changing experience. A second-year Bren School of Environmental Science & Management student, Stephanie has also recently been hired as the Graduate Division's new Funding Peer.

Stephanie received her bachelor's degree in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland. She will graduate this June with her master's degree from the Bren School, focusing on Water Resources Management. Below she shares her unique experiences abroad and how those experiences brought her to study at UCSB.

Where did you grow up? Tell us a little about your family and childhood.

I moved around a lot as a kid (including several towns in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Texas, and Pennsylvania, all before I was 10 years old), although I'd say I grew up in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. I'm the oldest of four children, and my parents, siblings, and I live all over the world now. My brother's in a Ph.D. program at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, my sister is a chemist in Pittsburgh, and my parents and youngest sister recently moved to Mumbai!

Is there any particular event that had a big impact or influence on you and helped shape who you are today?

Probably the biggest influence on me today is my service as a Peace Corps volunteer. Just after graduating from college, I left to serve as an environmental education volunteer in Mali. Unfortunately, after about six months, there was a military coup d'etat and a secessionist war in the country, and Peace Corps Mali was evacuated. I finished the remaining 20 months of my service in Senegal as an agroforestry volunteer.

My experiences living and working with subsistence farmers in West Africa really drove my passion for sustainable natural resource management. Not only did this shape my academic/professional focus, but my life as well; integrating myself into another culture and living off the land for over two years was an incredibly humbling and educational experience.

Tell us a little about your research and how you came to choose the topic.

My Bren Master's Group Project is investigating sustainable water supply sources for the south coast of Santa Barbara County (think, Goleta down to Carpinteria). We're looking at relative cost (financial and environmental), longevity, and efficiency of several potential supply sources. We're hoping our project will be able to provide local actors with useful tools for decision-making when it comes to determining water sources, rates, and conservation. 

Stephanie, right, at the Santa Barbara Polo Club with UCSB grad students Melissa Maggass, left, and Tiawna Cayton, center. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Griffin

What has graduate student life been like for you?

Very busy! After having been out of school for a few years, I definitely miss having a regular paycheck and legitimately free weekends, but it's nice to have more flexibility in my daily schedule. I love the ability to take many classes and enjoy access to the UCSB resources here.

What do you like most about grad school and what do you like least?

Most: my peers. Being in an environment with others who are similarly passionate about learning about environmental science and sustainability is great. We all come from very different educational, professional, and social backgrounds, and I'm learning a lot from them. "Brennies" are pretty cool.

Least: feeling as if there are never enough hours in the day. Also, why don't we have a football team?

What has been a source of motivation or drive for you in your graduate studies?

One benefit of returning to school after some work experience is knowing which skills are truly valuable in the workplace. I'm taking advantage of the technical courses and workshops offered here, to compensate for my policy-heavy undergraduate curriculum.

​Who are your heroes or mentors and why?

Some of my heroes are leaders in international development and sustainability: Norman BorlaugPaul Farmer, Wangari Maathai. These, among others, were/are amazing innovators working relentlessly toward mitigating huge humanitarian issues. Reading some of their work as an undergraduate is what sparked my interest in international work and food security.

Bren classmates at an Environmental Defense Fund training in Chicago last May. From left, Hyemin Park, Mike Millstein, Stephanie Griffin, Erin Williamson. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Griffin

Name an accomplishment you are most proud of and why.

Learning the local language (Pulaar) of my village in Senegal! Because I was abruptly transferred there from Mali, I didn't go through training again – but that meant I also didn't get a language tutor. I was largely self-taught using the few Pulaar books available to me and starting random conversations with people. It was one of the most frustrating things I've ever done.

What do you do to relax?

I love any time outside. On weekends (and if I have time during the week), I go for long runs and spend time on the beach.

What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

I'm a band geek! I was the drum major in my high school's band, then joined the marching band at the University of Maryland. 

What do you hope to be doing five years out of graduate school?

Working for either a firm or in policy, working on natural resource management. Ideally, I'd be in a position actively promoting food security. 

Stephanie bouldering in Santa Barbara with other "Brennies" from the Bren School. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Griffin

Explain what you do in your role as Funding Peer Advisor. 

As Funding Peer Advisor, I provide both workshops/presentations and one-on-one advising for graduate students looking to finance their education or research. I show fellow grad students some campus resources for both personal and academic financial needs, as well as excellent extramural resources and databases to help them continue their searches.

What are your goals as Funding Peer Advisor?

The peer advisors in this position before me did a great job of reaching out to different departments and compiling really useful information on funding resources. I'd like to continue their awesome work, as well as expand into greater personal finance literacy (e.g., budgeting, how to save money while a student in Santa Barbara) and understanding finances beyond grad school, for example 401(k) plans.

Do you have any advice for current grad students?

Enjoy Santa Barbara! It's hard to tear yourself away from academic and work commitments for a weekend, but once in a while, it's needed (not to mention more fun!). It's important to enjoy the beautiful natural beauty and culture of the city we're living in now.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down.


Grad Slam Is ‘Perfect Practice’ to Tell the Stories of Research, UC President Napolitano Says

UC President Janet NapolitanoIn a column this week on the independent news and commentary website The Conversation, University of California President Janet Napolitano wrote of the responsibility of the academic community to “ensure that the work and voices of researchers are front and center in the public square.” And she praised the Grad Slam, which had its origins at UC Santa Barbara under Graduate Division Dean Carol Genetti, as an excellent way to accomplish that.

Scientists, President Napolitano said, should be seen as regular people asking and answering important questions. She added that society needs more scientists who can explain what they do in language that is both compelling and understandable to a lay audience.

“At the University of California, we pride ourselves not only on the quality of our research, but also on its contribution to improving aspects of the world we live in,” President Napolitano wrote. “It also is possible,” she added, “to have some fun in demonstrating the broad, societal significance of research.”

Having “fun” for a “serious purpose” is how she describes the Grad Slam. Following is an excerpt of her remarks about the UC Grad Slam. To view her full column on The Conversation website, read “Why more scientists are needed in the public square.”


“Last May, I had the opportunity to emcee the first-ever University of California system-wide Grad Slam.

The Grad Slam asked UC graduate students to take their years of academic toil and research, and present their work to an audience in just three minutes, free of jargon or technical lingo.

Think of these presentations as TED talks on steroids or the ultimate in elevator speeches. Each of our 10 campuses held a local competition, and the finals took place at our system-wide headquarters in Oakland. Several of those finalists are featured on The Conversation’s website [including Daniel Hieber, UCSB’s Champion who went on to take second place in the UC-wide Grad Slam].

While it was a fun event, the purpose was very serious.

Good, sound science depends on hypotheses, experiments, and reasoned methodologies. It requires a willingness to ask new questions and try new approaches. It requires one to take risks and experience failures.

But good, sound science also requires clear explanation, succinct presentation, and contextual understanding. Telling the story is half the battle, and Grad Slam is perfect practice.”


UCSB Is Ranked No. 8 on List of Top 50 Best Value Graduate Engineering Programs of 2016

UC Santa Barbara College of Engineering’s graduate programs have that perfect formula for the success of its students: access to labs, libraries, and other key resources; opportunities to take part in professional research projects with faculty members; a top-tier worldwide reputation; affordable tuition; and multiple career connections to industries in the region and beyond. It is this winning formula that has prompted Value Colleges to rank UC Santa Barbara No. 8 on its list of Top 50 Best Value Graduate Engineering Programs of 2016.

As in other rankings this year, such as U.S. News and World Report and Washington Monthly, UC campuses were high on the list. Four of the top 10 graduate engineering programs on Value Colleges' list are University of California institutions. The three other campuses are UC Berkeley, No. 2; UC San Diego, No. 5; and UCLA, No. 6.

Value Colleges based its rankings on three metrics: U.S. News & World Report 2016 Best Engineering Graduate Schools (UCSB was No. 23); cost of tuition (data collected from the National Center for Education Statistics); and PayScale’s 2016 College Salary Report, which ranks UCSB No. 7 (annual salary data reported for entry-level engineers at $67,600 and mid-level engineers at $131,000).

In its article, Value Colleges stated what makes UCSB a “prime place” for students to pursue their graduate engineering education:

“What sets UC Santa Barbara apart from the other University of California system institutions on the Best Value list? Aside from one of the most beautiful campuses in the world, including its own beach and an extensive system of biking and hiking trails for students’ physical and mental health? Well, one thing worth mentioning is UCSB Engineering’s dedication to ‘convergence,’ with more than 20 interdisciplinary research centers and a robust system of corporate connections that creates a pipeline from the laboratory to the real world. Seeing as synchronicity is the state of modern engineering and technology, UCSB –  a ‘Public Ivy’ with affordable tuition and top-tier reputation – is a prime place for graduate students to prepare for engineering careers that will provide a sound return on investment.”

For more information and to read the complete list, read Value Colleges’ “Top 50 Best Value Graduate Engineering Programs of 2016.”

The GradPost interviewed several engineering graduate students to get their reactions to the honor and find out what they think makes UCSB’s graduate engineering programs so special. Here’s what they had to say:


Chris Sweeney, Computer Science Ph.D. student

"UCSB has provided me with a unique experience in grad school because of the breadth of research and the interaction between different departments and labs. My lab, the Four Eyes Lab, ranges in topics from computer vision to data visualization to augmented reality to social modeling, and we have a very close relationship with the Media Arts and Technology department. This crossover has influenced my research by exposing me to different applications and areas that I never would have otherwise encountered, and I think everyone benefits from this sort of interaction."

Kelly Ibsen, Chemical Engineering Ph.D. student

"I am a non-traditional grad student, having worked for several years before deciding to pursue my Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering. I picked UCSB because I knew it would provide both diverse research opportunities and an outstanding core engineering education, both of which are essential for a successful career in industry."

Morgan Vigil, Computer Science Ph.D. student

"I have been very pleased with my education in the Computer Science Department at UCSB. I have been well supported in my journey toward becoming an independent academic and I have been given numerous opportunities to pursue research that is cutting edge and personally meaningful. I feel confident that the guidance I am receiving from the Computer Science Department will serve me well as I continue in academia."


Justin Pearson, Electrical and Computer Engineering Ph.D. student

"UCSB has a very special place in my heart, and my UCSB education continues to serve me well. I'm very proud to be a part of such a respectable academic community, and I'm pleased to see UCSB's Engineering program ranked highly."


Sean Gilmore, Chemical Engineering Ph.D. student

"I am very excited about the opportunities presented for me here at UCSB. Being a part of a rapidly rising department and school places me at the center of cutting-edge scientific research. It is great to hear that the university is being recognized for the merit and value it provides to its students."



Julia Fisher, Chemical Engineering Ph.D. student

"I have only just started my graduate career at UCSB but I do not doubt the intent of the Chemical Engineering graduate program. The graduate program enables the passionate and curious to totally immerse themselves in engineering. We may enter as students, but we leave as peers; we become leaders in the engineering community."


Retired NASA Astronaut Jose Hernandez, ’86 Master’s Alum, Is Named UCSB’s 2015 Distinguished Alumnus

Jose Hernandez spoke of reaching for the stars in his Commencement address to UCSB School of Engineering graduates in June 2014. Credit: Mike EliasonCalifornia-born José Hernandez didn’t learn to speak English until he was 12 years old. Young José would travel throughout the state for nine months out of the year to farms, where he would work in the fields alongside his siblings and immigrant parents to pick strawberries, cherries, cucumbers, grapes, and tomatoes. In December 1972, a fascinated 10-year-old José sat in front of his family’s old black-and-white console TV to watch Apollo 17 Commander Eugene Cernan make the last walk on the moon. It was at that moment that José decided: “I want to be an astronaut.” Despite his determination and the excellent graduate engineering education he later received at UC Santa Barbara, NASA rejected him for the astronaut program 11 times. But Hernandez didn’t give up, and the 12th time was a charm. In his 40s, he was finally accepted into the program, and he reached his dream to fly in space as an astronaut.

The Stockton boy who overcame many challenges grew into an adult with numerous achievements to his name. Among them: At Lawrence Livermore Lab, Hernandez co-developed the first full-field digital mammography imaging system to aid in early detection of breast cancer. He founded his own engineering consulting firm, Tierra Luna Engineering. He created a nonprofit foundation that aims to ensure opportunities for children to pursue their educational and professional goals regardless of perceived obstacles. A San Jose middle school was named after him. He has received six honorary doctorate degrees. He was UCSB School of Engineering’s Commencement speaker in June 2014. And he has written a biography (no ghostwriter, he says; “I wrote every single word”) called “Reaching for the Stars,” which will be made into a movie next year directed by Alfonso Arau (“Like Water for Chocolate,” “A Walk in the Clouds”).

It is because of these achievements and others that the UC Santa Barbara Alumni Association has named Hernandez (M.S., Electrical and Computer Engineering, 1986) UCSB’s 2015 Distinguished Alumnus. Hernandez, 53, will be honored on Saturday, Oct. 24, at an awards luncheon in Corwin Pavilion.

The ceremony also will commemorate UCSB’s new designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI). An HSI is a college or university in which Hispanic enrollment comprises a minimum of 25 percent of the total enrollment of undergraduate and graduate students. UCSB was named a Hispanic-Serving Institution by the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities and is the only HSI that is also a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities.

Jose Hernandez tweets about the successful separation of the Mexican satellite from the rocket.“We are very excited to have José Hernandez return to campus to help us kick off the campaign to raise money for Dreamers’ scholarships,” George Thurlow, UCSB’s assistant vice chancellor for alumni affairs and executive director of UCSB’s alumni association, said an Office of Public Affairs and Communications news release. “José’s story is an inspirational one for all alumni and for all Californians. His work today with Latino youth is even more inspirational.”

Hernandez was at Cape Canaveral in Florida this week to assist his Tierra Luna Engineering client, Mexico, in the launch of its Boeing-made communications satellite aboard a Lockheed-made rocket. He took some time away from his duties (which included tweeting about the launch in both Spanish and English from his account, @Astro_Jose) for a phone interview with the GradPost. He spoke about the Distinguished Alumnus honor; the mammography technology he co-developed; his father’s winning “recipe”; how UC Santa Barbara prepared him for his career; what he thinks of space movies; which actress he would like to portray his wife in the upcoming film about his life; and more.

Jose Hernandez tweeted from Cape Canaveral at the launch of a Mexican communications satellite on Friday, Oct. 2.


Hernandez called the Distinguished Alumnus award “a great honor.” Said the retired NASA astronaut: “I’m very happy, very humbled to be recognized in this fashion.”

The additional celebration of UCSB’s new designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution will make this occasion extra special for Hernandez.

“To be recognized as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, you have to have a student body that’s 25 percent or more Hispanic,” he said. “And the fact that the school has reached that milestone is a great testament to the commitment that the university makes in its strategy to have a diversified population. The designation is a tangible metric that basically demonstrates the fact that the university is committed to diversity and is a welcoming institution for everybody. And so I’m very happy to be participating in the recognition of that milestone.”

Hernandez knows a thing or two about milestones. When he shared his dream of becoming an astronaut with his father, Salvador took José to the kitchen table, sat him down, and presented his five-ingredient recipe for success. That recipe was smart and sophisticated for a man with a third-grade education, and it came to serve José well.

The recipe: 1. Decide what you want to be in life. 2. Recognize how far you are from that goal. 3. Draw up a detailed roadmap of where you are and where you want to be. 4. Prepare yourself with the appropriate education, because “there’s no substitute for an education.” And 5. Develop a strong work ethic – the same strong work ethic that went into harvesting crops. “Always deliver more than what people ask of you,” Salvador told his son. 

NASA astronaut Jose HernandezHernandez has followed that recipe throughout his life. He realized that to become an astronaut would require an advanced engineering degree. So upon earning his bachelor’s degree at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, he chose to pursue his graduate studies at UC Santa Barbara after discovering that UCSB was among the Top 5 schools for electrical engineering.

His education at UCSB prepared him for his job afterward at Lawrence Livermore Lab.

“My undergraduate program at the University of the Pacific prepared me to be a good engineer in the sense of giving me the basic tools,” he said. But it was at UC Santa Barbara, he said, that he learned and honed skills in research.

“I got a great opportunity to do research at the graduate level at UCSB and that allowed me to become an even better engineer when I went to work for Lawrence Livermore Lab,” he said.

Hernandez said his acquired research skills “allowed me to flourish as an engineer.” He also attributed those skills “to being able to latch onto a project.” He did just that as one of the two investigators to develop what was then the first full-field digital mammography system for the early detection of breast cancer.

He said when he’s asked what is the proudest moment of his professional career, “a lot of people expect me to say being an astronaut and going into space.” But in reality, Hernandez said, it’s the mammography technology he co-developed. The system, he said, produced images far superior to the film screen technology that was being used then and opened up a new area of study called computer-aided diagnosis.

“So I have no doubt that the technology that we co-developed at Lawrence Livermore Lab has saved hundreds if not thousands of lives,” he added. “And I attribute a lot of that – the skills to be able to develop that – to the research skills that I acquired as a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara.”

Along with learning research skills at UCSB, Hernandez acquired writing skills. He wrote research reports and took technical writing courses. That skill has been put to use at Lawrence Livermore Lab, at NASA, and in his work as the author of his biography, “Reaching for the Stars.” He is proud to say that he had no ghostwriter and that he “wrote every single word.”

“They say engineers can’t write. But I was able to write that book,” he added.

The crew of the 2009 STS-128 mission on the shuttle Discovery. Jose Hernandez is second from left.The book details his life from the age of 6 on and includes, of course, his persistent efforts to get accepted into the astronaut program and his 14-day STS-128 mission into space aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 2009.

Hernandez says director Alfonso Arau picked up the option for his book and plans are to start shooting the film in April 2016.

Hernandez says he’ll be one of the executive producers of the movie and he will have a voice in who will play him and his wife, Adela.

Several actors and actresses are being discussed for those roles, he said. Hernandez said if he had his wish, his 12-year-old son, one of the Hernandezes’ five children, would play the role of José as a young boy. “He’s the spitting image of me at that age,” Hernandez said. Actor Michael Pena, who played the lead role in “Cesar Chavez,” is reportedly being considered for the role of Hernandez as an adult.

Hernandez said he jokingly told the producers that “if they get Eva Longoria to play my wife, I will be more than happy to take acting lessons and play myself. My wife didn’t appreciate that comment.”

We asked Hernandez what he thinks about space movies these days. Are they all entertainment and no reality?

“I think they’re fun entertainment,” he said. “I read the book, ‘The Martian,’ so I’m very excited to see the Matt Damon movie. Although movies are never as good as books. There are a lot of things that are left out. I’m afraid I’m not going to enjoy ‘The Martian’ as much as I enjoyed ‘Interstellar’ or ‘Gravity’ because I didn’t read those books.”

“Gravity,” he said, “was very unrealistic in what happened. The only thing they got right was the scenery. The scenery was exactly how I remembered it.” As for “Interstellar,” “It was even more unrealistic, but it makes you think about time travel, so I really enjoyed it,” Hernandez said.

“Any time we have the opportunity to expose the public to space and to space travel in a popular way, I think it’s very good,” the former astronaut said. “It informs the public about space exploration.”

And it just may inspire other 10-year-olds to dream of “reaching for the stars.”


The UC Santa Barbara 2015 Distinguished Alumnus award luncheon begins at noon on Oct. 24. The cost is $25 per person, and the public is welcome. For tickets or reservations, call Mary MacRae at 805-893-2957 or go to the Eventbrite page.


Jose Hernandez's Reaching for the Stars foundation helps children pursue their educational and professional goals.