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Graduate Peers' Schedules

Summer 2015
Peer Advisor Availability

Professional Development Peer
Shawn Warner-Garcia

Mon-Thu: 10 a.m.-noon

Writing Peer & Funding Peer
Kyle Crocco

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

Communications Peer
Melissa Rapp

Mon: 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Wed: 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Diversity Peer
Charles Williams

By appointment

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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2 UCSB Grad Students Help Organize Fundraising Effort for Quake Victims in Their Native Nepal

UCSB students who are leading Nepal earthquake relief fundraising efforts are, from left, undergrad Shekhar Paudel; and Ph.D. students Pawana Shrestha and Dhilung Kirat. Credit: Spencer Bruttig, Office of Public Affairs and Communications

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Nepal on April 25 left three UC Santa Barbara students shaken. For the two graduate students and one undergraduate student, the devastating temblor that has claimed the lives of thousands of people was personal, as it occurred in the country of their births.

Now these students – doctoral students Pawana Shrestha and Dhilung Kirat; and undergrad Shekhar Paudel – have organized a fundraising campaign to assist in relief and recovery efforts. Mindful of the need for long-term assistance and the importance of empowering local organizations, the students have set up a fundraising site on Crowdrise, with all proceeds going to Shikshya Foundation Nepal. Shikshya is a local nonprofit organization based in Nepal’s Lalitpur district.

“Thousands of people have lost their lives, tens of thousands have been injured and over a million have been rendered homeless,” Pawana Shrestha, an Electrical and Computer Engineering doctoral student, said in an Office of Public Affairs and Communications (OPAC) news release. Pawana is from the capital city of Kathmandu, where her family lives.

“In the long run, massive amounts of financial and human resources will be required for the reconstruction of damaged infrastructures,” she said. “The road to recovery for Nepal will be a long and difficult one.”

Dhilung Kirat, a Computer Science Ph.D. student, said in the release: “Past experiences of relief efforts, such as during the Haiti [earthquake] relief, have shown that the long-term relief and recovery efforts are more effective when local organizations are empowered instead of international charity brands. I grew up in one of those remote villages in Nepal. I have experienced the remoteness and the disconnect from the outer world while growing up, and I can only imagine the devastated community after such a massive earthquake. I hope our fundraising effort will help ease the current relief efforts and long-term recovery efforts of those remote communities.”

“We want to show capable people what they can do to help,” said Physics undergrad Shekhar Paudel, who moved to the United States with his family a few years ago and has relatives still living in Nepal.

Graduate Division Dean Carol Genetti, whose research as a professor of Linguistics focuses primarily on Nepal, said in the release: “The efforts of these three Nepalese students in the face of the momentous challenges in Nepal are truly impressive. Like so many other UCSB students, they have a strong ethos of service and a deep commitment to their home country.”

Dean Genetti added: “I am impressed that they have also used their research skills in selecting a highly regarded Nepalese foundation to receive the funds that are raised."

For more information about the fundraising effort, read the OPAC news release and view KEYT's video interview with the students. Additional information about the Shikshya Foundation may be found at Tax-deductible contributions may be made at  


Beyond Academia Career Exploration Conference at UCSB on May 15

The Beyond Academia conference at UC Santa Barbara is a one-day event aimed at preparing graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in all stages and disciplines to pursue a wide range of career options after graduate school. Inspired by the Beyond Academia conference started at UC Berkeley in 2013, the UCSB event will feature speakers and panels that expose attendees to a variety of skills relevant to pursuing a career outside of or alongside academia. Whether you are on the job market or just starting to explore career options, come learn about potential careers in a variety of sectors and specialties.

Beyond Academia UCSB

Friday, May 15, 2015

8 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.

Loma Pelona, UCSB Campus

Registration is FREE, but space is limited. Click here to sign up.
Registration closes on Friday, May 8.

In addition to a keynote speaker address, the event will feature workshops and panels that have been planned specifically with both HFA-SS and STEM Ph.D. students in mind. Workshops in the morning are skills-based and have broad applicability to students in all fields. Panels in the afternoon explore specific industries and interests and are split up into HFA-SS and STEM tracks so that students can hear about more specific career options. Click here to see the full schedule.



Graduate Student in the Spotlight: Selvi Ersoy Pursues Science 'Theatrically'

Selvi ErsoySelvi Ersoy. Photo courtesy of Selvi ErsoyFifth-year doctoral candidate in microbiology Selvi Ersoy is many things to many people and most of these things are awesome. To women in science and engineering, she’s known as the Co-President of WiSE (Women in Science and Engineering). To her undergraduate students, she’s known as the most enthusiastic TA ever (and winner of the 2014-2015 Academic Senate Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award). To fans of the 2015 Grad Slam, she’s known as the finalist who asked, “Is your doctor killing you?”

Selvi grew up in Cupertino, California (yes, that Cupertino) to a Turkish father and an American mother. She was named Selvi, which means tall and beautiful in Turkish. When someone like me says she’s halfway there, someone else always chimes in “Halfway there? Selvi’s not tall.”

Selvi had plans other than science when she was younger. She loved to dance, to sing, and to participate in musical theater. She scoured schools for theater programs. But after her mother strongly implied that success in the theater arts would be a failed experiment, she went on to pursue science “theatrically,” earning a B.S. in Genetics at UC Irvine with a minor in Medical Anthropology. She received her M.A. in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at UCSB on her way to her doctoral degree.

I had seen Selvi at the Grad Slam preliminary and final rounds and found her to be one of the most animated and funny presenters. She turned out to be just as animated and funny during our interview. We talked about everything from what she learned during her "lost year in grad school" to her yoga progress to why she loves teaching (and why her students love her back). She also had some good advice for future Grad Slam competitors.

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

Selvi in CabaretSelvi in Cabaret. She can still do that kick. Photo courtesy of Selvi ErsoyWhen I was growing up I was really, really into musical theater. I loved it. I was in lots of musicals. I loved dancing and I was taking dance lessons, vocal classes, doing drama club, and theater. As a junior in high school, I looked into all the college dance and performance programs. When I told my Mom, she was just like, “No, you’re not going to do that. You need to do something practical.”

So, let’s talk about your research now. Apparently, you kill a lot of mice. How would you describe your research in such a way that doesn’t make you look like a killer?

I study how the host influences bacterial antibiotic resistance and the genetic mechanisms of those changes in bacteria.

Good, concise answer. You participated in the 2015 Grad Slam and made it all the way to the finals. Why did you get involved?

I thought, “What would be more fun than giving a three-minute pitch in front of people and being funny?” That seemed like a blast to me. The cash prizes were also a huge incentive, and clearly a big motivator. I think I would have done it if there weren’t the cash prizes, but I may not have worked so hard.

Getting to preparation. How did you work so hard?

For me, I practiced my pitch every time I was alone. I’d just start saying it out loud. Sometimes I’m in the bathroom, looking in the mirror, saying “Is your doctor killing you?” you know, doing all the hand motions. Thinking, “Oh my god, I hope none of my roommates are hearing this.”

Selvi making it simple at the 2015 Grad Slam Finals. Credit: Sonia Fernandez

What advice you would give future participants so they can win?

I practiced a lot and I tried to get advice from people. After each round, I tried to hear what people were saying to make it clearer. One of the problems with my pitch was that it was a little complicated. I tried so much to simplify it.

If you want to be a champion, just make it as simple as possible.

That’s good advice. On the subject of advice, what advice would you give to an incoming graduate student now that you’re in your fifth year?

Student Spotlight LogoI thought when I started grad school that people were just going to tell me what to do, tell me how my project was going to work, you know, tell me what I’m going to figure out and I would just do x, y, z and be done. Working in a lab, it’s not like that at all. It’s very open-ended. There’s not a clear path. You really need to work early on to figure out what your path will be. That’s your best chance for success.

If you’re going to succeed and finish grad school and escape with your sanity, you have to take everything that you’ve done, everything that didn’t work or that was a setback, and somehow think of it in a positive light. I spent a year doing stuff that just didn’t work. The only way I could reconcile my effort was to say I gained a lot of practice with my bench work, that I now knew how to set up an experiment very efficiently.

So it seems like you learned how to handle stress. How do you relax?

Selvi doing aerial yogaSelvi doing aerial yoga. Photo courtesy of Selvi ErsoyI’m obsessed with yoga! I started in grad school. My labmate said, “Let's do some yoga at the Rec Cen.” It was good exercise. I felt physically stronger. Then I started going to a studio (Better Days Yoga in Goleta). Instead of once a week, I went all the time. When things weren’t working out in my lab, I could go to yoga and see my improvement there.

You recently won the Academic Senate Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award. Tell me more about your teaching experience? What has helped you become “outstanding?”

I generally teach upper-division genetics courses: 101 A and B. I also teach the bacterial pathogenesis lab. What I like about teaching, especially when I get to teach genetics and bacterial pathogenesis, is the subject. I find it very interesting.

When I started teaching, I got so excited before my first class. While coming up with my lesson plan, I remember thinking, “How am I going to explain this to my students?” When I got to class, I just said, “Hey everybody, I’m so happy to be here!”

Selvi Ersoy and her labmate Jessica Kubicek-Sutherland at the April 2014 UCSB TEDx conference. Photo courtesy of Selvi ErsoyThat’s something that all my students wrote on my evaluations, even to this day: “Super enthusiastic TA!” I think since I was so excited about teaching, the students got more enthusiastic to be in class.

Because of that, I started getting lots of emails from students asking questions about class. They felt really comfortable emailing me. I wrote back detailed responses about how to solve problems. And then I started getting more personal life questions from students like, “I’m thinking about applying to grad school. What do you recommend?” “What do I do after I graduate?” or “How do I find a research lab?”

I really care about all my students. I try to learn as many names as I can. I make an effort. And I bully them into writing good evaluations. Just kidding. “You better write me good reviews, guys!” (She laughs).

Who has helped you along the way?

Selvi Ersoy in the lab, perfecting her bench work. Photo courtesy of Selvi ErsoyMy parents were the ones that told me, “No to theater. Yes to science.” They always said, “You’re really good at math, you’re really good at science, you should do those things.”  They also had high expectations and I felt I had to meet those expectations. I didn’t hate that. I’m really happy with that guidance.

My labmate Jessica Kubicek-Sutherland also helped break me in to grad school. She told me, “This is what’s going to happen.” What to expect and not to expect. I think if I had been alone, I may have just dropped out. I was really glad to have her there to help me out. I was her little mentee.

Also, my advisor made me grittier and tougher, and I appreciate that. I need to be able to handle things when I’m not perfect, when I screw up.

What is the one thing you hope to be doing 5 or 10 years out of graduate school?

I’m definitely planning on getting a postdoc position for a few years to do my research. Depending on how that goes, I might go on to be a professor. 


Graduate Students Association 2015 Election Results

GSA logoThe Graduate Students Association (GSA) elections are finished. Here are the 2015 results for candidates, graduate fee initiatives, and campuswide fee initiatives.

Congratulations to everyone who won!

2015 GSA Officers:

President - Aaron Jones

Vice President of Budget and Finance - Greg Maier

Vice President of Communications and Records - Quintarrius Shakir

Vice President of Academic Affairs - John Kaminsky

Vice President of External Affairs - Yanira Rivas Pineda

Vice President of Student Affairs - Kathy Swift

Vice President of Internal Affairs - Samantha Powers

Vice President of Committees and Planning - Timothy Irvine

Graduate fees reaffirmed:

  • Childcare Grant Fund
  • Grad Student Emergency Relief Grant
  • Night and Weekend Parking

Campus-wide fees passed:

  • Arts & Lectures Support Fee
  • Career Services Open Access Fee Increase
  • Child Care Center Support Fee
  • Coastal Fund Initiative
  • Events Center Support Fee
  • Office of Student Life Support Fee

For more information about the officers and fees, review the GSA 2015 ballot.


4 UCSB Graduate Students Win 2014-2015 Academic Senate Outstanding Teaching Assistant Awards

Winners of the 2014-2015 Academic Senate Outstanding Teaching Assistant Awards are, from left, Mario Galicia Jr., Keith Avery, Selvi Ersoy, and Jeremy Chow. Photos by: Patricia Marroquin

Four UCSB graduate student teaching assistants who are passionate about what they do were honored on Thursday, April 23, for their efforts in the classroom and beyond.

Chancellor Henry Yang and Academic Senate Chair Kum-Kum Bhavnani present Mario Galicia Jr. with the award.The Academic Senate annually recognizes the vital role that teaching assistants play to the teaching mission of the university. The Senate's awards honor the contributions of graduate student TA’s to the teaching and learning process of UC Santa Barbara.

This year’s recipients are: Keith Avery (master’s student, Computer Science); Jeremy Chow (Ph.D. student, English); Selvi Ersoy (Ph.D. student, Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology); and Mario Galicia Jr. (Ph.D. student, Education).

At a reception in the winners’ honor before the awards presentation, Mario Galicia – who will receive his Ph.D. this year – told the GradPost that since his doctoral studies are coming to an end, this award is “like coming full circle.”

Selvi Ersoy with Chancellor Yang.“It’s really nice to get validated for your work,” added Mario, who spoke about his research in Preliminary Round 6 of the Grad Slam earlier this month. “It’s practicing what you preach, putting it into the actual classroom, and then having somebody say, ‘Hey, you’re doing a good job,’” he said. Mario called it “the greatest honor we can get as a graduate student” to have the award come from the Academic Senate, knowing that the faculty were the ones looking at the applications. “It’s always nice to know that what you’re doing is right.”

Selvi Ersoy, who was a finalist in this year’s Grad Slam, was excited and “extremely happy” to learn she had won this award. “I feel like I always try really hard for my students,” she said at the reception. She said her dedication to teaching is not dependent upon an award. “But I think it was a nice validation of how much I do try to be an effective teacher.”

Keith Avery, who is in his sixth quarter of TAing, said it has been “an Keith Avery with Chancellor Yang and Chair Bhavnani.extremely rewarding experience for me the whole time I’ve been doing it.” He is thankful, he said, “for everyone who’s helped me here – my students, my advisor, other people involved in my life.”

He likes the one-on-one approach of working with students during office hours. “I really enjoy connecting with the students. It’s important to me for them to understand what I’m trying to get across. I make that a priority when I’m doing my teaching and also in personal meetings.”

Jeremy Chow jokingly told his students and others offering him congratulations that this award had to be some sort of a hoax, since he’s only in the second year of his Ph.D. program. Although he was surprised, he said the honor is “unbelievably rewarding.”

The award shouldn’t have been much of a surprise to Jeremy, who had taught high school before coming to UCSB; and taught at the graduate level while pursuing his master’s degree.

Jeremy Chow with Chancellor Yang and Chair Bhavnani.“Teaching is a passion of mine,” Jeremy said at the reception. “That’s what I want to do for the rest of my career, as I imagine so many of us do. We so rarely in our teaching fields get some sort of commendation or understanding of the efforts and energies that we put into our teaching. This is a wonderful opportunity for the university to recognize educators who are invested in educating our students.”

The Academic Senate also honored six professors with Distinguished Teaching Awards; and three other professors won Outstanding Graduate Mentor Awards.

For a list of all the winners, and to read comments made about them, go to the Academic Senate’s webpage on the 2014-2015 winners. Also, read the Office of Public Affairs and Communications news release and view its photo slide show.

Congratulations to everyone!


Cheer on UCSB at Live-Streaming Event for UC Grad Slam on May 4

At the inaugural UC systemwide Grad Slam tournament, to be held on May 4 in Oakland, 10 graduate students will compete to explain their research in terms that will interest, excite, and engage the public – and do so before the clock runs out.

The spirited contest will offer participants an opportunity to see these talented scholars in action, and offer a unique window into the breadth and impact of graduate research taking place across UC campuses. The first-place winners from each of the 10 participating UC campuses will compete to capture the systemwide prize, including a total of $10,000 in award money for the top three participants.

UC President Janet Napolitano will lead the event. A distinguished panel of judges representing industry, government, and higher education will select the winner, who will be named immediately following the lunch reception.

The event is invitation-only, but UCSB's Graduate Division will be live-streaming the contest on May 4 from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Student Resource Building Multipurpose Room. Come cheer on UCSB's Grad Slam Champion Daniel Hieber as he competes to win the grand prize and bring the coveted trophy to its rightful home in Cheadle Hall.

The contestants will be (in order of appearance):

  • Davis: Ryan Dowdy, Food Science, "Powering California with Food Waste"
  • Berkeley: Alexis Shusterman, Chemistry, "COMonitoring in HD"
  • San Diego: Alex Phan, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, "Fight for Sight"
  • San Francisco: Sama Ahmed, Neuroscience, "Choosing Mates: How to Know Your Species"
  • Irvine: Ashley Fong, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, "Stem Cells: How to Mend a Broken Heart"
  • Riverside: Jeanette Rapicavoli, Plant Pathology, "Primed for Battle: Utilizing Microbial Patterns to Strengthen the Plant Immune System"
  • Santa Cruz: Justine Smith, Environmental Studies, "Humans as Top Dog: Ecological Effects of Carnivore Fear"
  • Santa Barbara: Daniel Hieber, Linguistics, "Renaissance on the Bayou: Reviving the Chitimacha Language"
  • Los Angeles: Jean Paul Santos, Electrical Engineering, "How to Talk to Mars"
  • Merced: Nathaniel Bogie, Environmental Systems, "Drinking from the Same Straw: Battling Drought Stress in the African Sahel"

2015 UCSB Grad Slam winner Daniel Hieber. Credit: Patricia Marroquin


Graduate Student in the Spotlight: Melissa Barthelemy Pays it Forward to UCSB

Melissa portraitMelissa Barthelemy. Photo courtesy of Melissa BarthelemyWhen the childhood home of Melissa Barthelemy, a sixth-year graduate student of Public History, burned down in Ojai when she was eight years old, she and her family may have initially thought they only escaped with a few photo albums. But, what they eventually learned was they had gained life lessons in community, compassion, and the generosity of others.

They found an outpouring of community support as neighbors and others offered mattresses, clothing and all sorts of items to help them in their time of need.

Little did Melissa know that, years later, she would use those lessons to pay it forward by first helping UCSB students cope with their trauma in the wake of the Isla Vista Tragedy of May 23, and then by creating a collection of items to remember the victims and document the campus and community response.

I sat down with Melissa Barthelemy to discuss her work with the IV/UCSB Memorial Preservation Project and the upcoming exhibition for which she is serving as project manager and curator, which is titled “We Remember Them: Acts of Love and Compassion in Isla Vista.” The exhibit will be open to the public for viewings from May 20-June 20 in the Red Barn (Old Gym) near the bus circle on campus. (You can find more information about Melissa and the Remembrance Projects she is engaged in at

She was forthcoming about her involvement in the project, her own struggles as a graduate student, and the unique circumstances of her childhood, growing up in the back room of her parents' toy store.

So let’s start with your current work. How did you become involved in the IV/UCSB Memorial Preservation Project?

In the immediate wake of the tragedy my initial concern was how to best support the graduate and undergraduate students at UCSB. I contacted Turi Honegger, Assistant Clinical Director of CAPS (Counseling And Psychological Services), at UCSB. I strongly felt we needed a special crisis training session for the graduate students since it is common for undergraduates to approach their Teaching Assistants before turning to faculty and staff for support and assistance. Turi agreed to help me organize this, and we had many email conversations that lasted until 2 a.m. in the days following the tragedy. A small group of us managed to organize two workshop sessions that were held on Tuesday, May 27 and were attended by over 140 people.

Melissa at MemorialMelissa at the Memorial Wall on the Arbor. Photo courtesy of Melissa Barthelemy

That weekend I also worked closely with community members in Isla Vista to figure out what systems of support were needed there. Some UCSB students told me that they wanted a space in the Arbor that could focus on art and healing and that they thought it was important to have a memorial space on the actual campus. With the support of the Office of Student Life and Associate Dean Katya Armistead we created the Memorial Wall at The Arbor which is a painted wooden structure that is covered in dozens of messages of compassion and solidarity. While working on the space, students asked me, “What’s going to happen to the memorial sites in IV? Will all of the items at the sites be thrown away?”  

So I asked the Interim Director of Special Collections, at the UCSB Library, if they had any plans to form a collection. He said that librarians generally receive items that are donated but don’t go out in the community to collect them, and that I was the first person to approach him about this. He then asked me to convene a committee of librarians, faculty, and students to support the project.

Spontaneous memorialSpontaneous memorial site in IV. Photo courtesy of Melissa BarthelemyI was hesitant at first because I was so busy. But I visited the spontaneous memorial sites in Isla Vista to look more closely at what was there. One day, I went to the site in front of Capri Apartments and I saw cards blowing down the street in the wind. I came across a card written by one of the victims' parents and I decided these items really needed to be saved for the benefit of the families, friends, and the wider community. At that moment I decided to take the project on and have never looked back.

Tell me more about the upcoming exhibition “We Remember Them: Acts of Love and Compassion in Isla Vista.” 

The central premise of the exhibit is that each of the individual items left at the spontaneous memorial sites in Isla Vista are representative of the acts of love and compassion that poured out from our community and around the world.

Pained rocksPainted rocks for exhibition. Photo courtesy of Melissa BarthelemyWe will be exhibiting some of these items, which include things such as cards, letters, drawings, paintings, origami cranes, and painted rocks. We will also display photographs of the spontaneous and planned memorial events, as well as highlight some of the larger discourses that circulated in the wake of the tragedy and contributed to legislative reforms.

We are striving to create a space for healing and reflection. In the words of one of my colleagues “the exhibit remembers those who died and those who were injured, and it tells the story of a community empowered by its own humanity in reacting to a collective loss.”

What has the response been to your work so far?  When people hear about the premise of the exhibit they are supportive. But until recently we were reluctant to spread the word too much about the exhibit since the campus administration is still coordinating the series of events that will happen around the Remembrance Anniversary.

Have you ever done something like this before? No! I did serve as a volunteer for a museum when I was in law school. But really I’m learning on the fly.

How has this affected your research?

Melissa with Ben FranklinMelissa with Ben Franklin. Photo courtesy of Melissa BarthelemyI changed my whole dissertation topic as a result of this project. My focus is now on Public History, which is a branch of History that is largely focused on educating the public about historical issues.

Some public historians primarily teach at universities, others can be found working in a range of locations including archives and library special collections, community history and historic preservation, museum exhibition and historical commemoration.

My dissertation project is still evolving but at least one chapter of it will examine the upcoming exhibit, so we will be having videographers and photographers document what we create in the exhibit site. That way I can integrate Digital Humanities directly into my dissertation by using these digital technologies to discuss my curatorial decisions and aspects of the exhibit. This documentation will also eventually become part of our digital collection at the UCSB Library website.   

Let’s turn to your life now. Aside from this event, what one event has had the biggest impact or influence on you and helped shape who you are today?

Melissa's parentsMelissa's parents dressed for Halloween in front of their toy store. Photo courtesy of Melissa BarthelemyMy parents have shaped me the most. From the way I approach life, to my core values and beliefs. My parents have owned a little toy store for 35 years in Ojai and I literally grew up in the back office of their business, which was more of a play room for me. I was surrounded by Slinkies and Silly Putty.

My favorite quote from them is “The only constant in life is change.” They have this quote on a sticker, which they placed on their cash register at their toy store, where they give customers change all day long. They have a real quirky sense of humor.

They always emphasized that you can’t fully anticipate what’s around the next bend. My parents’ house burned down when I was eight years old. All we saved were some photo albums. That was very helpful (and horrible) for my ability to respond when tragedy happens. It made us close and brought us together as a family.

It also taught me about the importance of community since people brought us 10 mattresses for beds, dozens of frying pans and lots of other things we couldn’t use while were temporarily staying in a hotel. The community response wasn’t practical or well-thought out, but it was heartfelt! Moments like this have helped me to always try to see the good in people.

You had a unique childhood, tell me more about it?

I grew up in the mountains of Ojai. My parents owned a house in the Los Padres National Forest that was over 100 years old and our water came from a natural spring on the property. So I had an adventurous outdoor lifestyle from an early age. I had acres and acres to explore, falling in rivers and things like that.

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

Usually they are surprised I have done so much independent travel around the world. I have backpacked through Europe several times, and my first trip there was when I was just 17 years old. After I earned my law degree, I spent a month driving from Ojai to British Columbia, all through the Pacific Northwest camping and hiking in the backcountry. I’ve also gone sky diving and underground cave rafting in New Zealand.

You’re very busy. What do you do to relax?

Melissa gardeningMelissa gardening for relaxation. Photo courtesy of Melissa BarthelemyI do as much hiking and gardening as I can. My wife and I love camping. We have gone backpacking in the Channel Islands and one of our favorite spots is Kings Canyon National Park up in the Sierra Mountain Range. Basically she tries to take me places where my cell phone does not work.

What is your biggest accomplishment in life and why?  Marrying my wife. My day to day happiness is the most important thing to me. We’ve been married six years, and thankfully we got married one week before Proposition 8 had passed in California, or we wouldn’t have been able to be married all of this time.

Any advice for new graduate students?

Don’t ever feel like you are alone in the challenges you are confronted with. I have had serious physical health disabilities while at UCSB and have benefited tremendously from the Disabled Students Program (DSP). No matter what difficulties you encounter, remember you are part of a larger community that is invested in your success and people are here to help support you.

What is the one thing you hope to be doing 5 or 10 years out of graduate school?

I love teaching, but I also could see myself doing museum management or higher education administration. I am open to working in a range of educational environments. I will be happy as long as I know I am continuing to have a positive impact in the world.


Grad Slam 2015 Final Round for UCSB: The Right to Represent

The 10 finalists were acknowledged by the audience and Graduate Division Dean Carol Genetti before they took questions. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Winning logo design by Lennon Grinta

At last we've arrived at the Final Round for UCSB 2015 Grad Slam. It's been a long, weary road to the Finals and lots of tears were shed on the way, mostly mine. If you weren't one of the hundreds in attendance at Corwin Pavilion on Friday afternoon to bear witness, this is what went down.

The UCSB Final round featured 10 winners from the Semifinal rounds vying for vast sums of money, bragging rights, and the right to represent UCSB at the UC Campuswide Grad Slam Final in Oakland on May 4. The finalist hopefuls entered the room, looking their best, hoping to grasp the blue ribbon of greatness, but only one left the room with the Grand Prize and a date for future glory. While only one became UCSB's Champion, all were winners. The finalists were surprised to learn that each would receive a free speaker from sponsor Sonos. Other corporate sponsors this year were Yardi, which provided the $5,000 Grand Prize, and QAD.

There was a packed crowd in Corwin Pavilion for the Finals. Credit: Patricia MarroquinHere are the 10 finalists and their far-reaching topics.

  • Sarah Abdul-Wajid,Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology: “Using Sea Squirts to Find New Genetic Factors Controlling Birth Defects.” Sarah's research on sea squirts will help prevent a birth defect that affects one in 1,000 human babies. Her detailed slides provided audience members with images of what she sees under her microscope.
  • David Copp, Mechanical Engineering: “Closing the Loop: Engineering an Artificial Pancreas." David's research will help regulate blood glucose to aid diabetes patients. His mathematical algorithms can run continuous glucose sensors more effectively, and one day may help run an artificial pancreas.
  • The ribbons, glass trophy, and Sonos speakers are displayed onstage. Credit: Patricia MarroquinSelvi Ersoy, Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology: “Killing Me Softly with Antibiotics.” Selvi's presentation showcased the problems with current protocols in antibiotic efficacy testing. She compared lab test environments (in which antibiotics are tested in a lab broth akin to a Caesar's Palace buffet) to actual physiological environments (in which antibiotics face immunity systems that rival the tenacity of Mr. T) in order to show that scientists have been determining antibiotic dosing all wrong.
  • Matthew Gebbie, Materials: “Simplifying Nature's Invention: Engineering Mussel Proteins into Biomedical Glues." Matthew's research takes inspiration from the way that mussels adhere to surfaces in aqueous environments as the basis for developing simplified versions of these adhesives in order to produce more positive and less traumatic outcomes in orthopedic surgery.
  • Abel Gustafson, Communication: “Predicting Election Outcomes Using Wikipedia.” Abel demonstrated how the communication patterns of Internet users using sites such as Wikipedia can predict the outcome of United States political elections with greater accuracy than the traditional prediction models that are made from public opinion polls.
  • Daniel Hieber, Linguistics: “Renaissance on the Bayou: Reviving the Chitimacha Language.” Daniel is working with language documentation material recorded over 70 years ago in order to revive the Chitimacha language in Louisiana, to write a dictionary, and even create Rosetta Stone style software.
  • Lakshmanan Nataraj, Electrical and Computer Engineering: “Photographing Computer Programs to Identify Malicious Software.” Lakshmanan wants to stop malware. His research looked at computer programs in a completely different way: as digital photographs. His programs looked for patterns in these images, similar to how we would look for patterns in our daily photos, and then trained a system using Artificial Intelligence to identify malicious software programs.
  • Jessica Perkins, Bren School of Environmental Science and Management: “Life Cycle Assessment: There's More to the Story.” In a courageous move, Jessica turned off the PowerPoint slide projector and asked us to focus on the ballpoint pen in her hand. She encouraged us to think of all  the depleted resources, carbon emissions, and waste created in the making of this simple pen. Her life-cycle assessment research can help identify the unintended consequences of our materials and manufacturing decisions. "I could have told you about the projector, but we probably would have been here until the morning."
  • Erik Spickard, Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology: “Gonads to Guts: Reprogramming an Organ in the Nematode C. elegans.” Erik is trying to figure out why a little worm's gonad turned into a second gut when a particular gene was turned on in the worm. He believes that this process of changing one organ into another (or "transorganogenesis") could revolutionize the way that doctors treat failing or dysfunctional organs in humans.
  • Yan Wencheng, History of Art and Architecture: “Writing Modernity: Constructing a History of Chinese Architecture, 1920-1949.” Wencheng explained that although demolition comprises the majority of current Chinese urban architecture, there is no vocabulary to describe the process. She seeks to help shape the new vocabulary of modern Chinese architecture for architects, art historians, and others.

After a suspense-filled deliberation, the judges crowned one UCSB grad student Champion for the 2015 Grad Slam and the right to fight on for UCSB glory, while also acknowledging two other students as Runners-Up.

And the UCSB 2015 Grad Slam Champion and winner of $5,000 is ...

Daniel Hieber

And the Runners-Up are ...

Abel Gustafson

Jessica Perkins

The winners of the 2015 UCSB Grad Slam: Champion Daniel Hieber (Linguistics), center; and Runners-Up Abel Gustafson (Communication) and Jessica Perkins (Bren). Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Kyle's Kudos

The winners congratulate one another while Dr. Tania Israel applauds. Credit: Patricia MarroquinBest Algorithm: David Copp (Artificial Pancreas)

Best Attention Getter: Selvi Ersoy (Is your doctor killing you?)

Best Kim Kardashian Reference: Sarah Abdul-Wajid ("You can watch it live, just like reality TV.")

Best Visuals: Yan Wencheng (Construction Destruction)

Kafka Award: Erik Spickard ("Have you ever lain in bed worrying that your lung turned into a kidney?")

Man on A Mission: Lakshmanan Nataraj ("We want to send a message to the evil hackers!")

Mr. Big Data: Abel Gustafson ("Just like undergraduates who were in need of an answer, we turned to Wikipedia.")

The seats were marked with the finalists' names. Credit: Patricia MarroquinPen is Mightier than the Slide Award: Jessica Perkins (Bic pen)

Rico Suave Award: Daniel Hieber (Smoothest gesturing, eyebrow movement, and eye contact with audience)

Sports Injury Savior: Matthew Gebbie (Mussel Proteins)

Final Round Judges

  • Jan Campbell, Senior Vice President for Philanthropic Services, Santa Barbara Foundation; Member UCSB Board of Trustees
  • Brent Constantz, Found and CEO, Blue Planet; Consulting Associate Professor, Geological Sciences, Stanford University
  • Shirley Lim, Professor Emerita, English, UCSB
  • Michael Witherell, Vice Chancellor for Research; Professor of Physics, UCSB

The Chitimacha language and Wikipedia were the topics of discussion by Daniel Hieber, left, and Abel Gustafson. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Mussel proteins were the topic for Matthew Gebbie; and Chinese architecture was spotlighted in Yan Wencheng's talk. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Erik Spickard and Jessica Perkins presented their talks at the Grad Slam Finals. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

David Copp spoke about an artificial pancreas; and Sarah Abdul-Wajid discussed sea squirts. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Selvi Ersoy discussed antibiotics and Lakshmanan Nataraj spoke about malicious software. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Communications Peer Melissa Rapp and Professional Development Peer Shawn Warner-Garcia also contributed to this article.


Grad Slam 2015 Semifinal Round 3: Glues, Guts, and Games

Competitors in Semifinal Round 3 enjoy a laugh as they take questions from the audience. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

The 2015 Grad Slam Semifinal Round 3 was held on Wednesday afternoon in the Engineering Science Building. Eight competitors came, only four moved on to the finals. Be sure to read to the very end for an exciting twist in this Semifinal round!

Presenting in Semifinal Round 3 were, clockwise from left, Mary Toothman, Ashley Sanford, and Jamie Booth. Credit: Patricia MarroquinHere are the noble contenders and their provocative topics.

  • Jamie Booth, Mechanical Engineering: “Gecko-Inspired Adhesive Materials.” Jamie's research investigates the adhesive properties of the toes of geckos in order replicate the structure that generates intimate contact with almost any surface. Jamie is working to take the insights gained from micro-scale replications of these adhesive properties and address macro-scale problems of implementation.
  • Selvi Ersoy, Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology: “Killing Me Softly with Antibiotics.” Selvi's presentation showcased the problems with current protocols in antibiotic efficacy testing. She compared lab test environments (in which antibiotics are tested in a lab broth akin to a Caesar's Palace buffet) to actual physiological environments (in which antibiotics face immunity systems that rival the tenacity of Mr. T) in order to show that scientists have been determining antibiotic dosing all wrong.
  • Graduate Division Associate Dean Karen Myers goes over procedures with the Semifinal Round 3 judges, who include Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, foreground. Credit: Patricia MarroquinMatthew Gebbie, Materials: “Simplifying Nature's Invention: Engineering Mussel Proteins into Biomedical Glues." Matthew's research takes inspiration from the way that mussels adhere to surfaces in aqueous environments as the basis for developing simplified versions of these adhesives in order to produce more positive and less traumatic outcomes in orthopedic surgery.
  • Daniel Hieber, Linguistics: “Renaissance on the Bayou: Reviving the Chitimacha Language.” Daniel is working with language documentation material recorded over 70 years ago in order to revive the Chitimacha language in Louisiana.
  • Celeste Pilegard, Psychological and Brain Sciences: “What Can We Learn From Video Games?” Celeste's research is investigating how to transform highly motivated types of learning in video game environments into long-lasting and meaningful learning using reflective techniques.
  • Associate Dean Karen Myers congratulates Selvi Ersoy. Credit: Patricia MarroquinAshley Sanford, Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology: “The Science of Meaning-Making.” Ashley's talk presented the other side of the post-traumatic stress coin: post-traumatic growth. She is researching how people make sense of traumatic experiences and are ultimately able to grow and learn from those experiences.
  • Erik Spickard, Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology: “Gonads to Guts: Reprogramming an Organ in the Nematode C. elegans.” Erik is trying to figure out why a little worm's gonad turned into a second gut when a particular gene was turned on in the worm. He believes that this process of changing one organ into another (or "transorganogenesis") could revolutionize the way that doctors treat failing or dysfunctional organs in humans.
  • Mary Toothman, Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology: “In the Water or in the Genes? What Makes an Infectious Disease Deadly (or Not)?" Mary's research investigates the influence of both genetics and physical environments in determining the fatality of a particular type of fungus in frogs.

After deliberating, the judges selected four presenters to compete in the Grad Slam Final Round this Friday, April 17, at 3 p.m. in Corwin Pavilion. Not only that, each of the advancing presenters gets a $200 cash prize!

And the Semifinal Round 3 winners are ...

Selvi Ersoy

Matthew Gebbie

Erik Spickard

Celeste Pilegard*

Well done to all!

Shawn's Superlatives:

Erik Spickard explains "transorganogenesis." Credit: Patricia MarroquinBest Accent: Jamie Booth

Best Grey's Anatomy Moment: Matthew Gebbie (showing an orthoscopic image from his own shoulder surgery)

Best Use of a Foreign Language: Daniel Hieber (Chitimacha)

Best Marrying of Nature and Nurture: Mary Toothman

Most Optimistic: Celeste Pilegard ("Video games might have a place in the classroom of the future!")

Most Inspirational: Ashley Sanford ("The tree with the deepest roots is the last to go down in a storm.")

Most Imperative: Selvi Ersoy ("What you don't know CAN kill you.")

Daniel Hieber was chosen to advance to the Final round when Celeste Pilegard withdrew due to a previous commitment. Credit: Patricia MarroquinLongest Word: Eric Spickard ("Transorganogenesis")


* Plot Twist!

Due to a previous commitment to present her research at a conference this Friday, Celeste Pilegard withdrew from participation in the Grad Slam Final Round. As a result, the competitor with the next-highest score from both of the judges' semifinal rounds (which occurred Monday and today) was selected to replace Celeste in the Finals.


And that competitor is ...

Daniel Hieber!

The winners of Semifinal Round 3 are, from left, Matthew Gebbie (Materials); Celeste Pilegard (Psychological and Brain Sciences); Selvi Ersoy (Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology); and Erik Spickard (Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology). Celeste is unable to advance to the Finals due to a previous commitment, so Daniel Hieber (Linguistics) will join Selvi, Matthew, and Erik at the Finals on Friday. Credit: Patricia Marroquin


Grad Slam 2015 Semifinal Round 2: Heroes, Hope, and a Last Stand

Umi Hoshijima answers a question from the audience while other presenters from Semifinal Round 2 listen. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Here's what you missed at the 2015 Grad Slam Semifinal Round 2 on Tuesday afternoon, which took place in the Multipurpose Room of the Student Resource Building.

Sabrina Liu spoke about the power of hope. Credit: Patricia MarroquinSemifinal Round 2 featured nine crowd favorites (aka "The People's Choice") chosen from the eight preliminary rounds. Sadly, only two of these favorites could advance for a chance to be crowned Grad Slam Champion and Supreme Ruler of the UCSB Grad Student Universe.

Here are the worthy contenders and their titillating topics.

  • Ty Brandt, Bren School of Environmental Science and Management: “Why Study Snow from the Beach?” Ty discussed how if we combine recent advances that use airborne snow observatory data with eco-hydrologic models, we might be able to reduce river-runoff forecast uncertainty, thereby improving the chances of maximizing the use of California's fresh water resources.
  • Aileen Fullchange, Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology: “The HEROES Project.” Aileen's presentation focused on empathy, its importance, and ways to increase it. Specifically, she talked about the development of an empathy-based intervention, known as the HEROES project (Harnessing Empathy Results in Opportunities for Everyday Solutions).
  • Abel Gustafson, Communication: “Predicting Election Outcomes using Wikipedia.” Abel demonstrated how the communication patterns of Internet users using sites like Wikipedia can predict the outcome of United States political elections with greater accuracy than the traditional prediction models that are made from public opinion polls.
  • Umi Hoshijima discussed kelp forests and global ocean change. Credit: Patricia MarroquinUmihiko Hoshijima, Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology: “Kelp Forests on Acid: Local Climate Change Mitigation in a Changing Ocean." Umi talked about how global ocean change is a global problem: one that is difficult to mitigate or manage on a local scale. He showed how kelp forests and seagrasses could locally mitigate the effects of ocean acidification and hypoxia and what this meant for biology and coastal management.
  • Richard Huskey, Communication: “Using Brains to Change Minds.” Richard's talk focused on the neuropsychological process of persuasion. He discussed how brain-imaging data can be used to improve persuasive message design for high-risk people.
  • Aileen Fullchange talked about empathy and the HEROES project. Credit: Patricia MarroquinSabrina Liu, Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology: “The Power of Hope: First Year Students' Adjustment to College Amidst Tragedy." Sabrina explored various psychosocial predictors of college adjustment, such as hope and depression, in first-year students' success. She compared these factors' influence in a typical year versus a high-stress year in which there was an event of mass violence on campus.
  • Ian McCullough, Bren School of Environmental Science and Management: “A Last Stand? Will California's Ponderosa Pine Forests Survive Climate Change?” Ian talked about how droughts, warming temperatures, and shrinking snow pack pose threats to California's iconic mountain forests. To predict what the future holds for one of California's most ecologically and economically important tree species, he used tree-rings to understand a range of climate change scenarios.
  • Lakshmanan Nataraj, Electrical and Computer Engineering: “Photographing Computer Programs to Identify Malicious Software.” Lakshmanan talked about stopping malware. His research looked at computer programs in a completely different way: as digital photographs. His programs looked for patterns in these images, similar to how we would look for patterns in our daily photos, and then trained a system using Artificial Intelligence to identify malicious software programs.
  • Ken Sterling, Education: “Imagine a Reality TV Show with a Boss Handing a Scan-Tron Form to an Employee." Ken's talk focused on the discussion of high-stakes testing, multiple choice test forms, and the "real world" and how it caused anxiety. He contrasted these high anxiety methods to the benefit of students participating in groups with project-based, hands-on learning.

After deliberating, the judges tapped two worthy contenders to advance to the Grad Slam Final Round this Friday, April 17, at 3 p.m. in Corwin Pavilion.

And the Semifinal Round 2 winners are ...

Abel Gustafson

Lakshmanan Nataraj

Fight to the last, my friends!

Kyle's Kudos:

Ian McCullough told the audience that he's not a tree hugger, but he might take one out for a coffee. Credit: Patricia MarroquinBest Accent (Again): Ty Brandt

Best Joke: Ian McCullough ("I'm not a tree hugger. I might shake its hand or take it out for a coffee.")

Best Heckler Handler: Ken Sterling (Who wants a kid who's average? There's one in every crowd.")

Best Pocket Square: Umihiko Hoshijima

Best Salesperson: Lakshmanan Nataraj ("The future of cyber security is right here!)

Best Use of Wikipedia: Abel Gustafson

Most Hopeful: Sabrina Liu

Most Interactive: Aileen Fullchange

Most Polite: Richard Huskey

The winners of Semifinal Round 2 (the People's Choice winners), who will advance to the Finals, are, from left, Lakshmanan Nataraj (Electrical and Computer Engineering) and Abel Gustafson (Communication). Credit: Patricia Marroquin