Current & Past Commencement Speakers

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    2024 Commencement, César Rojas-Bravo, Ph.D. Candidate UCSC

    César Rojas-Bravo is a final-year Ph.D. candidate in Astronomy & Astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz, studying dark energy through observations of supernovae. Born and raised in Costa Rica, César pursued a double major in Physics and Classics—the study of Ancient Greece and Rome—before moving to California. He strongly believes in the unifying power of Astronomy, and is deeply committed to bringing astronomy to underrepresented communities worldwide. In his free time, César enjoys exploring cultures and languages from across the globe.
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    2022 Commencement, Amanda Quirk, Ph.D. Candidate UCSC

    Amanda Quirk is a fifth year Ph.D. candidate at UC Santa Cruz, where she studies stellar kinematics as a function of age in nearby spiral galaxies with Prof. Raja GuhaThakurta. She defended her dissertation in April 2022. In the fall she will begin a teaching postdoc at Columbia University. Amanda is passionate about sharing Astronomy with others and plans to have a career focused in STEM education, with an emphasis on accessibility.
  • 2018 Commencement, Kingsley Odigie, Ph.D., Chancellor's Postdoctoral Research Fellow, UC Riverside

    Dr. Kingsley Odigie is a University of California Chancellor’s postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of California, Riverside (UCR). He completed his Ph.D. in Environmental Toxicology at the University of California in Santa Cruz in 2014. Additionally, he holds a B.S. in Microbiology with a minor in Chemistry and a B.S. in Forensic Science from San José State University in California. Dr. Odigie’s research interests encompass the use of geochemical tools (e.g., chemical speciation and isotopic composition analyses) and computer models to (1) reconstruct past environmental conditions, (2) unravel the biogeochemical processes that control the cycling of trace element contaminants and understand their associated implications for human and environmental health, and (3) predict biogeochemical cycling of contaminants in response to expected natural and anthropogenic environmental changes. He has received several recognitions for his research, including Department of Energy Office of Science Graduate Student Fellowship, University of California Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellowship, and International Association for GeoChemistry (IAGC) Kharaka Award. He is enthusiastic about mentoring students from diverse backgrounds in STEM. Outside work, he enjoys spending time with his family and friends and biking.
  • 2017 Commencement, J. Guevara, Ph.D., City of Santa Cruz Economic Development Manager

    J. Guevara is the City of Santa Cruz Economic Development Manager and Municipal Broadband and Right-of-Way Manager, and Ph.D. in Literature. He specializes in business recruitment and retention, leading broadband internet development, and solving business issues while being an effective change agent within local government. Guevara has led the City of Santa Cruz's Fiber-to-the-Home efforts since 2014, establishing best practices to support a competitive internet marketplace while ensuring community benefits and social equity for fast and affordable internet to confront the digital divide. He spearheaded the creative strategy for, redefining what a local government website can achieve through an authentic brand, sustained by an in-house creative team. Directly connecting his 2012 UCSC Ph.D. in Literature with his research on the cultural studies of the bicycle, Guevara is helping to bring a 250-bike bike share system to the City of Santa Cruz by the summer of 2017 through a public-private partnership at no cost to taxpayers. Guevara earned his MA in Literature in 2009 from UCSC and his BA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University in 2002, where he was the College of the Humanities Hood Recipient and the Creative Writing Honors Student of the Year. He lives with his wife and two sons on the Westside and provides professional headshots to local politicians, academics, and creatives at

  • 2016 Commencement, Jennifer A. González, Professor of History of Art and Visual Culture

    Jennifer A. González is Professor of History of Art and Visual Culture at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She also teaches at the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program, New York. She received her B.A. from Yale University and her Ph.D. from U.C. Santa Cruz. She has been the recipient of numerous grants including fellowships from the Ford Foundation, the American Association of University Women, the UC Humanities Research Institute and the American Council of Learned Societies. Her first book Subject to Display: Reframing Race in Contemporary Installation Art (MIT Press, 2008) was a finalist for the Charles Rufus Morey Book Award given for an especially distinguished book in the history of art. Her second book, Pepón Osorio, (University of Minnesota Press, 2013) won second place in the “Art” category at the International Latino Book Awards of 2014. 
  • 2015 Commencement, Joe Palca, Ph.D. (UCSC, Psychology)

    Joe Palca has covered a wide range of science topics—everything from biomedical research to astronomy. He also occasionally fills in as a guest host for NPR's Talk of the Nation Science Friday. Palca began his journalism career in television in 1982 as a health producer for the CBS affiliate in Washington, D.C., and then worked for Nature and Science magazines. He has won numerous awards, including the National Academies Communications Award for excellence in communicating science, engineering, and medicine to the general public. He has also received the Science-in-Society Award of the National Association of Science Writers, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science Journalism Prize. In 2009 Palca was the first-ever science-writer-in-residence at the Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif. With Flora Lichtman, Palca is the coauthor of Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us (2011), which explores psychology, evolutionary biology, anthropology, and more, to uncover the roots of human annoyance.

  • 2014 Commencement, Valery Rashkov, Ph.D. (UCSC, Astrophysics)

    Valery Rashkov is currently a Research Scientist at Pandora Media. Working on their Playlist team, he is developing algorithms that leverage huge quantities of data to improve the listening experience of millions of Internet radio listeners. At UC Santa Cruz, Valery completed his Ph.D. in Astronomy and Astrophysics. His thesis research focused on the dark matter-dominated outskirts of Milky Way-sized galaxies, which he studied using numerical simulations under the guidance of Prof. Piero Madau. Valery also completed the Emphasis in Statistics and Graduate Student Leadership certificate programs. During his last year at UCSC, he was selected to and served on the Astronomy and Astrophysics Department's Graduate Admissions Committee.