2020 Distinguished Graduate Student Alumni

2020 Distinguished Graduate Student Alumni William D. Adams, V. Ernesto Méndez, Danesh Moazed, Matt Taddy, and Nicholas Vasallo

The Division of Graduate Studies and the five academic divisions—Arts, Engineering, Humanities, Physical and Biological Sciences, and Social Sciences—announce the 2020 class of graduate student alumni honorees. View the YouTube video of this event honoring both the 2020 and 2021 honorees.


bro-adams.pngWilliam “Bro” D. Adams
Ph.D. History of Consciousness 1982
Humanities Division

William D. Adams was Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities from 2014 to 2017. In that capacity, he initiated several new grantmaking programs under the banner of The Common Good: The Humanities in the Public Square. Upon leaving NEH, Adams was named a Senior Fellow at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, where he continued his national advocacy on behalf of the humanities.

Prior to NEH, Adams served as president of Colby College from 2000 to 2014, president of Bucknell University from 1995 to 2000, and vice president and secretary of Wesleyan University from 1988 to 1995. He taught political philosophy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and at Santa Clara University, and coordinated the Great Works in Western Culture Program at Stanford University.

Adams received his Ph.D. in the History of Consciousness Program at UC Santa Cruz and his B.A. in philosophy from Colorado College. He is currently working on a book about the French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty and the painter Paul Cézanne.


ernesto-mendez.jpgV. Ernesto Méndez
Ph.D. Environmental Studies 2004
Social Sciences Division

Professor of Agroecology and Environmental Studies
University of Vermont, Environmental Program

Interim Chair
University of Vermont, Department of Plant and Soil Science

V. Ernesto Méndez is Professor of Agroecology and Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont’s Environmental Program and Interim Chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Science, where he co-directs the Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC). His research and teaching focus on agroecology, agrifood systems, participatory action research (PAR), and transdisciplinary research approaches.

At UVM he is also a faculty member of the Food Systems Graduate Program, fellow and steering committee member of the Gund Institute for Environment, and active in a variety of initiatives related to diversity, equity and inclusion. He has over 25 years of experience working with smallholder farmers and Indigenous communities in Latin America, and collaborating in agroecology efforts in a wide diversity of regions. This work has consolidated through the Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative, a community of practice that he co-directs with Martha Caswell. Recently, these efforts have expanded across the world and currently include education and research initiatives in the Northeast U.S., Latin America, Africa, and Europe. He has authored or co-authored over 50 peer-reviewed articles and chapters, as well as edited three books. Most recently, he joined his former UCSC advisor, Professor Emeritus Steve Gliessman, as the lead author of the fourth edition of the textbook Agroecology: the ecology of food systems (CRC Press), forthcoming in 2021. Ernesto was born and raised in El Salvador and maintains deep connections with his Central American roots.


danesh-moazed.jpgDanesh Moazed
Ph.D. Biology 1989
B.S. Biology 1985
Physical and Biological Sciences Division

Professor of the Department of Cell Biology, Moazed Lab
Harvard Medical School

Danesh Moazed received both his undergraduate and Ph.D. degrees at UC Santa Cruz. During this time, he carried out research in Dr. Harry Nollers laboratory, working on the structure and function of the ribosome and publishing an astonishing 17 papers in Science, Nature, Cell, and other highly ranked peer-reviewed journals; he was first author on ten of them. He went on to post-doctoral studies at UCSF with Professors Patrick O'Farrell and Sandy Johnson, in whose labs he made significant contributions to the understanding of cell development and chromatin. He went on to join the faculty at Harvard Medical School in 1998, and in July 2008 was appointed a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator.

Moazeds research now focuses on chromatin biology and epigenetic inheritance—how organisms pass on changes to the next generation through modification of gene expression, rather than through alteration of the genetic code itself. Specifically, he studies how the formation, function, and inheritance of heterochromatin in the cell’s nucleus exerts epigenetic control over gene transcription and how these changes are inherited and maintained when cells divide. He works primarily in yeast and combines approaches from biochemistry and cell biology with proteomics and genomics.

A highly cited author, Moazed has published more than 150 papers. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2019.


matt-taddy.jpgMatt Taddy
Ph.D. Statistics and Stochastic Modeling 2008
Baskin School of Engineering

Vice President for Economic Technology and the North America Chief Economist

Matt Taddy works in statistics, economics, and machine learning. He currently serves as Vice President for Economic Technology and the North America Chief Economist at Amazon. From 2008 to 2018, he was Professor of Econometrics and Statistics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. In addition to his research work at Booth, he created their first class on big data, led the development of their data science curriculum, and was the recipient of teaching awards from both faculty and students. Taddy has also worked in a variety of industry positions, including Head of Economics and Data Science for Business AI at Microsoft, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, and a research fellow at eBay. He published Business Data Science in 2019 with McGraw-Hill, and is currently writing a book on leading through the adoption of Artificial Intelligence inside companies.

Taddy received his Ph.D. in Statistics and Stochastic Modeling from UC Santa Cruz as one of the first graduates of the Applied Mathematics and Statistics Department. His Ph.D. dissertation received an Honorable Mention for the 2009 Savage Award in Applied Methodology. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Philosophy, as well as a Master’s degree in Mathematical Statistics, from McGill University. In his spare time, he loves to go sailing.


nick-vasallo-arts-honoree.jpgNicholas Vasallo
D.M.A. Music 2011
Arts Division

Director, Music Industry Studies, AV Technology, and Music Composition
Diablo Valley College

Bay Area native Nicholas Vasallo picked up the electric guitar while in high school and formed Antagony, later credited as birthing a popular subgenre of metal music called “deathcore.” A graduate of California State University, East Bay, Vasallo completed his doctorate at UC Santa Cruz. In 2010, he received the UC President’s Dissertation-Year Fellowship Award, the first arts student to receive that honor. Other honors include the American Prize, International Music Prize for Excellence in Composition, MACRO composition honorable mention (2011), and the San Francisco Choral Artists New Voices award. He has helped make Diablo Valley College “California’s finest community college for music” and a top 10 Music Industry School in California.

Vasallo created the music composition programs at Diablo Valley College and Cal Poly Pomona. He has also taught at UC Santa Cruz, CSU East Bay, and Gavilan College. His students have gone on to successful careers as media composers, concert music composers, and graduate students at prestigious composition programs throughout the Unites States. Vasallo is the recipient of the San Francisco Classical Voice Music Educator Award 2013. His music is published by Santa Barbara Music Publishers and available on Innova Recordings and Unique Leader.

Vasallo is also a passionate martial artist. He practices Jiu Jitsu and teaches Muay Thai Kickboxing at Danville Jiu Jitsu, Wrestling, and Kickboxing. He is also the creator and head instructor of the Muay Thai program at Global Martial Arts University.

He lives in Danville, California, with his wife, Denise, and their two children, Madison and Lucas.