Grad Slam 2024

Kuumbwa Jazz Center

320-2 Center Street | Santa Cruz
Saturday, March 2
7:00-9:00 p.m. Pacific Time
Free and open to the public
Live Stream

What is Grad Slam?

Grad Slam is a communication contest hosted by the UC Santa Cruz Graduate Division that is open to all graduate students, except those who have won 1st place in a previous Grad Slam. (Currently enrolled graduate students who have won 2nd or the people’s choice in a prior Grad Slam may enter again.) Participants have a maximum of three minutes to explain their graduate research or artistic endeavor to a general audience.

Check out Nada Miljkovic’s Sunday, February 25, interview of Sonya Newlyn on KSQD Radio, The Cutting Edge show at 7:30 p.m.

Prizes are $3000 to the winner, $1500 to the runner-up, $750 to the people’s choice (the last decided by text message voting, one vote per audience member, both those in person and watching the live-stream).

Every UC holds a Grad Slam, and the ten UC Grad Slam champions compete in the UC Office of the President Grad Slam the first Friday of May in San Francisco. The 2024 UCOP Grad Slam will be held May 3, 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time, at LinkedIn, 222 2nd Street, San Francisco, and will be live streamed to the UCOP Grad Slam website.

Professional Skills: NetworkingResearch & Data AnalysisWriting & Communication

Divisional Preliminary Rounds


The Graduate Division will hold in cooperation with the academic divisions (Arts, Baskin Engineering, Humanities, Physical and Biological Sciences, and Social Sciences) five on-campus preliminary rounds to determine the top two presenters from each round to be the finalists of Grad Slam on Saturday, March 2, 2024, at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center. The top two presenters in each preliminary round will win $500 each. The first ten graduate students to register to participate in their preliminary round and who actually participate will receive a $50 e-gift certificate to a UCSC-participating vendor.

The 2024 academic division preliminary rounds will be held February 5-9 on campus at the Graduate Student Commons Fireside Lounge. Zoom is not an option for participation in a divisional preliminary round, the final round at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center, or the UC system-wide Grad Slam the first Friday of May 2024 in San Francisco.

Arts Division
Digital Arts and New Media, Environmental Art and Social Practice, Film and Digital Media, History of Art and Visual Culture, Music, Social Documentation, Theater Arts, Visual Studies

Monday, February 5

Arts Division preliminary round winners: 

  • Em Butler, Social Documentation, Coming Home to Mango Orchards
  • Aaron Samuel Mulenga, Visual Studies, Tenga Tenga: Can I Help You Carry Your Load?
Photo of the participants in the UC Santa Cruz Grad Slam Arts Division preliminary round
Photo of the preliminary round winners: Em Butler and Aaron Samuel Mulenga with Host Peter Biehl

Back row: Host VPDGS Peter Biehl, graduate student participants Marilia Kaisar (Film & Digital Media), Nina Barzegar (Music), Mike Van Zandt (Theater Arts), Em Butler (Social Documentation), Aaron Samuel Mulenga (Visual Studies), Azad Azizyan (Social Documentation), Shelly Horn (Theater Arts), judges
L. Esthela Bañelos (Assistant Dean for Student Success and Chief of Staff, Arts Division), Karolina Karlic (Associate Professor of Art), Wanda Kownacki (nonprofit board member, volunteer, and supporter of UCSC Arts), graduate student participant Saul Villegas (Digital Arts & New Media), judges Albert Narath (Associate Professor of History of Art & Visual Culture), Madalen Benson (graduate student, Visual Studies); Front: Timekeeper Logan Barsigian (Graduate Student Intern, Graduate Student Commons), Sonya Newlyn (Professional Development Coordinator, Graduate Division), graduate student participant Jamilli Pacheco-Urquiza (Social Documentation)

Baskin Engineering
Applied Mathematics, Biomolecular Engineering and Bioinformatics, Computational Media, Computer Engineering, Computer Science and Engineering, Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Games and Playable Media, Human Computer Interaction, Natural Language Processing, Scientific Computation and Applied Mathematics, Serious Games, Statistical Science, Statistics and Applied Mathematics

Tuesday, February 6

Baskin Engineering preliminary round winners:

  • MJ Johns, Computational Media, Gamification for Community Resilience
  • Firouz Vafadari, Computer Science and Engineering, Connect to the Internet with Light!
Photo of participants in the UC Santa Cruz Grad Slam - Baskin Engineering
Photo of the winners of the Baskin Engineering Grad Slam preliminary round: MJ Johns & Firouz Vafadari with Host Roberto Manduchi

Back row: Judges Leah Kahn (Director of Academic Planning, Baskin Engineering), Logan Barsigian (Graduate Student Intern, Graduate Student Commons), graduate student participants Navid Gougol (Electrical Engineering), Fahim Hasan Khan (Computer Science & Engineering), Richard Ho (Computer Science & Engineering), Priyanka Mondal (Computer Science), host Roberto Manduchi (Associate Dean for Graduate Experience, Baskin Engineering), Iman Nodozi (Electrical Engineering), Firouz Vafadari (Computer Science & Engineering), Daniel Paul Pena (Computer Science & Engineering), Nayan Sanjay Bhatia (Computer Science & Engineering), Dustin Palea (Computational Media), judge Giulia Pagallo (UCSC Comp Sci Ph.D. alumna, former Apple ML Lead), graduate student participant Abdelrahman EL Fikky (Electrical & Computer Engineering), judge Fan Lu (Applied Mathematics postdoctoral scholar); Front row: Judge John Felts (former Elec Eng graduate student, 2017 UCSC Grad Slam champion and 2nd-place in 2017 UCOP Grad Slam, CEO and founder of CruzFoam), graduate student participants Adam Slivinsky (Statistical Science), Harikrishna Kuttivelil (Computer Engineering), Luis Salazar (Computer Science), MJ Johns (Computational Media), and Samir Ghosh (Computational Media); Kneeling in front: Sonya Newlyn (Professional Development Coordinator, Graduate Division)

Humanities Division
Feminist Studies, History, History of Consciousness, Linguistics, Literature, Philosophy

Wednesday, February 7

Humanities Division preliminary round winners:

  • Ania Mah Gricuk, History, How Chinese Herbal Tea Challenged Colonial Dominance in Malaysia
  • Maya Wax Cavallaro, Linguistics, Syllables in Our Minds: Evidence from a Learning Experiment
Photo of participants in UC Santa Cruz Grad Slam Humanities Division
Photo of winners of UC Santa Cruz Grad Slam Humanities Preliminary Round: Ania Mah Gricuk and Maya Wax Cavallaro with Host Jasmine Alinder

Back row: Host Jasmine Alinder (Dean of Humanities), graduate student participants Maya Wax Cavallaro (Linguistics), Ania Mah Gricuk (History), Chelsea Qu (Philosophy), Haley Taylor (Literature), and Philip Groth (Philosophy); Front row: Judges Elizabeth McKenzie (Editor, Writer, Shipbuilder, supporter of UCSC Humanities), Micah Perks (Professor of Literature), Alex Brondarbit (Director of Academic Human Resources, Humanities Division), Anju Reejhsinghani (Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Office of DEI), and Saskia Nauenberg Dunkell (Research Programs & Communications Manager, The Humanities Institute, Humanities Division)

Physical and Biological Sciences
Astronomy and Astrophysics, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Coastal Science and Policy, Earth and Planetary Science, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Mathematics, Microbiology and Environmental Toxicology, Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology, Ocean Sciences, Physics, Science Communication

February 8

Physical and Biological Sciences preliminary round winners:

  • Elsie Cecilia Carrillo, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, A Bubble for Trouble: Backup-Air for Snakes in Despair
  • Natalie Pedicino, Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology, From Mucus Factory to Virus Factory: A Novel Gut Virus’ Global Impact on Children
Photo of participants in the UC Santa Cruz Grad Slam - Physical and Biological Sciences Division preliminary round
Photo of the winners of the UC Santa Cruz Grad Slam Physical and Biological Sciences Division preliminary round with Host Bryan Gaensler

Back row: Graduate student participants Amanda Carbajal (Molecular, Cell, & Developmental Biology), Diana Blanco (Astronomy & Astrophysics), Maya Zeff (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology), Jenna Contuchio (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology), Xinzhe Xue (Chemistry & Biochemistry), Chloe Wohlenberg (Molecular, Cell, & Developmental Biology), Elsie Cecilia Carrillo (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology), and Natalie Pedicino (Molecular, Cell, & Developmental Biology), host  Bryan Gaensler (Dean of Physical & Biological Sciences); Front row: Judges Rachel Neuman (Director of Graduate Student Life, Graduate Division), Ian Walton (UCSC Mathematics Ph.D. Alumnus, Distinguished Graduate Student Alumnus from PBSci in 2021, Past Chair of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges), Julie Gentle (Development Assistant, Sciences Division), Nic Brody (Mathematics postdoctoral scholar), and Jaime Guevara (undergraduate student)

Social Sciences
Anthropology, Applied Economics and Finance, Economics, Education, Environmental Studies, Latin American and Latino Studies, Politics, Psychology, Sociology

February 9

Social Sciences Division preliminary round winners:

  • Nasreen Broomandkhoshbacht, Anthropology, Colonized: Conquistadors, Cleanrooms, and the Evolution of Ancient Pathogens
  • Brook Thompson, Environmental Studies, Integration of Indigenous Knowledge into California Water Policy
Photo of participants in the UC Santa Cruz Grad Slam Social Sciences Division preliminary round
Photo of the winners of the UC Santa Cruz Grad Slam Social Sciences Division preliminary round with Host Katharyne Mitchell

Back row: Graduate student participants Brook Thompson (Environmental Studies), Nasreen Broomandkhoshbacht (Anthropology), Elise Duffau (Psychology), Alfredo Gama Salmeron (Education), Lauren Knox (Psychology), Vanessa Oviedo (Psychology), Monique Crouse (Psychology), Piyush Gandhi (Economics), Alberto Ganis (Politics), Sophie Trobitzsch (Politics), host Katharyne Mitchell (Dean of Social Sciences); Front row: Judges Benjamin Storm (Professor of Psychology), Rafferty Lincoln (Assistant Director of Development for Social Sciences, University Advancement), Diane Bridgeman (UCSC Psychology Ph.D. alumna, Distinguished Graduate Student Alumna for Social Sciences in 2018, clinical psychologist in Santa Cruz), and Rachel Neuman (Director of Graduate Student Life, Graduate Division)

Judges of each preliminary round determined the top two presenters, who won $500 each and will advance as finalists to Grad Slam at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center on March 2, 2024.

System-wide Grad Slam Rules from UC Office of the President

All graduate students currently enrolled in UC master’s or doctoral graduate programs. In cases of collaborative research, the presenter’s contribution to the project must be salient and clearly specified.

Judging will focus on the presentation and the ability to communicate research to a non-specialist audience. Use of additional electronic media (e.g., sound and video files) must be approved in advance (email Sonya Newlyn with questions and for approval). Submissions may not contain any copyrighted material, such as licensed graphics.

A maximum of one PowerPoint slide (16:9 ratio), exclusive of title slide to be generated by UCSC Graduate Division, is allowed but is optional; no Prezi or other presentation formats. Students must create their PowerPoint slide themselves; they cannot ask someone else to design the slide. Use of PowerPoint templates is allowed. The slide can include visual elements (charts, visualizations, photos, clip art, etc.) created by someone other than the student, as long as the slide credits the original creator.

PowerPoint animation effects are allowed
Embedded audio and/or video clips (including but not limited to .gif, .avi, .mp4, .mp3, and .wmv file types) are not permitted unless they are deemed indispensable to the communication of the research topic. To request the inclusion of an audio or video clip, participants must send both the presentation with the embedded media and a short statement of justification to Sonya Newlyn for approval. Requests must be sent at least one week prior to the divisional preliminary round the requester will be participating in.

Props are allowed, but need to be cleared by Sonya Newlyn, require minimal set-up, and not produce a mess.

Timing commences when the student engages with the audience. (If engagement starts with a hand clap, a gesture, an audio or video clip or any other such engagement, prior to speaking, the clock begins at that time; if there is no such engagement the clock starts when the student begins speaking.) Timing will end after the last word is spoken.

Points will be deducted from the final score, beginning with one point at 3:03, and one point being taken off for every two seconds the speaker continues after that.


Judges rate presenters with a score of 1 to 5 (1=Poor, 2=Fair, 3=Good, 4=Very Good, 5=Excellent, with half-points allowed above 1 and below 5) in the following four categories:

The presenter translated their research and its disciplinary significance into language that all of us can understand.

The presenter delivered a talk that followed a clear and logical sequence.

The presenter delivered the talk with an effective performance style in terms of body language, eye contact, expression, volume, and pace.

The presenter conveyed enthusiasm for their research or artistic endeavor and captured and maintained the audience’s attention.