2017 Grad Slam Finalists and Winners!

Congratulations to John Felts on winning Second Place at the 2017 UC Grad Slam competition! You can watch John’s presentation online, as well as the other nine presentations from the excellent Grad Slam champion graduate students representing each of UCs other campuses.

From left: Marco Rolandi, associate professor of electrical engineering and faculty adviser to John Felts; UCSC graduate student John Felts; and Tyrus Miller, vice provost and dean of the Division of Graduate Studies. Photo by Sonya Newlyn.

The Division of Graduate Studies is proud to announce our 2017 Grad Slam winners. Check out the 2017 UC Santa Cruz Grad Slam finalists presentations on the Division of Graduate Studies YouTube channel!

First Place, $3000: John Felts

John FeltsElectrical Engineering
2nd year, PhD
Cruz Foam: Transforming shrimp shells into surfboards
Hometown: 
Pleasanton, CA
What excites you most about your research? The opportunity to make impactful worldwide change toward a more sustainable planet by revolutionizing plastic foams.
Why did you choose to attend UCSC for graduate study? To work with Prof. Marco Rolandi on groundbreaking projects alongside an incredible research group.
Tell us a bit more about yourself! I love the English Premier League soccer team Arsenal FC.

Second Place, $1500, and the People’s Choice, $750: Sam Mansfield

Sam MansfieldComputer Engineering
3rd year, PhD
The Bed Sore Detection Project (BSDP)
Hometown: Berkeley, CA

What excites you most about your research? I want to convey the benefits of new technology. There is too much fear around technological innovations because they are treated like magic.
Why did you choose to attend UCSC for graduate study? UCSC was my first acceptance letter. On orientation day, everything fell into place, and I decided to attend.
Tell us a bit more about yourself! I am a professional tea bartender.

Our other ten finalists, each putting in a great performance:

Sarah Beganskas

Sarah BeganskasEarth Sciences
5th year, PhD
From Soil to Faucet: How Soil Microbes Can Help Improve Water Quality
Hometown:
East Meadow, NY
What excites you most about your research? I am excited to use science to address a relevant issue about which I am passionate: the sustainability of our water resources.
Why did you choose to attend UCSC for graduate study? For the opportunity to work with my wonderful adviser, Dr. Andy Fisher, on an impactful science research project.
Tell us a bit more about yourself! In my spare time I serve on the Education Committee for the Groundwater Resources Association of California.

Jared Duval

Jared DuvalComputer Science
1st year, PhD
Spokelt: An Interactive Game for Cleft Speech Therapy
Hometown: Dudley, MA
What excites you most about your research? My reserach combines my passions for technology, art, and medicine in a way that can make a positive difference in people’s lives.
Why did you choose to attend UCSC for graduate study? The Interactive Systems Lab for individuals with Special Needs in UCSC’s Computational Media Department is truly interdisciplinary. Its also set in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Tell us a bit more about yourself! I have flown a biplane.

Zhichao Chao Hu

Zhichao HuComputer Science
6th year, PhD
Linguistic and Gestural Adaptation in Virtual Agents
Hometown: Fushun, Liaoning, China
What excites you most about your research? The possibility to make future virtual agents more intelligent and natural so that they can help us achieve more in our lives.
Why did you choose to attend UCSC for graduate study? Because Im really interested in my adviser Prof. Marilyn Walkers research. I also enjoy the beautiful scenery of the campus.
Tell us a bit more about yourself! I have three cats, one dog, and twelve orchids.

Christian Johnson

Christian JohnsonPhysics
3rd year, PhD
Searching for Primordial Black Holes
Hometown: Chapel Hill, NC
What excites you most about your research? The versatility of the Fermi Large Area Telescope. I use its data to observe astrophysical sources like supernova remnants and pulsars and look for new and exotic physics like primordial black holes and dark matter. The breadth and depth of research coming from a single experiment is astounding.
Why did you choose to attend UCSC for graduate study? I learned the Physics Department is very strong in a wide variety of high-energy physics, both experiment and theory, so it seemed like a good fit.
Tell us a bit more about yourself! In my spare time, I play Ultimate Frisbee. Ive been fortunate enough to win two world championships and one national championship over the past several years.

Zeka Kuspa

Zeka KuspaMicrobiology and Environmental Toxicology
5th year, PhD
Lead ammunition kills twice: the lesser known impacts of lead on wild scavengers
Hometown: Santa Cruz, CA
What excites you most about your research? Revealing hidden impacts of environmental contaminants on wildlife and the potential for my work to effect policy and inform consumers for the protection of vulnerable species.
Why did you choose to attend UCSC for graduate study? I applied to the Smith/Finkelstein Lab because they’re leading scientists in condor lead toxicology, have strong working relationships with field biologists, and would introduce me to California condor recovery.
Tell us a bit more about yourself! I am an amateur naturalist and organize nature walks around the UCSC campus.

Jenny Lovell

Jenny LovellEnvironmental Studies
5th year, PhD
The Masculinization of Agriculture in the Vietnamese Mekong River Delta
Hometown: Pacific Grove, CA
What excites you most about your research? Uncovering assumptions about gender performance, gender identities, and gender roles in natural resource governance.
Why did you choose to attend UCSC for graduate study? The Environmental Studies Department has a uniquely interdisciplinary approach, which I embrace in my research and teaching.
Tell us a bit more about yourself! I do a lot of impersonations, including most Will Ferrell characters.

Andrew Marsh

Andrew MarshPhysics
7th year, PhD
The Search for Nanoflares: What Makes the Sun's Atmosphere So Hot?
Hometown: Ellicott City, MD
What excites you most about your research? I really enjoy learning how much complexity there is to the suns behavior and how it can help and harm modern society.
Why did you choose to attend UCSC for graduate study? Its great astrophysics program and because I fell in love with the town and campus the first time I visited.
Tell us a bit more about yourself! I play several string instruments (guitar, violin, mandolin, bass).

Scott Tooby

Scott ToobyDigital Arts and New Media
2nd year, MFA
Embedded Soundscaping
Hometown: Cardiff-by-the-Sea, CA
What excites you most about your research? Having the opportunity to collaborate with engineers and scientists. Being able to transition between the fields of art, music, and engineering on a daily basis is an incredibly humbling and rewarding experience.
Why did you choose to attend UCSC for graduate study? To study with composer and bioacoustic researcher David Dunn, and also because the Digital Arts and New Media program affords its students the freedom and resources we need to realize our project and research goals.
Tell us a bit more about yourself! I’m also a composer who plays piano and djembe and makes electronic instruments. When away from my instruments, I whistle for 3 to 4 hours every day. I love whistling.

Brandt Warecki

Brandt WareckiMolecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology
4th year, PhD
How do living cells deal with broken chromosomes?
Hometown: Campbell, CA
What excites you most about your research?
I am constantly awed by the ability to visualize processes fundamental to life.
Why did you choose to attend UCSC for graduate study? The experience of working in a department dedicated to the success of its members and for the opportunity to be part of a lab that is driven by curiosity and discovery.
Tell us a bit more about yourself! In high school, I helped teach a biology class in the Galápagos.

kerrie welsh

kerrie welshFilm and Digital Media
5th year, PhD
Saphic Cinemania! Female Authorship, Queer Desires, and the Birth of Cinema
Hometown: Wilmington, DE
What excites you most about your research? The possibility that we might understand our past and each other in ways that foster empathy, understanding, and new possibilities. There is nothing I love more than the thrill of discovering something unexpected in the archive!
Why did you choose to attend UCSC for graduate study? To work with renowned film scholar Shelley Stamp and other cutting-edge faculty in the innovative Film and Digital Media, integrating theory and practice. I stayed for the sea otters, monarchs, and movie theaters.
Tell us a bit more about yourself! I am also a filmmaker and collect old home movies cameras.

Check out the 2017 UC Santa Cruz Grad Slam finalists' presentations on the Division of Graduate Studies' YouTube channel!