2019 Grad Slam Finalists and Winners

Lori Kletzer, Pauline Blaimont, Allison Nguyen, Regina Spranger, Rachel Harbeitner, Theadora Block, Andrea David, Anna Lowe, Minmei Wang, Benjamin Lehmann, Caitlin Kroeger, Natalia Koulinka, Sarah Kienle, Priscilla Sung

Congratulations to Rachel Harbeitner!
3rd Place
UC Office of the President Grad Slam
May 10, 2019

Read about the UC system-wide Grad Slam of May 10, 2019, in UC News.

March 8, 2019, 5:30 p.m.
Kuumbwa Jazz Center
320-2 Cedar Street
Santa Cruz
View the entire 2019 Grad Slam event here.

Congratulations to the winners of UC Santa Cruz Grad Slam 2019!

sarah-kienle-cropped-160x160.jpgUCSC Grad Slam Champion, $3000
Sarah Kienle
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology 
Ph.D., 6th year
High risk, high reward: Sex-specific foraging strategies of seals

Hometown: Austin, TX

What about your research is most exciting? I am continually surprised by how little we know about the basic biology of marine mammals—a group including some of the biggest animals on the planet. But this means so many discoveries await to be uncovered!

Why UCSC for graduate study? To work with the incredible biologists in EEB. When I visited, EEB had such a friendly, collaborative, and welcoming feel I was instantly sold!

Fun fact: I do aerial silks for exercise and fun. Thinking about next moves makes me forget how hard I'm working.

rachel-harbeitner-cropped-160x160.jpgRunner-up, $1500
Rachel Harbeitner
Ocean Sciences
Ph.D., 5th year
Tiny Carbon Eaters of the Deep Sea

Hometown: Eldersburg, MD

What about your research is most exciting? Getting to study and observing the deep sea, which is typically hard to access and still highly under explored.

Why UCSC for graduate study? For the abundance of resources and easy access to the ocean, while also being in the middle of the redwoods.

Fun fact: When I first started out in oceanography, I had the chance to tag sharks in the Gulf of Mexico.

priscilla-sung-cropped-160x160.jpgPeople’s Choice, $750
Priscilla Sung
Ph.D., 7th year
The Hidden Workout of Bilingualism: Lessons from Preschoolers

Hometown: Boston, MA

What about your research is most exciting? Having the opportunity to see firsthand children’s actions and experiences in the world shape their cognitive development, and to be able to give back to a community that is near and dear to me.

Why UCSC for graduate study? The stellar research reputation ... and 250+ days of sunshine a year.

Fun fact: Graduate student by day, professional bread and pastry baker by night!

The other 10 finalists also gave stellar performances! Videos of all presentations will be posted to our YouTube channel soon.

pauline-blaimont-cropped-160x160.jpgPauline Blaimont
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Ph.D., 6th year
If Lizards Could Sing

Hometown: Anaheim, CA

What about your research is most exciting? Contributing to climate change research, which is such a pressing topic in our time, and having the opportunity to do so while working with amazing people from around the world is incredible, not to mention my study species is incredibly cute!

Why UCSC for graduate study? The Sinervo lab here does exactly what I am interested in doing, and there is not much to dislike about Northern California, except for the cost of living!

Fun fact: I picked up crocheting in graduate school and somehow ended up in the niche market of crocheting hats for cats and have an Etsy shop called “Pauline’s Menagerie” where I sell them!

theadora-block-cropped-160x160.jpgTheadora Block
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Ph.D., 5th year
Understanding Social Networks in a Little Brown Bird

Hometown: Sebastopol, CA

What about your research is most exciting?
Learning about the complexities of social dynamics and behaviors in birds and how that can excite people to learn more about the birds in their backyards.

Why UCSC for graduate study?
To work with my advisor, Dr. Bruce Lyon, and contribute to the long-term study of the golden-crowned sparrow.

Fun fact:
I learned to sing the golden-crowned sparrow song at the tender age of 8!

andrea-david-cropped-160x160.jpgAndrea David
Computer Science and Computer Engineering
Ph.D., 2nd year
PANTHER: Persistent Autonomous Monitoring for Timely Detection of Wildfires

Hometown: Burlingame, CA

What about your research is most exciting? The opportunity to see my project applied outside of the lab by fire scientists to prevent California wildfires.

Why UCSC for graduate study? I fell in love with UCSC as an undergraduate and chose to pursue my graduate studies here because of the influential and enthusiastic engineering faculty and, of course, the scenic views!

Fun fact: I speak four languages fluently: English, Hungarian, Serbian, and Croatian. The last is similar to Serbian but is written in the Roman instead of the Cyrillic alphabet.

natalia-koulinka-cropped-160x160.jpgNatalia Koulinka
History of Consciousness
Ph.D., 6th year
Social Change and Democratic Participation in the Soviet Union and Beyond

Hometown: Minsk, Belarus, and Palo Alto, CA

What about your research is most exciting?
I am particularly interested in the transformation of the Soviet Union and its ultimate collapse.

Why UCSC for graduate study?
The History of Consciousness Department provides opportunities for interdisciplinary research and also encourages the development of graduate students as researchers, educators, and leaders.

Fun fact:
I enjoy reading and have a sizeable collection of books at home.

caitlin-kroeger-cropped-160x160.jpgCaitlin Kroeger
Ocean Sciences
Ph.D., 6th year
Resiliency of seabirds in a changing world

Hometown: Petaluma, CA

What about your research is most exciting?
That my research brings us closer to understanding how sensitive species will cope with climate change. And I love that I get to spend time in the field with some of the most charming feathered creatures on earth.

Why UCSC for graduate study?
The Monterey Bay area has a great marine science network, and UCSC is a fantastic school for learning about the ocean. Also, it doesn’t get much better than a campus full of redwoods and a view of the bay.

Fun fact:
I have spent nearly 1,000 days of my life on remote islands living with seabirds and can do a really good albatross courtship dance imitation.

benjamin-lehmann-cropped-160x160.jpgBenjamin Lehmann
Ph.D., 3rd year
Listening to dark matter

Hometown: Palo Alto, CA

What about your research is most exciting?
I think about my life as the one chance I have to take a journey through the universe. I’m lucky enough to be able to spend that journey studying the nature of the universe itself: What is it made of? Why can we live in it? How did it get to be the way it is today? I can’t think of a more exciting life to live!

Why UCSC for graduate study?
UCSC is home to some of the world’s leading experts on astronomy, cosmology, and particle physics. My work combines all three. Also, I’m a lifelong Californian, so the weather is a plus!

Fun fact:
I’m not much of a chemist, but I love baking! When my schedule allows, I make bread once a week. Also, some of my favorite students have been inmates. I taught at San Quentin Prison for two years, and now I teach at the Santa Cruz County Jail.

anna-lowe-cropped-160x160.jpgAnna Lowe
Ocean Sciences
Ph.D., 6th year
Baby Fish: Where do they come from? Where do they go?

Hometown: Littleton, CO

What about your research is most exciting?
Unraveling the complex coastal dynamics that enable our nearshore marine ecosystems to thrive. Also, I love that my research uses models so that I can create beautiful animations to explain our findings.

Why UCSC for graduate study?
To learn ocean modeling from my advisor, Dr. Christopher Edwards, and to live near Monterey Bay!

Fun fact:
Growing up, I played competitive soccer and earned a Division I scholarship to play soccer at Coastal Carolina University.

allison-nguyen-cropped-160x160.jpgAllison Nguyen
Ph.D., 2nd year
Fake News and Desirable Difficulties

Hometown: Visalia, CA

What about your research is most exciting?
Fake news is an important phenomenon to understand, and prevention is essential to society.

Why UCSC for graduate study?
I chose UCSC because of how supported the graduate students are here and because of the wonderful faculty, staff, and grad students in the Psychology Department.

Fun fact:
I love the science of baking bread, and I love succulents.

regina-spranger-cropped-160x160.jpgRegina Spranger
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Ph.D., 3rd year
Extinction Risk: Surviving vs. Thriving

Hometown: Danville, CA

What about your research is most exciting?
The conservation aspect and working with reserves and land managers to protect amphibian populations.

Why UCSC for graduate study?
I was very interested in the work the Sinervo lab does both locally and internationally.

Fun fact:
I volunteer at the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter, working with stray dogs and teaching classes to new volunteers.

minmei-wang-cropped-160x160.jpgMinmei Wang
Computer Science and Computer Engineering
Ph.D., 2nd year
Efficient and secure communication for the Internet of Things (IoT)

Hometown: Chizhou, Anhui, China

What about your research is most exciting? I like research highly related to our daily lives. I’m excited that my research may potentially contribute to a more convenient life.

Why UCSC for graduate study? To work with my wonderful advisor, Prof. Chen Qian, on interesting research projects. And I like the climate of Santa Cruz.

Fun fact: I am a good runner. I often run on the playground or around campus for a circuit.


Grad Slam, a competition also referred to as the 3-Minute Thesis Challenge,* challenges graduate students to present years ’ worth of academic research in a concise, compelling, three-minute talk to a non-expert audience. It encourages students to clarify their ideas and help others understand and appreciate the significance of their research or other graduate work. The contest is open to all graduate students.

The winner of the UCSC Grad Slam receives $3,000; the runner-up receives $1,500; and the people s choice winner receives $750. The UCSC Grad Slam winner will compete in the UC-wide Grad Slam on May 3, 2018, at LinkedIn, 222 2nd Street in San Francisco. UCSC’s 2017 champion, John Felts, took second place at the UC Grad Slam held May 4, 2017. Visit UCOP Grad Slam to view the 2017 finalists from all UC campuses and to watch the livestream of the event on May 3, 2018. Viewers on site and virtual may participate in the peoples choice voting!

Registration for the 2018 Grad Slam opened November 13, 2017, and closed January 21, 2018, at midnight PST. All registrants had to submit a 3-minute-maximum video of their presentation via a share link entered in the registration form. A panel of UCSC staff judges reviewed the videos and selected the finalists who competed in UCSC’s live Grad Slam on Friday, February 23, 2018, starting at 5:30 p.m., at the Music Center Recital Hall, with a reception following for competitors and audience.

View video of the three awardees, and the complete list of finalists from the UCSC 2018 Grad Slam
View video of the three awardees, and the complete list of finalists from the UCSC 2017 Grad Slam
View video of the three awardees, and the complete list of finalists from the UCSC 2016 Grad Slam
View video of the three awardees, and the complete list of finalists from the UCSC 2015 Grad Slam

*Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) is a registered trademark of The University of Queensland.

See Also