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Winter 2016
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Kyle Crocco

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Entries in UCSB grad students (11)


Graduate Student in the Spotlight: Jacob Barrett on Chemistry & Batman 

Working in lab: Using a routine technique called gas chromatography- flame Ionization detection (GC-FID) to identify the components in liquid mixturesJacob Barrett, a second-year Ph.D. student in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department, shares a little bit about his upbringing, his research, and lessons we can all learn from his mentor, Batman. Jacob, a native of Los Angeles, earned a B.A. in Chemistry with distinction from Sonoma State University. He grew up with his mother, Tranita Barrett, his father, Barry Katz, and Renee Green, his older sister. 

Is there any particular event(s) that had a big impact or influence on you? 

A particular event I wouldn't say, but I really love museums. One of them in particular is the La Brea Tar Pits, which I try to go to every time I am in Los Angeles. It's an exhibit of extinct mammals that have been dug up from bitumen, which is a natural asphalt pit. I was excited to go there. I thought that one day I was going to be a paleontologist, but it also sort of contributed to my interest in animal life and earth's natural cycles. 

Tell us a little about your research and what you plan to achieve with that.

Basically, what I try and do is use a catalyst to convert wood into chemicals. Traditionally, these chemicals are derived from petroleum. The overarching goal of my research is to replace specific petrochemicals. The ones that I look at are high-value aromatic compounds. I would like to found a company based on garbage collection and utilization. Instead of throwing our waste into a landfill, we can find different ways to transform it into something useful. Specifically, I want to take green waste and make it into fuels and chemicals instead of just composting it, which is what most garbage collection agencies do now. 

What do you wish you had known before you started grad school? 

I wish I had known how easily you can burn out. I understand now that your mental and emotional health is so important for your success in grad school. 

Emre Discekici and I ready to hit Wildcat!

What has been a source of motivation for you in graduate studies?

The way it was explained to me by my undergraduate advisor Dr. Carmen Works, she really had a good impression on me, was that "you get to choose what you do." I really liked that aspect of it. The more education you get, the more freedom you have in what you do with the rest of you life. I kind of liked that, and that's what really drew me towards coming to graduate school versus going and working as a lab technician. 

What keeps you going now that you are in graduate school?

Well, definitely the friends that I have made here keep me going. I mean the first person I got to know well was Emre Discekici, a fellow grad student. My girlfriend Sabrina is immensely important to me. And my roommate Jordan is also really important. I live with a group of people, Michael and Sam, who are also in the Chemistry Department and we can just unwind together and we are not all stressed all the time.  

Who are your hero(oes) and/or mentors and why? 

He probably does not know who I am because he only met me once, Harry Gray is a professor at Cal Tech. I met him during a poster session for a conference. He was talking to me about my research, and I was answering his questions and discussing different experiments that he thought I should try. Basically, he was like "so you are going to apply to grad school, right?" I told him I was thinking about it, but I didn't have the grades for that. He told me that I should apply to grad school, for sure. Coming from the keynote speaker of a conference, that was just really inspiring, and so I feel like he is one of my heroes. 

Credit: DC Comics

I would really like to be like my undergrad advisor because she was such a good mentor. We do have a professional relationship, but she also has been good at managing a friendship with me. So, I really try to emulate her as a mentor with students that I work with.

You do know that my other hero is Batman? Well, Batman has completely dedicated himself to an idea, and, especially in some of the comics, he comes to a point where he realizes that what he was working on was not enough and he take it a step further. Basically, Batman's dedication is what inspires me about him the most. Batman does not let physical or mental boundaries affect him, and I wish I was capable of that. 

Name an accomplishment you are most proud of and why.

Hiking in Arenal Volcano National Park during the CSU LSAMP Project NUTria research visit in Costa Rica 2012

When I was in undergrad, I was part of Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation(LSAMP). Sonoma State does not have a very large minority population, so I ended up being one of the first students selected to go on one of the study abroad programs. It was a CSU-wide thing, and I went to Costa Rica for a summer project. After I graduated, I found out that they had nominated me for the PROUD Award, which is a CSU-wide award. You get selected from the different CSU campuses to be in this program. It was really cool. Still talking to Dr. Sam Brannen, my scholarship advisor from LSAMP, and talking to my academic advisor as well, it's crazy to see just how much they appreciated what I was doing and really I was appreciating them for giving me all these opportunities. It was a really nice symbiotic relationship between us. 

What do you do to relax? Favorite places?

I really like going to the beach and looking out at the ocean. I enjoy walking in nature. Going on hikes. I enjoy playing sports. Noodle City is by far my favorite place here. I really like Wildcat. 

What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you? 

Most people don't know that I had a Bar Mitzvah and that I am Jewish. My mother is Creole and my father is an all-American Jewish man. To appreciate what's it like to be Black and Jewish, see video below. 

What do you hope to be doing 5 or 10 years out of graduate school?

In five years, I hope to be running my own garbage and recycling company. Ten years from now? I am not sure. I really do enjoy teaching, so it might be nice at some point to be a professor. I definitely want to own a home and maybe have some kids. 

Do you have any advice for current graduate students?

You can find research that you like, but do you get along with your advisor and do you get along with the people in your group? If you can't do those things, then you are going to have a miserable time. 

Yosemite Summer 2015 trip with UCSB and new friends. #yesnewfriends 


Graduate Student in the Spotlight: Abel Gustafson on Playing Like a Champion 

Abel Gustafson at the Grad Slam semifinal. Credit: Patricia MarroquinOn and off the court, first-year graduate student Abel Gustafson plays like a champion. He sets goals, reaches them, and doesn't make excuses. His strategy has served him well, both as a beach volleyball competitor and as a motivated researcher in UCSB's Communication Department.

Although only in his first year of study at UCSB, Abel has already excelled in the Grad Slam 2015, placing as runner-up in the final round with his topic titled, "Predicting Election Outcomes Using Wikipedia."

Despite his successes, and the challenges of preparing for peak performance in both academic and athletic realms, Abel maintains an optimistic, humble outlook. In this Graduate Student Spotlight, he tells us why he feels grateful to call UCSB home.

Tell me about yourself. What are you studying and where did you do your undergraduate work?

I am in my first year in the Communication Ph.D. program. I have a master's degree from the University of Hawaii (Communication) and two bachelor's degrees from the University of Minnesota-Duluth (Communication, Journalism).

Where did you grow up? Tell us a little about your family and early education.

I grew up in Duluth – a medium-sized tourist town in Minnesota that is populated exclusively by people who are interested in kayaks, granola, craft breweries, and the current trending brand of outdoor apparel. 

My parents are both teachers. I was lucky enough to grow up saturated with quality instruction and leadership – in all major areas of life. This atmosphere had a significant effect on me and my siblings. My sister has a doctoral degree in music, one of my brothers is working toward his Ph.D. at Mayo Clinic in pharmacology, and my other brother is a freshman at MIT this year. Conversation at the dinner table is not dull.

Is there any particular event or events that had a big impact on you and helped shape who you are today? 

My undergraduate academic advisor at the University of Minnesota (Dr. Ryan Goei) was responsible for lighting my fire for social science research. He set me on the path to the University of Hawaii for my master's degree.

Living in Hawaii had a profound effect on my view of the world and my place in it. With help from the friends and faculty around me, I was able to live simply – while also learning how to scientifically tackle some of the big questions of human behavior and its psychological mechanisms.

Tell us a little about your research and how you came to choose the topic.

Patterns of social behavior are a very challenging and nuanced subject of research. Unfortunately, they are also very fascinating and important, so it is hard to stay away. 

Most of my research interests focus on how and why people form and change opinions about ideas, things, and each other. The explosion of social connectivity via the Internet has created new and exciting opportunities for looking at social influence, social networks, and the diffusion of information. 

What has graduate student life been like for you? 

Excellent. The GSA Lounge has bagels once a week and free coffee every day. What’s not to love? You know where to find me on Wednesday mornings. Grad life has also been busy. I wear many hats, so I try to make every hour of every day count toward the fulfillment of at least one of my diverse goals.

Overall, it has been rewarding. Just being here is a fulfillment of a goal in itself, so I am grateful every day.

Abel competing at the AVP Manhattan Beach Open. Credit: Ed Chan

What do you wish you had known before you started grad school?

  1.  How few hours are in a day. 
  2.  How few weeks are in a quarter. 

What do you like most about grad school and what do you like least?

I love being exposed to so many diverse research topics. The sense of camaraderie and interdisciplinary opportunity across the UCSB faculty and departments is palpable and inspiring. 

For a first-year student like myself, this blessing can also be a curse. It is difficult to choose to allocate your time and energy on a single, narrow dissertation topic when so many equally interesting topics are also available. 

If research were likened to dating, I’d prefer to be single and playing the field – rarely committing to being in an exclusive relationship with just one research question.

What has been a source of motivation or drive for you in your graduate studies?

Deadlines and program requirements! On a more serious note, no matter the subject, I like to understand how and why things work. We humans often do things that are ridiculous, inspirational, tragic, unpredictable, or brilliant – all before breakfast.

If we can understand the working mechanisms behind these actions, then maybe we can find ways to have a little more of the good and a little less of the bad.

Who are your heroes and/or mentors and why? 

In regards to heroes and villains, it seems that if you truly got to know someone thoroughly, you would neither completely idolize nor completely vilify them. I try to find inspiration from small everyday things in the world around me that exemplify a greater principle that I would like to replicate in my own actions. 

Name an accomplishment you are most proud of and why.

In 2014, I had my first publication, started my Ph.D. here at UCSB, and didn’t succumb to the temptation to give anyone a gift card for Christmas. Right now, those accomplishments are the foundation on which I’m trying to build a bigger and better 2015.

Abel sailing the California coast on a friend's boat. Photo courtesy of Abel GustafsonWhat do you do to relax? 

I compete on the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour.  Most of the major events that I travel to occur during summer break, so that works out well with my school schedule.

During the school year, I have to work very hard to set aside time to train, to exercise, and to eat strategically so that I can continue to perform at a high level.

Pursuing a passion that is so far removed from my research allows me to de-stress and recharge. I do my best schoolwork immediately after a volleyball session on the beach or after training at the gym.

What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you? 

Those in the volleyball circle are generally unaware of the daily grind of grad students. 

Those in the academic circle are generally unaware of the daily grind of aspiring athletes.

However, a Venn Diagram of the personality traits of successful people in the two circles would show a significant overlap.

What do you hope to be doing 5 or 10 years out of graduate school?

Abel stays motivated by working both inside and outdoors. Photo courtesy of Abel GustafsonGetting paid to do something I love. There are a lot of things that I love to do, so I like to think that I don’t have all of my proverbial eggs in one basket. 

I am passionate about my areas of research and about the successful communication of these ideas to a larger audience. I see myself continuing in academia in a way that can further those interests.

Do you have any advice for current grad students?

Your body is not just a vehicle for your big brain. Go outside! Eat healthy! Exercise! We live in Santa Barbara – take advantage of the area.

What was it like winning runner-up in the Grad Slam 2015? How did you prepare?

We all could have talked for an hour about each of our research projects. The majority of the preparation work was just boiling down an entire field of study until all that is left is a tiny, dense kernel of information that expresses our findings and their importance in only three minutes.

It was inspirational to see the incredible research being done by the contestants. I felt very honored just to present alongside them. The award is a pure reflection of the hard work that my fellow grad student Benjamin Smith put into this project.

I’m also grateful for the support and guidance I’ve received from everyone in the Communication Department all year long. I’m so honored to call this place home. 

Anything else you’d like to add?

Rule #71: No excuses. Play like a champion.”


Graduate Student in the Spotlight: Karly Miller, Fulbright Scholar, Shows the Power of Listening

Karly MillerKarly Miller at Big Sur. Photo courtesy of Karly MillerThird-year marine science doctoral candidate Karly Miller has wanted to study the ocean for as long as she can remember.

Her desire to learn more about the ocean led her across the globe to places as far flung as New Zealand, Ecuador, and Peru. She went on to be selected to represent the United States as a Fulbright Scholar for the 2015-2016 academic year, studying the interactions between tourism and artesenal fisheries in Bahia Malaga on the Pacific Coast of Colombia.

Reading about her passion to study the ocean, you might have guessed Karly grew up in Hawaii, California, or another coastal habitat. But you would be wrong. She grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. To make up for the lack of an ocean front view in Ohio, she started diving in quarries as a teenager. By 18, she had become a divemaster, and at age 20 she was certified as an Open Water Scuba Instructor

GradKarly's journey to study the ocean really started when she won a McNair scholarship and attended the University of South Carolina, where she earned a B.S. in Marine Science and a minor in Environmental Studies and Spanish in 2009. While there, she did a summer abroad in Ecuador and a semester in New Zealand. Later, she earned a certificate studying Geography and the Environment at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru in 2011.

I met Karly at the Coral Tree Café to talk about her life as a graduate student and her research as a Fulbright scholar. We sat outside and she told me about the book that changed the way she thought about the oceans, the importance of listening, and also about how she ended up as a summer Wildfire Education & Prevention Corps Volunteer in North Dakota.

Isla PalmaIsla Palma, Bahía Málaga, Colombia. Karly's favorite escape in the field. Photo Credit Karly Miller

Let’s start with your research. What are you doing exactly?

I study how tourism development affects the social and ecological importance of fisheries in coastal subsistence-based communities. People and the environment are inextricably linked and I’m interested in studying how changes in the community and development affect these relationships in coastal settings.

Karly in FloridaOhio natives, Karly Miller, left, and her sister, Lindsay, in Florida where they first saw the ocean. Photo courtesy of Karly Miller

How do you end up studying something like that?

When I was 12, I started reading “Song for the Blue Ocean” by Carl Safina. That book really opened my eyes and motivated me to study the ocean. When I was younger I went through different phases of what about the ocean I wanted to study, but after reading that book it felt more important to me. I still wanted to be a marine scientist but I wanted my work to help influence marine conservation. 

In college I expected to show up, work hard, and become a marine scientist – but I didn’t realize I’d have to decide what sort of marine scientist. So I studied a lot of different things throughout my degree, from chemical oceanography to fisheries policy and education outreach. 

When I finished my degree I was still committed to marine conservation, but felt somewhat torn about the path forward. I felt like so much of the dialogue in marine conservation made people the problem in a very binary way ... assuming that to protect the ocean we need to remove people. While pollution and overfishing are the result of people, people are also a part of the ocean and depend on it for their well-being. So that set me on a path to look for a way to integrate marine conservation and social development.

EstuaryMangrove estuary in Bahia Malaga. Credit: Karly Miller

Let’s talk about your Fulbright. Tell me more how you came to choose Bahia Malaga on the Pacific Coast of Colombia to study?

Last summer I was a little burnt out and struggling to sort out the best path forward with my research – so I decided to take a break and go to Colombia. My plan was to try not to worry about work while I was there. I didn’t make many plans, but knew I wanted to visit the Pacific and Caribbean coasts and decided to head to the Pacific first. Looking at a map, there are just two roads that reach the coast, and it's all deep green – you have to look hard to see signs of people. I didn’t know where I was going really, but ended up in the towns around Bahía Málaga, where there is a developing tourism economy that exists alongside traditional fishing and farming practices. 

I managed not to think about work but couldn’t help my curiosity and fascination. I traveled a bit more in Colombia but pretty quickly returned to spend the rest of my trip learning (and relaxing). This gave me enough to go on so that once I got back to Santa Barbara I was able to merge my existing research with the questions that arose while in Colombia. I didn’t have much time before the Fulbright deadline but I was able to get all the pieces together and that really kicked off the development of my proposal and research plans. Since then I’ve been back to Colombia twice, and I had actually just arrived to Colombia when I got the good news about the Fulbright. 

Karly as volunteerKarly Miller doing volunteer work in Peru. Photo courtesy of Karly MillerHow will you be representing the U.S.? You have had some previous experience as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar.

Yes, before I came back to grad school I was a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar in Lima, Peru. My official duties were to go to attend a university, give presentations about my life in the U.S. to local Rotary Clubs, and to work with them in their service projects. We had day-long health clinics and distributed water filters in the poorest neighborhoods of Lima that are still without many of the basic public services. I worked with children’s homes and the elderly, and participated in community events. 

These were an important part of my time in Peru, but I think the most important thing I was able to do as a Rotary Ambassador was to build relationships, and to listen. Being from the U.S., people already know all about our music and our movies, about our food and our politics. The U.S. has a reputation of power and arrogance and so to show up and listen, to be humble and to learn, to be human and make mistakes, laugh at myself, and try again – that was the most important thing I think I could do while I was there. 

Ladrilleros, ColombiaRainy day in Ladrilleros, Colombia. This is where Karly will be living while doing field work. They get up to 314 inches of rain a year! Photo courtesy of Karly MillerThis will be true in Colombia, too. We work hard to try to become experts in what we do, and I would love to think that I have something to offer these communities, but I am there to learn from them. 

For all the years that I’ve studied the oceans, Colombians know much more than I do about their environment, and about their community. So I will go and listen, learn, and I hope to take some of what they know and make it available to the world, in publications. I want to help strengthen their voice and the management of their resources.

So how did you end up a Wildfire Education & Prevention Corps Volunteer one summer? That’s a far cry from Marine Science.

After my first year of undergrad, I was thinking about the best way to spend the summer and I heard about the Student Conservation Association – a volunteer program where students do conservation work somewhere in the United States. There were hundreds of positions available and somehow I wound up with an offer to be part of a wildfire prevention corps – in North Dakota, essentially the geographical center of the continent. 

It seemed the opposite direction from my studies, but I decided to go for it since I knew my career would keep me coastal. Through this position I learned about wildfire management, got to work on Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, and explored a part of the country I would otherwise know nothing about.

So, let’s talk about your graduate school life. What do you do to have fun?

Mostly I like to spend time with people and to be outside. In Santa Barbara I like being with friends and paddleboarding, scuba diving, hiking, or walking the Bluffs in Ellwood. I also like to explore new places and get to know new people while traveling. I started traveling alone years ago because I couldn’t find anyone to go with me and now I really enjoy it.

I’ve traveled mostly in Central and South America, but also once to Europe. I like walking around in old cities, but I mostly enjoy seeing the landscape. I’ve come to really appreciate the long bus rides for this reason; there isn’t ever enough time to see all the places I’d like to stop, but by bus you can at least watch as they pass by through the window.

Any advice would you give to an incoming graduate student?

Karly Miller, middle, with the love and support of her sisters. Photo courtesy of Karly MillerThere is no right answer; doing a Ph.D. is a lot about finding a path where there isn't one, and that means everyone will see things just a little differently. This is the beauty and uniqueness of thinking about new problems, and the challenge and benefit of working with others.

I've been surprised at how much I feel like I just have to figure things out on my own – and yet I couldn't actually do any of this alone. Anyone's success is the product of the whole system – not just their advisors but also their peers, students, administrators, and staff – and not just within the academic system.

The importance of a personal support network is way overlooked, I think. I'd bet almost no one would get a Ph.D. without the love, support, and patience of friends, family, and partners. 

What do you hope to be doing after graduate school?

I would like to be a professor, so that I can teach and connect with the world through individual students, as well as to continue research with the hope of contributing to the larger intellectual world.


Grad Slam Round 6 Recap: Hope, Humanity, and Greatness

Haddy Kreie answers a question from the audience while the other Round 6 contestants look on. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Here’s what you missed on Wednesday afternoon’s Grad Slam Round 6 in the McCune conference room. Eight of UCSB’s best and brightest talked about hope, humanity, and greatness in the fields of education, psychology, anthropology, theatre and dance, engineering, and biology – and they did it in only three minutes each! 

Round 6 presenters included, clockwise from top left: Lauren Smyth; Haddy Kreie; Ana Elisa Garcia-Vedrenne; and Mario Galicia. Credit: Patricia MarroquinThe presenters and their topics:

  • Mario Galicia, Education: “'Pushed Out’ and ‘Pulled In’: Institutional Bridging for Marginalized Students”
  • Ana Elisa Garcia-Vedrenne, Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology: “Snail Parasites and Warrior Worms” 
  • Haddy Kreie, Theater and Dance: “Is Blackness Trauma?: Racial Discourse, Trauma Theory, and Vodun Aesthetics”
  • Joshua Kuntzman, Education: “Do You See Why I Love This Subject?': Educational Dialog and the Importance of Real Human Teachers”
  • Sabrina Liu, Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology: “The Power of Hope: First-Year Students' Adjustment to College Amidst Tragedy”
  • Lakshmanan Nataraj, Electrical and Computer Engineering: “Photographing Computer Programs to Identify Malicious Software”
  • Lauren Smyth, Anthropology: “Aspiring Towards Greatness: (Re)Presenting Muslim Identity in the American Urban Environment”
  • Erik Spickard, Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology: “Gonads to Guts: Reprogramming an Organ in the Nematode C. elegans”

And the Round 6 winners are ...

Judges’ Selections: Joshua Kuntzman and Erik Spickard

People’s Choice: Lakshamanan Nataraj and Sabrina Liu

Ryan’s Selections:

  • Most Depressing Flow Chart in an Opening Slide: Mario Galicia
  • Most Convincing Reason to Never, Ever, Ever Get in the Ocean Again: Ana Elisa Garcia-Vedrenne
  • Best Breakdown and Explanation of a Theory: Haddy Kreie
  • Most References to School of Rock: Joshua Kuntzman
  • Best Use of “First World Problems” Meme: Sabrina Liu
  • Most Pictures of the Statue of Liberty: Lakshmanan Nataraj
  • Best Scarf: Lauren Smyth
  • Best Pronunciation of "Transorganogenesis": Erik Spickard

Joshua, Erik, Lakshamanan, and Sabrina will advance to the Semifinals next week.

The winners of Grad Slam Round 6 are, from left, Erik Spickard (Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology); Sabrina Liu (Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology); Lakshamanan Nataraj (Electrical and Computer Engineering); and Joshua Kuntzman (Education). Credit: Patricia Marroquin


Graduate Student in the Spotlight: Jessica Bradshaw

Jessica enjoys the outdoors.Fifth-year doctoral candidate Jessica Bradshaw is using her research to make a difference in the lives of people of all ages. Jessica is a student of the UC system, having finished her BA in cognitive science at UC San Diego in 2007, and her MA in counseling psychology at UC Santa Barbara in 2012. Now a doctoral candidate working through her predoctoral clinical internship at Rady Children’s Hospital through the UCSB/VA Internship Program, Jessica plans to use the knowledge learned pursuing her Clinical Counseling and School Psychology degree to better understand the subtle signs of autism in young children.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Orange County but grew up in Corona, California (repping the IE!). I have spent most of my life in Southern California, aside from a brief East Coast tour I did for three years before graduate school. After undergrad I moved to Connecticut to do research at the Yale Child Study Center. It was a great experience and I encourage all Californians to get a taste of something different before settling in the best state in the country (California, of course).

Tell us a little about your research and how you came to choose the topic.

My research aims to identify discernable behavioral characteristics of autism spectrum disorder and map the corresponding neurological mechanisms at the earliest possible age. [In 2013, Jessica was among a UCSB contingent that traveled to Sacramento to meet with state legislators to discuss the value and impact of UC research.] Autism spectrum disorder is a social disability that is typically diagnosed between 3 and 5 years of age, yet behavioral intervention techniques for infants as young as six months of age have been suggested. Early behavioral intervention, and correspondingly early identification, is critical for optimal outcome. The first step in understanding developmental psychopathology is to map a particular behavioral or neurological construct in typical development. Stemming from this perspective, my dissertation investigated clinical correlates of social smiling in 6- to 9-month-old typically developing infants.

Another aspect of my research is early intervention. In collaboration with Dr. Lynn Koegel and the Koegel Autism Center, we have investigated the use of Pivotal Response Treatment for infants exhibiting symptoms of autism spectrum disorder as young as six months of age.Jessica, center, with advisors and fellow graduate students at the APA conference in Hawaii.

The development of autism spectrum disorder in the infant and toddler period has been an interest of mine since my undergraduate work at UCSD. My interests stem from a general interest in developmental psychology, cognitive science, and social neuroscience, as well as a keen appreciation of clinical psychological and the necessity to translate basic science findings for clinical use in diagnostics and intervention. It is a fascinating venture to pinpoint symptoms of ASD years before the hallmark symptoms of the disorder appear.

What has graduate student life been like for you?

Any graduate student will attest to the fact that grad school is a rocky ride. In clinical psychology the journey is also personal. We have to watch ourselves do psychotherapy on film in front of a group of other students and our supervisor – learning can’t get more terrifying than that!

I was fortunate enough to receive a predoctoral fellowship from the Autism Science Foundation, which helped set the stage for my own independent research. This fellowship allowed me to focus on my research without having to TA or work on other projects.

What do you like most about grad school and what do you like least?

Relationships. The personal and professional relationships I have built with friends and colleagues have been invaluable to my graduate experience. I would not have made it through graduate school without my friends and family. My cohort has been there for me in personal crises, and our discussions have helped me grow as a researcher. I have also so enjoyed collaborating with other graduate students and labs on research. Psychology is much more collaborative than some other fields and intellectual discussion, collaborative projects, and cross-disciplinary ventures have been a huge part of my professional development.

I always say that clinical psychology is like doing two graduate programs. One minute I am coding infant smiling frame-by-frame in the lab, the next I am doing therapy in juvenile hall with adolescents struggling with gang involvement and drugs. Although I love both clinical work and research, it can be exhausting!

Jessica, left, enjoys a summer concert with two of her fellow grad students.What has been a source of motivation or drive for you in your graduate studies?

My motivation is twofold. First, helping the families. The stress of some families with children with ASD and other special needs is unimaginable. The overarching goal of my research is to improve quality of life for everyone affected by autism. Second, I have always been motivated to learn more in order to answer the important questions. Actually, even coming up with the important questions can be a challenge.

Who are your heroes and/or mentors and why?

I have learned so much from all of my mentors: Fred Shic and Kasia Chawarska at Yale, and Bob and Lynn Koegel at UCSB. Fred and Kasia took a chance on me when they let me enter the world of autism research as a young, naïve student fresh out of undergrad. I still have not stopped learning from them. My graduate advisors, Bob and Lynn, trusted my research ideas and supported me, both personally and professionally, to the end.

Name an accomplishment you are most proud of and why.

At the risk of sounding cheesy, I think I am most proud of the services I have been able to provide for families and the local community. As a clinical researcher, the majority of my work has been interacting with parents of infants and toddlers. I am proud of each thank you letter and holiday card I receive from my families.  

Jessica, left, loves to travel with friends to conferences in places like Madrid, Spain.

What do you do to relax? Any hobbies, collections, pastimes, favorite places to go, favorite things to do?

Good food and good beer are guaranteed to put a smile on my face. Live music and records are my favorite hobbies. Rock climbing used to be a big part of my life and is something I am always trying to do more of.

What do you hope to be doing 5 or 10 years out of graduate school?

I hope to be on faculty somewhere continuing autism research, but that’s a boring answer. How about…I hope to be making enough money to go to as many concerts as I want, to taste as much local beer as I can, and to have a really cute dog (preferably a pug).

Do you have any advice for current grad students?

Complain less! Venting can be therapeutic, but also toxic. So vent as you need to, but too much negativity can be counterproductive. 


GSA Excellence in Teaching Award Nominations Now Open

It's February at UCSB, which means that UCSB's Graduate Student Association wants to honor the "Titans of Teaching" in our community. Toward that end, they are now accepting nominations for the GSA's Excellence in Teaching Award.

Anyone on campus can nominate a teaching assistant or teaching associate for this award. Last year, over one hundred eligible nominees were submitted. To be eligible, a Teaching Assistant or Teaching Associate must have taught at least one quarter during Spring 2014, Summer 2014, Fall 2014, or Winter 2014. Former award winners are ineligible.

Nominations will be accepted in four categories: 

Lecturers and Teaching Associates (all disciplines);

Teaching Assistants (Humanities and Fine Arts);

Teaching Assistants (Social Sciences);

Teaching Assistants (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).

Nominations are due by Friday, March 27 at 5 p.m. To nominate someone, fill out the nomination form. For any questions, please visit the GSA's ETA webpage, or contact Alex Pucher, the VP of Academic Affairs, at


Graduate Student in the Spotlight: Education Ph.D. Student Priscilla Pereschica

Wherever she is – in class, on the soccer field, or at work in UCSB's Judicial Affairs office – you can bet that Priscilla Pereschica will be working hard at whatever she's doing, and that she'll be doing it well. Priscilla is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, with an emphasis on Educational Leadership and Organizations (ELO). A 2009 graduate of Fresno State, Priscilla currently works in Judicial Affairs, where she helps students navigate the judicial process. She is also an avid soccer fan, and has experience with both indoor and outdoor soccer. 

Where did you grow up?

I’m from the Central San Joaquin Valley, which is a predominantly agricultural region. It is sadly considered to be the 10th least educated metro area in the country. My grandparents, Ismael and Maria Bugarin and Ursulo and Esther Pereschica, left Mexico and moved to the United States to pursue better opportunities for themselves and their children. They ultimately settled in the Central Valley and worked as farmworkers. I really respect their decision to leave their country, to leave their families, and to work in a labor-intensive job in the grueling heat for an opportunity to achieve prosperity.

I come from a large and close-knit family. I’m the oldest of four children. I have one sister, Erika, and two brothers, Martin and Ysaiah. Erika works with special needs children, Martin is fixing up a 1967 Mustang, and Ysaiah will be going to the Marines Corps boot camp soon. My parents, Frank and Sandra, were quite young when they got married and when I was born. My parents made many sacrifices to support me and my siblings and worked two jobs at times. Although they did not attend college, they understood the importance of a college degree and they emphasized its importance to us at an early age. My parents have always been hard workers and had the entrepreneur spirit. They built and owned their homes, my mom owned her own business, and my dad purchased a small ranch and farmed it in addition to his full-time job. They achieved the “middle class dream” through a lot of hard work.

Is there any particular event or events that had a big impact or influence on you and helped shape who you are today?

As the oldest, a lot of family responsibilities fell upon me, and I helped care for my siblings when my parents worked. My mom would lovingly call me their “second mom.” This responsibility continued into college, and I coordinated my school and work schedules around my siblings’ schedules. Aside from my family responsibilities, I worked on average 25 hours a week and was a commuter student. With a combination of all of those factors, I was unable to fully integrate into college or participate in extracurricular activities; however, I made sure to focus on my classes because I wanted to attend grad school. I believe that my experiences helped me develop into the woman that I am today. My parents have done so much to provide for me and my siblings, so I was willing to help.

What research projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on two research projects. The first is a qualitative project that was started by my former advisor. We interviewed graduate students about their knowledge and experiences of attending an Emerging Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI). The second project is my own and it is quantitative. I’m examining survey data related to the academic integration experiences of Latino undergraduates at an Emerging HSI. I didn’t intend to do research within the HSI context, but I became very intrigued by the topic after getting involved in the first project. An HSI is an institution with a minimum of 25 percent enrollment of Latino undergraduates. Federal funding is available to these institutions and it may be spent on a variety of programs and projects. An Emerging HSI is an institution with a Latino undergraduate enrollment of 15 to 24 percent. UCSB is an Emerging HSI with a 24 percent enrollment of Latino undergraduates. I’m looking forward to UCSB’s transition into an HSI because I think it will be a momentous event in regard to Latinos' access to a research-intensive university. It’s exciting to do this research at the same time that UCSB is making this transition. I hope that there is a commitment to serving the students by ensuring that they are graduating and are encouraged to pursue opportunities beyond their bachelor’s degrees.

What has graduate student life been like for you?

I’ve enjoyed graduate school and have been involved on campus in multiple ways. I work in the Office of Judicial Affairs as a graduate student assistant and conduct officer. In my role, I help students navigate the university judicial process, investigate reports of student-involved academic and behavioral misconduct, and uphold the university’s policies and regulations. My boss, Stephan Franklin, has been very supportive of my professional development. I have received training on stalking, sexual assault, and restorative justice. I also serve as a hearing officer for Housing and Residential Life and have worked on an interdepartmental anti-couch burning campaign for the past two years. Our campaign has been successful and we have seen a decrease in the number of couch burnings in Isla Vista. I am proud to have co-coordinated a women’s self-defense training during the spring quarter and plan to coordinate a few more for this school year.

I am also one of the founding members of the UCSB Higher Education Action and Research Consortium (HEARC). HEARC was created by and is led by graduate students. Part of its purpose is to advance the dialogue and research of postsecondary issues. We meet several times during the quarter and invite faculty members, administrators, and researchers to discuss their research and work. We also provide professional development workshops for students. If you’re interested in attending one of our meetings or would like more information, please contact us at or visit our Facebook page.

I am also a board member of LUNA (Latino/a UCSB Network Association). LUNA is newly established and it was created to promote the professional development of and the retention of UCSB Latino/a faculty and staff. I’m excited to be a member of this group and look forward to creating a stronger and more visible community. Access our Facebook page for more information about upcoming events and workshops.

Finally, I am also a member of several other UCSB groups: Professional Women’s Association, SRB Governance Board, and Security Camera Policy Committee. Graduate life has been busy both academically and professionally but I enjoy it. I have a great advisor, Professor Richard Duran, who has provided me with a lot of support and opportunities.

What has been a source of motivation or drive for you in your graduate studies?

I have personal and professional motivations, but my personal motivations drive me the most. I am motivated to succeed for my family. I am grateful for the sacrifices and opportunities that my grandparents and parents have given me, and I want to give back to them. My siblings, boyfriend Steven, and extended family are also very supportive and encouraging so they also add to my motivation. Additionally, my hard work and sacrifices will benefit my future family. Overall, I feel that my success and degrees are beyond me. When I achieve, they achieve. My degrees are their degrees.

Lastly, I am excited that my research will contribute to the growing research on HSIs and how they can better serve their students. I look forward to the professional opportunities that my degree and work will provide me.

Who are your heroes/mentors?

My heroes are my parents and grandparents. I value their faith, strong work ethic, perseverance, sacrifices, and love and commitment to their families. I admire how they live for others and not for themselves. They inspire me to embody these qualities and make me proud to be their daughter and granddaughter.

I consider Dr. David Schecter, who was my political science professor from Fresno State, to be my mentor. I’m very grateful for his help, wisdom, guidance, kindness, and support throughout the years. During my senior year at Fresno State, he helped me secure an internship in Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s office, which turned into a staff position. He also helped me navigate the graduate school application process and wrote me several recommendation letters. He has really helped me at critical points in my life and I’m thankful to have him as part of my support system.

Name an accomplishment you are most proud of and why.

Overall, I’m proud of myself. I think I’m doing quite well considering that I’m a first-generation college student and from a small, agricultural, and undereducated area. I feel very blessed for the opportunities that have been bestowed upon me.


What do you do to relax?

I’m a firm believer in work-life balance, although I struggle to maintain that balance at times. Sometimes the grad student life makes it difficult to do but I think it’s important to strive for it. Some of the things that I like to do to relax are watch movies, hike, and go to the beach. I’m surprised by the number of people I’ve met who live here and don’t go to the beach. Take advantage of its tranquility. I also enjoy a night of dancing and having a drink or two. Even though I love spending time with others, I also value my alone time. I find peace and relaxation through solitude.

What is one thing (or more than one thing) that people would be surprised to know about you?

I played soccer for 13 years consecutively, was captain of my high school varsity team, and played five seasons of indoor soccer after I graduated from college. Two of my indoor teams won the championship, and one of the championships was won in a penalty shootout! I played in an outdoor league this past summer and sprained my ankle. I plan to resume playing once it’s healed. Outdoor soccer and indoor soccer are uniquely different, but both are incredibly fun.

I’ve been taking self-defense classes this past year through the UCSB R.A.D. program (Rape Aggression Defense Program) and Santa Barbara Krav Maga. I find it empowering to learn how to defend myself and exhilarating to strike the pads. I’m proud to admit that I can deliver a good, strong kick, which I attribute to playing soccer for so many years. I highly recommend that women take a self-defense course. It’s important to train your body and mind in the event that these skills have to be used. I hope that doesn’t occur but it’s important to be prepared.

What do you hope to be doing 5 or 10 years out of graduate school?

I hope to have a job in public policy so I can continue working on higher education issues. I want to contribute to the success of underrepresented students by promoting access, retention, and opportunities to attend graduate school. As you can tell, family is very important to me so creating my own, large family will also be a focus of mine.

Do you have any advice for current grad students?

Grad school can be overwhelming and stressful because of the amount of work it requires, and it’s even more stressful if you have other commitments, so I recommend maintaining a support system of family and friends and establishing a proper work-life balance. My other takeaways are (1) don’t neglect your physical and mental health, (2) take advantage of your opportunities or create new ones, and (3) enjoy the experience. We live each day once so make the most of it. 


New TAs Prepare for Their Students at Annual TA Orientation

New TAs gathered in Campbell Hall for Orientation. Credit: Patricia MarroquinIt’s a new school year at UC Santa Barbara, which brings with it many new students, both graduate and undergraduate. Many graduate students will be serving as Teaching Assistants across campus, some of them for the first time. To ease their transition to the front of the classroom, Instructional Development and the TA Development Program once again held their annual TA Orientation on Tuesday, September 30, at Campbell Hall. The orientation featured several speakers, including Chancellor Henry T. Yang, as well as a panel of experienced TAs. After the initial orientation, students were invited to participate in two rounds of workshop sessions with different topics of value to newly hired Teaching Assistants. 

The program kicked off with an introduction by Dr. Lisa Berry of Instructional Development. Dr. Berry told the students that the purpose of the orientation was to make them better prepared for teaching than they were at the start of the orientation. 

Chancellor Henry T. Yang spoke of the importance of humor in teaching. Credit: Patricia MarroquinShe then introduced Chancellor Yang, a recipient of 13 outstanding teaching awards throughout his career, who reminded the audience that they were now employed at one of the elite universities in the world, and that was, in part, because of the work that Teaching Assistants do in their classrooms each and every quarter. 

Chancellor Yang also gave students some tips for becoming a good teacher. He gave students some practical things to do, such as learning the names of their students, adding humor, trying tests before handing them out, and not lecturing to the blackboard. He also provided students with some concepts to keep in mind as they went about their teaching duties. He reminded them that lecturing is a dialogue, not a monologue; that students do not always know what questions they have, or even that they have them; and that students often mix emotional, social, and factual information when they are engaged in learning. He closed by asking students to help participate in the university’s attempts to change the culture of Isla Vista, a town still recovering from the horrific events of last spring.

Grad students grab some breakfast before heading off to breakout sessions. Credit: Patricia MarroquinChancellor Yang yielded the floor to several speakers who were focused on the legal responsibilities of TAs, beginning with Ko Kashiwazaki, the Assistant Director of Judicial Affairs. He reviewed issues of academic integrity, and discussed the role of the TA in maintaining the integrity of campus. He provided students with four tips for maintaining academic integrity in their courses: explain academic integrity clearly to students, be explicit in expectations, put those expectations in a syllabus, and save all documents and correspondence with students.

Carol Sauceda, the Senior Sexual Harassment Prevention and Diversity Education Analyst at UCSB, took the stage next. She informed students that, unbeknownst to them, their attractiveness level had increased since becoming a TA, and she outlined the university’s sexual harassment policy, complete with several examples.

Associate Dean of Students Angela Andrade and Dr. Jeanne Stanford, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services, closed out the legal responsibilities segment with a discussion of the resources available on campus for distressed students, as well as available counseling services. They pointed out that “it’s really normal to go to therapy in California,” and encouraged students to go if they felt they needed to talk to someone. They also reviewed the Distressed Students Protocol. 

A panel of experienced graduate student TAs answered questions at the Orientation. They are, from left, Laura Hooton (History); John Kaminsky (Math); Maria Canto (Spanish & Portuguese); Emma McCullough (Music); and Emily Wilson (EEMB). Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Just before breaking out into individual workshop sessions, Dr. Berry brought a panel of experienced TAs on stage to answer any questions that new TAs might have. Laura Hooton, John Kaminsky, Emma McCullough, Maria Canto, and Emily Wilson shared their own experiences and beliefs about successful teaching. Building from the questions in the audience, they discussed knowing their students, learning students’ names, handling overloaded office hours, grading, and disrespectful students (not that we have any of those at UCSB!).

Dr. Berry brought the session to a close by presenting students with the many tools that Instructional Development offers Teaching Assistants on campus.


UCSB Makes List of 25 Healthiest Colleges in the U.S.

Credit: Patricia MarroquinUCSB has continued to add to its list of honors with an acknowledgement on the list of The 25 Healthiest Colleges in the U.S. Referencing the “natural beauty” of the campus, the well-rounded adventure programs, the active culture of campus, and the available relaxation tools offered, Greatist applauds UCSB for its all-encompassing efforts to ensure the mental and physical health of its students.

This most recent honor for UCSB is the latest in a long line of acknowledgements for its commitment to student health. UCSB has worked to make its beautiful scenery a useful tool in the busy life of a full-time student. The Labyrinth Trail on Lagoon Island, for example, allows students to both get away from the hectic world at the heart of campus and relax while also taking in the breathtaking beauty that campus has to offer. 

The beauty of campus is, of course, impossible to ignore, but UCSB has worked hard to offer more than just physical beauty to its students. UCSB’s residential dining, for example, has been working to provide students with “earth-friendly” dining for several years now. University-owned dining commons – Ortega, Carrillo, Portola, and De La Guerra – are open to graduate students both on- and off-campus.

In addition to the healthy eating options, the campus also offers mental health assistance through the Mental Health Peer Program, located in the Counseling and Psychological Services Center. The center holds de-stress workshops, and students can unwind in massage chairs, an alpha wave chamber, and a relaxation room.

The Health & Wellness program offers resources and events such as field trips and its quarterly Dog Therapy Day.

UCSB also provides its students with numerous opportunities for a valuable activity, exercise.  With intramurals, recreation program offerings, and the many exercise options offered on a daily basis at the Rec Cen, students have plenty of options for having an active, healthy lifestyle both on campus and off.

For the full list of healthiest colleges, read Greatist's "The 25 Healthiest Colleges in the U.S."


Students Invited to Apply for New Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Emphasis in Environment and Society

The UCSB Academic Senate has recently approved the creation of an interdepartmental Ph.D. emphasis in Environment and Society (IEES). Its goal is to provide students with opportunities to receive training and mentorship in environmental studies beyond the scope of their degree programs. The program is based in the Environmental Studies program. All students who complete the emphasis will receive a certificate similar to an undergraduate minor.

Students who participate in the program will have to register for (1) a core seminar offered in the fall quarter and (2) three elective courses in departments and disciplines other than their own. Additionally, they must have on their dissertation committees at least one outside committee member listed as emphasis-affiliated faculty. Students must also attend the IEES annual symposium and include some aspect of interdisciplinary environmental studies as a substantial part of their dissertation.

The emphasis can benefit graduate students in a variety of ways, including:

  • Provide student participants with the interdisciplinary tools — including methods, concepts, vocabularies, analytical frameworks, and critical thinking skills — necessary to communicate across disciplines and undertake dissertation projects that address complex environmental issues;
  • Provide a structured opportunity to develop an area of conceptual depth or methodological expertise not available in their home department by engaging with faculty in any of the 15 departments participating in the emphasis;
  • Open up new opportunities for mentorship from a faculty member from another discipline through participation on their dissertation committee (participating students must have one faculty member from outside their discipline on their committee);
  • Introduce participants to new ways of thinking about the environment and provide them with guidance on how to integrate these perspectives into their research and writing;
  • Create an opportunity to participate in an interdisciplinary and interdepartmental community of students exploring diverse and interconnected questions about the environment and society; and
  • Improve competitiveness in the academic job  market where interdisciplinary training is often sought after.

Those interested in joining the Fall 2014 cohort should apply by July 1, 2014. See the flier for application details.