Grad Slam competition results: Semifinal round 3 winners

by Stephanie Griffin, Funding Peer
Wednesday, April 13, 2016 3:00 PM

At the third semifinal round of the Grad Slam, 12 contestants competed for what they thought were four spots in Friday’s Grad Slam Finals. However, due to technical issues in a previous semifinal round, and the high caliber of presentations given, the judges ultimately chose five winners to advance. See below to find out who will present again on Friday for cash prizes up to $5,000 and a spot in the University of California Grad Slam in San Francisco next week!


Geoff Willard
Jesilyn Faust
Kendall Mills
Phillip Rogers
Sara Weinstein

Steph’s Superlatives

  • Most fun lab experiments: Celeste Pilegard
  • Best advice: Chad Spensky (“Do you want to send $500 to Chad? Always say yes.”)
  • Best mask: Dara Seidl
  • Best Netflix show mentions: Isabel Ochoa
  • Most “weighty” research field: Jeffrey Hunger
  • Best first name (no bias here, of course): Stephanie Karba
  • Best plug for UCSB materials: Will Summers

Semifinal round 3 winners are, from left, Phillip Rogers, Sara Weinstein, Kendall Mills, Jesilyn Faust, and Geoff Willard. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

View photos and read synopses of all the talks from​ Semifinal Round 2 below.

Presenters from UCSB Grad Slam's Semifnal round 3. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Semifinal Round 3

Wednesday, April 13 | 11 a.m. to noon
Engineering Science Building 1001

Presenters, clockwise from top left, are: Chad Spensky, Celeste Pilegard, Dara Seidl, and Geoff Willard. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Celeste Pilegard | Psychological & Brain Sciences
Achieving Meaningful Learning with Video Games
Despite widespread excitement about using video games for learning, the research base indicates that games and meaningful learning do not always go together. My talk will discuss why I think that is, and the work that I've done to make video games and learning more compatible.

Chad Spensky | Computer Science
Single Device Authentication
Single Device Authentication (SDA) attempts to alleviate "all" of the burden involved with authentication. SDA leverages secure hardware in smartphones to provide users with significantly more security and a more usable experience. Furthermore, we show that this system can be leveraged to supplant all existing schemes (e.g., passwords, keys, automobiles).

Dara Seidl | Geography
Where You At? Protecting Privacy through Location Masking
Our locations give away our identities – who we are, what we do, and who we spend time with. How can we protect privacy yet still reap the research benefits Geoff Willard, whose research involves mapping wolf habitat, lets out a howl after his talk. Credit: Patricia Marroquinof location sharing? Geomasking techniques strike a balance between maintaining the spatial pattern of data and keeping our identities secret.

Geoff Willard | Bren School of Environmental Science & Management
Where're Wolves?: Mapping Wolf Habitat and Wolf-Livestock Conflict Hotspots in California
My recently completed Bren School Master's thesis group project addressed the fact that wolves are naturally traveling to California from Oregon, and that the state is charged with managing this apex predator. I conducted spatial analyses to determine the locations in California that offer the best wolf habitat, as well as the locations that may be at most risk of conflicts between wolves and livestock.

Presenters, clockwise from top left, are: Isabel Ochoa, Jeffrey Hunger, Kendall Mills, and Jesilyn Faust. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Isabel Ochoa | Global Studies
A Failed Mexican State? Challenging the Oversimplified Narrative of Mexico's Drug War
The general understanding of Mexico's drug war has tended toward simplistic – both in our image of kingpins as antiheroes and our assumption that the states in which these exist are failed states. Through the cartels' use of violence and the use of violence by the Autodefensas born to fight the cartels, the Mexican state's monopoly of violence is put into question. Although this monopoly of violence is an incredibly important factor of any state, its central use in labeling Mexico as a failed state may not be fair or useful.

Jeffrey Hunger | Psychological & Brain Sciences
The Notorious B.M.I.
Body mass index (BMI), a metric of a person's weight scaled against their height, is commonly used to classify individuals as healthy or unhealthy. Increasingly, and more alarmingly, BMI is being used by employers to penalize employees who fail to meet a BMI considered “healthy.” Why is this so alarming? As I will show, BMI is a notoriously flawed marker of actual cardiometabolic health, misclassifying the health of nearly 75 million U.S. adults. This should be the final nail in the coffin for both BMI and our broader cultural obsession with weight as a determinant of health.

Jesilyn Faust | Global Studies
Challenging Global Responses to Violence Against Women: The case of Amina al Falali
My work analyzes global and local responses to violence against women by looking at the case of Amina al Falali, a teenager who committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist. I argue that activists aligned with power structures locate the site of violence in Islamic Moroccan masculinity while local and grassroots activists locate the site of violence in state structures of oppression.

Kendall Mills | Bren School of Environmental Science & Management
The Market Value of Non-Market Goods: Conservation of Endangered Whale Species in the Santa Barbara Channel
This is a component of a larger Group Project tasked with identifying sustainable funding sources for a whale conservation program in the Santa Barbara Channel. Blue, fin, and humpback whales are subject to lethal collisions with large container ships that transit the channel, and NOAA has attempted for over a decade to impose a vessel speed reduction (VSR) program in the channel to reduce the occurrence of deadly whale strikes. These attempts have been unsuccessful largely because the shipping industry can clearly demonstrate the costs they would have to shoulder as a result of speed restrictions, whereas the value of avoided whale deaths is unknown and difficult to define. This project component elicited consumer willingness to pay for whale conservation on the West Coast, and in doing so provided an estimate of the market value of living whales, for which there is currently no market at all.

Presenters, clockwise from top left, are: Sara Weinstein, Phillip Rogers, Stephanie Karba, and Will Summers. Credit: Patricia Marroquin

Phillip Rogers | Linguistics
Featuring the Bituri: Linguistic Fieldwork in Papua New Guinea
My research combines linguistic fieldwork with the study of linguistic theory as applicable to all languages. I will share research anecdotes from my work on the Bitur language of Papua New Guinea that shed light on the fundamental questions of linguistic typology: what languages can be, what they cannot be, and why. But more importantly, I will discuss how linguistic fieldwork is about giving a voice to the marginalized speakers of endangered and undocumented languages.

Sara Weinstein | Ecology, Evolution & Marine Biology
Worms in Raccoons: Worms in You?
From mites on a mouse to worms in a raccoon, nearly every wild animal is home to a hidden community of parasites. Although these creatures are natural parts of healthy ecosystems, parasite spillover from wildlife to humans also ignites devastating epidemics. Disease spillover is not just an exotic phenomenon. In North America, millions of raccoons harbor a 15 cm long roundworm capable of causing fatal disease in humans and other wildlife. My presentation will examine the transmission and ecology of this parasite, the Raccoon Roundworm, exploring how anthropogenic changes alter wildlife populations, their parasites, and our own disease risk.

Stephanie Karba | Bren School of Environmental Science & Management
Microsynthetic Fiber Pollution and the Apparel Industry
Typically we only hear about marine plastic pollution in the form of plastic trash islands floating in ocean gyres. But what if all of our synthetic jackets and clothing items are slowly releasing thousands of small plastic fibers into the environment every single time we wash them? Our team quantified the release of plastics from multiple synthetic jackets and investigated the possible ecological impacts that result when they enter the marine environment.

Will Summers | Materials
Designing New Materials for Jet Engines
The performance and efficiency of a jet engine depend on the extraordinary high-temperature materials within the engine core. My talk will address research that is being done to introduce ceramic composite materials for this application that have the potential to revolutionize air travel by improving fuel efficiency and dramatically reducing the engine weight.