Alumni Profiles

Savor and celebrate the legacy of proud Banana Slugs who have made their mark as they've gone on to successful careers. Below we share profiles of alumni who embody the values and qualities that represent UC Santa Cruz—social justice, public service, environmental stewardship, a dedication to exploring the human condition, and a determination to change the world. And join us for Alumni Weekend next year!


Alumnus leads massive effort to ramp up COVID-19 testing

UC Santa Cruz alumnus Joe DeRisi is one of the leading scientists in the fight against the novel coronavirus, helming a massive effort to ramp up state-of-the-art clinical laboratory testing for COVID-19 throughout California, while pioneering large-scale testing in Bay Area communities.

Cover of All Over The Map: A Cartographic Odyssey

Mapping it out

A book by two Science Communication Program alumni celebrates the human fascination with maps, displaying more than 200 maps across history (and even fiction) and exploring the intriguing stories behind them.

Wilfrido Hernández Flores

The power of research

Wilfrido Hernández Flores discovered social science research in the Culture and Achievement Collaborative, and it changed his life

Photo of Nathalie Martin and flowers at the UCSC Arboretum

Explore the "superbloom" in Santa Cruz County

A new Field Guide to Plants of UC Santa Cruz makes exploring the landscapes of the campus—and the county—fun and rewarding.

Amita Kuttner

Leading the charge for change

Alumna Amita Kuttner, a current graduate student in the Physics Department, is running as a Green Party candidate for a seat in Canada’s House of Commons in order to make policy around climate change—a quest sparked by a devastating loss

Tom with pipes at ASU exhibit

Pipe dreams

Three huge clay sewer pipes carved by alumnus Tom Franco and a team of artists are now gracing Danville’s art gallery in an exhibit curated by a fellow Slug.

Head shot of Irma Eréndira Sandoval

Alumna Irma Eréndira Sandoval leads Mexico's anti-corruption efforts

Mexico's new president tapped UC Santa Cruz alumna Irma Sandoval to lead the government's anti-corruption efforts.

Natalie Batalha

Astronomer Natalie Batalha to receive Alumni Achievement Award

After serving as science lead for NASA’s Kepler Mission from 2011 to 2017, Batalha is returning to UC Santa Cruz as a professor of astronomy and astrophysics.

Head shot of Christian Schwarz

Alumni Profile: Author-naturalist Christian Schwarz crusades on behalf of the planet

With his smart phone in hand, Christian Schwarz is empowering "citizen scientists" to document today's biodiversity in hopes of inspiring action before it's too late.

Head shot of Ricardo Garcia

LA County's new public defender is guided by 'presumption of innocence'

This fall, UCSC alum Ricardo Garcia will take the helm of the LA County Public Defender's Office—the largest and oldest public defender's unit in the country.

Photo of Alexis Harte

Sounding it out

Alumnus Alexis Harte’s long career as a singer/songwriter has included original albums and songs for TV and film, and his company has become a pioneer in scoring and sound design.

Caroline Carpenter (Cowell '13, classical studies) puts a day in on the job. 

Fire in the belly

Alumna Caroline Carpenter was the first woman to graduate at the top of the Los Angeles Fire Department Academy—a testament to determination and grit.

Portrait of Bill Bernstein

From Math Major to Renowned Hollywood Music Editor, Alumnus Bill Bernstein Knows All the Right Notes

Having been the music editor on over 60 outstanding films during the course of his career, Bill Bernstein’s musical talent is epic. From working on such movies as The Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty (for which he won a Grammy), The Help and Skyfall to many Pixar hits including Finding Nemo, Wall-E, and Finding Dory…it seems like every project he touches is a resounding success.

Portrait of Stephanie Allain

Alumna and film producer Stephanie Allain champions diversity

Stephanie Allain is a rare gem in the film industry. Not only is she brilliant and successful, but as an African-American woman who got her start over 25 years ago in a notoriously and overwhelmingly white and male-dominated business, she has charged ahead to break open established perceptions.

Portrait of Dency Nelson

Alumnus Dency Nelson's Brilliant Hollywood Career

With an amazing career in Hollywood spanning nearly 40 years, Dency Nelson has been the stage manager for almost every major award and event show for the past 25 years, including the Oscars, Grammys, Emmys, and Kennedy Center Honors.

Benjamin Smithers, Merrill '18.

Commencement stories: Benjamin Smithers

Benjamin Smithers is a double major in mathematics and physics who is now working on his Ph.D.: an expedition into the world of neutrino physics.

Vincent Williams, Stevenson '18.

Commencement stories: Vincent Williams

Vincent Williams uses graphic design, sculptural installations, collage, and photography to comment on the history of black identity both in the United States and in Western art.

Photo of Asante Nkosi

Standing tall and giving back

For graduating senior Asante Nkosi, a double major in sociology and history allowed him to connect his experiences with his interest in black U.S. history, the Civil Rights Movement, and the contemporary moment.

Rachel Doran, '18.

Commencement stories: Rachel Doran

Rachel Doran is a Ph.D. candidate in the graduate program in biomedical sciences and engineering, working on HIV immunogens. She has won a Graduate Research Symposium award for her presentation on “From armor to Achilles heel: Targeting the glycan shield of HIV in novel vaccine strategies".

Isabell Retamoza, Porter '18.

Commencement stories: Isabell Retamoza

Isabell Retamoza is a literature and feminist studies major and THI undergraduate fellow, with plans to study law at Northwestern University.

Henry Hinton, Merrill '18.

Commencement stories: Henry Hinton

Henry Hinton, graduating with a bioengineering degree from the Jack Baskin School of Engineering at UC Santa Cruz, will be attending Harvard University for his electrical engineering Ph.D. in the fall.

Henry Hinton, Merrill '18.

Leaving their mark, inspiring others

This year's Distinguished Graduate Student Alumni honorees are making their mark on the world. During Alumni Weekend, they will be back on campus to inspire a new generation of scholars at a career panel.

Photo of Virginia Espino and Héctor Tobar

UC Santa Cruz honors alumni: bestselling author Hector Tobar and historian Virginia Espino

Award-winning journalist and author Héctor Tobar and filmmaker Virginia Espino are the 2018 recipients of the Social Sciences Division's Distinguished Alumni Award.

Photo of Barbara Garcia

Community Studies class showcases public health leaders in 'Year of Alumni'

Eight alumni are returning to campus this spring as guest lecturers in a special-edition public health class offered by Community Studies.

Photo of Barbara Garcia

Act of love

Chancellor George Blumenthal presented accomplished actress Adilah Barnes with the the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award for her many artistic contributions to UC Santa Cruz. Barnes was back on campus performing in a revival of "A Raisin In The Sun."

Portrait of Adilah Barnes

Alumna and Renowned Actress Adilah Barnes Returns to Campus for A Raisin In The Sun

Being very successful for over 50 years in the entertainment industry is no small feat. But actress Adilah Barnes takes it all in her stride.

Portrait of Brian Kavanaugh-Jones

From Student Artist to Hollywood Producer, Alumnus Brian Kavanaugh-Jones Has Always Been Passionate About the Arts

From his passion for the arts and accompanying his father on travels around the globe, to his keen enthusiasm for collaboration and bringing outstanding creative projects to fruition, it’s no wonder that Brian was destined to become such a successful Hollywood film producer.

Alumna Sarah Gerhardt is poised to make history as one of the first women to surf in the h

Surfing into the history books

If the right conditions arrive this winter, alumna Sarah Gerhardt could be among the first women to compete in the Mavericks big-wave surf contest.

Portrait of Michael Shipley

Alumnus Michael Shipley's Creative Brilliance Continues to Shine

Santa Cruz native and UC Santa Cruz alumnus, Michael Shipley, found Santa Cruz to be an idyllic place to grow up during the 1970s and ‘80s. It was the place where he discovered his creative passion, eventually leading him to become not only a very talented photographer and musician, but also an award-winning television writer and producer for highly successful television shows, including Family Guy and American Dad!.

Axel Alonso portrait illustration.

Axel Alonso: Diversity’s superhero

Axel Alonso was editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics from 2011–2017, where he built a legacy by making comic book characters and their creators reflect the diversity of our world.

Axel Alonso portrait illustration.

John Laird: A trailblazing public servant

John Laird has watched his political capital rise over the years. In 1983, while serving on the Santa Cruz City Council, he became one of the first openly gay mayors in the United States.

Axel Alonso portrait illustration.

Julie Packard: Safeguarding the sea

Julie Packard helped found the Monterey Bay Aquarium and has served as the aquarium's executive director since it opened in 1984.

Axel Alonso portrait illustration.

Kent Nagano: The maestro

Kent Nagano is an internationally acclaimed opera and symphony conductor who is renowned for interpretations of clarity, elegance, and intelligence.

Axel Alonso portrait illustration.

Kathy Sullivan: From the sea to the stars

A scientist, astronaut, and award-winning educator, Kathy Sullivan was the first American woman to walk in space and is the former administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Axel Alonso portrait illustration.

Kevin Beggs: Television visionary

As chairman of the Lionsgate Television Group, Kevin Beggs places a high premium on creativity, risk, and, in his own words, “going where others won’t.”

Axel Alonso portrait illustration.

Kris Perry: Standing for equality

Kris Perry never intended to become a civil rights icon. As an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz, she explored the themes of social justice that would shape her career as an advocate for children.

Axel Alonso portrait illustration.

M. Sanjayan: The face of conservation

A prominent ecologist and Emmy-nominated television personality, M. Sanjayan is CEO of the nonprofit Conservation International—the first new CEO of the organization in 30 years.

Axel Alonso portrait illustration.

Adilah Barnes: Holding the stage

An award-winning actor with over 50 years of film, television, and stage credits, Adilah Barnes is probably best known to television audiences for her role as Anne Marie on ABC's Roseanne for six seasons.

Axel Alonso portrait illustration.

Martha Mendoza: Writing wrongs

Two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning Associated Press reporter and author Martha Mendoza had a life-changing moment early in her UC Santa Cruz career.

Axel Alonso portrait illustration.

Reyna Grande: Documenting the immigrant experience

Award-winning novelist and memoirist Reyna Grande attended UC Santa Cruz after her junior college English teacher urged her to leave the urban confines of Los Angeles and try living somewhere different.