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!

David Young

Alumnus David Young is transforming the field of AI-driven digital artwork

Baskin Engineering alumnus David Young (Crown ‘86, computer and information science) employs AI tools to create digital artwork.

Egill Bjarnason (M.A. '15,  social documentation), a native of Iceland, wrote about how th

How one tiny island influenced the world

Egill Bjarnason, journalist and Soc Doc alumnus, explains the big history of his native Iceland in a "joyously peculiar book."

Mountain lion, Chile

Wild, wild life

Alumnus Sebastian Kennerknecht cares so deeply about animals that he built a career in wildlife conservation photography to help fight for their survival.

Mountain lion, Chile

Searching for answers in the cosmos

Alumna Olivia Ross, winner of this year's prestigious Steck Award, took on the daunting quest of trying to find primordial black holes. Her faculty mentor calls this young, tireless scientist a "one-in-a-generation gem."

Mountain lion, Chile

Found in translation

Marine scientist Stacy Jupiter, the 2020 Alumni Achievement Award winner, translates science and analysis in ways that inspire people to change behaviors.

Mountain lion, Chile

Bearing witness to COVID at UC Santa Cruz

Stories of resilience and loss are preserved in The Empty Year: An Oral History of the Pandemic(s) of 2020 at UC Santa Cruz, an immersive project that includes a 540-page published book

Ann Starrs (Merrill '84, politics, minor economics), director of family planning at the Bi

Enabling women and girls to achieve their potential

Alumna Ann Starrs, director of family planning at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, came to reproductive health work from a steadfast commitment—strengthened by her time at UC Santa Cruz—to feminism, gender equality, and women’s empowerment.

Terri McCullough in front of a window overlooking a cityscape

Alumna Terri McCullough, chief of staff to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, will make a virtual campus visit for Alumni Week

This year’s Alumni Week will feature a virtual fireside chat with Terri McCullough, an Oakes '91 politics alumna who is now chief of staff to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Kelvin D. Filer (Stevenson ’77, politics), a Superior Court Judge in the Southern Californ

Proud Slugs making a difference through public service

A Superior Court judge. The director of the public art program for Los Angeles. A defense attorney. They all believe in public service, and they all say their time at UC Santa Cruz changed their lives in permanent ways.

Thompson runs his own consulting business and is mentoring budding young chemists at the U

Coming full circle

Alumnus Darren Thompson, an accomplished chemist and student mentor, overcame a dark turn in his life with help from his determination, his Christian faith, and a UC Santa Cruz professor.

Thompson runs his own consulting business and is mentoring budding young chemists at the U

Stories in the ashes

Radio producer and alumna Nikki Silva teams up with photographer Shmuel Thaler to collect stories evoked by objects salvaged from the wreckage of homes destroyed in the CZU August Lightning Complex fire

Forrest Stuart smiles, standing outdoors in front of a mural

MacArthur 'genius' grant winner reflects on early influences at UC Santa Cruz

Forrest Stuart has built his career pursuing burning questions about the societal underpinnings of poverty and criminalization across disciplines. Stuart said his research focus has been influenced both by his childhood and the formative experiences of his undergraduate education at University of California, Santa Cruz, where he earned his bachelor’s in politics in 2004.

Forrest Stuart smiles, standing outdoors in front of a mural

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.