San José State University Hosts First CSU-Wide Grad Slam

California State University Grad Slam 2021

Graduate students often invest years of their lives working on focused, in-depth research in their field. Ultimately, they must successfully defend their conclusions to a select committee of faculty advisors with expertise in that area of study.

Now, imagine what it would be like to distill the key ideas of that yearlong research into a presentation that is accessible and interesting for everyone — and do it in three minutes or less.

That’s exactly what graduate students from across 12 California State University (CSU) campuses will do in the first-ever CSU Grad Slam on May 6, hosted by San José State.

Grad Slam is a fast-paced, dynamic competition in which graduate students across all fields face off for the top short presentation of research. The event offers the opportunity for up-and-coming student-researchers to showcase their scholarship and creativity, while challenging them to effectively convey their work in three-minute snackable sound bites to a non-specialist audience.

The system-wide event is a collaborative effort across many of the CSU campuses. Those participating include: Bakersfield, Chico, Dominguez Hills, Fresno, Fullerton, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Northridge, Sacramento, San José, San Francisco, and Sonoma State.

As the founding university of the CSU system and its leadership in graduate education, San José State is a natural fit to host the inaugural competition. SJSU held its first Grad Slam in 2019, a few short months after the university’s launch of the College of Graduate Studies that January.

The main event

According to SJSU’s College of Graduate Studies Dean Marc d’Alarcao, the creation of this year’s CSU-wide competition encouraged a number of the other CSUs to create their own Grad Slam, from which they will send their top two winners to the system event.

A total of 21 participants from across the 12 campuses will present their research in this year’s livestream virtual competition. San José State is sending its top two winners from the SJSU Grad Slam, which occurred on April 29: Guadalupe “Lupe” Franco (first place) from the MS Environmental Studies program and Remie Gail Mandawe (second place) from the MS Physiology program.

Lupe Franco and Remie Gail Mandawe.

(L-R) SJSU 2021 Grad Slam Winners Lupe Franco and Remie Gail Mandawe.

Franco’s presentation, “Wicked Problems: Understanding How Cities and Counties in California are Tackling Climate Change and Homelessness, emphasizes the need for jurisdictions and planners to “create equitable and just strategies that include the voices of unhoused populations and gain them the access to basic resources needed to protect them from climate change.”

Mandawe’s presentation, “Targeting the Source of our Sixth Sense Using Blue Light” explores how to target and isolate gamma motor neurons in the brain using blue light and better understand why motor dysfunction and motor neuron diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, occur.

The CSU Grad Slam will start with preliminary rounds in the morning, in which small groups of the competitors will present live in three “rooms” over Zoom to panels of three judges. The top-scoring students from each room will advance to the afternoon round for the chance to win one of three cash prizes: first place, second place and the People’s Choice award.

The public can watch the event online and vote on the People’s Choice award in real time during the final segment of the program. Three different judges will score the afternoon’s competitors.

Although there will ultimately be only three winners, everyone who participates gains tremendous benefits from the process. Not only are the graduate students able to develop vital research communication and presentation skills, they can engage with and be inspired by other emerging researchers.

“I think it is beneficial to the graduate students to feel appreciated and have the opportunity to see what their colleagues are doing in a concise and interesting way,” said d’Alarcao.

“It’s invigorating to realize that you’re part of an intellectual community that has all of these different things happening, and that’s really positive for the participants.”

Register today to see CSU’s top graduate student research.