Honoring UC Santa Cruz’s 2022 Distinguished Graduate Student Alumni

The Division of Graduate Studies, Arts Division, Baskin School of Engineering, Humanities Division, Physical and Biological Sciences Division, and Social Sciences Division are honoring the 2022 Distinguished Graduate Student Alumni. From left to right: William Long, B.A. Music ‘11, M.A. Music ‘13; Brian Levine, M.S. Computer Engineering ’96, Ph.D. Computer Engineering ’99; Harryette Mullen, M.A. Literature ’86, Ph.D. Literature ’90; Sarah Peelo, Ph.D. Anthropology ’09; Risa Wechsler, Ph.D. Physics ’01.

UC Santa Cruz’s graduate student alumni demonstrate steadfast commitment to their passions, careers, and areas of expertise. They have paved the way for others in their field, taken strides on international stages, partaken in groundbreaking research, cultivated community with their work, and have aided in the rescue of hundreds of children through their research. UC Santa Cruz is honored to present this year’s Distinguished Graduate Student Alumni cohort.   

As part of this month’s virtual and online hybrid Alumni Week celebrations, the five recipients of this year’s Distinguished Graduate Student Alumni Award will be honored for their achievements during an in-person awards ceremony at the Hay Barn on Saturday, April 23. The event will also be broadcast via Zoom webinar. Register to attend via Zoom here.

Graduate Studies Division Professional Development Coordinator and Event Organizer Sonya Newlyn had high praise for this year’s honorees. 

“The 2022 class of UC Santa Cruz Distinguished Graduate Student Alumni continue to strengthen the reputation of the university’s graduate programs,” Newlyn said. “Representing music in the Arts, computer engineering in the Baskin School of Engineering, literature in the Humanities, physics in the Physical and Biological Sciences, and anthropology in the Social Sciences, this year’s honorees have reached lofty positions in their careers. While three have pursued careers within academia and another continues to teach at UCSC while heading a private business, all five honorees extend their influential knowledge and creativity well beyond the Academy.”

“They are all a force for human good and betterment, from the artistic endeavors of music and poetry to the science of preserving natural resources and our cultural heritage, protecting our children from predators on the Internet, and understanding the universe itself,” Newlyn added. “Congratulations to William Long, Brian Levine, Harryette Mullen, Sarah Peelo, and Risa Wechsler!”


UC Santa Cruz alumnus and conductor William Long (B.A. Music ’11, M.A. Music’ 13) has had a passion for music since he was six years old. Holding onto that passion through high school and into his years at UCSC, Long now finds himself on international stages conducting both opera and symphony productions for award-winning composers. 

After graduating from UCSC with a B.A. in music and an M.A. in music with a concentration in conducting, Long immediately began his professional career as an assistant conductor at San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle. He prepared productions of Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, Terence Blanchard’s Champion, and many more. 

Long said his first step into the professional music industry wouldn’t have been possible without former UCSC Director of Ensembles Nicole Paiement. A close mentor of Long’s, Paiement is the Artistic Director of San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle and landed Long his first job as an assistant conductor in the music industry.

“I learned a lot from watching her and working with her, and then she opened the door for me into the professional world,” Long said. “She was basically the springboard for my whole career. I think none of this would have happened without her.”

After gaining additional experience in San Francisco, Long worked with the Washington National Opera, the Opera Theater of St. Louis, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, and the Metropolitan Opera and is currently based in London serving as a cover conductor for the London Symphony Orchestra.

In 2019, Long conducted the world premiere of renowned jazz trumpeter and film composer Terence Blanchard’s opera Fire Shut up in My Bones at Opera Theater Saint Louis.

“Conducting Fire was a life-changing event for me,” Long said. “Not only was it my first time leading a production at this level, but it was also a world premiere of a piece which explored narratives and experiences that are not often represented on the opera stage.”

Currently based in London, Long plans to return to the West Coast in August and will be working on the world premiere of John Adams’ new opera Antony and Cleopatra, which will premiere at San Francisco Opera in September of 2022. Long will be unable to attend Alumni Weekend 2022 as he will be working on a production of Carmen at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.


Brian Levine (M.S. Computer Engineering ’96, Ph.D. Computer Engineering’ 99) remembers his time at Baskin Engineering as a pivotal and life-changing moment in his career. 

Under the mentorship of UC Santa Cruz professor of computer science and engineering, J.J. Garcia-Luna-Aceves, Levine pursued his master’s and doctorate degrees. His thesis focused on group communication over the internet. Levine said that his relationship with Garcia-Luna-Aceves profoundly influenced his career path and inspired him to become a professor.

“As a professor, he is filled with kindness, patience, and great ideas,” Levine said. “I try to replicate that in any way I can at UMass, and he just made it seem like a great job, and it is. It’s really great to be a professor, and so if I hadn’t met JJ, I don’t know what my life would be like now.”

Levine currently works as a professor in the Manning College of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst and co-leads the Rescue Lab. There, Levine and his team focus on thwarting crimes against children. His digital forensics work has aided in the rescue by law enforcement of hundreds of children from sexually abusive situations.

Levine's recent work has focused on thwarting online child exploitation. Levine has partnered with the FBI and the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force Program on several projects to develop networking tools that help identify online sexual predators and rescue victims. The tools he and his team have developed are used nationally and worldwide. 

Levine is also the founding director of the UMass Amherst Cybersecurity Institute, which focuses on coordinating educational programs surrounding security. Levine said that one of his goals is to inform parents of the dangers of specific web applications that target children and teens. 

“There’s really not enough information about which apps are safer, and definitely not information based on observations,” Levine said. “And so we’re trying to educate parents and children.”

Harryette Mullen (M.A. Literature ’86, Ph.D. Literature’ 90) can’t remember a time when she wasn’t writing poetry. When she was younger, though, her writing came in different forms—short songs, humorous verses and comic books, stories for friends, and greeting cards for holidays.

Her mother was a teacher and had taught Mullen and her sister to read and write before they started attending school in Fort Worth, Texas. While Mullen was between the ages of 8 and 12, her mother was working towards her B.A. and M.A. in education at the University of North Texas. Mullen and her sister would often accompany their mother to the university library while their mother was studying.

Mullen published her first poetry book Tree Tall Women in 1981, written while attending the University of Texas, Austin, where she received her undergraduate degree. She has since published dozens of poems, stories, books, and essays worldwide. Her work has been reprinted in over one hundred anthologies. She is the recipient of dozens of fellowships and has received numerous prestigious awards, such as the PEN Beyond Margins Award, the Elizabeth Agee Prize, US Artist Fellowship, Jackson Poetry Prize, and Academy of American Poets Fellowship. Her book, Sleeping with the Dictionary, was a finalist for the National Book Award, National Book Critics Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. 

She said faculty at UCSC, as well as the poetry community in Santa Cruz, both impacted and encouraged her work. Late UCSC professors and poets Al Young, Lucille Clifton, and Norman O. Brown profoundly influenced her at the university. She was also befriended by professor emerita Roz Spafford, Cowell Provost John Lynch, and Ph.D. graduate alumna bell hooks. Michael Cowan, Nathaniel Mackey, and Priscilla Shaw supervised her dissertation.

“I was already a published poet when I got to Santa Cruz,” Mullen said. “But I didn’t lose my connection to that poet self because UC Santa Cruz allowed me the space to develop intellectually as both a poet and a scholar.” 

After earning her M.A. in literature in 1986 and while writing a dissertation for a Ph.D. in literature in 1990, Mullen pursued a fellowship with the Center for Black Studies at UC Santa Barbara. From there, she was hired to teach at Cornell University. She spent a year on leave as a Rockefeller Fellow at the University of Rochester’s Susan B. Anthony Center.

Currently, Mullen serves as a professor of English at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). She has taught numerous creative writing courses and courses in American and African American literature. While a professor at UCLA, Mullen continues to work as a creative artist. She recently published a short story in Indiana Review and a collage art series in Air/Light Magazine. Edinburgh University Press will publish a critical edition of her poetry in fall 2022.

“At UCLA, I am blessed with brilliant colleagues in a department that encourages interdisciplinary study and innovation,” Mullen said.


Sarah Peelo (Ph.D. Anthropology’ 09) was constantly surrounded by natural and human history at a young age. Her family spent nearly every family vacation at a museum, national park, or heritage site. When she started her undergraduate education at Santa Clara University—which sits beside a 1777 consecrated Roman Catholic church—Peelo was once again surrounded by the field she grew up around.

Peelo graduated from Santa Clara University in 1999 and received her B.A. in combined sciences with a minor in anthropology. She pursued her M.A. in anthropology from Colorado State University in 2002. When it was time for Peelo to pursue her Ph.D., she looked to UC Santa Cruz as an institution beaming with inspirational women in leadership. 

“I was inspired by the fact that all of the senior faculty in the anthropology department were women,” Peelo said. "It was Judith [Habicht Mauche], Diane [Gifford-Gonzalez], Adrienne [L. Zihlman], Alison [Galloway], and that was inspiring to me. It felt like it was really rare to have the entire faculty that I’d be taking classes from in the anthropology department all women.” 

Peelo is now a woman in leadership herself. She serves as co-owner and president of Albion—a women-owned cultural resource management and consulting firm in California.

As a company president, Peelo oversees projects that impact colonial and postcolonial archaeological sites. Some of Albion’s clientele include the City of Santa Cruz, Caltrans, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, and her alma mater Santa Clara University. Peelo helps clients understand and protect cultural and natural resources that might be on their properties within areas they want to develop.

While pursuing her Ph.D. in anthropology at UCSC, Peelo focused on ceramics produced in California missions. She examined the technological style of the pottery from missions to understand its cultural origins and how Native peoples made it their own.

Peelo has taught a number of classes at UCSC since graduating. In particular, she is instrumental in organizing the archeological field methods class, which provides students with hands-on experience in cultural resource management, a skill they can take with them into the professional field.

“It’s been really fulfilling to continue my relationships with the folks at UCSC,” Peelo said. “And I hope to continue to do so in the future.” 


Risa Wechsler (Ph.D. Physics’ 01) has always been interested in the biggest questions of the universe: 

How did the universe form? What is it made of? How did it evolve over the last 13.8 billion years? How did structure form in the universe? 

Those questions stayed with Wechsler throughout her academic career as she pursued an S.B. in physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a Ph.D. in physics at UC Santa Cruz. She has since played an instrumental role in groundbreaking research in the cosmology field, with pioneering galaxy structure and cosmic structure surveys and more than 300 widely cited publications. Wechsler has also taken strides in ensuring the growth of diversity and inclusion within the physics and astronomy community.  

“One of the great privileges of being in this field is that I get to think about these really big questions every day,” Wechsler said. “The last 25 years in this field have been incredible.”

Her research interests are focused on understanding the growth of structure in the universe, how structure formation drives galaxy formation, and how galaxies can be used to probe the fundamental physics of the universe. A majority of her work looks at the nature of dark matter and dark energy. Wechsler uses large computer simulations, physical and empirical models, and the deepest and largest galaxy surveys to determine how the universe formed and evolved.

From 2014 to 2018, she was the co-spokesperson for the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) and is a founding member of the Dark Energy Survey (DES) and the LSST dark energy science collaboration. Wechsler has also played an essential role in understanding the smallest galaxies in the universe and understanding how our home galaxy, the Milky Way, is connected to other similar galaxies, including through a project she leads with another former UCSC alumna, Marla Geha, called the Satellites Around Galactic Analogs (SAGA) survey.

Wechsler is currently a professor of physics at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University. She is also the director of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC). Committed to public outreach and the advancement of diversity and equity, Wechsler founded an equity and inclusion committee within KIPAC, citing the underrepresentation of women and people of color not only within Stanford, but in the physics and astronomy communities as a whole. 

In the last five years, Wechsler said the department saw a 50% increase in the fraction of women that got undergraduate degrees in physics.

“The universe is for everyone,” Wechsler said. “That’s really what motivates me every day. It’s such an amazing privilege to get to think about how the universe works and our place in it, and that motivates me to open that opportunity to more people.”