The Graduate Student Assistant to the Dean of Graduate Studies and to the Chancellor (GSADC) serves as a liaison between graduate students and the administration at UC Davis. In addition to regular meetings with the Dean of Graduate Studies, the Chancellor, Graduate Council, and other campus administrators, the GSADC is available to meet with graduate students, both formally (through the GSA and other graduate student groups and organizations) and informally in order to represent graduate student concerns and perspectives as accurately as possible.
Graduate Student Assistant to the Dean and Chancellor 2015-16
Erica Vonasek-Eco, the Graduate Student Assistant to the Dean and the Chancellor for the 2015-2016 year, is a current Ph.D. candidate in Biological Systems Engineering with a designated emphasis in Biotechnology. “It’s fascinating to be an engineer to make cooking easier and better,” says Erica. “I do like to cook.” Erica’s dissertation is centered on antimicrobial packaging—aimed at improving the shelf life of food.
She’s working on edible antimicrobial dip-coating for food based on selected bacteriophages, which are bacteria viruses that selectively infect bacterial food pathogens. However, the bacteriophage specifically targets food pathogens instead of eliminating all the microbes on the surface. “Research shows we don’t want to do that, because naturally present bacteria on food contribute to our health and wellbeing,” Erica explains. “It doesn’t make sense to kill everything.” She summarizes dip-coatings as edible formulations that protect fruits and vegetables from deteriorating—preventing produce such as apples from browning. Stating her motivations in simplest terms, Erica says she’s interested in “making our food nicer, longer.”
Erica first integrated into the UC Davis community in 2004 as an undergraduate pursuing a degree in biological systems engineering. Aside from a love for cooking and baking, Erica’s natural interests were what initially drew her to the major. “I liked biology, chemistry, and I liked math—it was the only major that seemed to combine all of those,” says Erica. “It’s really broad, and you get to hear all sorts of dissertation topics.” She laughs, adding that this was before biomedical engineering was a major at UC Davis (by the time it became an option, she was almost finished). Erica has stuck with her major since, attributing her loyalty to the interdisciplinary nature of the field. “The same major will prepare you for different avenues,” she muses, “and you get to hear all sorts of dissertation topics—from microbiology, to food engineering, to biofuels.”
As the Graduate Student Assistant to the Dean and the Chancellor, Erica works as a student advocate within the administration. She is placed in Graduate Studies in Mrak Hall—and encourages graduate students to see her as another resource. “Sometimes you need someone to reach out to who you know is another peer…for reasons that are academic or personal,” she says. “I’m connected to a lot of resources, and if after ten years here I don’t know the answer, I know someone who does.” She is available for both formal and informal meetings with graduate students.
In her new position, Erica also helps coordinate many programs and events. Her tasks include coordinating the Week of Orientation and Welcome (WOW), and helping to coordinate International Graduate Student Orientation (IGSO). Erica has a first-hand perspective on what being a graduate student entails, as a Ph.D. candidate herself—which fuels her involvement in coordinating the Graduate Ally Coalition. She defines the coalition as a “peer support network that teaches each other about why graduate students have issues with graduate school, and what we can do to empower each other to get out of here.” The Graduate Ally Coalition’s mission is to familiarize graduate students and postdocs with the skills required to succeed on campus; it aligns with Erica’s goals of raising the completion rate for graduate students and working on student retention. “We do a lot—from researching to teaching. Our role is very fluid in the university sometimes, which can create a lot of friction,” says Erica. “Sometimes grad school is extremely difficult. The majority of people experience something that makes it harder.”
Outside of academia, Erica has been an anime enthusiast for most of her life. Her spare time has been spent working for FanimeCon, an anime convention in San Jose, which she proudly states is one of the five largest in North America. “It was a phenomenal experience…an incredible ride to see it go from 5000 to 32000 members,” she reminisces.
Send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to arrange a meeting to voice concerns about administrative policies, input your opinion on graduate student representation, discuss difficulties encountered in your course of study—or to chat about a mutual love for anime.