Donor’s Gift Aims to Encourage Graduate Students to Share Their Research

March 8, 2017

The contest for top honors in UC Merced’s Grad Slam competition will be even more intense this year thanks to a generous donation from Jane Binger, Ed.D, and her husband, Robert Bernstein, M.D.

Binger and Bernstein—a UC Merced Foundation Board of Trustees diplomat and a UC Merced Foundation Trustee, respectively—have earmarked a $15,000 gift for Grad Slam, the popular competition in which graduate students give mini-TED talks on the methods, significance and findings of their research. Binger has also volunteered to coach this year’s Grad Slam finalists and the eventual campus champion as they prepare for subsequent rounds of competition.

The donation will increase the competition’s grand prize from $2,000 to $5,000 for the next five years, allowing UC Merced to join UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara and UC San Diego in offering the biggest Grad Slam prizes in the system.

Jane Binger, Ed.D.
Jane Binger, Ed.D.

“My husband and I value research greatly — its rigor, its power to transform — and we have great respect for the graduate students who are participating in extending knowledge and may continue to do so the rest of their lives,” Binger said. “We hope our gift and my coaching encourages more students to try out for Grad Slam, to learn to share their ideas and innovations briefly and powerfully.”

The gift is already having an effect. The number of students registered for the competition almost doubled over the past two weeks as word of the increase in prize money spread.

“This gift will make a significant impact on graduate engagement and research,” said Vice Provost and Graduate Dean Marjorie Zatz. “Grad Slam prizes are awarded in the form of one-time fellowships, so not only does the larger prize help to get more students excited about this very useful competition, but it ultimately directly supports ongoing student research.”

The Grad Slam competition is a systemwide event that takes place in several stages. At the campus level, students participate in initial set of qualifying rounds. This year’s take place from 2:30-6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 15, in COB2, room 110. The event is free and open to all UC Merced students, staff, faculty members and the public.

The top 10 finalists from that event will compete for the grand prize at the Grad Slam Final Round in mid-April. The overall winner will go on to represent UC Merced in the University of California systemwide Grad Slam competition in early May.

Binger and Bernstein, who have been UC Merced supporters for the past 13 years, say that they consider UC Merced to be part of their family. Binger is particularly excited about this opportunity to promote and encourage UC Merced graduate students.

“Supporting Grad Slam is our way of saying, ‘World, UC Merced graduate students are in the building,’” she said.

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