2022 Penn Grad Talks

Penn Grad Talks (formerly known as Grad Ben Talks) features TED Talk-style presentations by Penn Arts & Sciences graduate students on a wide range of topics.

Spring/Summer 2022
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In February, some of Penn Arts & Sciences’ top graduate students presented mini-lectures on a wide range of topics—from “Deadbeat Dinoflagellates: Symbiotic Cooperation Breaks Down After Coral Bleaching” to “African American Encounters with Soviet Central Asia”—to live and online audiences at the latest Penn Grad Talks.

Students from the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and professional master’s programs gave TED-style talks on their research, vying for prizes of $500. A winner was chosen in each category, and one presenter received the Audience Choice award.

The winner in the Professional Master’s category was Yansong Li, who is completing a master’s degree in environmental studies in the College of Liberal and Professional Studies. His talk, “Witnessing Circularity: Circular Economy Lessons from Amsterdam,” explored how a circular economy can eliminate waste and pollution, preserve materials and resources, and regenerate nature, including innovative examples like “plastic fishing” on the city’s iconic canals.

Charlotte Williams, a Ph.D. student in anthropology, took the social sciences prize for her talk,  “Harvesting Heritage: The United Fruit Company and Corporate Labor in 20th-Century Archaeological Science.” She explained how and why a monumental Mayan stone artifact called Stela 14 made its way from Guatemala to the Penn Museum in the 1940s aboard a corporate ship—alongside a load of bananas.

In the humanities, the top prize went to Kimberly St. Julian Varnon, a Ph.D. candidate in history, for her presentation, “Black Like Us: African American Encounters With Soviet Central Asia.” She discussed the experiences of African Americans who traveled and lived in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 30s to escape the racism and racial oppression of the United States.

Luella Allen-Waller, a Ph.D. student in biology, won first prize in the natural sciences. She explained the crucial symbiotic relationship between corals and microscopic algae—along with their shared challenges—in her presentation, “Deadbeat Dinoflagellates: Symbiotic Cooperation Breaks Down After Coral Bleaching.”

This year’s Audience Choice winner was Chad Payne, an international studies and strategic management student in the Lauder Institute—a joint program of the Wharton School and Penn Arts & Sciences. His talk, “Web 3.0: Embracing the Future of Internet Technologies on the African Continent,” focused on the current state and future of internet technologies in Africa, where 620 million people still lack access to electricity.

Visit our Vimeo gallery to watch all of the 2022 Penn Grad Talks presentations.


By Jane Carroll