UC Santa Barbara hosted the annual California Workshop on Evolutionary Social Science for the first time since 2018 from May 3-5. 

Founded in 2000, the California Workshop on Evolutionary Social Science (C-WESS) began as a social science research meeting between students and faculty at UC Santa Barbara and UC Los Angeles. In 2006, this convention grew to include UC Davis and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, eventually expanding to Cal State Fullerton, Chapman University, Stanford University, Loyola Marymount, Arizona State University and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Today, C-WESS brings together multiple universities as a student-led conference that features undergraduate and graduate research presentations in the social sciences. Research topics revolve around the examination of human behavior through an evolutionary perspective, encompassing topics such as sociology, psychology, anthropology and geography. 

The hosting campus for the annual convention is determined by a general rotation around the participating universities. This year, C-WESS was held at the UCSB West Conference Center, located on Santa Rosa Avenue.

Hannah Frogge and Joseph Kilgallen, anthropological science graduate students at UCSB, were the main organizers for the 2024 convention. Frogge expressed looking forward to hosting the event. 

“Especially since we’re in the middle of the state, it’s a good place to hold the conference,” explained Frogge. “Everyone was excited for it to be at UCSB, and it happened to be our turn to host.”

C-WESS was established with the goals of collaboration, knowledge exchange and most importantly, accessibility. Participation is free of charge, along with meals, lodging and travel fares. 

“Something particularly special about C-WESS is that a lot of academic conferences are difficult to access,” expressed Kilgallen. Either membership fees are expensive, or travel is expensive, or you have to register for a conference. All of these costs stack up, so a really cool thing about C-WESS is that it was formed with the idea of making it accessible to everyone. It’s free for all students to attend, undergrad and graduate.” 

Camping is a long-standing tradition for C-WESS that not only serves as a fun way to destress and meet other participants, but it also helps waive living costs. Campers enjoyed an opening bonfire Friday night, along with catering and casual conversation. This year, C-WESS participants camped at Cachuma Lake Campgrounds in Santa Ynez Valley, located 30 minutes northwest of UCSB. 

According to Frogge and Kilgallen, the event was a success, with a turnout of approximately 70 participants. The convention’s events consisted of a poster session, in which undergraduates presented their research posters comfortably in low-pressure settings and 15-20 speaker sessions that allowed graduates and professors to present their individual research subjects. These speaker sessions were followed by small breakout groups for participants to engage with professors and graduates and ask questions about their research, graduate school and overlapping interests. 

Keynote speaker Dr. Annie Wertz, a new hire at UCSB, presented her research on how plants contribute to social learning and cognitive development in children through an evolutionary perspective. 

“We focused on trying to find an exciting keynote that we thought could speak across different interests,” Kilgallen responded, when asked how Wertz was chosen to be the keynote speaker. “The evolutionary social sciences pulls in a lot of anthropologists, as well as psychologists, and we wanted someone who would have wide appeal and was doing new and exciting research. So we were lucky and super happy to have Dr. Wertz speak for us.”

Across the board, Frogge and Kilgallen received positive feedback for the convention, which is one of the reasons why C-WESS 2025 is tentatively set at UCSB for the second year in a row. 

“We did too well,” joked Kilgallen. “That was our mistake.” 

Although retiring as lead organizers, Frogge and Kilgallen have high hopes as for what C-WESS will look like next year — some of its main improvements being in funding and undergraduate involvement.

“A thing about C-WESS is that we pull money from different departments across the UC and other participating campuses,” explained Frogge. “Because C-WESS is a longer-standing conference and evolutionary social sciences are so deeply rooted in California, we are hoping to ask for further support and involvement from people at the higher levels, such as the dean, in the future.”

Kilgallen echoed a similar sentiment, and recalled the principles of C-WESS: to be accessible and welcoming of social science research at all collegiate levels. 

“The founding values of C-WESS stand, and we don’t want to change that by any means,” stated Kilgallen. “Especially coming out of Covid, it’s been hard organizing people, so our goals moving forward may be to continue to build the conference, and the people that it reaches. This year was successful pulling in undergrads, which is something we hope to do more of in the future.”

The success of C-WESS 2024 at UC Santa Barbara has set the tone for the growth of future conferences, including the following convention being tentatively scheduled at UCSB in the spring. As C-WESS continues to expand its breadth in students and funding, it remains steadfast to its fundamental pillars of accessibility, undergrad and graduate involvement and student-faculty collaboration.