The Top: UCR Pop Culture Moments in 2015 and 2016

Viral memes, internet sensations, television show appearances, and more from UCR faculty and students

Reza Aslan on the set of the ABC show, “The Muppets.”

Welcome to The Top! Each issue, we present a list of UCR staff and faculty favorites — from walking spots to gardens to events. This week, we highlight UCR faculty and students who made their mark on pop culture during 2015-2016. From creating viral memes to starring in television shows, here are just a few of UCR’s top pop culture moments:

1. UCR Students Dance With Diplomas in Sight

Students led a cheerful entrance at their African Student Programs reception on June 5, 2016. The video on one Instagram account alone, received more than 52,700 views. courtesy @_leonardokim_ via instagram

One Instagram account alone has recorded more than 52,700 views of the graduation reception video that captured a group of students celebrating their achievement during the June 5, 2016 event organized by UCR’s African Student Programs. Friends and family cheered as the group of young men demonstrated serious choreographed dance skills.

2.Conan O’Brien’s Honorable Mention

conanobrienucr On Oct. 1, 2015, television host Conan O’Brien mentioned UCR’s research on a lithium-ion battery anode powered by portobello mushrooms in his opening monologue during his late night talk show. The research findings were outlined in a paper, “Bio-Derived, Binderless, Hierarchically Porous Carbon Anodes for Li-ion Batteries,” published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. It was authored by Cengiz Ozkan and Mihri Ozkan, both professors in the Bourns College of Engineering, and three of their current or former graduate students: Brennan Campbell, Robert Ionescu and Zachary Favors.

3. ‘In Tents’ Studying

in-tents-studying During finals week, UCR libraries are open for 24 hours. In Dec. 2015, one student made the most out of this resource by setting up a tent at the Orbach Science Library; the dedication to his studies did not go unnoticed. It received widespread attention from Reddit, Snapchat, and Buzzfeed.

4. Hello from UC Riverside

YikYak A UC Riverside student rewrote the lyrics to Adele’s hit song, “Hello,” to capture the mood of finals week. Originally posted on Yik Yak, this remix garnered over 75,000 likes and over 24,400 shares on Facebook.

5. UCR Track Stars on ‘The Amazing Race’

Jazmine Lewis, left and Danielle Littleton

UCR track stars Jazmine Lewis, left and Danielle Littleton, are the purple team in CBS’s “The Amazing Race.”

Former UC Riverside track stars Danielle Littleton ’13 and Jazmine Lewis ’15 trekked around the world in the 27th season of CBS’s Emmy Award-winning reality television show “The Amazing Race,” where they went through various challenges and obstacles in pursuit of the $1 million grand prize. The show aired in Oct. 2015. Read more about their experience on the show here.

6.UCR’s American Ninja Warrior

UCR ’13 grad Natalie Duran at the Los Angeles qualifier for “American Ninja Warrior.” courtesy of american ninja warrior

Natalie Duran ’13, a UCR alumna with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience, competed on NBC’s popular “American Ninja Warrior” in 2013 and again in July 2016. Millions of viewers watched her as she went through the TV show’s rigorous obstacles. While a student at UCR, Duran nourished her passion for climbing and also became the founder of UCR’s climbing club.

7. Doubling Down on American Idol 2015

UCR Freshman Adanna Duru Makes Top 11 on American Idol

UCR Student Adanna Duru on Season 14 of American Idol.

Rocky Peter Ajoku on “American Idol.”









Season 14 of the nationally-televised singing competition, “American Idol” 2015, introduced two Highlanders, Adanna Duru and Rocky Peter Ajoku. Duru, a current student, made it to the top 10 and went on tour with the top singers from that season. Ajoku, a 2013 graduate, was featured prominently on billboards and his story of early struggles gave the show some drama early on. He has since returned to give a concert on campus.

8. The Muppet’s Guest Star


Reza Aslan, professor of creative writing, on the set of the ABC’s TV show, “The Muppets.”

Reza Aslan, professor of creative writing, made a guest appearance in the ABC show, “The Muppets.” He starred as himself promoting his book, “Zealot,” with Miss Piggy at the interview desk. Aslan has an active presence in the media. He runs and hosts the talk show, “Rough Draft” on Ovation, where he interviews screenwriters, novelists, and journalists about what inspires their work and craft. He is also a pop culture spokesman regarding Islam. One interview on CNN quickly zipped across the internet. Read more about Aslan’s work with the media at UCR Magazine. If you have something you’d like featured in The Top or an activity you’d like to share, email

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