Kevin M. Alicea-Torres is a fifth-year doctoral candidate in cell and molecular biology at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn). He obtained his Bachelor of Science in microbiology from the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao (UPR-H), where he conducted research under the direction of Dr. Edwin Traverso as a Ronald McNair Scholar and NIH-MARC Fellow. He also participated in a summer research internship at the University of Chicago (2011) and at Penn (2012). After graduating from UPR-H, he joined the post-baccalaureate program at Penn and studied the impact of immunotherapy in the tumor microenvironment of pancreatic cancer in Dr. Gregory Beatty’s lab. Soon after, Kevin started his doctoral studies at Penn, and he is conducting his thesis research in Dr. Dmitry Gabrilovich’s lab at Wistar Institute. His research focuses on the regulation of myeloid-derived suppressor cells by type 1 interferons in cancer. He has already published five peer-reviewed articles and earned several presentation awards. His ultimate goal is to develop a novel immune therapeutic approach to treat cancer patients. Kevin has been actively involved in several outreach initiatives, retention and recruitment of underrepresented students in STEM. He founded and led Penn’s SACNAS Chapter as president from 2016-2018 and is the co-founder of “Caminos en Ciencia,” a Spanish podcast that explores the challenges, successes, and lessons learned by Latinx researchers and students along their careers and training in science. Finally, he wants to serve as a mentor and guide the next generation of scientists by engaging with low-income communities in Latin America.
|Cody Aros is a sixth-year MD/PhD student at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Cody is a first-generation college student and is a current Gates Millennium Scholar. He obtained his undergraduate degree in biology from Stanford University in 2013. While there, he completed an honors thesis studying the role of novel long noncoding RNAs in epidermal homeostasis and was awarded the Stanford Firestone Medal for these efforts. He then entered the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) at UCLA and is now a fourth-year PhD student in the laboratory of Dr. Brigitte Gomperts, where he is investigating the mechanisms underlying proximal airway stem cell homeostasis and repair following injury. Following the completion of his PhD, Cody will return to medical school and plans to pursue a Pediatrics Physician Scientist residency training program. His ultimate career goals are to work at an academic institution as a physician scientist and to conduct research in regenerative medicine and stem cell niche biology. Outside of lab, Cody’s interests lie in mentoring youth, with a recent developing passion for advising LGBTQ+ individuals to pursue careers in STEM. He is also an avid foodie, willing to try anything!
Oscar Cazares is a PhD candidate in the Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology Department at the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC). As a first-generation college student, he received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from UCSC. After graduating, Oscar worked for two years in Dr. Lindsay Hinck’s lab before joining the PhD program in 2016. In 2017, Oscar was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to pursue his thesis studies. He is investigating the molecular pathways that regulate the fate of alveolar progenitor cells through multiple pregnancies. Oscar hopes his research will offer a therapeutic solution for milk insufficiency syndrome, which impacts the health of many women/children worldwide. In addition to research, Oscar actively volunteers at UCSC and in neighboring rural communities to increase equity and inclusion in STEM. He aspires to be a professor at a R1 institution and continue to bridge educational gaps affecting underrepresented students in higher education.
|Marcos Corchado is a fourth year PhD student in the Department of Molecular Genetics at The Ohio State University, Columbus. He earned his Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering and biology with a minor in materials science at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez. As an undergraduate researcher he focused on improving the properties of light metal alloys. His work culminated in a first author paper showing that addition of aluminum diboride particle was an effective method to strengthen aluminum-zinc alloys. In 2016, he joined the laboratory of Dr. Chamberlin at OSU, focusing his research on mesoderm-epithelial signaling during altered development in the nematode C. elegans. He is currently working on identifying novel signals that originate from mesodermal tissue and are required to promote hyperproliferation of epithelial cells driven by a mutation in the gene Ras. Ultimately, the aim is to identify a conserved mechanism for deregulation of Ras signaling in human cancer and possible therapeutic targets for treatment. Among his long-term career goals is to create an outreach program to increase participation of underrepresented students in STEM fields in both academic and professional environments. When not in the lab, Marcos enjoys hiking, climbing, and traveling.
|Valeria De La Rosa Reyes is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology in the School of Medicine at the University of Puerto Rico. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in biology from the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao. During that time, she discovered her passion for research, which fulfilled her desire to contribute knowledge that could improve quality of life. While volunteering with the elderly, she developed an interest in studying dementia and neurodegenerative diseases. She decided that her research would be focused on answering questions such as: Why can’t the central nervous system regenerate? and How can we treat neurodegenerative diseases and dementia? This led her to apply to the PhD program where she currently works, elucidating the effects of Retinoic Acid on macrophages and axonal regeneration after optic nerve injury in Rana pipiens. In addition to her academic work, Valeria participates in Neuroboricuas, a project that encourages and educates young students in science and promotes more accessible resources for them. Her future goals are to become a leading researcher in her field and continue collaborating on innovative research projects in regenerative neuroscience and to inspire newer generations of students in academia.
|Beverlin del Rosario is a second-year health psychology and clinical science PhD student at The Graduate Center at the City University of New York. She earned a Bachelor of Science in psychology and two concentrations in biology and chemistry at Xavier University of Louisiana. Her honors thesis focused on the relation between racial identity and perceptions of skin bleaching among African American women. Currently, she is investigating ethnic and racial differences in suicidal behaviors and cognitive mechanisms that may explain the relation between repetitive negative thoughts and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Bev is interested in understanding neurobiological underpinnings of repetitive negative thinking and suicidal thoughts behaviors. Moreover, she is interested in the sociocultural factors and interpersonal dynamics that reinforce suicidal thoughts. Bev is passionate about mentoring and helping students reach their potential in academia and research-related fields. Her long-term goal is to become a prolific clinical scientist who espouses diversity of thought and creativity.
|Janelle Doyle is a first-year PhD student in the Neurosciences Interdepartmental Program at Stanford University. Earlier this year, she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in biology from California State University, San Bernardino. During her time as an undergraduate, she participated in MARC USTAR and Leadership Alliance SR-EIP, programs that are designed to provide students from underrepresented backgrounds with support and community as they pursue research opportunities. These experiences led her to become passionate about being part of the narrative that makes science inclusive and accessible to all, and she enjoys dedicating her time to mentoring and science outreach. Her main research interests are in cellular and molecular neuroscience, where she is eager to understand the role of glia (non-neuronal cells) in both the healthy and diseased brain. Currently, she is rotating in labs at Stanford and focusing on questions about oligodendrocyte biology and mechanisms of myelin wrapping. In the future, she hopes to become faculty at a primarily undergraduate university, where she can use her position to mentor minority students and advocate for diversity in STEM.
|Laura Flores is a first-year graduate student in the MD-PhD Scholars Program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from New Mexico State University, where she developed an interest in bioethics and clinical trial research. She is interested in patient-oriented research, and her current research is focused on bone health after bariatric surgery and comparative effectiveness in general surgery. Laura works in the combined labs of Drs. Laura Bilek PT, PhD and Dmitry Oleynikov MD, FACS. Laura’s notable awards include the Harvard Medical School Walls Do Talk Award, an award focused on the creation of an inclusive environment in medical school, and the UNMC Student Impact Award, a peer-nominated award for involvement on campus and in the community. Her future goals as an academic researcher include teaching bioethics at an academic medical center and continuing outreach efforts for women in STEM. She is very conscious of work-life balance and strives to build a career in which she can enjoy both her work and her hobbies. In her free time, Laura enjoys weight-lifting, jazz music, drinking coffee, and spending time with friends and family.
|Grace George is a first-year dual neuroscience PhD and Master of Public Administration student at University of Wisconsin-Madison. She graduated with a BS in neurobiology from UW-Madison and worked as a lab manager under Dr. Edward Hubbard’s Educational Neuroscience Lab working with children’s mathematical brain development. She joined the Neuroscience and Public Policy Program at UW-Madison so she could help integrate science and policy. She believes it is necessary for people to be able to converse in both languages, in order to better facilitate science and health policy making. In terms of research, she is interested in using clinical and neuroimaging techniques, including fMRI, TMS, and EEG, to understand mental health and psychiatric disorders and how they affect children’s educational and life outcomes. Her career goals are to work at the NIH, NIMH, or Department of Education and to use both degrees to advance science, education, and health policy. Grace wants to do government level policy work to help those with developmental, neurological, learning, and mental health disorders.
|Paige Balencia Greenwood is a third year PhD candidate studying neuroscience at the University of Cincinnati (UC), College Of Medicine. She graduated from Hampton University in 2016 as MARC U-Scholar completing internships at Brandeis University and Johns Hopkins University. At the University of Cincinnati, Paige is an Albert C. Yates Fellow. She is a firm believer in community outreach and has been the co-chair for Brain Awareness Week, which aimed to educate the community about brain research and lead a workshop for the Green Light for Girls Conference on Neuroscience in 2018. Paige is currently working on her dissertation under the direction of Dr. Tzipi Horowiz-Kraus at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center by studying the role of socioeconomic status (SES) on reading acquisition in typical and atypical readers. She hopes to identify a mechanism for how SES influences structural and functional brain development and how this impacts reading ability in school age children. Paige is very passionate about early child development and how environmental variables impact child emergent literacy, cognitive, and language abilities. She recently published a first author paper with Brain and Cognition on the association between maternal reading ability and the functional connectivity of regions within the brain related to language and executive functions in four-year-old girls. In the future, she hopes to establish a reading and literacy center for at risk children to bridge academic disparities.
|Adriana Hernandez is a second-year PhD student in the Plant Biology Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell University. Adriana received her bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she completed ethnobotanical research on the Mescalero Apache’s ceremonial use of cattail pollen, under the advisement of Dr. Ines Talamantez. Her interest in botany developed into a position as technician and lab manager at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, where she completed population genetics and ecological research to preserve California’s rare and endangered native plants. The results of this research were adopted by land managers in the Channel Islands of California and formed the basis of a mitigation project. Adriana is continuing biodiversity and conservation research in the Specht lab at Cornell through studies of the evolutionary development and climatic niches of polymorphic lilies. She aims to evaluate the genetic regulatory mechanisms that underlie contrasting phenotypic traits to provide insights into how organisms adapt and regulate changes to their environment. Adriana will also model ecological niches in tandem with evolutionary history to assess if the geographic distribution of species is limited by physical barriers, environmental barriers, ecological interactions, evolutionary history, or a combination of these factors. As a Mexican immigrant, first-generation college graduate, and aspiring professor, Adriana works toward leveraging her experiences to overcome systemic injustices; to cultivate inclusive settings, identify students in need of academic support, and help their development toward scholarship and the exploration of diverse career paths.
|Carolina Herrera is a second-year pathobiology and translational science PhD student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in public health sciences from the University of California, Irvine (UCI). As a NIH Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) scholar at UCI, Carolina led various research projects which focused on antibiotic resistance and immunometabolism and obesity. She attended many national scientific meetings, such as ABRCMS, AAAS, and Sigma Xi, and won several poster presentation awards. As an undergraduate Minority Health & Health Disparities International Research Training Program (MHIRT) fellow, she found her passion for immunology by conducting viral immunology research in a vaccine development lab in Madrid, Spain. At UCI, Carolina led efforts to increase education about disease prevention in the community and led efforts to promote student health and wellness resources. At UNC she is involved in the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) career development and student recruitment committees and participates in science outreach. Her current research focuses on elucidating the immunopathological causes of anti-neutrophil cytoplasmic autoantibody (ANCA) Vasculitis, an autoimmune-mediated kidney disease. Carolina’s long-term goal is to combine her passion for research and outreach to become a research scientist in academia or industry while contributing to broadening research efforts and scientific training of underrepresented students.
|Cecilia Hinojosa is a third-year experimental psychology PhD student at Tufts University. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from her hometown of El Paso, TX, at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) in 2016. During her time at UTEP, Cecilia completed an honors thesis under the guidance of Dr. Laura O’Dell, examining the neurobiological underpinnings that mediate enhanced vulnerability to tobacco abuse using an animal model of diabetes. Now at Tufts, Cecilia is working under the guidance of Dr. Lisa Shin where she broadly focuses on using neuroimaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the functional brain abnormalities of individuals diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Her master’s thesis examined whether functional neuroimaging measures can help predict response to treatment in those with PTSD. Her dissertation will extend this work. Cecilia has been funded through many agencies throughout her undergraduate career and has recently received the Predoctoral Ford Fellowship. As a first-generation college graduate, Cecilia is extremely passionate about teaching and mentoring students of underrepresented backgrounds and hopes to return to UTEP to continue her research on PTSD.
|Megan Justice is a PhD candidate in the curriculum of genetics and molecular biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Originally from West Virginia, she attended Marshall University as a first-generation college student and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2016 with dual bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry and forensic chemistry. Megan’s undergraduate thesis involved generating the first whole-genome assembly for the critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceros. Currently, Megan is a member of the laboratory of Dr. Jill Dowen at UNC, where she studies how three-dimensional genome architecture regulates gene expression and controls cell identity. Disruption of genome architecture has been linked to the onset various cancers and developmental disorders, but a full understanding of the mechanisms behind DNA structure formation and function are still unknown. As a member of the Dowen Lab, Megan has been awarded an NIH T32 training grant. In the future, Megan hopes to serve as a mentor for students from disadvantaged backgrounds such as herself, specifically fellow Appalachians.
|Tomas Lagunas Jr is a third-year PhD student in the Molecular Genetics and Genomics program at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He obtained a BS in biological sciences and BA in chemistry from the University of California Riverside before initiating his biotech career at Cibus US LLC, where he worked for four years, before returning to academia. His thesis work is under Dr. Joseph Dougherty, in the Department of Genetics and Department of Psychiatry, where he utilizes cutting edge molecular genetics tools to study non-coding variants found in patients with autism. The ultimate goal of his research is to determine which variants have functional consequences and to dissect the molecular pathways that are responsible for autism and other neuropsychiatric disorders. When he’s not in the lab, you can find him consulting for The BALSA Group, volunteering for the Young Scientist Program, or planning the next big event with the Graduate Association of Latinx, Native American, and Caribbean Students. His future plans include pursuing his passion for science and mentoring, in the academic or private sector, leading his own research team.
|Maria Linn-Evans is a third-year PhD student in neuroscience at the University of Minnesota. She earned her Bachelor of Engineering at Vanderbilt University with a major in biomedical engineering and a minor in neuroscience. Her current research focuses on identifying neural mechanisms responsible for the modulation of rigidity (muscle stiffness) during movements in people with Parkinson’s disease. She uses a combination of quantitative movement assessment tools and neurophysiology techniques in her research, including electroencephalography and transcranial magnetic stimulation. Maria also enjoys participating in science outreach activities and is especially passionate about supporting women in STEM fields. She is still exploring career paths but is interested in becoming more involved in science advocacy and education in her future career. Outside of the lab, Maria enjoys baking macarons, eating at new restaurants, and hiking with her husband.
|Adriana Gamboa Lopez is a fourth year PhD candidate at the University of California Santa Cruz in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology. She earned her Bachelor of Science in biological sciences with a minor in public health at the University of California, Merced. She is the first person in her family to attend college and the first one from her extended family to pursue a higher education degree. Adriana was awarded the NSF-GRFP in 2017 and uses her award to study the spliceosome in the lab of Dr. Melissa Jurica. The spliceosome is a macromolecular ribonucleoprotein (RNP) that removes introns from premRNA before proteins are translated. Adriana is studying the U2 snRNP, involved in early spliceosome assembly. Specifically, she is focusing on the SF3B1 protein, which is of high interest because it is frequently mutated in cancer cells. She uses a small molecule inhibitor to stall the spliceosome in early stages and studies how SF3B1 affects the U2 snRNP. She really enjoys mentoring undergraduate students and helping them find their passion. In her free time, Adriana likes to go running by the beach, hiking, getting lost in cities, traveling, and cooking while listening to mariachi music.
|María del Mar Maldonado is a fourth-year PhD candidate in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) Medical Sciences Campus (MSC). After completing her undergraduate studies in chemistry at UPR-Rio Piedras, María went on to pursue a Pharmacy Doctorate (PharmD) at UPR-MSC, where she graduated with honors. She also completed summer research internships at MIT and NASA Glenn Research Center. Her research interests include molecular cancer therapeutics, cancer biology, and drug development. Specifically, she is most interested in the development of effective targeted therapies against metastatic disease. Her current research focuses on studying the mechanisms of absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion of a novel anti-metastatic drug, under the guidance of Dr. Suranganie Dharmawardhane. She considers herself a hardworking, curious, and perseverant person. In 2015, she was awarded the Frank M. Deane Passion for Science award by Eli Lilly Company, in recognition of her excellent academic performance, original research, and leadership qualities. Her long-term goal is to become an independent research scientist who supports innovative cancer research and contributes to the advancement of scientific knowledge. In her spare time, María del Mar enjoys reading, yoga, and playing the piano.
|Jocelyn Meza, MA, received her BA in psychology from UCLA, with a minor in applied developmental psychology. While at UCLA, she was the lab manager for the ADHD and Development Lab and was a McNair Research Scholar. For her honors thesis, she investigated the association between positive parenting behaviors and executive functioning in children with and without ADHD. Currently, she is a PhD candidate in the Clinical Science Program at UC Berkeley and a Clinical Psychology Fellow at UCSF. As a PhD student, Jocelyn received multiple research fellowships, including the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship and the Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship. Her research focuses on 1) risk and protective factors associated with of self-harm in at-risk youth, 2) understanding the predictors of positive treatment outcomes in psychosocial interventions for ADHD, 3) the cultural adaptation of psychosocial treatments for Spanish-speaking Latinx parents, and 4) stigma related to mental health, particularly childhood ADHD. Her academic career goal is to become a research faculty who focuses on the study of risk and protective factors associated with self-harm in populations that are underrepresented in science (i.e., Latinx youth). She also hopes to serve as a role model and leader in increasing the participation of both women and first-generation underrepresented minority students (URMs) in the sciences. Throughout her graduate career, Jocelyn has also received multiple awards, including the National Latino/a Psychological Association Distinguished Student Service Award, the UC Berkeley Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award, and the UC Berkeley Service SPOT Award.
|Adriana Mulero-Russe is a first-year PhD student in the interdisciplinary Bioengineering Program and the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez (UPRM) in 2018. During her undergraduate years at UPRM, she was part of Dr. Almodovar’s research group and as a PR-Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) research fellow, she worked developing and characterizing collagen and heparin nanofilms directed to aid in the nerve regeneration process. Also, as an undergraduate student, she participated in two Research Experience for Undergraduate (REUs) held by the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN); one at the National Institute of Materials Science-Japan and the other one at Cornell University. Now, as a doctoral student she was selected to join the Georgia Tech Biomaterials Training Grant due to her great interest in studying the application of biomaterials in the field of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. Her current research includes developing an extracellular matrix (ECM) hydrogel to aid in muscle regeneration after a volumetric muscle loss. Outside of research, one of her passion is sharing her knowledge with the community. Her long-term goals include combining her desire to teach and inspire others with research and engineering.
|Amy Nusbaum is a fourth-year PhD candidate in experimental psychology at Washington State University (WSU). She earned her bachelor’s degree in 2015 and her master’s degree in 2016, both in psychology from WSU. Her research focuses on decision making, specifically on why and how people continue to make poor/biased decisions when they have evidence that their decisions are not ideal. She was recently voted her department’s most outstanding graduate student and won the People’s Choice award in the Three Minute Thesis competition. Outside of research, Amy enjoys her teaching and mentoring work. She is a fellow with the Open Education Group, focusing on reducing course costs for students and enhancing their experience by using openly-licensed course materials. She also developed and directs her department’s undergraduate peer mentoring program, which helps students navigate their major, and serves on the executive board for WSU’s Commission on the Status of Women. When not on campus, she spends time hanging out with her dog, Zoro, and volunteering with Scholar Match, an organization that helps high-achieving, low-income high school students apply to college. She is hoping to earn a faculty position at a regional institution or other primarily-undergraduate institution, where she can combine her passions for teaching and mentoring undergraduate researchers to help leverage higher education as an agent for social change.
|Victoria Osorio Vasquez graduated with a BA in chemistry from Kalamazoo College, where she conducted research alongside Dr. Laura Furge studying naturally occurring variants of enzymes important in metabolizing drugs and their ability to be inhibited. To further her training as a scientist, Victoria went on to become a Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) Fellow at Case Western Reserve University. There she conducted research to identify novel drug synergies for breast cancer therapies in the lab of Dr. Ruth Keri. Currently, she is a second-year graduate student at NYU School of Medicine, completing her thesis work in the lab of Dr. Michael Pacold. She is working toward discovering metabolic vulnerabilities in melanoma in order to create novel therapies to impede brain metastasis. Alongside her work in the laboratory, Victoria serves as student council president and is focused on developing a sense of community amongst graduate students that fosters diversity and inclusion in science. She is determined to become an independent researcher focused in cancer disparities to train the next generation of scientists. When she isn’t in the lab, she enjoys dancing, cooking, and hiking.
|Carlos Pérez is an MD/PhD candidate in the Microbiology, Immunology and Cancer Biology Program (cancer biology track) at the University of Minnesota. He earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Puerto Rico – Cayey Campus. As an undergraduate, he was part of the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) Program. This program allows minority students to participate in research projects during their undergraduate studies and as part of summer research internships. His experience as part of the RISE program allowed him to understand that he wanted to be an active participant in the intersection between human disease and biomedical research. Thus, he decided to pursue a career as a physician-scientist. He was admitted in the MD/PhD class of 2014 and after two years of medical school training, he joined the laboratory of Dr. Carol A. Lange. His thesis research focuses on understanding the role of the glucocorticoid receptor in breast cancer. His short-term career goals are to complete: (1) his MD/PhD training, (2) a residency in general surgery, and (3) a fellowship in surgical oncology. His overall goals are to become a principal investigator as part of an academic health center and combine his passions for surgery and translational cancer research.
|Susana Restrepo is a third-year doctoral candidate in the Pharmacology Graduate Training Program at the University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus. She is originally from Medellin, Colombia and moved to Florida, where years later she pursued a Bachelor of Science at the University of Florida. During her undergraduate education, she studied biology with an emphasis in biotechnology. She began her research career working in a structure-based drug design lab with a strong focus in immunology where she learned many in silico techniques as well as x-ray crystallography. During graduate school, she shifted her research focus to neuroscience where she currently studies the synaptic cell adhesion molecules called Neurexins and how the dysfunction of Neurexins contributes to the many neuropsychiatric disorders characterized by imbalances in neuronal excitability. Susana has been an HHMI Gilliam Fellow since September of 2018 and is the awardee of the Lyda Hill Foundation Fellowship for the 2018-2019 year. She is also the recipient of multiple merit awards as well as conference travel and presentation awards. She has allocated a lot of her time during graduate school to scientific outreach to help several on campus organizations such as Women in STEM and SACNAS educate future generations of scientists. Her goals involve continuing to disseminate science to underprivileged neighborhoods.
|Angelica Riojas is a third year PhD candidate in the Molecular Medicine and Translational Science Program at Wake Forest School of Medicine. Prior to pursuing a PhD, Angelica attended Texas State University where she completed a BS degree in biology and a MS degree in biochemistry. Angelica’s research interest is in genetics and genomics with a specific focus on groups that have been underrepresented. Her current research investigates the genetic mechanisms behind salt sensitive hypertension in female primates. This project is exciting because it deals with a complex disease that affects over half of the American population and is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease but has been understudied in women. This research can lead to developing better therapies for patients, especially women. New discoveries about markers for risk, and early nutrition interventions, can also be implemented as a preventative measure. Outside of the lab, she advocates for science communication, STEM outreach, and increasing diversity at her institution. She is part of the science communication student group Wake Up to Science and podcast “5 to Life: a PhD and Beyond” to create a transparent dialogue about the PhD experience and academia in general. She hopes to use her podcast help guide others through the PhD. She also started a new chapter of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) at the Wake Forest School of Medicine. Angelica believes her research and outreach initiatives will prepare her for her own laboratory someday.
|Daniel Salas-Escabillas just started on his journey to becoming a great scientist. He is in his first year of the University of Michigan’s (UofM) PhD program in biomedical sciences. His primary interest is finding new ways to make cancer treatments more effective and less expensive. He was born and raised on a small island in the Pacific known as Guam and received his BS in biological sciences at the University of Guam. Before diving into the world of biomedical research, Daniel spent his time outside the lab doing fieldwork in the jungles and rivers of Guam to collect samples of indigenous species of plants. He also investigated the effects of pesticides on the sexual morphology of wildlife. During his years studying the environment, he became more interested in the biomedical side of science due to the lack of treatments available for patients of cancer on Guam. Since he only worked in environmental research before, he decided to do a 1-year post-bac education program (PREP), to hone his knowledge and understanding of cancer research. He worked on improving the efficacy of Adoptive T-Cell Transfer therapy via PI3K-δ inhibition, which halted the differentiation of cells until they were infused into the patient. Daniel has received the Rackham Merit Fellowship award upon acceptance of his offer from UofM and wishes to use his PhD to improve the lives of his people on Guam. He plans to do this through research and mentoring of students from the island in his lab.
|Ashlie Marie Santaliz Casiano is a second year PhD student in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Originally from Puerto Rico, Ashlie graduated in 2017 from University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, with a bachelor’s degree in biology. Shortly after, she joined Dr. Madak-Erdogan’s Women’s Health Laboratory, where she focuses on understanding the tumor microenvironment in breast cancer and the molecular disparities underlying the disease. She hopes her work will serve for the developing of novel therapeutic interventions to bridge the racial disparities gap between breast cancer patients and their outcomes. She aspires to become a mentor in her field and make science more accessible and inclusive. She is enthusiastic about culture exchange and fascinated by anthropology, and is a passionate learner. In her spare time, she likes to play guitar, read, journal, and listen to podcasts.
|Pedro Cito Silberman is a third-year pharmacology PhD candidate at Weill Cornell Medicine’s Graduate School of Medical Sciences. He is originally from Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. He earned his Bachelor of Science in bioengineering at the University of California San Diego and his Master of Engineering in biomedical engineering at Cornell University. Pedro’s primary research focus is on developing chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells to target cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in David A. Scheinberg’s Laboratory. CAR T cells have shown promise in the clinic in treating hematopoietic malignancies; however, current approaches to targeting solid tumors can lead to off-tumor, on-target toxicities. His research aims to develop contextual gating strategies for CAR expression, so CAR T cells can kill tumors selectively and spare toxicity on normal tissues. Pedro currently receives fellowship support from a T32 training grant. In addition to his research, Pedro believes mentorship is one of the most important aspects of the scientific process. With the help of his graduate school, he started the Weill Cornell Medicine High School Science Immersion Program to offer hands-on biomedical research exposure to New York high school students of underserved backgrounds. He is excited to see the impact this will have on the students and the scientific community. Pedro plans to continue in academia and become a principal investigator.
|Marissa Smail is a second-year neuroscience PhD student at the University of Cincinnati. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in biology, with a psychology minor, from Saint Vincent College. There she completed a thesis investigating the role of specific acetylcholine receptors in stress reactivity in rats. After graduating with honors, she entered the Neuroscience Graduate Program at the University of Cincinnati, where she is currently working in the Department of Pharmacology and Systems Physiology. Her research interests broadly center on elucidating the mechanisms underlying neuropsychiatric disorders in rodents and using these mechanisms to inform about potential therapies that could improve patient outcomes. She also participates in organizing Brain Awareness Week and other outreach events, which focus on bringing neuroscience to schools and the general community. Marissa’s current research is investigating the molecular mechanisms underlying depression-like behaviors in a novel rodent model of loss, utilizing integrated bioinformatics analyses of RNAseq, proteomics, and kinomics data from multiple emotional regulatory brain regions. This project is highly collaborative, bridging departments and universities, and seeks to identify novel targets in depression research. Marissa is passionate about this big-picture approach to research which utilizes innovative techniques, platforms, and collaborations to deepen our understanding of complex neuroscience questions. Her long-term goal is to become a principal investigator and conduct this big-picture research, with the ultimate goal of improving therapies for poorly understood neuropsychiatric disorders.
|Whitney Stevens-Sostre earned a BS in biology from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez in 2015. During her undergraduate education, she participated in the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE-2-BEST) and Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC USTAR) training programs, which are designed to provide honors students with research related opportunities to improve their likelihood of success in biomedical research. After graduating, she worked as a research technician at the University of Chicago through the Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP), where she analyzed signaling pathways that influence gliogenesis. She is currently a third-year PhD student in the Neuroscience Training Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, working in the laboratory of Dr. Gail Robertson. Whitney is interested in how the EAG1 member of the KCNH family of voltage-gated potassium channels controls membrane excitability. In particular, her project aims to understand the mechanism of calmodulin inhibition of hEAG1 channels. Her long-term career goal is to become a principal investigator, while also being an active advocate for underrepresented minorities in STEM.
|Camille Sullivan is a fifth-year MD/PhD student currently performing her graduate work in the Department of Cancer Biology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After accruing an extensive background in cancer research during her undergraduate years including a Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences (CURE) fellowship at the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center and an externship at the National Cancer Institute, she currently works in the laboratory of Dr. Susan Waltz, studying the mechanistic roles of the Ron receptor tyrosine kinase in the prostate tumor microenvironment with a focus on the antitumor immune response. She was recently awarded the highly competitive NIH F31-Diversity Predoctoral Fellowship from the National Cancer Institute to support her thesis research. She plans to pursue orthopedic surgery with the long-term career goal of becoming a surgeon-scientist, bridging her research and clinical practice to address key areas of clinical need. Outside of academia, her passions include travel, dance, and playing with her puppy, Ginger.
|Janae Sweeney is a second-year PhD student, cancer biologist, and NIH/NIGMS RISE Program scholar in the Department of Biological Sciences at Clark Atlanta University. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in biology at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, South Carolina. Shortly after, she received her Master of Science with an emphasis in cellular molecular biology & physiology from Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia. Janae’s dissertation research focuses on delineating the mechanistic role of manganese superoxide dismutase polymorphisms in prostate cancer progression. Upon completion of her doctoral program, she plans to return to her former teaching position at South Carolina State University, to continue her passion for helping students to learn more about science, as it pertains to their own studies, research and even medicine. Outside of academia, Janae enjoys reading and empowering others to follow their dreams through her personal blog.
|Flavia Tejeda earned her bachelor’s degree in cell and molecular biology from University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras campus (UPR-RP) in 2014. Her motivation to pursue research led her to participate in on campus research at UPR-RP and in Lausanne, Switzerland where she worked closely with the neuroscience and psychiatric departments of the University of Lausanne during a summer internship. Currently, Flavia is entering her fourth year as a cell and molecular biology PhD student with a neuroscience research focus. In 2016, she was selected as a RISE fellow and works at the Integrative Center for Glial Research at Universidad Central del Caribe (UCC) under the mentoring of Dr. Misty Eaton. Her passion for teaching drove her to coordinate the Fifth Molecular Biology Summer Academy, a program directed towards the immersion of undergraduate students in research and STEM careers. She has a strong commitment towards outreach in her community, thus she is part of Neuroboricuas volunteers and has served as a tutor in the public educational system in her hometown. In the near future, Flavia aspires to become an independent researcher and member of academia to encourage young underrepresented communities, prompting their involvement and evolution in science.
|Jaylissa M. Torres Robles is a fifth year PhD candidate and NSF Graduate Research Fellow in the Chemistry Department at Yale University. She was born and raised in Puerto Rico, where she obtained a Bachelor of Science with concentration in chemistry at the University of Puerto Rico Cayey. As an undergraduate student, she conducted research in Dr. Elba Reyes’ laboratory, isolating and characterizing therapeutic components of Agave americana L. roots. Additionally, during the summers she worked at Penn State University and Yale University as an undergraduate research assistant exploring applications of chemistry in nanotechnology and material science. Her doctoral research studies aim to understand cancer-related signaling pathways focusing on elucidating the molecular features that dictate mitogen activated protein kinase substrate specificity at docking site interactions. As part of her long-term career goals, Jaylissa wants to pursue a career as a principal investigator focusing on understanding biochemical and biomolecular mechanisms that explain diseases including fibromyalgia and cancer and to use rational drug design to improve treatment of such diseases. As a future academic, she is committed to work to increase diversity in science and to encourage minority students to pursue their dream careers.
|Donovan Trinidad is a second-year PhD student in the Biomedical Sciences Program at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in cell and molecular biology at John Jay College, where he developed a model to determine an individual's time of death through studying changes in their skin microbiome postmortem. His current research focuses on the ESX secretion systems in Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the causative agent of tuberculosis. He hopes to contribute to the discovery of more effective treatment of infectious diseases by uncovering the mechanisms behind secretion of virulence factors. Outside the lab, Donovan enjoys listening to music, going to concerts, and reading.
|Sophia Varriano is a fourth-year PhD candidate in the Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology PhD Program at Graduate Center (GC), CUNY and a RISE scholar working in Dr. Frida Kleiman’s laboratory at Hunter College, CUNY. She is currently studying the role of estrogen in mRNA processing and its relevance in breast cancer. Sophia received her Bachelor of Science degree in biology, with a minor in Spanish, at the Macaulay Honors College at the College of Staten Island, CUNY where she completed her honors thesis investigating the role of Na+/H+ exchanger type 1 in maintaining mammary tissue architecture. In addition, she earned her Master of Philosophy in biology at GC. In June 2016, Sophia was selected to participate in the Temple University/Fox Chase Cancer Center-Hunter College Regional Comprehensive Cancer Health Disparity Partnership, where she studied DNA methylation patterns to explain racial disparities in colon cancer incidence and mortality among African American and Caucasian American ethnic groups in Dr. Jean-Pierre Issa’s laboratory. Sophia enjoys teaching undergraduate chemistry and organic chemistry laboratory courses as an adjunct lecturer at Hunter College. Long-term, Sophia is interested in developing STEM programs to encourage and mentor students to pursue a career in STEM fields and increase minority participation within these fields.
|David Vasquez Jr. is a third-year ecology doctoral student at the University of Georgia in the Interdisciplinary Disease Ecology Across Scales (IDEAS) program. David is honored to be the first person to attend college in his family and he earned his Bachelor of Science in biology at Virginia Tech. As an undergraduate researcher, he was supported by the NSF Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program and the NIH Initiative for Maximizing Student Development program. He worked with Dr. Dana Hawley studying social behavior and disease transmission in house finches. Before starting his PhD program, David participated in the NIH Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program at the University of Missouri. He worked with Dr. Lori Eggert researching genetic diversity of parasites in deer. As a PhD student working with Dr. Andrew Park, David’s primary research interests are investigating how ecological and environmental conditions can affect the fitness and geographic range of parasites. David is supported by fellowships from the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program and by the IDEAS traineeship program. In addition to infectious disease research, David is passionate about increasing the diversity and inclusion of underrepresented students in STEM fields, especially in ecology and environmental programs.
|Juan Manuel ("Manny") Vazquez is a PhD candidate in the Department of Human Genetics at the University of Chicago since 2015. He graduated from the University of Rochester with a BS in molecular genetics and a BA in chemistry. There, Juan worked on the comparative biology of aging in rodents, including the Naked Mole Rat, and won both the Dean's Scholarship and the Howard Bryant Memorial Scholarship. His passion for the intersection of aging, cancer, and evolution has led to his current project in the lab of Vincent Lynch, studying cancer resistance in large, long-lived species such as elephants, whales, and several species of bats. Due to their increased sizes and lifespans, these species have a higher theoretical risk of cancer relative to their smaller sister species; yet, in a phenomenon known as Peto's Paradox, there is no observed increased risk in cancer. By studying how these species lower their cancer risk, Juan hopes to uncover novel mechanisms of cancer suppression, and translate these mechanisms into cancer prevention regimes in humans. Juan is currently the president of the UChicago Chapter of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), an alumnus of the Initiative to Maximize Student Development (IMSD) training grant, and the corresponding chair for the Gordon Research Seminar in the Biology of Aging. By becoming a principal investigator, Juan aspires to further develop bats as a model system for longevity and cancer resistance while inspiring others to become scientists.
|Lorraine N. Vélez Torres is a third-year PhD candidate in the Department of Microbiology and Medical Zoology at the University of Puerto Rico, Medical Sciences Campus. She earned her master’s degree in public health with concentration in epidemiology in 2015, identifying the risk factors affecting the quality of life of residents in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico. In 2014, she received a double major in industrial microbiology and biology at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus. During her undergraduate education, she worked in the Symbiosis Laboratory of Dr. Cafaro, investigating the antifungal capacity of Actinobacteria associated with the exoskeleton of the termite Nasutitermes costalis. She’s currently working on her research thesis at the Mycology Laboratory of Dr. Bolaños, studying the effect of Hurricane María on the indoor concentration of fungi and the health outcomes of the habitants. Currently, she is the President of the Microbiology Chapter of her campus, where she promotes and organizes professional and educational outreach activities for the community. Outside academia, Lorraine enjoys dancing salsa, visiting new restaurants, and kayaking.
|Chrystelle L. Vilfranc is a fifth-year cancer and cell biology PhD candidate at the University of Cincinnati. She earned a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry with a minor in mathematics from Oakwood University and completed the Alabama A&M Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program. She began her research in a plant physiology lab under Dr. Alexander G. Volkov, measuring and deriving equations of forces in the hunting cycle of the Venus flytrap. Prior to beginning her PhD journey, Chrystelle participated in an NIH Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) where she assisted in modeling a cure for Cooley’s Anemia in stem cells of a humanized mouse model. Chrystelle’s dissertation research involves elucidating the role of efficient DNA damage and response signaling in the protection against chronic liver disease including hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common form of primary liver cancer. Additionally, Chrystelle is interested in science communication, science outreach, and overall health and cancer education. Her long-term goals include increasing health education and scientific outreach opportunities in communities of color as well as creating initiatives to diversify and retain students of color in STEM from the Kindergarten level to the PhD. Chrystelle currently serves as the digital curator for VanguardSTEM, a virtual community for women and non-binary persons of color in STEM fields. As an advocate for mental health and well-being, especially among persons of color, she began a writing series with VanguardSTEM entitled #RevealToHeal: A Mental Health Series for Women of Color in STEM.