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Meet the 2020 Yale Ciencia Academy Fellows!

Giovanna Guerrero-Medina's picture


Cierra Abellera is a first-year social psychology PhD student at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in psychology at Boise State University where she was a McNair Scholar and conducted research on stress and resilience among university students that identified as refugees. Her current research focuses on resilience factors among recently resettled refugee populations and how intercultural relations influence this resilience. Outside of academia, Cierra loves to hike, travel and try new foods.

Amanda Acosta-Ruiz is a fourth-year PhD candidate at Weill Cornell Graduate School in the Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology Program (BCMB). Originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico, Amanda earned her BA in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in biology with a concentration in neurobiology. Her research throughout her undergraduate training focused on the trafficking of melanosomal cargo proteins during the formation and maturation of melanosomes. Between undergraduate and graduate school, Amanda worked as a research technician studying the internalization of proteins in the renal system. She is now working on the function of glutamate receptors in the brain, specifically on the role of one receptor subtype in the hippocampus and its implications in synaptic plasticity and learning and memory formation. Amanda is very interested in how science and technology can inform policymaking to benefit society and has gotten very involved in national science policy efforts. She serves as the Eastern Hub Chair of the National Science Policy Network and the Vice Chair of the Election 2020 Initiative, as well as the Chair of the local science policy group, the Science and Education Policy Association. Outside of academia, Amanda enjoys cooking, comedy shows, and strength training.
Gabriela Arango is first year PhD student in the Integrative Biology department at the University of California, Berkeley. She earned her master’s degree in biology at Sonoma State University, studying physiological adaptations of breath-hold diving, specifically those of sea turtles. Prior to that, she received her Bachelor of Science degree in biology, also at Sonoma State University. Gabriela is a former Sally Casanova and McNair scholar. Currently, she studies the aerobic dive capacity of sea turtles at the physiological and genetic levels. Despite their delicate status—all of the seven extant species are currently listed in The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species—relatively little is known about their diving physiology. Dive physiology is a critical feature in determining plasticity of foraging behavior and the ability of individual turtles to respond to changes in prey distribution and ocean climate. Gabriela’s research also provides a starting point to create predictive models of predator-prey interactions and to understand how physiology constrains their diving behavior. With this information, scientists, conservationists, and policy-makers can improve ocean conservation efforts. Besides conducting research, Gabriela is passionate about communicating and sharing science through outreach among the Latinx community.
Nixon Ricardo Arauz is a first-year PhD Student in the Department of Health Behavior and Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. He is originally from Honduras, Central America, and grew up in the South Bronx, New York. He earned his Bachelor of Science in biology and society with minors in global health and Latino studies from Cornell University as well as a Master of Arts in health education from Columbia University. After completing his master’s program, Nixon joined the Associate Director of Health Equity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Division of STD Prevention, in Atlanta, GA. His work at CDC combined his interests in disease prevention and control, implementing interventions and approaches to address health disparities to improve health outcomes in vulnerable populations nationally. As a PhD student, his primary research interests are to develop mix methodological approaches (e.g. community based participatory research, relative to social and behavioral science, social epidemiology, humanistic frameworks) to develop metrics in order to evaluate behavioral interventions to address the social determinants closely associated to chronic diseases/conditions like diabetes, cancers, and cardiovascular diseases in the Latinx populations. Long-term, he sees himself combine his love for teaching, mentoring, and becoming a tenure track assistant professor. Nixon is committed to generating new knowledge to help his students and mentees develop curiosity about their surroundings and the world at large. In his spare time, Nixon enjoys running, cooking, and listening to music.
Ashley Bourke is a sixth-year PhD candidate in the Pharmacology Program at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus studying cell and molecular neuroscience with Dr. Matt Kennedy. As a first-generation college student, Ashley graduated with honors from Michigan State University with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology. During her undergraduate education, Ashley worked in the plant biochemistry laboratory of Dr. Tom Sharkey and the aquatic animal health laboratory of Dr. Mohamed Faisal. After working as a fermentation scientist at Pfizer for a year, Ashley returned to academic research as a recipient of an NSF Bridge to Doctorate fellowship. The overall goal of Ashley’s thesis work is to understand how neuronal proteins make it to the correct subcellular location, in the appropriate quantities, at the right time, and how neuronal activity coordinates this process. Ashley is also an HHMI Gilliam Fellow, NSF GRFP fellow, and recipient of the 2019 Rosa Parks Diversity Award for outstanding contributions to Diversity & Inclusion at the University of Colorado. Her mission is to support and empower others by mentoring young scientists through outreach and by creating leadership opportunities for other scientists through the CU Anschutz Women in STEM group that she co-founded in 2015. Ashley’s long-term career goal is to become an independent investigator, while continuing to advocate for underrepresented minorities, especially Indigenous youth, in STEM.
Amanda Brambila (Chicana/Mexican American) is a fifth-year PhD candidate in the Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology Program at UC Santa Cruz. She currently works in the lab of Professor Doug Kellogg where she aims to elucidate the mechanisms that control cell growth and size, with a long-term goal of helping to identify novel targets for cancer therapeutics.

Amanda grew up in Tijuana, Mexico and earned her Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry with an emphasis in biochemistry from San Diego State University, becoming the first in her family to do so. Throughout her career, Amanda has shown a commitment to mentoring the next generation of scientists and making an impact in the scientific community. Amanda is committed to promoting awareness about issues that minority groups face and to helping fix the pipeline problem from science education to STEM careers. She has been awarded several scholarship and fellowships, including the ARCS Fellowship, NIH T32 Training Grant and the NIH Initiative for Minority Student Development Graduate Fellowship.

Jessica Caballero is a fifth-year PhD candidate in the Neuroscience and Behavior Graduate Program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She earned her BA in psychology at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez, where she researched cognitive function deficits in children with specific learning problems. She currently studies the role of the rodent prefrontal cortex and related circuitry in reward seeking behaviors. Additionally, she writes a science column for the Massachusetts based newspaper “El Sol Latino.” Outside of the lab, Jessica enjoys eating, traveling, and reading.
Alberto Cintrón-Colón is a fourth-year PhD candidate with a focus on neurobiology and physiology in the Department of Biological Sciences at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He earned a Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of Puerto Rico at Cayey. During his undergraduate career, he completed two REU programs at Western Michigan University and Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. Alberto's current research is understanding what processes are essential for neurotrophic factor expression. More specifically, how do sedentary-aging and exercise impact the production of neurotrophic factors and maintenance of the nervous and muscle tissue?

Alberto has three main career goals. First, to become a professor focusing on creating innovative and engaging courses in neurobiology and physiology. Second, becoming a PI, exploring different pathways of different neurotrophic factors in the nervous system and how they affect the physiology and immune system of animal models. Lastly, create a summer research training program where students can participate in workshops involving a wide array of lab techniques and on how to read and write scientific literature. Before pursuing a PhD, Alberto was a high school science teacher at Thomas Alva Edison School in Caguas, Puerto Rico, teaching biology, chemistry, physics, and environmental sciences. Outside of academia, Alberto enjoys cooking, exercising, music, coffee, and doing outreach activities.

Joel Encarnación-Rosado grew up in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico—land of iconic baseball players and urban artists. Joel completed his bachelor’s degree in cell and molecular biology at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus. Currently, Joel is a third-year PhD student in Dr. Alec Kimmelman’s lab at NYU School of Medicine, studying the metabolic interactions in the tumor microenvironment of pancreatic cancers. Joel is recipient of the HHMI Gilliam fellowship and part of the leadership of the Student Diversity Initiative at NYU. He founded the Marie M. Daly Seminar Series, named after the first African-American woman to receive a PhD in chemistry. The mission of this seminar series is to invite URM scientists to share their personal and professional stories with the students. The ultimate goal of the Marie Daly Seminar Series is to provide examples of role models for other minority students. Joel’s long-term career goals are to be a principal investigator, to solve complex scientific questions, and to mentor students from different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. Outside the professional context, Joel has great enthusiasm for coffee, curates a Spotify playlist, and enjoys urban art scenes. He enjoys traveling the world looking for art and drinking coffee in the process.

Gender pronouns: he, him, his

Ireti Eni-aganga is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Physiology at Meharry Medical College (MMC). She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry with a minor in Global Health at Arizona State University (ASU). While at ASU, she researched spider silk fibers/biopolymers structure and biosignatures discovery automation in microscale cancer research. Her current graduate research is in the regulation of the rate-limiting reaction in collagen turnover during wound healing events. In graduate school, she has received awards such as the Graduate Student Award and the Clare and William H. Newman Endowed Scholarship at MMC.  She serves the community by being a Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) mentor for undergraduate students and a mentor for high school students at Pearl Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School in Nashville, TN. Her overall career goal is to become a principal investigator researching wound healing and collagen metabolism. She will also continue to serve the community by encouraging and mentoring minority students who are interested in pursuing STEM careers. Outside of academia, Ireti enjoys cooking, reading, and dancing.
Arianna Gómez is a fifth-year doctoral candidate in the Department of Pathology at the University of Washington (UW). She received her bachelor’s degree in 2015 from the University of California, Irvine where she was a Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) scholar. As a MARC scholar, she was engaged in biomedical research and had opportunities to share her work at national conferences. These experiences prepared and motivated her to pursue a PhD. She is currently working towards her doctoral degree in the laboratory of Dr. Dan Doherty, whose lab focuses on human hindbrain malformation conditions. Her project goal is to determine how Hedgehog signaling is perturbed across genetic causes of Joubert syndrome (JS), a recessive neurodevelopmental disorder. Her project will provide a basis for future work to better understand the abnormal brain development in JS and identify the highest value targets for future precision therapies. Outside of the lab, Arianna is involved in several meaningful diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts around the UW campus, which include working with campus departments/organizations to recruit and retain graduate students from underrepresented groups and serving as a UW Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) chapter officer for two years. In the future, she wants to work in higher education administration and continue to improve DEI in STEM fields. In her spare time, Arianna likes to read, spend time with her dog, and try new recipes.
Tammy Gonzalez is a sixth-year MD/PhD student at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and is obtaining her PhD in immunobiology at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC). Tammy obtained her bachelor’s degree from the University of North Dakota in medical laboratory sciences in 2014 and while there, she studied outer surface proteins of both the Lyme disease pathogen, Borrelia burgdorferi, and model organism Escherichia coli.  She received the American Society of Microbiology’s Undergraduate Capstone Fellowship with this work. In her graduate studies, Tammy currently studies the role of the Staphylococcus aureus biofilms in the pathogenesis of atopic dermatitis in children, using the Mechanisms of Atopic Dermatitis to Asthma in Children (MPAACH) cohort. She also studies the complex interactions of the skin microbial community in this pediatric cohort, particularly through metagenomic sequencing and analysis. She has received several awards including the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology Chrysalis award and ASM’s Graduate Capstone Fellowship. Tammy also serves on the diversity committee for the College of Medicine and is has a passion for being involved with recruitment and admissions. Ultimately, she aspires to become a successful physician-scientist specializing in dermatology and pursuing the study of host-microbe interactions in the skin. In her spare time, Tammy enjoys traveling, lifting weights, cooking, and floral design.
Christopher A. Guevara is a second-year neuroscience PhD student at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Chris is a first-generation Ecuadorian-American born in South Queens, New York. He earned his BS in biology and minor in psychology from St. Francis College. During his time here, he worked with Dr. Allison Dell, investigating the role of CELSR 3 in the axon guidance within the visual system of zebrafish. He then went onto pursue his MS in neuroscience and education from Columbia University Teacher’s College, where under the mentorship of Dr. Jeff Beeler at CUNY Queens College, studied the effects of chronic food restriction on reward-seeking in mice. Chris’ desire to learn more about the impact of stress on the brain led him to CUNY Hunter College, where he worked with Dr. Allyson Friedman. During his time there, he studied the effects of estrogenic activity on dopamine neurons and how that modulates behavioral response to stress. Currently under the mentorship of Drs. George Huntley and Deanna Benson, Chris’ thesis project examines the implication of a Parkinson’s Disease-related gene mutation on the non-motor symptoms (e.g. stress susceptibility) associated with Parkinson’s Disease. Outside of the lab, Chris is a huge advocate for mental health and education by participating at Sinai's student affairs, helping establish a resiliency program for graduate students, teaching biology to undergraduate students, and coordinating events for brain awareness week.
Priscila Guzman is a PhD candidate in the Division of Biology in Kansas State University. She earned her Bachelor of Science in biology with a minor in chemistry at Middle Georgia State University. After graduation, she worked with Dr. Thomas Platt at Kansas State University (KSU) and studied the effects of quorum sensing and horizontal gene transfer in bacterial population dynamics. In 2016, she joined the Platt lab and has since worked in the creation of new platforms that will be employed to study microbial interactions. Her current research focuses on the development of a photo-degradable hydrogel that entraps bacterial cells while allowing for water, oxygen, and nutrient diffusion. This new high-throughput technology allows screening of hundreds of thousands of bacterial cells simultaneously, making discovery of rare mutants a possible feat. While in KSU, Priscila has been awarded the Graduate Research Fellowship (GRFP) from the National Science Foundation (NSF), was awarded honorable mention in the Ford Foundation Fellowship competition, was awarded the Science Communication Fellowship from the Sunset Zoo, and was the recipient of the Michael Scott Watkins award for Outstanding Graduate Teaching. Long-term, she plans to pursue a career that intersects research with science communication, outreach, and science policy. Outside of lab, Priscila enjoys mentoring URM, traveling, hiking, cooking, and trying food from all over the world!
Luis A Haddock III Soto is a first-year cell and molecular biology PhD student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He obtained his BSc degree from the University of Puerto Rico in 2016, where he became a research fellow for the PR-LSAMP program. He was mentored by Dr. Carlos I González and Dr. Edgardo M. Colón working on determining the role of different protein phosphorylation events for translation termination accuracy in yeast. Later as a technician, Luis joined the lab of Dr. Andrew Seeds at the Institute of Neurobiology, UPR-MSC, where he worked in examining the grooming behavior of fruit flies by stimulating sensory neurons and applying machine learning tracking algorithms to further understand how neural circuits form behavioral sequences. He became a Janelia Undergraduate Research Scholar in 2018 at the HHMI Janelia Research Center in Virginia, where he worked in Dr. Marta Zlatic’s lab and used automated behavioral assays coupled with optogenetics and quantitative analysis of large datasets to understand the neural basis of action selection in fruit fly larvae. Luis completed his MSc in molecular microbiology and bioinformatics at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico in 2019 and immediately moved to Wisconsin to pursue his doctorate career, where he is currently a rotating student. He is enthusiastic about the outreach and professional development activities that will be provided through the YCA program. Luis has been an international Acrobatic Gymnastics FIG Judge and a dancer at the national folkloric company, Gíbaro de Puerto Rico, since 2014.
Fatima Javed is a third-year PhD candidate in the department of Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of Michigan. She is originally from Lahore, Pakistan. Fatima moved to the United States shortly after finishing high school in Lahore. She began her educational journey at the College of DuPage, a local community college in Illinois, where she explored various career options from engineering to interior design. It wasn’t until she transferred to Benedictine University that she discovered her love for research. During her baccalaureate studies, she worked with Dr. Niina Ronkainen and Dr. Jayashree Sarathy on elucidating the anti-proliferative effects of polyphenols, chemicals typically found in green teas and red wines, on colon carcinoma cells. After completing her bachelor’s in science, with a concentration in biochemistry and molecular biology, she moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to work with Dr. Mara Duncan at the University of Michigan. It was in the Duncan lab where Fatima was exposed to the life as a scientist which solidified her ambition of pursuing PhD in cell biology. Currently, Fatima works in Dr. Carole Parent’s lab to elucidate the mechanisms by which neutrophils, migrate towards the site of infection and injury. She is also becoming active in promoting scientific ideas and concepts to the community at large. Fatima does this work with an organization, called R.E.L.A.T.E. which focuses on teaching fellow scientists how to effectively communicate their research to the general population. Outside the lab, Fatima enjoys hanging out with her friends and reading books.
Tannia Lau is a fifth-year doctoral candidate in the program of biomedical science and engineering at the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC). She was born on the Navajo Reservation in Tuba City, Arizona. She earned her Bachelor of Science in biochemistry with a minor in chemistry and Spanish at New Mexico State University. She studied abroad in Spain and played semi-professional women’s rugby for two years. Then she worked as a lab manager researching T cell signaling in the lab of Professor Jeroen Roose at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) for nearly four years. Currently, Tannia is completing her PhD (Fall 2020) at UCSC working in a drug discovery laboratory under the guidance of Professor Scott Lokey, utilizing chemical biology approaches to identify new antibiotics against gram negative bacteria type III secretion system and anti-inflammatories from natural products. Tannia is the recipient of the NIH F31 predoctoral fellowship, received honorable mention by the NSF GRFP, was supported by the Navajo Tribal Scholarship and minority NIH fellowships throughout undergrad (MBRS-RISE) and graduate school (IMSD), and has been awarded multiple conference presentation awards and travel scholarships. Her overall career goal is to work at a pharmaceutical biotech company as a project leader, discovering and developing new therapeutics for diseases related to infectious disease and immunology. Tannia’s passion includes mentoring and increasing diversity in the STEM fields, as well as, research, sports, and traveling.
Janice Lozada Delgado is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Puerto Rico, Medical Sciences Campus. She earned her bachelor’s degree in general biology with honors at the University of Puerto Rico, Humacao Campus. Subsequently, she joined graduate school and the laboratory of Dr. Sylvette Ayala-Peña focusing her research on the uncovering of new mechanisms related to prediabetes and using an angiotensin receptor type 1 blocker in a model of rhesus monkeys. Working with rhesus monkeys as a model of aging and prediabetes could accelerate the process of identifying new interventions for age-related diseases with potential relevance to human aging and disease. As a graduate student, Janice has won multiple awards including professional development awards, travel awards and student leadership award. Additionally, she is always engaged in outreach activities as an active volunteer member of the “Fundación Huntington Puerto Rico,” a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to provide education and medical needs to the patients and their families. Her long-term goal is to pursue a career as a research and development scientist in a biomedical healthcare industry. Outside the laboratory, Janice is interested in mentoring students from underserved minority schools to motivate them to pursue scientific research careers.
Julia Medina is a fourth-year PhD candidate in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Puerto Rico, Medical Sciences Campus. She earned her Bachelor in Natural Sciences with honors at the University of Puerto Rico, Ponce Campus. Moreover, Julia also has a Master’s in Pharmaceutical Sciences from the University of Puerto Rico, Medical Sciences Campus, School of Pharmacy. During her master's degree years, she synthesized organic compounds to inhibit cell proliferation and migration for metastatic breast cancer and neuroblastoma. Also, Julia had the opportunity to work at the Materials Characterization Center (MCC). Julia was interested in learning more about cancer biology and how to specifically block cancer metastasis and therefore joined the Biochemistry Program in 2016, where she is currently investigating with Dr. Suranganie Dharmawardhane. Her research focuses on elucidating the mechanism of action of drugs that specifically inhibit and target proteins involved in cell proliferation and migration.  She is very enthusiastic about deciphering new ways to block metastasis, specifically in breast cancer. Her overall career goal is to have her lab in a minority institution and to be able to accelerate research in Puerto Rico. She wishes to reach out to those students with disadvantaged backgrounds and help them pursue their goals. Outside science, Julia enjoys embroidery with her mom and photography.
Laura Menocal is a fourth-year PhD candidate in the Immunology and Microbial Pathogenesis Program at Weill Cornell Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in New York. She earned her Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology at SUNY Stony Brook where she was also a MARC fellow. As a MARC fellow, she worked in the Department of Cancer Prevention studying the effects of mixed-metal binuclear compounds on various tumor cells. Prior to that, she earned her Associate Degree in Liberal Arts: Math and Science at Nassau Community College. She is now conducting her thesis work at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in the laboratory of Dr. Andrea Schietinger, where she studies the differentiation state dynamics of memory T cells in solid tumors. Outside of the lab, Laura is the president of the Tri-Institutional Minority Society (TIMS). She oversees a 10-week summer program that invites students of underrepresented backgrounds to conduct research at Weill Cornell, Rockefeller University, or Memorial Sloan Kettering. She aspires to one day pursue a career that encompasses both her passion for science research as well as her love for outreach. For fun, Laura enjoys traveling, trying new cuisines, and playing with puppies.
Mytien Nguyen is a fourth-year MD/PhD student in the Department of Immunobiology at Yale School of Medicine. Mytien is an Afro-Vietnamese first-generation college graduate and is a current pre-doctoral fellow at the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation. She obtained her undergraduate and master’s degrees at Cornell University studying microbiology and bioengineering. Her research focuses on maternal-fetal crosstalk during in utero neurodevelopment. Mytien is a co-founder of the Yale First-Gen and/or Low-Income (FGLI) affinity organization, and the National FGLI in Medicine Association (FGLIMed). She is passionate about advocating for socioeconomic diversity in STEM and medicine. Growing up as a low-income refugee, Mytien fully intends to utilize her platform as a STEM and health advocate to uplift the voices of the oppressed and advocate for the needs of minoritized individuals.
Niba Nirmal is a plant genetics PhD candidate of the Benfey lab at Duke University Biology Department. She is originally from California, where she earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Davis (UCD) in 2017. As an undergraduate Beckman Scholar, she studied the effects of water stresses on various tomatoes. Currently, her doctoral work focuses on elucidating the gene network dynamics of asymmetric cell division in plants. Her science communication explores the intersection of plants, skincare, and science through photography and videography @NotesByNiba. For her future career path, she is interested in science communication and representation in media.
Kia Zoleé Pérez-Vale is a fifth-year PhD candidate in Dr. Mark Peifer’s laboratory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) in the Curriculum in Genetics and Molecular Biology. Originally from Puerto Rico, Kia obtained her Bachelor of Science in Microbiology from the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo. In 2014 she joined the Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) at UNC, working on evaluating the role of stress granules in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and how TDP-43 regulate stress granules as it relates to ALS pathogenesis in Dr. Todd Cohen’s lab. The following year she joined the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program at UNC. The Peifer lab’s overarching aim is to understand how cells can change shape and move while maintaining tissue integrity during diverse processes of embryonic development. Kia’s research goal is to define the mechanisms and machinery linking cell adhesion and the cytoskeleton during these remarkable cellular events, which will aid in understanding what goes wrong during disease. Kia is a recipient of an NRSA F31 fellowship from NIH’s National Institute for General Medical Sciences and holds a Graduate Diversity Enrichment Program Award from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. As an underrepresented student, Kia Zoleé understands the importance of providing opportunities to make the workplace a more diverse environment. She is the first in her family to pursue a graduate degree, and one of her goals is to use her experiences to help promote diversity in STEM by continuing to mentor and provide opportunities for underrepresented students.
Hope Peterson is a third-year neuroscience PhD student at Wake Forest School of Medicine. She received her Bachelor of Arts in psychology with minors in neuroscience, biology, and theatre at Wake Forest University, and earned her master’s degree in biomedical science with a concentration in neuroscience at Wake Forest School of Medicine. Her master’s thesis examined whether the eyeblink component of the human acoustic startle response could serve as a diagnostic measure of tinnitus, or chronic ear ringing. Her current doctoral research attempts to create a phenotypic profile for moderate to heavy social alcohol consumers using functional brain networks created from fMRI data, along with measures of autonomic nervous system functioning and psychometric and cognitive measures. After earning her PhD, Hope hopes to obtain a postdoc position and pursue a career in academia.
Yanixa Quiñones Avilés obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in biology from the University of Puerto Rico in Aguadilla. There, she participated in the Puerto Rico Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation Program, where she became enthralled by research. Currently, she is a second-year PhD student in the laboratory of Dr. Mandar Muzumdar at Yale University. Her research is focused on understanding the effect of specific KRAS mutations on signal transduction and cellular phenotype in cancer cell lines. Among her honors, Yanixa was recently awarded the Yale Cancer Biology Training Program Award and the 2019 Dean's Emerging Scholars Research Award. Her long-term career goals are to become a principal investigator and professor. Aside from her research, Yanixa is passionate about volunteering, mentoring and outreach. In the future, she would love to serve as a mentor for students from underrepresented minorities in STEM while continuing to stimulate the scientific curiosity of the younger generations.
Sergio Redondo is a fifth year PhD Candidate in the Biology Department at Stanford University in ecology and evolution. He was born in México and emigrated to the US with his family at a young age. Growing up on the México-US border, he had to balance these two distinct worlds at the same time (e.g. languages, cultures, currencies, governments, health policies, laws). Though it was a true culture shock at first, he continues to use this experience as a guide for navigating academia and his personal life.

Sergio completed a bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of Arizona. He then carried out a master’s degree in ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan. His thesis delved into the evolutionary history of red howler monkeys across the Peruvian landscape using a phylogenetic framework. Currently, his research aims to understand the uptake and transfer of mercury pollution within soil food webs and assess the downstream health impacts on above-ground biota (e.g. bats, birds).

Sergio has received several academic awards, including a Ford Foundation Fellowship and a Stanford DARE Fellowship. His most recent research fellowship from the France-Stanford Center for Interdisciplinary Studies supported a three-month visit to Sorbonne University in Paris, France to model the earthworm contribution to mercury cycling in California. He is passionate about wildlife conservation, environmental health, as well as developing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives that promote URM access to higher education. In his free time, he enjoys hiking, dancing, and traveling.

Charlene N. Rivera-Bonet is a fourth year PhD Candidate in Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She completed her bachelor’s degree in general biology at the University of Puerto Rico in Cayey, where she was part of the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) Program. Being part of RISE opened doors for her to participate in several summer research experiences that not only sparked an interest, but also prepared her for graduate school. She graduated college in 2016 and moved to Wisconsin to pursue her doctoral studies. As a PhD student, she uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study brain connectivity in relation to personality and affective disorders. She is also completing a PhD minor in life sciences communication and serving on the Neuroscience Training Program outreach committee. Charlene’s career goal is to become a science communicator through science writing and outreach.
Jean K. Rivera Irizarry (he, him, his) is a fourth-year neuroscience PhD candidate at Weill Cornell Medicine. He is a first-generation college student from Puerto Rico, where he obtained his ACS certified BS in chemistry with minors in psychology and biology from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez. After completing his undergraduate studies, he relocated to Boston as an NIH-PREP scholar in the Neuroscience Program at Tufts Medical School, where he studied the downstream mechanisms of BDNF on the control of appetite and affective states. Currently, Jean is an NIAAA Diversity Fellow and SfN NSP scholar, interested in identifying and characterizing the neural circuit mechanisms of addiction and comorbid neuropsychiatric disorders. Jean has received multiple travel and professional development awards and was also a 3MT finalist. During his free time, Jean enjoys communicating science with the general public via workshops and social media (Instagram: @TheBrainScientist). These outlets allow him to engage and provide underserved populations with much needed exposure to STEM and the variety of career opportunities available to them. Jean hopes this will help increase diversity and inclusion in STEM.
Juan Daniel Rodriguez is a PhD candidate in the Department of Cell Biology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He earned his master’s degree in integrated biology at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, studying the role of the proton channel in the bioluminescent dinoflagellate species. From this work, he earned his first author publication. Before that, he studied his bachelor’s degree in biomedical science at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico. His current research is in C. elegans to study how epigenetic modifications can regulate embryo development and cell fate determination. In addition, Juan has been actively involved in teaching and outreach programs. Outside of academia, Juan’s hobbies include sports, star-stargazing with a telescope, and church activities. One of Juan's career goals is to increase research opportunities in his hometown of Puerto Rico, especially his undergraduate campus and public high schools.
Attabey Rodríguez Benítez (she/hers) is proud to be the first one in her family to pursue higher education and received her Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras. She is currently a fourth-year PhD student in chemical biology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She focuses on using enzymes as chemical tools for the synthesis of natural products and elucidating their mechanisms of action through structural biology. In addition to research, Attabey likes to communicate science both in Spanish and English to the public as “Science Bey.” After graduating, she plans to fuse research and outreach to create engaging activities for Spanish and English speakers to illustrate that scientific inquiry is an attainable goal. You can follow her on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.
Jessica M. Rodriguez-Rios is a second-year molecular biology PhD student at the University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras Campus (UPRRP) where she also earned her bachelor’s degree in integrative biology. As an undergraduate, she participated in the Puerto Rico Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (PR-LSAMP) and spent most of her free time as a genetics tutor. These two things were crucial for her decision to pursue her doctoral studies. Remarkably, she is the first member in her family to make this decision. As she began her PhD, Jessica was awarded the NSF Bridge to the Doctorate Fellowship to support her first two years of graduate studies. Her current research focuses on determining the intrinsic DNA binding preferences of cardiac transcription factor complexes and their emergent properties, under the guidance of Dr. José A. Rodríguez-Martínez. Jessica has received multiple merit awards, such as conferences, courses, and presentation awards. Her most recent were the Julio García Díaz Award and Robert I. Larus Award. Her mentoring, outreach, and teaching experiences have made her stand out. She loves to be a role model to many other inspiring and hardworking students, especially minority students like herself. This is her main drive in establishing an organization that encourages students from public schools to pursue STEM careers. In the future, she wants to become a professor who is successful in both leading innovative research and transmitting knowledge effectively to the next generation. Outside the laboratory, Jessica loves cats, kickboxing, and travel.
Olivia Solomon is a third-year human pathophysiology/ translational medicine PhD student at the University of Texas Medical Branch. She earned her Bachelor of Science from Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry. While attending PVAMU, she participated in the REU-LSAMP program, which exposes under-represented students to research and encourages students to obtain doctoral degrees. Through participating in various research programs in her time in undergrad, she fell in love with research and wanted a career in research. Upon graduation, she was accepted into the PREP program at the University of Texas Medical Branch, allowing her to continue to develop the necessary skills to become a scientist and a PhD student. Her current work focuses on the elucidation of the neuroinflammatory responses occurring as a result of vascular coagulopathies in experimental cerebral malaria via advanced bio-imaging techniques. Her future career endeavors include developing programs to increase minority participation in STEM fields.
Shameka Poetry Thomas is a PhD Candidate in Medical Sociology with a concentration in Reproductive Health Disparities at University of Miami. Her dissertation, “Giving Birth in South Florida: A Phenomenological Study on the Pregnancy and Birthing Experiences among Black Women,” focuses on the lived-experiences of Black and Afro-Latinas who have had medicalized births, such as high-risk pregnancy and cesarean sections. Shameka’s next research project further investigates the reproductive health outcomes of Afro-Latina women with 13 weeks of qualitative fieldwork in Quibdó, Colombia through the Universidad de los Andes and the NIH-Minorities International Research Training program. Shameka’s research has been invited to be presented at the Intersectionality Conference (2020), Social Medicine Consortium (2020), Harvard Medical School’s Physicians for Human Rights (2019), Biomedical Science Careers Conference (2018), and MIT’s Maternal Health Policy Summit (2018). Her coauthored publication on pregnancy and birthing experiences among Black women was one of the most downloaded articles in the Sociology Compass Journal between 2018-19. Currently, Shameka is lead instructor at University of Miami, where she won the Most Innovative Teaching award and was Graduate Student Exemplar nominee in 2018. She was a sociological fellow at University of Cape Town-South Africa and at UC‐Berkeley, where she was as a semester-exchange student with distinguished honors. Shameka is an alumna of Spelman College cum laude, where her research on Black female health narratives won the Scholar‐Activism award in Sociology and Anthropology for Best Senior Thesis in applied sociological research. Shameka’s near-future goal is to convert her dissertation into her first book/monograph and a series of articles on Black and Afro-Latinx maternal-reproductive health. 
Maranda Thompson is a first-generation student pursing an MD/PhD at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC). She earned her Bachelor of Science in health sciences from Arizona State University (ASU) with a minor in women and gender studies. During her senior year at ASU, Maranda began her research journey studying the developmental programing of metabolism in murine animals.  She then entered medical school at UNMC, where she realized her passion for research. She applied and was accepted into UNMC’s Alternative Pathway for MD/PhD scholars. Currently, she is in her second year of graduate school in the Department of Pediatrics. Her research focuses on the mechanistic actions of omega-3 fatty acids on the placenta, with the hope of defining mechanistic targets to improve infant outcomes. Maranda is extremely passionate about helping vulnerable populations. One of her long-term career goals is to combine her passions for research and vulnerable communities. She wants to become a pediatrician conducting translational research focused on the placenta’s role in maternal-infant morbidity and mortality. Outside of academia, Maranda’s interests are raising awareness and educating healthcare professionals about interpersonal violence and providing healthcare in a free student-run clinic. Last but not least, she finds joy in using her creative side and has recently begun learning calligraphy.
Eduardo L. Tosado is a third-year doctoral candidate in the Microbiology and Medical Zoology Department at the Medical Sciences Campus of the University of Puerto Rico. He completed a Bachelor of Science in industrial microbiology and obtained a master’s degree in biology at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez. During his master’s, he worked on a microbial ecology and physiology laboratory focused on the study of hypersaline environments at the Cabo Rojo salterns in Puerto Rico. Presently, he is working on his research, studying the microbiome and inflammation roles on cervical cancer development in a Hispanic cohort using a Multi-Omics approach. Eduardo is a participant of the NIGMS-RISE Program and is the Vice-President of the American Society of Microbiology Chapter at his university. In addition, he has received various award that include travel and presentation awards and has participated in the NASA Space Grant Scholarship/Fellowship Program from the University of Puerto Rico. He is interested in teaching at an institution focused on undergraduate students that would allow him to integrate research as part of the class curriculum. Being at an academic institution also provides a platform to recruit minorities for STEM programs and provide them their first research experience. Outside of academia, Eduardo enjoys cooking, watching movies, and travel.

Adelaide Tovar is a fifth-year PhD candidate in the Curriculum in Genetics & Molecular Biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She earned her SB degree in biology (Course 7) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2015. As an undergraduate, Adelaide worked in the lab of Dr. Darrell Irvine (under direct supervision of Dr. Gregory Szeto) where she developed biocompatible drug delivery formulations and investigated mechanisms of action of cancer immunotherapies. An image from her research was selected as a winner of both the Koch Institute Image Awards and the Wellcome Image Awards, and her undergraduate thesis won the S. Klein Prize in Technical Writing.

In spring 2016, Adelaide joined the lab of Dr. Samir Kelada to conduct her dissertation research which focuses on uncovering gene-environment interactions underlying responses to air pollution. Specifically, she uses mouse models and statistical approaches to identify genes and regulatory networks that contribute to variation in susceptibility to air pollution-induced lung injury and alterations in respiratory immunity. Throughout her training, she has received multiple travel and presentation awards, and her graduate work was supported by an NIH Diversity Supplement from 2016-2019. Alongside her research, Adelaide has served as a peer mentor and tutor for fellow graduate students, an advisor for undergraduates interested in graduate school, and an active advocate for diversity and inclusion in the sciences. Her ultimate goal is to become an independent investigator and educator and to continue to empower individuals from underrepresented and disadvantaged backgrounds.

Denisse Vega Ocasio is a fourth-year PhD candidate in the Translational Biomedical Sciences Program (Infection and Immunity: From Molecules to Populations [IIMP] track). She earned her master’s degree in public health and health policy from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. Prior to that, Denisse received her bachelors in cellular-molecular biology from University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras campus. Before starting her PhD, she served as an intern in the World Health Organization European Region where she took part on different project from the Communication and Advocacy Division and Better Labs for Better Health Division. This experience sparked in her an interest in contributing to policy development and advocacy. For her current research, she is evaluating how psychosocial distress could impact an individual’s ability to mount an effective immune response toward mosquito-borne diseases. Her research is currently being conducted in peri-urban communities of Machala, Ecuador. Her overall career goal is to become a global health researcher working on infectious diseases at both the molecular and population levels in fragile ecological environments. She also aspires to become a science policy leader and to address key ethical issues in global health research and public health interventions.
Sebastian Wellford is a second-year PhD student in the Department of Immunology at Duke University. He earned his Bachelor of Science in biochemistry with minors in chemistry and professional & technical writing from Virginia Tech in 2014. His research there spanned topics from viral replication to drug screens for allergy, antibiotics, and cancer. Since joining the Moseman laboratory at Duke, his research has focused on the immune barriers that protect the brain from infection. Specifically, he has characterized the tissue resident immune cells of the olfactory epithelium. He uses this knowledge to combat lethal nervous system infections from pathogens like influenza and Naegleria fowleri, the “brain-eating amoeba.” Sebastian’s long-term goal is to run his own research lab, where he hopes to harness the immune system to better fight infections that remain serious threats to global health. He is involved in scientific outreach and communication, seeking to inspire the next generation to pursue careers in science.
Elshaddai “El” White, a native of Franklin, Louisiana, is a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the Department of Biological Sciences and Center for Cancer Research and Therapeutic Development at Clark Atlanta University. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biological sciences from Louisiana State University in 2012 and a Master of Science degree in biological sciences from Jacksonville State University in 2014. Upon receiving his degree, he then became the first and only person in his family to obtain a degree at the graduate level which motivated him to continue his studies and pursue the doctoral degree in cancer biology. El’s growing interest in scientific research and oxidative stress led him to the laboratory of Dr. Cimona V. Hinton at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, GA. Presently, his predoctoral research attempts to refocus the paradigm regarding the role of oxidative stress in cancer, and thus, he has identified a novel relationship between tumor cells adaption and survival in hostile environments. El has also participated in numerous national and regional conferences and recently his abstract was selected for an oral presentation at the 2020 Gordon Research Seminar and Conference on Oxygen Radicals. El’s long-term career goal is to become an independent investigator and to continue research in cancer biology and later train and develop future minority cancer scientists while putting forth his best efforts to help eradicate this disease.
Vanessa Yanez is a PhD candidate in the Department of Developmental, Molecular, and Chemical Biology at Tufts University. She is a first-generation college student who earned her Bachelor of Science in biomedical engineering with a concentration in nanotechnology at Boston University. After graduating from college, she entered the Post-Baccalaureate Research Program at Tufts, where she studied the wound healing profiles of diabetic patient derived fibroblasts in 2D and 3D culture systems. Currently, the focus of her thesis project is to develop a non-viral delivery strategy for gene editing proteins for therapeutic applications in the eye. Her overall career goal is to contribute to the process of bringing a gene therapy to market.