Meet the YCA 2016 Fellows!

YCA 2016 fellows

The 2016 class of Yale Ciencia Academy fellows is a very diverse group. They come from 21 institutions in Puerto Rico and across the U.S. and their research interests span fields as varied as microbiology, genetics and genomics, cancer biology, HIV, epidemiology, and psychology and behavioral science. Most of them are interested in careers in academia, but many are also interested in exploring a range of career options. One thing they have in common is their commitment to defining their professional goals and aspirations, acquiring skills and knowledge that will help them in their professional path, and sharing their knowledge and insight as scientists with others through communication, mentoring and outreach.

We invite you to get to know our 2016 Yale Ciencia Academy Fellows!

 
Liz Marie Albertorio-Sáez is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine. She holds a B.Sc. in Biology from the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez. As an undergraduate, she completed research training in the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity, under the supervision of Dr. Juan Carlos Martínez-Cruzado, where she was exposed to many aspects of bioinformatics and immunology. Liz complemented her training through two independent summer research internships at Harvard Medical School and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. When not in the laboratory you can find Liz extracting strawberry DNA at the Rochester Museum and Science Center (RMSC) where she engages children and adults to learn more about DNA and biology. There she has helped create informal science education training opportunities for graduate students interested in honing their science communication skills. Liz is an advocate for the creation of physical forums where scientists can interact and communicate their research with the general public. Her main scientific interests relate to inflammation, autoimmunity, and platelet research.
 
 
Yomarie Bernier-Casillas earned a baccalaureate in biology (minors in Chemistry and Mathematics) from Universidad Metropolitana and a master’s in Environmental Science from Universidad del Turabo (UT) in Puerto Rico. She is currently a third year doctoral student at Universidad del Turabo. Her research focuses on bioprospecting for bacteria capable of degrading hexadecane in the Martín Peña Canal in Puerto Rico. Since 2012, she has been the President of PRIMER Student Chapter in Microbiology at UT. Yomarie has received multiple academic and teaching recognitions, including the UT’s Graduate Traineeship (since Fall 2010), AAAS’ Vision and Change Travel Award (2013), Technology Transfer Travel Award NIH-AABRE (2012-2014) and the Dr. Américo Pomales-Lebrón Memorial Award (2013-2015), among others. Additionally, she has assisted on mentoring undergraduate research experiences and training teachers in biotechnology.
 
 
Soad V. Bohorquez was born in Cochabamba, Bolivia and moved to the United States when she was 11 years old. Her passion for science started in eighth grade when she first learned about mitosis and meiosis. Soad graduated from the University of New Haven with a degree in Biology and a minor in Chemistry. Since graduation she has worked as a Research Assistant at the Yale School of Medicine, where her research is focused on regulatory mechanisms of vesicle trafficking and fusion. Soad is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of New Haven, where she also teaches. In her free time she is fond of running and hiking.  
 
 
Linette Bosques is a Ph.D. Candidate at Yale University in the Department of Cell Biology. Her research, in the lab of Dr. Gary Kupfer, is focused on understanding the cellular pathways of a rare red blood cell disorder to better understand red blood cell development and the mechanisms that cause bone marrow failure syndromes. Linette was born and raised in Puerto Rico, where I did undergraduate studies in Chemistry at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez. As a Puerto Rican female doctoral student, she is committed to promoting diversity at Yale with the intention of increasing the advancement of underrepresented minorities in science. Linette’s goal is to devote her career to research and teaching in academia. 
 
 
Edith Brignoni-Pérez is a graduate student in the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience at Georgetown University (GU) since 2014.  Her research focuses on studying functionally connected brain networks for reading in bilingual children at the Center for the Study of Learning under the mentorship of Dr. Guinevere F. Eden. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Edith earned a B.A. in Psychology from University of Puerto Rico (UPR), Río Piedras.  As an undergraduate she worked in the Fear Learning Laboratory at the UPR, Medical Sciences Campus under the mentorship of Dr. Gregory J. Quirk, where her research explored the neural circuits of active-avoidance expression in rats using pharmacological inactivation during a novel platform-mediated avoidance task. Edith completed a one-year NIH PREP fellowship in the Brodkin Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to her passion for research, since she has been involved in many outreach, mentoring and science communication efforts.  
 
 
Claudia B. Colón-Echevarría was born and raised in southern Puerto Rico. She graduated with a BS in Biology from the University of Puerto Rico in Cayey in 2013. As an undergraduate Claudia joined a physics lab where she synthesized and studied collagen fibers to mimic physiological conditions. Afterwards, she completed a master’s degree in public health (MPH) from Ponce Health Sciences University where she studied the prevalence and risk perceptions of cell phone use while driving in Puerto Rico. Claudia is currently a first-year graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences from Ponce Health Sciences University. Her interests include cancer biology, stress and immunological responses, and global public health. 
 
 
Juan V. Concepción-Cardona is a graduate student of Clinical Psychology of the Pontificial Catholic University of Puerto Rico in Arecibo. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, a master’s degree in Educational Neuroscience at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico and a master’s degree in Cognitive Neuroscience at University of Granada in Spain. He is interested studying how new theories of attention can help develop early intervention programs to improve students achievement, considering psychological bio factors, personal wellbeing and academic success. Juan has worked as an AmeriCorps Volunteer in the Psycho Pedagogy Institute of Puerto Rico helping adult critically impaired cognitive populations. He developed a web based program to help teachers integrate the National Standards of Education in the assessment and evaluation of students using real time and empirical data, known as Rubric Solution.
 
 
Gladys Crespo-Ramos is a fourth year student in the Ph.D. Clinical Psychology Program (PhD-CPP) at the Ponce Health Sciences University (PHSU) in Puerto Rico. She is from a low-income family and is the first one to pursue graduate studies. Her personal experiences with mental and physical disabilities motivated her to engage in research focused on evaluating the role of socio-structural factors in the mental and physical health of Latinos, specifically Puerto Ricans. Her research has been published and presented in peer-reviewed journals and national and international conferences. Gladys is an active member of the Psychological Association of Puerto Rico, member of many working committees and the current graduate student representative of the association.
 
Ivelisse Cruz-Torres is a second year pre-doctoral trainee in Pharmacology at the University of Colorado, Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus. She obtained post-baccalaureate training in Neurotoxicology from the Bridge to PhD in Neuroscience Program at Michigan State University and a bachelor’s degree in Biology from University of Puerto Rico, Cayey Campus. During her undergraduate studies, Ivelisse received two scholarships for 4 years from Empresas Fonalledas Inc., and the Robert C. Byrd scholarship through the Department of Education. Her current work focuses on understanding gender specific differences in the context of ischemic injury, how it affects areas indirectly injured leading to cognitive impairment, and cellular mechanisms that could be targeted for neuroprotection.
 
 
Carlos M De Leon-Rodríguez received his B.S. in Industrial Microbiology from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez in 2006. After college, he was accepted to the post-baccalaureate program at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH. He worked in the laboratory of Dr. Ruth Keri studying the role of p120 in ErbB2-dependent breast cancer cell lines. Later, he joined the doctoral graduate program at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY. He received his master’s degree working in the laboratory of Dr. Rachel Hazan researching the role of Slug expression in N-cadherin signaling induction of epithelial to mesenchymal transition in tumor cells and metastasis. Currently he is a Ph.D. candidate at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine while working on his thesis as a visiting scholar in the laboratory of Dr. Arturo Casadevall at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. His research focuses on the role of cathepsins and phagolysosomal membrane permeabilization on macrophage interactions with the fungal pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans. During his academic career, he has participated in many science outreach events including mentoring high school students in the laboratory, organizing science workshops for the Muevete Youth Conference at BronxWorks Betances Cornerstone Community Center, teaching for the New York Academy of Science Food Connection Summer Program, and currently he volunteers as a Spanish intern translator for a science class at the Commodore John Rodgers School in Baltimore, MD. He also holds a certificate in project management from the NYU School of Professional Studies.
 
 
Leslie Michelle Díaz-Ortiz is a Ph.D. Clinical Psychology student at the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences of the Ponce Health Sciences University in Puerto Rico. She earned a B.A in Psychology and Mental Health with a Biology minor at the University of Puerto Rico, Cayey. Her research interests involve studying biological mechanisms for the understanding and treatment of psychopathology. More specifically, her work examines the role of endogenous oxytocin production and DNA methylation status of its receptor in the autistic population. Her work involves multidisciplinary techniques, strategies and perspectives in an effort to offer targeted interventions through the use of translational research. As a clinical science student, her main objective is to be able to employ effective multilevel research methodologies for the development of novel treatments. For Díaz-Ortiz, her career stage demands her to be part of a multidisciplinary group with motivation and desire to achieve the the objective of having the best tools to carry out a functional and reliable science work. Her future plans are to pursue a post-doctorate degree in Neuropsychological research.
 
 
Néstor R. Díaz-Rosado is a Licensed Psychologist in Puerto Rico since 2000.  He studied a BA in Psychology from the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus and a Master’s in Counseling Psychology from St. John’s University in Louisiana. Currently he works as a psychologist in his private office.  He holds certifications as professional mediator; a neuro-linguistic programmer trainer and a hypnosis trainer.In his 15 years of experience as a licensed psychologist he has worked in the areas of therapy, assessment, teaching and supervision of psychological work in Puerto Rico and the US with people from preschool age to the elderly.  His curiosity and love for the advancement of behavioral science made him return to the classroom. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Psychology with a specialization in consulting, research and teaching at the University Carlos Albizu, San Juan, Puerto Rico.Néstor’s research interests are related to the validation of neuro-linguistic programming as a branch of cognitive psychology. 
 
 
Héctor Díaz Zabala is a sixth year PhD candidate student in the laboratory of Dr. Julie Dutil at Ponce Health Sciences University & Ponce Research Institute, in Ponce, Puerto Rico. His research interests are to understand the genetic admixture of human populations, their evolutionary history, and the relevance of genetic variation in the analysis of complex diseases. Héctor’s thesis project is using ancestry-informative markers to analyze the genome admixture patterns in Puerto Rican women with breast cancer and assess if genetic ancestry is a risk factor for breast cancer. His ultimate goal is to understand the contribution of genetic ancestral factors and germline variant frequencies determining the risk of breast cancer in Puerto Rican women. Apart from his thesis research, Héctor is also interested in the social relevance of science communication and the public understanding of science. He believes scientific knowledge empowers citizens and communities for a better living.
 
 
Raura J. Doreste-Méndez completed her bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez in 2011. As an undergraduate, Raura completed several research experiences in diverse topics, including the phytoremediation of soils, the development of alternative fuels using sugar alcohols as raw material and the development of a biosensor for an anticancer drug. Currently, she is pursuing a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at the Ponce Health Sciences University, in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Her current research interests are depressive and anxiety disorders, neuroscience, attachment, stress and sex-differences. She currently works in Dr. Torres’ Neuroendocrinology Laboratory and her project aims to determine changes in synaptic plasticity and the role of estrogens in depression and anxiety after chronic isolation stress. Her current research question is related to how environmental interventions may compensate for the adverse effects of an early stressor.
 
 
Daysha Ferrer-Torres was born in Puerto Rico, where she finished her bachelor degree in science at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez. Her undergraduate research focused on the analysis of the genetic events that differ humans and primate lineages. In addition, she was part of a leading group creating a DNA Zoo: a biological tissue and DNA collection managed by the Puerto Rico Zoo and the Department of Biology, University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. She undertook collaborative work at the National Cancer Institute working with epidemiologist Dr. Cheryl Winkler. Her interest in translational and disease-related research lead her to do cancer research by participating in the Cancer Research Summer Internship (CaRSIP) at the University of Michigan, where she chose to pursue her graduate studies under Dr. David G Beer’s mentorship. She currently works on the molecular understanding of Esophageal Adenocarcinomas (EAC) with goals of identifying biomarkers that can s develop novel approaches to diagnose this cancer at an early stage. She is also working in understanding the molecular basis for the racial difference in the incidence of EAC between African Americans and Caucasians populations.
 
 
Gabriel Gracia Maldonado, born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, graduated from the University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras with a bachelor’s in Molecular and Cellular Biology. During his undergrad, he worked in a variety of laboratories with different research backgrounds. Additionally, Gabriel received the Minority Health and Health Disparities International Research Training Award (MHIRT) which gave him the opportunity to do research at the Institute of Biotechnology of the University of Granada in Spain.  After graduated, he completed a GRAD-PREP program graduation at Wright State University (WSU) where I was accepted in the.  Currently, Gabriel is a PhD graduate student in the Pathobiology and Molecular Medicine Graduate Program at the University of Cincinnati. He works in the lab of Ashish Kumar MD, PhD at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. He is currently working on describing the role of a novel gene, LAMP5, in the context of normal hematopoiesis and leukemia.
 
 
Wilmarie Marrero-Ortiz is a chemistry Ph.D. candidate at Texas A&M University (TAMU). She was born and raised in Puerto Rico and has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and environmental science from the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus (UPRRP). Wilmarie has been doing environmental chemistry research since high school. As an undergraduate, she developed a thesis project, sponsored by NSF-UMEB and NIH-MARCprograms, to perform the first chemical characterization of aerosols in Guánica’s Dry Forest in Puerto Rico. As a graduate student, she is studying the physical and chemical properties of aerosols and their environmental implications. Wilmarie has been awarded multiple graduate fellowships including the NSF-GRFP. She in involved in several organizations, including TAMU-SACNAS and TAMU-Aggies in Science, Technology and Policy. Also, she serves as a 2016 TAMU-Women in Science and Engineering Conference Board member, as well as an ACS Student Delegate at the United Framework Convention on Climate Change 21st Conference of Parties. In her spare time, she enjoys dancing, traveling, listening to music, watching sports and spending time with friends.
 
 
Rosa Martínez-García was born and raised in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez (UPRM). Her research experiences as an undergraduate at UPRM as well as summer programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Oregon revealed her passion for neuroscience. To pursue this passion, Rosa joined Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, and Biochemistry Graduate Program at Brown University in 2012. She is a PhD Candidate in Dr. Barry Connors’ laboratory in the Department of Neuroscience, where she studies the effects of mTOR pathway dysregulation on thalamic circuit function.
 
 
Neysha Martínez-Orengo obtained her B.S. in General Science with minors in Biology and Psychology from the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico. As an undergraduate student she participated in the Puerto Rico Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (PR-LSAMP) and the Intramural NIAID Research Opportunities (INRO) programs. She did post-bacs at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories and the Laboratory of Clinical Infectious Diseases at the NIH. Interested in learning about the development of therapies, she next did a COOP at Eli Lilly del Caribe. She has been mentor for students at different educational levels, including participants from Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) and Seeds of Success programs. Currently she is a 4th year student in the Biomedical Sciences Program at Ponce Health Sciences University, PR.  She is a RISE fellow and her research area is neuro-AIDS under the mentorship of Dr. Richard Noel. Her project aims to present a new model for the molecular mechanism of Nef neuropathology in neurons.
 
 
Marvin Mercado is a first year graduate student in the program of Cell and Molecular Biology at The University of Texas at Austin. He received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez and his M.E. in Chemical and Biological Engineering from Iowa State University (ISU). After graduating from ISU, he worked as lab manager at the Proteomics Facility at the University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin). There he worked closely with professors and graduate students in several research projects by providing his expertise in mass spectrometry and protein purification. In 2013, Dr. Blerta Xhemalce hired him to start her new lab in UT-Austin. He is currently in Dr. Xhemalce’s lab conducting research in epigenetic modifications and proteomics using standard molecular biology techniques and mass spectrometry. In his spare time he likes to read about science and politics (in particular, Puerto Rico’s politics). In the future he would like to go back to Puerto Rico and helps to rebuild its economy.
 
 
Ariel Negrón López is a PhD Candidate in Neuroscience at Stony Brook University (SBU). Under the mentorship of Dr. Maricedes Acosta-Martínez, his research focuses on the signaling phosphatase PTEN and its role in integrating hormonal and nutritional signals to the sexually dimorphic kisspeptin neuron system, which is pivotal for puberty onset and the maintenance of fertility in mammals. Ariel’s research interests include studying brain sex differences and how these may influence the endocrine, neurological, and neuropsychiatric pathologies throughout development and aging. Ariel earned his B.S. in Biology from the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras. At SBU, Ariel is an AGEP-T fellow and W. Burghardt Turner Fellow. Ariel also invests his time in mentoring junior graduate students at SBU. Finally, as a member of the Society for Neuroscience and the Endocrine Society, Ariel has received several travel awards to present his work at the Society for Neuroscience meetings (2013, 2015), and an outstanding abstract award for his oral presentation at the Endocrine Society meeting (2015). Some of this work as a graduate student has been published in Neuroscience.
 
 
Yarimar Ortiz-Frontera is a doctoral student in School Psychology at the University of Rhode Island (URI). Prior to coming to URI, she was an undergraduate student at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez where she received her B.A. in Psychology. Yarimar’s research interests include microaggressions, multicultural training, academic retention and attainment of students of color, resilience, violence prevention in schools and education policy. Specifically, her primary research interest lies in the adverse role racial microaggressions play on the mental health and academic engagement of students of color in various academic settings. Her short-term career goals include to actively participate in retention and attainment initiatives of students of color in different levels of education. As a long-term ideal, she would like to use her research and expertise to contribute to educational policy initiatives as well as diversification efforts in higher education settings. Besides her academic interests, Yarimar enjoys going to the movies and baking.
 
 
Melissa Ortiz Rosario is a biochemistry PhD student at the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus (UPR-MSC). She received her BS in industrial microbiology from the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez. During her time at UPR-Mayagüez she served as an undergraduate research assistant in Dr. Belinda Pastrana-Rios laboratory performing protein expression, purification and crystallization assays on proteins essential to proper cellular division. She participated in the Puerto Rico Water and Environmental Association, in the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering as well as in the Industrial Biotechnology Student Association. After graduating from UPR-Mayagüez she began working as an associate scientist at Amgen Manufacturing Limited (Juncos, PR) in the process development area providing support to the manufacturing operations in the purification of protein products as well as serving in the data verification of technical reports. As a graduate student at the UPR-MSC she has been part of the NIH MBRS-RISE program, a member of the academic senate, a member of the university board, a member of the student council and has served as secretary as well as president of the Biomedical Student Graduate Association. She currently is performing her research thesis on the production of omega-3 fatty acids in bacteria.
 
 
Zulmarie Pérez Horta graduated from the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras with a double major in Chemistry and Biology. During her undergraduate education, she participated in the PR-LSAMP program, a program designed to attract and retain minority students to science fields by encouraging undergraduate research and participation in science events. This experience broadened her understanding of science careers and allowed her to fall in love with research. After returning home from her first summer research opportunity at the University of Kentucky, she was decided to pursue a PhD in a biomedical field with a translational focus. She was admitted into the Cellular and Molecular Pathology Program in the class of 2011 where she is currently finishing her PhD work in the laboratory of Dr. Paul Sondel. Her thesis work focuses on the evaluation of new immunotherapies for the treatment of pediatric cancers. For her future career path, she is interested in higher education administration with a focus on professional development and increasing minority participation in STEM fields.
 
 
Jaileene Pérez-Morales is a third year PhD candidate in Biomedical Sciences at Ponce Health Sciences University. After earning her PhD, Jaileene’s long-term goal is to seek a postdoctoral position to acquire enough expertise and technical skills to establish as an independent researcher in an academic institution. Her interest in cancer research dates back to her college days, where she did multidisciplinary research in cancer. At the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez (UPRM) Campus, Jaileene joined Dr. Cabrera-Rios laboratory with a project that compared several mathematical models to detect potential cervix cancer biomarkers from microarray experiments. After finishing her bachelor’s degree, Jaileene was accepted into the professional master of engineering at Cornell University, focused on tissue engineering. With these experiences, Jaileene learned about invasion and angiogenesis and designed an analytical tool to quantify the cancer cells that were invading and forming capillary networks. Currently, she is part of Dr. Pedro Santiago’s laboratory under the MBRS-RISE grant where her research goal is to conduct multidisciplinary research and to study phosphorylation signatures of the retinoblastoma protein (pRb) that are associated with the disruption of cell adhesion and invasion capacity of lung cancer cell.
 
 
Kelvin Quiñones Laracuente obtained a B.S. in Biology from the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras.  As an undergrad, he studied the anxiety-reducing effects of poppy flower extract, with Dr. Nivia Pérez-Acevedo.  Currently, he is an MD/PhD student at the UPR School of Medicine, mentored by Dr. Gregory Quirk.  For his doctoral thesis, Kelvin is researching how and why memories move across different brain circuits, employing electrophysiology and optogenetics to manipulate specific circuits.  During his graduate studies, he instated inter-departamental journal clubs, and an annual research symposium, all led by graduate students.  These activities encouraged more communication among the scientists-in-training in his school. As part of his future plans, Kelvin is interested in studying the cerebral circuits mediating positive social behaviors, such as altruism and empathy.  Understanding positive social interactions could yield insights into mental diseases, such as autism spectrum disorders.
 
 
Adlín R. Rodríguez-Muñoz is a doctoral student of Physiology at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), Medical Sciences Campus. She received her B.S. from UPR-Humacao and her M.S. from UPR-Mayagüez. She wants to learn more about the interactions between genes and the environment, to help improve the diagnostics and treatment of diseases like cancer. For her thesis she is working in a project to determine the role of a DNA repair enzyme, APE1, in protecting the liver from the effects of an alkylating agent using tissues from an animal model that is haploinsufficient for APE1. Her long-term career goal is to become a researcher in an academic setting. Actually, she is an active participant in the outreach activities of the Puerto Rico Physiology Society (PRPS). Also, through the teaching assistance program at her institution, she participates in small groups discussions of clinical cases with medical students. She currently lives in San Juan, Puerto Rico, loves 80’s music, the beach and dogs.
 
 
Susana Rodríguez-Santiago is a doctoral student at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, she studied Industrial Microbiology at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez. She worked at the Tropical Microbial Ecology Laboratory, directed by Arturo Massol-Deyá as a MARC (Minority Access to Research Careers) undergraduate student, where she studied microbial populations at the wastewater treatment plant in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. After graduation, she became a PREP (Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program) researcher in Case Western Reserve University, where she redirected her interests to human metabolism by focusing her research in β-carotene metabolism in the laboratory of Johannes von Lintig. She entered Einstein’s graduate program in Biomedical Sciences in 2011 where she is currently doing her dissertation work on the consequences of spliceosomal defects in cellular functions at the laboratory of Charles Query. Susana is also a member of the Graduate Reception Organization Committee. She was also an organizer of the 2015 Medicine and Research pre-Professional Conference and is currently starting her responsibilities as the Director of Communications of Einstein’s Entrepreneurship and Biotechnology Club.
 
 
Aslin Rodríguez Nassif is a PhD candidate student working at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez with Dr. Belinda Pastrana-Rios in the Department of Chemistry. Prior to beginning the PhD program, Aslin completed a BS in Chemistry in the University of Puerto Rico, Cayey. She is currently working on the study of protein-protein interactions that explore how the ribosome biogenesis is affected, involving the molecular characterization of a ternary complex performing biophysical studies such as Isothermal Titration Calorimetry (ITC), Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (NMR), and Infrared Spectroscopy (FT-IR). These findings will contribute significantly towards the design of novel inhibitors for this interaction.
 
 
Lester José Rosario Rodríguez was born in Bayamón, and raised in Orocovis, Puerto Rico. After representing Puerto Rico at the Intel International Scientific & Engineering Fair, he was motivated to pursue the biological sciences. In the summer of 2010, he entered the RISE program at the University of Puerto Rico, Cayey. As an undergraduate he did summer internships at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in Biology from the University of Puerto Rico Cayey in 2014, and was accepted in the University of Puerto Rico, Medical Sciences Campus in the Microbiology & Medical Zoology doctoral program. He is a second year Ph.D. student, working in a lab that focuses on HIV neuropathogenesis.
 
 
Kristian Saied-Santiago graduated from the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras with a bachelor’s degree in Cellular & Molecular Biology. He did his undergraduate research in the laboratory of Dr. Sandra Peña. During this time he participated in the Minority Access Research Program (MARC) and was part of it for two years. As an undergraduate, Kristian did a summer internship program in Cold Spring Harbor (2011) in the laboratory of Dr. Joshua Dubnau. After finishing his bachelor’s degree in 2012, he was accepted to the Ph.D. program at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, N.Y. There he joined the laboratory of Dr. Hannes Buelow to work on his thesis project and obtained his Master’s Degree in Science in 2014. He is currently appointed to the Cellular Molecular Biochemistry and Genetics (CMBG) training grant and is on his 4th year of the Ph.D. program.
 
 
Mairim Soto-Ortiz studied a Master of Public Health (MPH) in 2012, and I received her undergraduate education at the University of Puerto Rico, where she majored in Health Sciences (BS) in 2011 and Ophthalmologic Technology (AD) in 2009. She currently works in the Office of the Assistant Dean of Research and Research Centre of the School of Dental Medicine, University of Puerto Rico as a Research Assistant and Study Coordinator of a study about the Orofacial Malformations in Puerto Rican Children. Mairim is pursuing a doctorate in Epidemiology at the School of Health Sciences and Nursing, Capella University. Her future plans are to become an independent researcher to study craniofacial defects and other related fields.
 
 
Ana Vaquer-Alicea is an MD/PhD student at the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Physiology focused on cocaine addiction, under the guidance of Dr. Carlos Jiménez-Rivera.  In her research she employs behavioral, electrophysiological and molecular techniques in order to understand how proteins involved in memory formation participate in the brain changes observed during cocaine addiction.  By understanding how the brain is altered by addiction, effective treatments can be developed for this chronic and relapsing disease. After graduation, she will pursue a research career in the learning and memory field. As an undergraduate she performed research in in Dr. Irving Vega’s laboratory at the UPR Rio Piedras Campus, in the field of Alzheimer’s disease. Sponsored by The Unforgettable Fund, she spent a summer in Mayo Clinic with Dr. Jada Lewis learning how to develop transgenic animals. When she isn’t doing experiments, she likes to keep busy by tutoring, participating in outreach activities and several student organizations.  Her work in and out of school has been recognized by the Dean of Biomedical Sciences in the form of Academic Excellence, Leadership, and Community Outreach awards from 2010 to 2015.
 
 
Omar Vélez López has a bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology and Biomedical Sciences from the University of Puerto Rico, Ponce. As an undergraduate Omar was a NSF REU awardee and performed research at George Washington University and at the Ponce School of Medicine in 2009 and 2010. In 2011, he finished his bachelor’s degree with Magna Cum Laude and worked as a laboratory technician in the Juana Díaz Agricultural Station, affiliated with UPR-Mayagüez under the guidance of Dr. Consuelo de Estévez. He also worked as a laboratory assistant in Qiyi Tang’s laboratory at the Ponce School of Medicine and finally as a laboratory technician/quality assurer at the Pontifical Catholic University Center for Biotechnology and Agrobiotechnology (CEIBA) in Ponce, Puerto Rico. In 2012, Omar was accepted to the Microbiology Doctoral Program at the University of Puerto Rico, Medical Sciences Campus. Currently, he is working in Dr. Loyda Meléndez Aponte’s laboratory where his main scientific focus is to understand the intrinsic relationship between AIDS-related dementia and opioid addiction in the exacerbation of macrophage-derived neurotoxic factors in AIDS patients.
 

 

 

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