Current Students: Academic Year 2019-2020


ALEXANDRA “LEXI” STROM, Cell and Molecular Biology
IMSD Mentor: Christal Sohl, Ph.D.

Alexandra joined the IMSD program in the fall of 2018. She is currently a third year biology student at SDSU, pursuing a bachelor of science. Working under the supervision of Dr. Shikuma, she has been studying different inducers of animal metamorphosis in an attempt to understand broader beneficial animal bacteria interactions. Her research includes metamorphosis assays with Hydroides elegans tubeworm larvae, as well as genetic analysis of the disruption of roseobacter mutant genomes. The end goal is to find specific genes that fail to give bacterial cues to the larvae, and understand what specifically they need to become adults. She hopes to later apply this research to other areas of the lab, specifically bacteria in the human digestive system. After earning her degree from SDSU, she plans to attend a dual doctorate degree program.

IMSD Mentor: Jeremy Long, Ph.D.

Melissa Belen-Gonzalez joined the IMSD Program in Fall 2018. While growing up around fish markets, she developed a love for fish and marine species. She is currently working in Jeremy Long’s ecology lab developing a research project involving the effects of non-native Fiddler crabs brought by El Nino conditions, on local salt marsh species. Within SDSU, Melissa is an officer for Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) and the Marine Ecology Biology Student Association (MEBSA). Both clubs conduct outreach events to increase science awareness and exposure to minorities. Outside of academia Melissa is part of San Diego Bgirl Sessions, the only all female breakdancing group within San Diego which hosts female led community dance events and advocates women empowerment.

CASEY HEANEY, Cell and Molecular Biology
IMSD Mentor: Byron Purse, Ph.D.

Casey was accepted into the IMSD program in Spring of 2019 after transferring from Miracosta College. She is currently working towards her bachelors degree in cellular and molecular biology, with a minor in interdisciplinary studies from the Weber Honors College. Casey joined the Purse Organic Chemistry lab in the Fall of 2018 and is working on a project to synthesize fluorescent nucleosides, which has many applications in medicinal chemistry. Her goal is to enter a doctoral program in the biological sciences in Fall 2021 after graduation.

AMY ORDUÑO-BAEZ, Biology, with an emphasis in Ecology
IMSD Mentor: Lluvia Flores-Renteria

Amy was accepted into the IMSD program in the summer of 2019. She has been conducting research in Dr. Rulon Clark’s lab for 2 years where they are studying the temperature-sensing pit organ of rattlesnakes that allows them to see infrared light by detecting temperature changes in their environment. They test the snakes “vision” by presenting it various stimuli while manipulating the temperature of the snake, stimuli, and background to determine the parameters of the sensitivity of the system. In addition, Amy is also in Dr. Lluvia Flores-Renteria’s lab where they are studying the native narrowly-distributed species Cylindropuntia wolfii whose patterns of sexual expression are not fully understood yet. They do this by performing manual crosses and a range of histological and molecular analyses. In addition they are also looking at how programmed cell death could be a factor that leads to aborted structures in males and females.

IMSD Mentor: Christal Sohl, Ph.D.

Sati is in her final year at SDSU pursuing a Bachelor of Sciences degree in Biology. Sati became an IMSD Scholar in Summer 2019. Previous to this, she was involved in the Partnership Scholars Program between SDSU/UCSD. She began her involvement in research at UCSD Moores Cancer Center, where she worked with Dr. Silvio Gutkind’s Immune Oncology team, assisting in research on Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma. At the Moores Cancer Center, Sati conducted research involving oral squamous cell carcinoma in mice, and examined efficacies of different therapies, such as immunotherapy anti-PD1 and an MTOR targeting drug, Rapamycin. She is currently working in the laboratory of Dr. Christal Sohl, through IMSD. She is focused on a project involving the overexpression of MDH1, an enzyme crucial in the Malate/aspartate shuttle, which has been shown to be overexpressed in squamous epithelial lung cancer. She hopes to continue her career in cancer research and pursue a doctoral degree in Biomedical Sciences after earning her degree from SDSU in 2020.


IMSD Mentor: Douglas Grotjahn, Ph.D.

Esteban works in Dr. Grotjahn’s laboratory where he conducts organometallic chemistry research. He is in the process of developing Z-alkene isomerization catalysts. These catalysts will help the Grotjahn group better understand the mechanisms of their highly selective E-alkene isomerization catalysts. This increased understanding will enable the Grotjahn group to efficiently synthesize a family of isomerization catalysts, which is significant since alkenes serve important roles in the syntheses of molecules, like natural products and medicines. Esteban conducts organometallic chemistry research in order to establish a strong foundation for small-molecule and metal complex synthesis, characterization, and testing. He plans on using these skills to develop anticancer therapies that are effective, safe, affordable, and accessible.

VALERIA GARCIA, Biochemistry with minor in Anthropology
IMSD Mentor: Jeffrey Gustafson, Ph.D.

Valeria joined the IMSD program in the fall of 2017, she is a fourth year student at SDSU who is working towards a biochemistry major and anthropology minor. Valeria is currently working under the direction of Dr. Gustafson where she focuses on the biological applications of atropisomers. She joined the Gustafson research lab as an undergraduate in spring 2017 when she discovered her passion towards organic chemistry. In the lab, she utilizes a combination of computational and in vitro studies for the optimization of small molecule kinases inhibitors, in order to increase the inhibitor’s selectivity and potency towards the desired kinase protein and reduce off-target activity that might lead to undesired side effects in patients. This research inspired her to continue her studies and pursue a Ph.D in organic chemistry

Mckenzie K. Wylie, 
IMSD Mentor: Byron Purse, Ph.D.

Mckenzie is a biochemistry major, and joined the IMSD program fall of 2018. Mckenzie is currently working in Dr.Byron Purse’s organic chemistry lab. Mckenzie’s research focuses primarily on fluorescent nucleosides. By modifying existing nucleobases to include a fluorescent turn-on property and retaining their basic structure, these analogues provide many applications in medicinal chemistry as molecular probes. In the future, Mckenzie plans to pursue a PhD in chemistry in 2020.

Giovanni Quichocho, Biochemistry
IMSD Mentor: Christal Sohl, Ph.D.

Giovanni was a hair stylist for 8 years and is still working in that profession as a hobby. After a few years, he decided to turn his focus towards science and pursuing a degree in Biochemistry, ultimately his goal is to continue into graduate school. He joined the IMSD Program in 2018 and is currently working in Dr. Sohl’s laboratory, contributing research towards better understanding the IDH1 mutation in brain tumors.

IMSD Mentor: Chris Harrison, Ph.D.

Madison “Madee” Noroña became an IMSD scholar in the spring of 2019. She is a junior pursuing her B.S. in chemistry, and began working in Dr. Harrison’s lab in spring 2017. Since working in with Dr. Harrison, she has acquainted herself with capillary electrophoresis techniques and has learned how to perform basic capillary electrophoresis separations. Currently, she is working on the autologous blood doping project. Following graduation in 2021, she plans to pursue her Ph.D. in environmental or analytical chemistry.

IMSD Mentor: Bert Bergdahl, Ph.D.

Anastasiya is a Chemistry major who joined the IMSD program in the summer of 2019. She began doing research in Dr. Bergdahl’s synthetic organic chemistry lab in the summer of 2018 and planned to do research until graduation. In Dr. Bergdahl’s lab, her research primarily focuses on finding the most efficient route to synthesize the natural product Palmyramide A, which is a cyclic depsipeptide isolated from cyanobacteria found near the the Palmyra Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. Palmyramide A is active against colon cancer and has a low cytotoxicity. Anastasiya’s goal after graduating in the Spring of 2020 is to pursue a Ph.D. in organic chemistry.

CATRIN LAW, Chemistry
IMSD Mentor: Christopher Harrison, Ph.D.

Catrin joined Dr. Harrison’s lab in Spring 2019 and IMSD in Summer 2019. She has co-authored a published meta-review with her mentor Dr. Jamie Joseph, a postdoctoral fellow at UCSD-Extension, on the neuropsychiatric effects of probiotic treatments through a cross-species analysis. She is currently working with Dr. Harrison on the Third-Hand Smoke (THS) project to develop a consumer available device capable of detecting toxic levels of THS similar to the microfluidics of a pregnancy test. Developing this device has lead her to two approaches, using an organic solvent reaction and a dye to complex with nicotine yielding a colorful positive result and also using CE-SELEX to develop a small molecule aptamer for nicotine to use as fluorescent indicator on a microfluidic device.

AUSTIN MOSER, Biochemistry
IMSD Mentor: Mike Bergdahl, Ph.D.

Austin joined the IMSD program in Summer of 2019, going into his fifth year as Biochemistry major and Rhetoric and Writing Studies minor.  He began his Organic Chemistry research in Sweden, at Chalmers University of Technology, where he worked on variations of internal click reactions for bioorthogonal anti-cancer agents.  Austin joined Dr. Bergdahl’s lab after finding his passion for Organic Chemistry, and is now working on the synthesis of Palmyramide, a powerful anti-colon cancer agent, and the synthesis of an HCV Translation Inhibitor.  After graduation, Austin plans to pursue a Ph.D. in organic chemistry, with emphasis in medicinal applications.


David Rivera, Psychology
IMSD Mentor: Aaron Blashill, Ph.D.

David is a first-generation transfer student from Southwestern college studying psychology. His research experience began in the joint UCSD/SDSU Creating Scientists Program (CSP) Addressing Cancer Disparities. He is currently a research assistant for the Body Image, Sexuality, and Health (BISH) Lab at SDSU. His research interests focus on sexual minority health disparities, Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), HIV, stigma, and gender roles. He gained acceptance into the IMSD program in the summer of 2019. David plans to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology directly upon completing his bachelor’s degree.


Kai GiVogue, Psychology
IMSD Mentor: Terry Cronan, Ph.D.

Kai joined the IMSD program during the summer of 2019. He is currently working towards his bachelors degree in Psychology while minoring in Honors Interdisciplinary Studies. Kai is currently a research assistant in Dr. Terry Cronan’s Health Outcome Studies Lab. He joined Dr. Cronan’s lab in the Spring of 2019 due to his interest in the field of Health Psychology. After completing his undergraduate degree, Kai plans to earn a Ph.D. in health psychology and study health related outcomes in underrepresented communities.

Isaiah Jones, Psychology
IMSD Mentor: Aaron Blashill, Ph.D.

Isaiah a first-generation undergraduate student at San Diego State University pursuing his degree in Psychology with a minor in Counseling and Social Change. Isaiah was a scholar joining the BISH lab as part of the joint SDSU/UCSD Creating Scientists to Address Cancer Disparities summer enrichment program. After obtaining research experience, he intends to pursue a PhD in Clinical Psychology, continue in a research-oriented career, apply his work a patient-therapy setting, and try his hand at academia. His research interests include mood, anxiety, and personality disorders, as well as community-based coping strategies.



DENISE GARCIA, Environmental Engineering
IMSD Mentor: Natalie Mladenov, Ph.D.

Denise is a fourth year Environmental Engineering major, with a minor in Mathematics. For the past 7 months, she has been conducting research in Dr. Natalie Mladenov’s Water Innovation and Reuse Laboratory on the Alvarado Creek Restoration Project. Denise performs water quality experiments such as fluorescence spectroscopy, total dissolved nitrogen/carbon, and testing for fecal indicator bacteria, such as E. Coli. In addition to her school work and research, for the past two years she has interned with the San Diego County Planning and Development Services Department. In the future, Denise hopes to pursue a Ph.D in either Environmental or Civil Engineering.



TALIA KIEU, Public Health
IMSD Mentor: Jerel Calzo, Ph.D.

Talia joined IMSD in May of 2018 and is a 3rd year public health major with a minor in women’s studies and LGBTQ studies. Talia is currently working in Dr. Calzo’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression lab, where she studies populations such as LGBTQ+ youth, transgender individuals with eating disorders, and LGBTQ+ homeless young adults. The goal of these projects is to examine the health disparities that these populations face, and create evidence-based health interventions. Talia’s plans to pursue a Ph.D in public health, specifically social and behavioral sciences, and study the different health outcomes of LGBTQ+ individuals in Asian American communities.

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