Bios

Current Students: Academic Year 2020-2021

BIOLOGY 

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

Alexandra joined the IMSD program in the fall of 2018. She is currently in her third year at SDSU pursuing a Bachelor of Science in cell and molecular biology. Alexandra is highly interested in studying abnormal protein behavior in the context of human disease. Working with Dr. Christal Sohl, Alexandra probes the molecular mechanisms of cancer via isocitrate dehydrogenase 1 (IDH1), an enzyme whose mutations have been identified in a wide variety of cancers. She uses post-translational modifications and kinetic analysis to investigate the regulation and inhibition of IDH1. After earning her undergraduate degree in spring of 2021, Alexandra plans to pursue a Ph.D. in biophysics.

 

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.

 

MADISON “Madi” BALAGTAS, Cell and Molecular Biology
IMSD Mentor: Ricardo Zayas, Ph.D.

Madison Balagtas joined the IMSD Program in Spring 2020. She joined Dr. Ricardo Zayas’s planarian stem cell and tissue regeneration lab in Spring 2018 and is working on a project to characterize two E3 ubiquitin ligases, Mindbomb or Neuralized within the Notch cell-cell signaling pathway. The Notch pathway regulates neuronal patterning during human development along with cardiac, immune, and endocrine development. Within SDSU, Madi is Secretary for the Merit Scholar Student Society, a Flying Samaritans volunteer, a Women in Science Society (WSS) member, and the Chapter Liaison Intern for the WSS non-profit. She also volunteers weekly for Alzheimer’s San Diego as a volunteer companion. In the future, Madi plans on combining her passion for research, medicine, and service by attending an M.D./Ph.D program following graduation.

 

RONNESHA “RONI” JOHNSON, Biology
IMSD Mentor: Jeffrey Gustafson, Ph.D.

Roni joined the IMSD program in the summer of 2020. She is currently pursuing a bachelor’s of science degree in biology with a minor in chemistry at SDSU. Prior to her acceptance into IMSD, she took part in USCD/SDSU Partnership Scholars Program where she worked in Dr. Silvio Gutkind’s lab at UCSD Moores Cancer Center. There, she studied the mechanisms of uveal melanoma to find overexpressed proteins that can be treated with well known inhibitors. As of now, Roni is working in Dr. Gustafson’s lab where she synthesizes small molecules known as proteolysis targeting chimera (PROTACs) and is developing a cell-based bioluminescence assay to study the degradable effects of PROTACs on a protein of interest. The purpose of her research is to create an effective assay to test the efficacy of PROTACs which can lead to novel and more successful treatments for diseases caused by overexpressed proteins such as cancers, immunodeficiencies, and Alzheimer’s disease. Following the completion of her undergraduate degree, Roni plans to join a dual degree program surrounding surgical oncology. 

 

CHEMISTRY 

MADISON “MADEE” NOROÑA, Chemistry
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.

 

CATRIN LAW, Biochemistry
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.

 

ADRIAN COLAZO, Biochemistry
IMSD Mentor: Christopher Harrison, Ph.D.

Adrian joined the IMSD program in Spring 2020. He joined Dr. Harrisons research lab in summer 2019 where he works in a project in which he employs isoelectric focusing to separate between red blood cells that are within the body and ones which have been stored outside the body in a fridge for use in autologous blood doping. There are currently no reliable methods through which to detect autologous blood doping and Adrian hopes to provide a reliable source of detecting autologous blood doping. Adrian’s goal after graduating in spring 2021 is to pursue a Ph.D in analytical chemistry.

 

BRITTANY PUZIO, Chemistry
IMSD Mentor: Gregory Holland, Ph.D.

Brittany joined the IMSD program in the summer of 2020. She is currently a fourth-year chemistry student at SDSU. Brittany joined the Holland Lab in fall 2019 where she is looking at the two primary proteins of dragline spider silk, MaSp1 and MaSp2. Using native spider silk and synthesized silk-like peptides, she investigates the structure and functions of these proteins. Her current work focuses on utilizing nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) to determine overall structure and examine the phase characteristics of the peptides. These inform on important interactions that affect the organization and solubility of spider silk proteins and intrinsically disordered proteins in general. After completing her undergraduate degree in spring 2021, Brittany plans to pursue a Ph.D. in analytical or physical chemistry.

 

LEYLEE SAHRAI, Chemistry
IMSD Mentor: Christopher Harrison, Ph.D.

Leylee Sahrai is a fourth year chemistry student who joined the IMSD Program in the Summer of 2020. She is currently working with Dr. Chris Harrison and learning the basics of capillary electrophoresis. Her recent project revolves around monitoring charged molecules moving through an acidic buffer. Following graduation in Spring 2021, she hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in pharmacology.

 

PSYCHOLOGY

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.

 

ALEIGHA BINDA, Psychology
IMSD Mentor: Kristen Wells, Ph.D.

Aleigha joined the IMSD program in 2020. She is an undergraduate student at San Diego State University pursuing a degree in psychology. She was a scholar in the Multidisciplinary Educational Approach to Reducing Cancer Disparities program and the Creating Scientists program, both funded by the National Cancer Institute, at the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center. Through those programs and under the mentorship of Kristen Wells, she was able to gain research experience in her current lab, the Cancer Disparities and Cancer Communication Lab. The CDCC lab focuses on patient navigation and cancer-related disparities. Aleigha plans to pursue a PhD in Clinical Psychology.

 

ENGINEERING

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.

 

ITZEL SALGADO, Aerospace Engineering
IMSD Mentor: Satchi Venkataraman, Ph.D.

Itzel Salgado joined the IMSD program in Spring 2020. Under the supervision of Dr. Satchi Venkataraman, she works on understanding the behavior of hybrid laminates, made of carbon fibre reinforced polymers and steel metal plies, with a transition zone region in order. By using the finite element software, ABAQUS, and validating results with experiments, she hopes to determine how to best design the transition zone region to maximize the strength of the material while reducing the overall weight. Outside of IMSD, Itzel is an active member of Tau Beta Pi and has participated in Dr. Venkataraman’s lab since Spring 2019. After graduation, she plans to attend a Ph.D program in either Material Science or Aerospace Engineering.

 

MATHEMATICS

AMANDA LEE, Applied Mathematics
IMSD Mentor: Uduak George , Ph.D.

Amanda joined the IMSD program in Spring 2020. Under the supervision of Dr. Uduak George, she studies the lungs of patients with cystic fibrosis, an autosomal recessive genetic disorder that affects the body’s mucus and sweat glands. Amanda is working to demonstrate a functional relationship between mucus distribution in the lung and pulmonary function by developing a novel MATLAB algorithm that utilizes differential equations and curve fittings. In addition to her research, Amanda is a member of the Women in Science Society. She is especially passionate about helping those who are underrepresented in the sciences to feel supported and included and encouraging them to remain within the STEM pipeline. After graduating in Spring 2021, Amanda plans to pursue a Ph.D. in mathematical biology.

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