Current Students: Academic Year 2018-2019


MICHELLE SCOTT, Cell and Molecular Biology
IMSD Mentor: Christal Sohl, Ph.D.

Michelle Scott was accepted into the IMSD program in the fall of 2017. She is a USN veteran and will be earning a B.S. in Biology (emphasis in cell & molecular). Michelle has always found science fascinating especially in the areas of biology and computer science. In her time at SDSU, she found ways to combine the two subjects. It is this combination she wants to apply to her research. Joining IMSD has allowed her to network and receive fantastic guidance from faculty members at SDSU. This upcoming spring (2018), Michelle will join Dr. Sohl’s lab studying IDH1 mutation and will learn to apply computational sides to her research.

ALEXANDRA “LEXI” STROM, Cell and Molecular Biology
IMSD Mentor: Nicholas Shikuma, 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: Elizabeth Dinsdale, Ph.D.

Isabel joined IMSD during the fall 2018 and is currently a fifth year student at SDSU majoring in Biology. She has been working under Dr. Elizabeth Dinsdale since spring 2018 and her goal is to pursue a PhD in vision science. She became interested in researching microbial communities once she started her third year at SDSU. She is currently working on shark conservation, where she assists in the taxonomic and genomic identification of Chondrichthyes in the West Indian Ocean in collaboration with Wildlife Trust of India and College of Fisheries Science in Junagadh Agricultural University. She is also involved in a shark skin project in collaboration with SDSU’s Electron Microscopy Facility where she observes dermal denticles on horn sharks, swell sharks, and leopard sharks using transmission electron and scanning electron microscopy.

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.


NINA LY, Biochemistry
IMSD Mentor: Erica Forsberg, Ph.D.

Nina joined the IMSD program in 2017, and she is currently doing research in Dr. Forsberg’s lab. The goal of this research is to profile neurotransmitter production from one of the bacteria known as Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG with a correlation with anxiety and depression. This specific bacteria will be exposed to hydrocortisol to determine any dysregulated features and to predict metabolic pathways with altered activity. We want to target specific microorganisms to improve human health. Our team strives to develop new bioinformatics strategies to analyze metabolomics data collected using high resolution mass spectrometry to understand the intercommunity interactions of microbial communities and their impact on diseases that affect the human body. She is planning to begin her Ph.D. in chemistry in 2019.

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 help him gain a deep  understanding of how small molecules interact with molecules in the human body. With this understanding, he hopes to synthesize novel cancer treatments that are effective, safe, affordable, and accessible to anyone who needs them.

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.

IMSD Mentor: William Tong, Ph.D. 

Samantha was accepted into the IMSD program in Spring of 2018. Samantha is entering her fourth and final year as a Biochemistry student and will be graduating in May 2019. She has always had a love for chemistry and developed a strong interest in scientific research in her time here at SDSU. Samantha is currently working under her mentor, Dr. Tong, conducting cancer detection research. Her work involves a nonlinear multi-photon laser wave-mixing detector to detect the biomarker CA19-9 of pancreatic cancer. Samantha has future goals of earning a PhD in Chemistry.

IMSD Mentor: Jeffrey Gustafson, Ph.D.

Andrea is a chemistry major with a minor in Cellular and Molecular Biology at San Diego State University and joined the IMSD program in the Fall 2018 semester. She was inspired to study organic chemistry from Dr. Gustafson’s Chem 432 class. She works in Dr. Gustafson’s lab and her current research involves developing atroposelective dynamic kinetic resolutions via vicarious nucleophilic substitution. Her future goals are to pursue a Ph.D. in organic chemistry following graduation in May 2019.

KYLE LOGAN, Chemistry
IMSD Mentor: Dr. Diane K. Smith

Kyle Logan joined IMSD in August of 2015 as an IMSD pre-scholar before being accepted as a full IMSD scholar in 2016. Kyle has a diverse research background spanning physics, engineering, and chemistry. Upon entering San Diego State University (SDSU), Kyle worked with Dr. Richard Morris in the Department of Physics on a literature review investigating the quantum coupling effects of photons emitted from an ionizing calcium atom and how such phenomena can affect traditional wave-particle duality experiments. Furthermore, as the former project manager of the SDSU chapter of the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers (IEEE), Kyle helped establish a project team building quadcopters to record initial flight data on the rocket launched by SDSU’s Rocket Project. After the completion of his time with Dr. Morris and IEEE, Kyle joined SDSU’s Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS) lab under the guidance of Dr. Sam Kassegne. During his time in the MEMS lab, Kyle developed (in collaboration with Shane Witsell) a flow cell producing fluid dynamics emulating the cerebrospinal fluid flow of rats for in-vitro electrochemical detection of neurotransmitters using implantable micro-neural electrodes. Furthermore, Kyle designed, fabricated, and analyzed micro-neural electrodes using pyrolysis, photolithography, scanning electron microscopy, and electrochemistry. Kyle’s work with the implantable micro-neural sensors led to a project investigating the chemical interface between the electroactive glassy carbon electrodes in the sensors and the insulating polyimide polymer, which provides the structure to the devices. Kyle joined Dr. Diane K. Smith’s electro-analytical chemistry research lab where he has since spent two years studying redox mediated hydrogen bonding and proton transfer in supramolecular systems. This work has resulted in a collaboration with Dr. Byron Purse of SDSU studying the electrochemical behavior of fluorescent nucleoside derivatives as a means of developing structure-fluorescence relationships for the prediction of fluorescent properties of molecules.

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.

Laleña Janke, Chemistry
IMSD Mentor: Jeffrey Gustafson, Ph.D.

Laleña is a senior majoring in Chemistry. She has been working in Dr. Gustafson’s organic chemistry lab since she transferred from Southwestern Community College in Fall of 2017. She began her research studying the organocatalytic regioselective chlorination of phenol. Since the summer, she has been focusing on comparing the reaction rates of different catalytic Lewis-Base species to better elucidate the mechanism of C-H functionalization selectivity. Her interest in chemistry began after joining her community college Chemistry Club, and she has been an active member of the American Chemical Society (ACS) since 2015. She is the current president of the S.M.A.C.S. (Student Members of the American Chemical Society) Club on-campus, and she plans to pursue a PhD in organic chemistry in Fall of 2019.

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: Aaron J. Blashill, Ph.D.


Manuel Gonzales is a Psychology major who joined the IMSD program in February 2017. Manuel conducts research in Dr. Aaron J. Blashill’s Body Image, Sexuality and Health Lab (BISH). Manuel was placed in the BISH Lab through the joint SDSU/UCSD program, Creating Scientists Summer Program in Cancer Disparities given his research interests in, skin cancer prevention, Hispanic health, and high risk behaviors associated with skin cancer. He has previously examined the relationship between indoor tanning and depressive symptoms among Hispanic adolescents. Manuel is currently conducting research on ethnic differences in body image and eating pathology. Manuel hopes to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology in the near future.

IVETTE GONZALEZ, Psychology and Spanish double major, Minor in Biology
IMSD Mentor: Jennifer Thomas, Ph.D.

Ivette has been working in Dr. Thomas’s lab since Spring of 2017, where she is conducting research on behavioral teratology. She is looking at the effects alcohol and THC have in prenatal development and if choline can be used as a supplemental treatment. Her research interests include the drugs that affect the brain processes and other factors that can have an effect in the brain, especially during development. Ivette hopes to pursue a Ph.D. degree in Behavioral Neuroscience to continue doing research. Ivette hopes to educate minority communities more on psychology and help make the topic of psychology a less taboo topic within the communities.

IMSD Mentor: Dustin Thoman, Ph.D.

Ariana Hernandez is a Psychology major with a Minor in Interdisciplinary Studies through the Weber Honors College and entered the IMSD Program in October 2017. She is working in the lab of Dustin Thoman, Ph.D, exploring how one’s social identity influences one’s motivation, such as why interests are developed and sustained. Dr. Thoman’s lab researches the types of experiences and messages that influences motivations within careers, specifically in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) within sub groups including underrepresented minorities and first-generation students. A deeper understanding of science major’s perceptions and motivations are gained through the use of a multi-method approach — longitudinal surveys, interviews, and focus groups.

Outside of research and academia, Ariana volunteers in SDSU’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) as a tour guide and panelist to middle school and high school students. Along with her strong volunteer and outreach involvement in EOP, she also serves as the Vice President for the EOP Student Advisory Board (ESAB). Ariana is also the Director of External Affairs in Gates to Success, an organization that encourages first-generations students to participate in High Impact Practices. Her leadership experience and education has sparked curiosity in Social Psychology. Ariana plans to graduate in Spring of 2019 and pursue a Ph.D.


SHANE WITSELL, Electrical Engineering
IMSD Mentor:Yusuf Ozturk, PhD

Shane Witsell is a Electrical Engineering major and began the IMSD program in August 2015. He is currently working in Dr. Yusuf Ozturk’s Ambient Sensors Lab in the Department of Electrical Engineering, constructing a non intrusive device for power monitoring at the circuit level. This design focuses on monitoring power usage at the circuit breaker through inductive field measurements. Due to the nature of magnetic fields in space, much of the effort into this design is on the deconvolution of signals using machine learning techniques. His work can be found published in the IEEE journal of Renewable Energy Research and Applications (ICRERA).

In the past, Shane has worked on a wide range of projects in various disciplines of neuroscience and electrical engineering. Begining in the Micro-Electro Mechanical Engineering Systems laboratory (MEMS) under Dr. Samuel Kassegne, Shane built testing equipment for the brain and spinal cord penetrating neurotransmitter detection devices created by the NeuroMEMS group. During his time in the MEMS laboratory Shane achieved two publications, and presented his work at the Student Research Symposium. Shane has also presented his current at the ABRCMS conference as well as achieved the dean’s Award at the Student Research Symposium. As the President of The San Diego State Student Chapter of The Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers Shane has been involved in various competition projects such as: The formation of Aztec Aeronautical Integrated Robotics team(AIR), International Future Energy Challenge (AztecFEC), and the Director for the first bi-annual hackathon. Shane strides to further his curiosity regarding the electrical interactions of light waves, and the uses of both the micro and macroscopic design word to create innovative approaches to engineering, science, and technology.

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.


ELIZABETH “ANELE” Villanueva, Child and Family Development, Minor in Counseling and Social Change and the Honors Interdisciplinary Studies
IMSD Mentor: Margaret Friend, Ph.D.

Anele Villanueva is obtaining her B.S. in Child and Family Development with a minor in Honors Interdisciplinary Studies. She joined the IMSD program in August of 2017. Currently, her research project at the Infant and Child Development Lab (SDSU) under Dr. Margaret Friend is on the relation of translation equivalents to executive function (i.e., attention control, cognitive inhibition, and memory) in English- and Spanish- speaking monolinguals, and English-Spanish bilingual children. Our lab measures bilingual children’s vocabulary growth and executive function over time, extending previous research from 3- to 4-year-olds. This research has applications in educational settings with aims of supporting children in their academic achievement. In the 2017 SDSU Student Research Symposium, Anele earned a Provost Award for outstanding poster presentation. Over the summer of 2017, she received the International Congress of Infant Studies (ICIS) Undergraduate Research Fellowship to conduct research with Dr. Adriana Weisleder in the Bellevue Project for Early Language, Literacy, and Education Success (BELLE) at the New York University School of Medicine. This research project investigated parent-infant interactions from low-income Latino families under different activity contexts. Presently, Anele is continuing her research as part of the SDSU Infant and Child Development Lab with Dr. Friend, and with the BELLE research project coding additional families. Both of these research experiences closely align with her career goal to enter a PhD program in communication sciences and disorders with a focus in early language development and multilingualism in low-income immigrant families. She aims to facilitate research that promotes social justice across all income groups and cultural backgrounds, to develop appropriate intervention strategies and to lessen the achievement gap and long-term developmental risks associated with it.


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.



KEN LUU, Physics and Math Double Major
IMSD Mentor: Calvin Johnson, Ph.D.

Ken Luu is a fourth year student at SDSU. He is conducting research with professor Calvin Johnson on topics in nuclear physics via computational methods. His main interest in physics is particle and nuclear physics. Ken is planning to graduate in Spring 2019 where he plans to pursue a PhD in theoretical physics.

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