Current Students: Academic Year 2016-2017
TESS CONDEFF, Biology
IMSD Mentor: Stanley Maloy, Ph.D.
Tess Condeff is a Biology major who joined the IMSD program in May 2015. She conducts research in Dr. Stanley Maloy’s lab where they investigate temporal and spatial changes of stx levels in contamination-affected areas along the San Diego Coast following a rain event. Beaches along San Diego’s coastline are commonly closed after rain due to sewage contamination from Mexico’s Tijuana River and urban runoff from throughout San Diego. The human pathogen, Escherichia coli, carries the phage-encoded shiga toxin gene (stx) and is commonly found in human and animal waste. Phages are viruses of bacteria that can carry virulence genes such as stx. The transfer of toxin genes to bacteria could lead to the evolution of novel human pathogens. With an increased risk of exposure to waste-associated pathogens like E. coli after it rains, it becomes important to monitor impacted environments for phage-encoded toxin genes. Tess is expected to graduate in May 2016 and is currently applying to graduate programs with the ultimate goal of obtaining a PhD in Biomedical Science.
STEVEN BYRUM, Biology (emphasis in Evolution and Systematics)
IMSD Mentor: Todd Reeder, Ph.D.
Steven Byrum is a Biology major with an emphasis in evolution and systematics, and joined the IMSD program in August 2015. He has had past experience in paleontology and molecular biology, and is currently working in Tod Reeder’s herpetology laboratory conducting research involving teiidae, a family of lizards in North and South America. By gathering and analyzing genomic data, he is hoping to provide an updated phylogeny of the family. Steven is expecting to graduate in May 2017 with the goal of eventually obtaining a PhD in evolutionary biology.
STEPHANIE CASTILLO, Biology (emphasis in Evolution and Systematics)
IMSD Mentor: Marshall Hedin, Ph.D.
Stephanie Castillo joined the IMSD program in October 2015 as a biology major with an emphasis in evolution and systematics. In the summer of 2015 she was a Summer Systematics Institute intern at the California Academy of Sciences (CAS) where she worked on a SDSU-CAS joint project devoted to species delimitation research on a group of arachnids known as Travunioidea. She continues to work on this project in Dr. Marshal Hedin’s arachnid diversity and evolution lab, using scanning electron microscopy to increase confidence in taxonomic hypotheses at deeper phylogenetic nodes. After graduation in December 2016, Stephanie plans to pursue a PhD in evolutionary biology.
SERAPHINA SOLDERS, Biology and Psychology, Minor in Interdisciplinary Studies (Honors College)
IMSD Mentors: Ralph-Axel Muller, Ph.D. and Ruth Carper, Ph.D.
Seraphina Solders is a dual major in Biology and Psychology with the Honors Minor in Interdisciplinary Studies and began the IMSD program in February 2016. She has been working in the Brain Development Imaging Laboratory under the supervision of Dr. Ralph-Axel Müller and Dr. Ruth Carper for two and a half years. She works particularly with diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging data to study the microstructural properties of white matter in the brain, and how these properties differ between typically developing children and adolescents and those with Autism Spectrum Disorder. She is listed as an author in two publications: in one, she assisted Dr. Carper in analyzing corticospinal tract anatomy and the functional connectivity of the primary motor cortex. In the second study, she aided in the data processing for a project led by Dr. Nair on thalamocortical connectivity in Autism Spectrum Disorder. She has also been working with Dr. Carper on a project assessing corticostriatal connectivity and its relationship with measures of repetitive behaviors and executive functions. She is currently working on her honors thesis, which aims to determine how careful group matching on head motion in the MRI scanner affects findings of group differences in diffusion measures. She plans to continue her study of brain anatomy and function in a neuroscience Ph.D program.
Outside of the laboratory, Seraphina has taken several leadership positions and has maintained an active involvement on campus. She is involved with Honors Council and is a member of all five university-wide honors societies (Phi Eta Sigma, Phi Kappa Phi, Phi Beta Kappa, Golden Key, and Mortar Board). She is currently serving as the Senior Spotlight Chair for Mortar Board, secretary for Honors Council, and Vice President for Psi Chi. In her spare time, she enjoys playing acoustic guitar, watching Doctor Who, and playing with her cat.
PRISCILA RODRIGUEZ, Cell and Molecular Biology
IMSD Mentor: Ricardo Zayas, Ph.D.
In May 2016, Priscila joined the IMSD program as a Cell and Molecular Biology major. She is working in the lab of Ricardo Zayas, Ph.D., where the freshwater planarian Schmidtea mediterranea is used as a model organism to study the underlying mechanisms of regeneration. Planarians are able to regrow all of its body tissues after injury or amputation due to pluripotent stem cells called neoblast. Priscila is exploring the potential overlap between SoxB1a and SoxB1b gene function. Priscila would like to obtain her Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Biology, specifically in the area of immunology. Priscila hopes to study the relationship between viral infections and autoimmune disorders in order to better understand pathogenesis, disease progression and development of treatments.
HASSLER RENGIFO, Cell and Molecular Biology
IMSD Mentor: Sandy Bernstein, Ph.D.
Hassler Rengifo is a Cellular and Molecular Biology Major at San Diego State University pursuing a Ph.D in the field of biology He is conducting research in Dr. Bernstein’s laboratory under the Ph.D student, Adriana Trujillo in order to further the understanding of cardiomyopathy by manipulating skeletal and muscular cells. Currently in his new lab, Hassler is responsible for making fly food, making dilutions in order make buffers and solutions, collecting flies, dissecting flies, and performing protein purification to be able to identify the different myosin levels in fly lines. He also participates in the weekly friday meetings regarding the research of different masters and Ph. D students.
The IMSD requirements will further his ability to transition to a Ph.D program after his undergraduate degree is complete by providing many opportunities to get to know faculty members on many different campuses. The research experience he will gain from the IMSD program will allow him to be better prepared for getting into many different kinds of laboratories throughout his career in order to reach his eventual goal of obtaining a Ph.D. As he learns more of what he is interested in by participating in research now, it will give him an idea and a direction to pursue in order to help start off his career with opportunity and knowledge of what he wants to do in particular.
NORHAN ALHAJJAR, Biology
IMSD Mentor: Kelly Doran, Ph.D.
Norhan Alhajjar is a biology major who hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in the field of biology. She joined the IMSD program in July 2016. In the summer of 2015, she participated in the W.M. Keck Scholars program, where she gained experience working in a microbiology lab. During her time in the Keck program, Norhan conducted a research project that involved comparing nitrogen/phosphate levels with the presence of phage-encoded exotoxin genes in beach water throughout the coast of Imperial Beach. The water samples were obtained after a period of heavy rainfall, in which raw sewage was inputted into the Pacific Ocean due to overflow of the Tijuana estuary. The project involved identifying the phage-encoded shiga toxin (stx) and cholera toxin (ctx) genes, which are responsible for the symptoms of some human diseases. Norhan’s experience in the Keck Program initiated her excitement for scientific research and desire to participate in biological research that contributes to public health.
Since fall 2015, Norhan has been working in Dr. Kelly Doran’s lab, whose research primarily focuses on the human pathogen Group B Streptococcus (GBS) and the host-pathogen interactions that take place in the human Central Nervous System and female reproductive tracts. Norhan has been working closely with two graduate students in analyzing the factors that promote GBS colonization of the female reproductive tract. When pregnant women are colonized with GBS, the infant is posed with the serious risk of also being colonized with the bacterium, which may result in the infant developing bacterial meningitis. The current focus of the project is analyzing the role of the BspC protein in GBS, which has been previously well characterized in other Streptococcus species. A further understanding of the host-pathogen interactions between GBS and the reproductive tracts of women is a promising target for the development of therapeutics to prevent GBS infections.
MYA BROWN, Chemistry
IMSD Mentor: William Tong, Ph.D.
Mya Brown is a chemistry major and joined IMSD in March 2015. Currently she is working with non-linear multi-photon laser wave mixing in Dr. William Tong’s lab. Mya is using non-linear laser wave mixing couple with capillary electrophoresis to simultaneously determining metabolites in aquatic environments of fish. She enjoys working with laser wave mixing detection to detect environmental pollutants. In summer of 2015 she went to Cape Coast, Ghana where she was a Minority Health and Health Disparities International Research (MHIRT) Fellow. While in Ghana, Mya studied Ethno-Pharmacology to examine plants and herbs that are treated for diabetes and hypertension. Her main goal is to earn her Ph.D. in chemistry and become a chemistry professor.
EDUARDO DE LA TOBA, Chemistry (emphasis in Biochemistry)
IMSD Mentor: Chris Harrison, Ph.D.
Eduardo De La Toba is a chemistry major with an emphasis in bichemistry at San Diego State University. Eduardo joined the IMSD-MBRS program in December 2014 and is currently working in the bioanalytical separations laboratory of Dr. Christopher Harrison. Eduardo first joined Dr. Harrison’s laboratory in summer 2014 as an undergraduate looking to gain research experience and began working with another student on testing the effect of different metal cations on the stability of phospholipid bilayers through the use of a capillary electrophoresis machine. These results were presented in a poster at SDSU’s SRS event in March 2015. Eduardo is now working on a new project with a graduate student. This project involves the development of a microfluidic droplet separation system in which analytes are separated in a capillary and then pass through a droplet-generation apparatus, where these droplets can ultimately be collected. Once this system has been fully developed, very small volumes of analytes will be able to be separated and collected in an efficient and simple manner.
ADAM PEREZ, Chemistry
IMSD Mentor: Christopher Harrison, Ph.D.
Adam Perez is a Chemistry major at SDSU, pursuing his B.S. Following graduation, he plans to pursue a doctorate in chemistry to become a university professor. His goal is to research and teach chemistry in a way that engages students. Dr. Christopher Harrison identified him as a top performer in his Analytical Chemistry course and invited Adam to work in his lab upon completion of the course. Their research addresses the use of performance enhancing drugs and the need for a quick, cost effective, and reliable method to analyze blood samples. The research has reinforced Adam’s resourcefulness and patience by optimizing his electricity capacitance detector to analyze solutions through electrophoresis. Adam also tutors mathematics and chemistry for San Diego State University, Grossmont Community College, and his local community.
ARIANNA AYONON, Chemistry (emphasis in Biochemistry)
IMSD Mentor: Jeffrey Gustafson, Ph.D.
Arianna is currently a Senior majoring in Chemistry with Emphasis in Biochemistry who joined the MBRS/IMSD program in June 2015. Her passion for organic chemistry led her to joining Dr. Jeffrey Gustafson’s group where she currently conducts research on the synthesis of atropisomerically preorganized analogs. Atropisomerism arises from chirality about a hindered axis and as a result produces a pair of enantiomers that are rotational isomers of each other. By hindering or “preorganizing” this axis, isomers can be locked in their respective conformations where this stereoselectivity has a potential in drug discovery. She currently works on α-Helix Mimetics but is ambitious to assist in the group’s related projects. Arianna is also an active member of the American Chemical Society Student Chapter where she also serves as a tutor for organic chemistry courses. She hopes to pursue a Ph.D in Organic Chemistry and plans on graduating in Fall 2016.
BREANNA CANTER, Chemistry
IMSD Mentor: Byron Purse, Ph.D.
Breanna Canter is a third-year Chemistry major and joined the IMSD program in October 2015. She is currently working in Dr. Byron Purse’s organic chemistry research laboratory, studying unnatural DNA synthesis. After conducting research involving fluorescent nucleoside analogues, she developed an interest in synthesizing pro-drug analogues. In particular, she is studying various phosphate masking groups in order to transport pro-drug molecules across the plasma membrane and directly into living cells. Consequently, these masking groups can be developed to make more effective drugs. Breanna is expected to graduate in May 2017. She plans to study medicinal chemistry involving DNA synthesis as she continues her education, with her goal of one day earning her PhD in Chemistry.
Sean Najjar is majoring in Chemistry at San Diego State University and began the IMSD program in January 2016. He is currently working in the laboratory for Dr. Michael Bergdahl on progressive new methods towards the total synthesis of azaspirene, a promising new cancer treatment. Being that of an angiogenesis inhibitor generates the ability to starve tumor cells without the repercussions of denaturing normalized cells, being less detrimental than todays chemotherapy treatment. His help towards the synthesis of azaspirene allows for the potential to supply an ample amount of compound to the advancement in treating cancer by means of a more economical and efficient route. The synthetic approach begins with an easily accessible L-phenyl alanine molecule, which in turns become a chiral source to create the backbone of azaspirene. There are current results showing two-thirds of the synthesis route completed with intentions of finalizing the novel total synthesis of azaspirene and its pseurotin analogs, characterizing the biological activity through active site binding and crystal structure experiments, and evaluating the potential of serving as an anti-inflammatory, anti-angiogenic, and anti-breast tumor agent. Sean plans on pursuing a Ph.D in Organic Chemistry with the intentions of graduating within the year of 2016.
KYLE LOGAN, Chemistry
IMSD Mentor: Samuel Kassegne, Ph.D. and Diane Smith, Ph.D.
Kyle Logan is a pre-chemistry major and began the IMSD program in August of 2015. He works under the guidance of Dr. Samuel Kassegne, the graduate director of Bioengineering and professor of Mechanical engineering, exploring the roles polymers play in nanotechnology. Specifically, Kyle uses various investigative methods such as Nuclear Magnetic Resonance and spectroscopy to characterize the interface between polymers and semi-amorphous carbon. Kyle also works on the design, manufacture, and testing of multi site Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) devices used for the detection and stimulation of the central nervous system. Understanding the mechanisms by which polymers interface with various substances can help improve the efficiency and reliability of these fabricated neurosensors and other medical devices which opens up the possibility for new neuroscience to be developed and explored.
Prior to IMSD, Kyle worked in a broad range of technological and scientific areas. In his first year, Kyle was the project manager of San Diego State’s IEEE chapter. His leadership helped develop drones which filmed SDSU’s Rocket Project launch, a competitive hackathon, and began work on an electric car. Also, he was involved with Dr. Morris exploring creative ways of testing wave-particle duality. In 2013, Kyle worked with CleanWorld, the leading company in Anaerobic Digester technology, investigating methods of three dimensional flow visualization for Anaerobic digesters as well as means of solid state extraction from the system. In addition to his internship, Kyle was involved with Sierra Streams Institute collecting water samples from the Yuba River watershed and analyzing the chemical composition through spectroscopy to determine the health of the ecosystem. After exploring his passions and pursuing graduate studies in Chemistry, Kyle aims to further his curiosity regarding the material composition of the natural universe through his interdisciplinary approach to engineering and chemistry in nanoscience and technology.
SHANNON YANDALL DEJESUS, Psychology, minor in Biology and Interdisciplinary Studies
IMSD Mentor: Paul Gilbert, Ph.D.
Shannon Yandall DeJesus is a Psychology major with a minor in Interdisciplinary Studies through the Weber Honors College. She is a transfer student from San Diego Mesa College and became a scholar of the MBRS/IMSD Program in February 2015. She has been working at the Center for Healthy Aging and Neurodegenerative Disease under the mentorship of Dr. Paul Gilbert since September of 2014. Dr. Gilbert’s lab researches the cognitive, behavioral, and motor changes that occur in older adults and individuals diagnosed with neurodegenerative disease. Over the past year she has been involved in a research study that found age-related differences in spatial memory could depend on the particular level of interference. She presented this research at SDSU’s Student Research Symposium Event, as well as several other conferences last year including the Stanford Undergraduate Psychology Conference. She is working on writing the manuscript for this study with the guidance of Dr. Gilbert. In addition, Shannon is currently working on her honor’s thesis, which is examining spatial memory in middle-aged adults. Completion of this research will provide a more comprehensive understanding of spatial memory abilities throughout the life span, potentially allowing for earlier identification of abnormal decline and indication of degenerative disease. She is also conducting research on the relationship between exercise habits throughout the lifespan and spatial memory.
Since transferring to SDSU, Shannon has exemplified terrific leadership skills on campus. She is in her 2nd semester serving as the PsyMORE (Psychology Mentor, OutReach and Education) Director of Outreach. In this role she performs outreach at community colleges around the San Diego area, helping students with the transfer process. She also works as a Peer Adviser in the Psychology Undergraduate Advising and loves helping students with their academic questions. She recently helped to reinstate the SDSU Neuroscience Club to an active status and is helping to get this club up and running, as acting President. Shannon is also the Scholarship Chair for the Mortar Board honor society and the Secretary for Golden Key honor society. She is an active member of the Pacific Islander Student Association (PISA). In her spare time, Shannon loves to cook, run and spend time with her husband and two dogs. Shannon is passionate about research and will be pursuing a doctoral degree in Neuropsychology. She is graduating in spring of 2017 and will be applying to graduate programs in fall of 2016.
ILEX BELTRAN-NAJERA, Psychology
IMSD Mentor: Claire Murphy, Ph.D.
Ilex Beltran-Najera joined the IMSD program in July of 2016 as a Psychology major. Her research interests include learning about aging, memory, dementia, and exploring the umbrella of neurodegenerative diseases. She has been working under Dr. Claire Murphy in the Lifespan and Human Senses Lab where she has been analyzing correlations between the APOE4 allele, sensory perception, and Alzheimer’s Disease alongside graduate students. Her research includes implementation of Neuropsychological battery using standardized measures such as the Mini Mental State Exam, Dementia Rating Scale, and Odor/Color discrimination tasks along with electrophysiological assessment such as EEG recordings. In addition to conducting EEG recordings she has become proficient in fMRI data processing which has led to Ilex’s most recent research using imaging techniques from these fMRI scans to analyze correlations between the hunger and satiety hormones, Leptin and Ghrelin, and the role obesity plays in cognitive function/decline. By understanding Leptin and Ghrelin’s effects on the pleasure pathways of the brain we can analyze its roles in obesity, cognitive decline, and the possible progression of neurodegeneration leading to Alzheimer’s Disease.
Outside of school Ilex has been a volunteer and intern for Alzheimer’s San Diego since November of 2015 where she has become a part of the Alzheimer’s community volunteering on weekends and doing in-home visits for families during the week. She plans on graduating in Spring of 2018 and continuing her research with neurodegenerative diseases through a PhD in Psychology with an emphasis in Neuropsych. Her goal is to ultimately become a Neuropsychology professor and researcher or Clinical Neuropsychologist.