Current Students: Academic Year 2015-2016


IMSD Mentor: Kelly Doran, Ph.D.


Andres Bermudez is a fourth-year Biology major and was accepted into the IMSD program in the spring of 2013. He is currently working in the lab of Dr. Kelly Doran, who studies the mechanism by which Group B Streptococcus (GBS) penetrates the blood-brain barrier to cause meningitis. Meningitis is a severe infection of the central nervous system (CNS) and a leading cause of mortality among newborns. Andres’ project focuses on identifying a bacterial factor responsible for causing a disruption in tight junction expression of the specialized endothelial cells that make up the blood-brain barrier (BBB). Tight junction protein complexes maintain BBB structure and function and are crucial for preventing pathogens from accessing our CNS. Better understanding of GBS pathogenesis could lead to the development of therapeutic intervention. Andres is currently in the process of applying for summer research programs and is expected to graduate in May 2016. He also intends on continuing his education towards a Ph.D. in neuroscience so that he may one day be involved with research on Alzheimer’s disease.

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 the effect the transfer of phage-encoded genes has on the evolution of novel pathogens in the environment. Tess’ project investigates the presence of phage-encoded exotoxin genes along the San Diego coast during and after a major rain event. Following a period of heavy rain, a great deal of waste from San Diego County runs off into the Pacific Ocean. Currently, waterway contamination is monitored by cultivation of fecal coliform indicator bacteria. This current method is timely and does not test for any viruses that may be present in the water. Ultimately, Tess’s project aims to develop a molecular test that can be used to more accurately and rapidly test for pathogen presence in recreational waterways. 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.  

Biology (emphasis in Evolution and Systematics)
IMSD Mentor: Todd Reeder, Ph.D.

StevenByrum, IMSD Scholar

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.

Biology (emphasis in Evolution and Systematics)
IMSD Mentor: Marshall Hedin, Ph.D.

Stephanie Castillo, outside photo

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.



ROBERT VASQUEZ, Biochemistry
IMSD Mentor: Douglas Grotjahn, Ph.D.

Robert Vasquez, IMSD Scholar, in front of poster

Robert joined the IMSD program in February 2014 as a Chemistry major with an emphasis in Biochemistry.  He entered Dr. Grotjahns lab in October 2013, when his proposal for Pfizer La Jolla’s Industrial Relations Diversity Research Fellowship in Chemistry was awarded.  He is currently conducting research in Dr. Grotjahn’s lab synthesizing n-heterocyclic carbene/pyridyl ligands that bind to metal centers, testing their ability to selectively oxidize water and organic substrates. Robert’s goal is to earn a Ph.D. in Chemical Biology and projected to  graduate spring 2016.


IMSD Mentor: William Tong, Ph.D.


Megan Murphy is chemistry major and joined the IMSD program March 2015. She has been working with laser optics in Dr. Tong’s laboratory in the Department of Chemistry on nonlinear multi-photon laser wave mixing coupled with non-aqueous capillary electrophoresis to simultaneously determine malachite green (MG), crystal violet (CV), their metabolites leuco-malachite green (LMG) and leuco-crystal violet (LCV) in aquatic environment of fish. Wave mixing offers inherent advantages over conventional methods including zeptomole-level detection and high spatial resolution suitable detecting small changes in analyte properties. The application would allow for better regulation of illegal antibiotics in fisheries known to be carcinogenic for human consumption. This fall Megan will be applying to Doctoral Programs throughout the country. Her goal is to earn a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry and enter the industrial workforce.


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.

AdamPerez, IMSD Scholar

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.

IMSD Scholar, Arianna Ayonon, in chemistry lab

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.


IMSD Mentor: Byron Purse, Ph.D.

Breanna Canter, IMSD Scholar, in lab

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, Chemistry
IMSD Mentor: Michael Bergdahl
Sean Najjar, poster in hand

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.


CARLOS BRAMBILA, Bioengineering
IMSD Mentor: Paul Paolini, Ph.D.


Carlos joined the IMSD program in July of 2013 as an undergraduate in Biology with an emphasis in Bioengineering. Carlos joined Dr. Paul Paolini’s laboratory in the fall of 2012 through the NSF S-STEM program, and is currently conducting his research project in the Paolini laboratory. Dr. Paolini’s laboratory focuses on the mechanics and dynamics of the neonatal rat cardiocyte to further understand the human heart. In the Spring of 2013, Carlos had the opportunity to presented his first research poster at San Diego State University’s Student Research Symposium. The following year in February, he co-presented his current research at the Biophysical Society Meeting in San Francisco, which focuses on creating an open-source, cost effective stimulator to study the comparison of cardiocyte cultures between paced and unpaced cells in order to observe changes in gene and protein expression of myosin isoforms over time. In the summer of 2014, he was accepted in the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN) Research Experience for Undergraduates program and conducted research at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Science under the project title “High-Throughput Drug Screening in vivo Using Droplet Microfluidics” where he presented his work at various conferences in Atlanta, Georgia, Los Angeles, California, and San Antonio, Texas. Carlos is very interested in the application of Bioengineering aspects in his current project at SDSU and plans to focus his research in the field of biomaterials, tissue engineering, and/or biomedical instrumentation. His primary academic goal is to obtain his doctoral degree in Bioengineering or Biomedical Engineering and have a laboratory of his own at a university where students will have the same opportunities as he did: to unfold their passion and potential in the sciences



KAREN KEY, Psychology, minor in Social Work
IMSD Mentor: Allison Vaughn, Ph.D.


Karen D. Key is a Psychology major with a minor in Social Work and began the IMSD program in June 2015. She is working in Dr. Vaughn’s Social Relationship and Health lab since January 2014. Dr. Vaughn’s lab focuses on social relationships, mental and physical health, and stereotypes of sexual minorities. In February 2015, she had the opportunity to co-present her first research poster at the annual Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) convention, where she received the SPSP Diversity Fund Travel Award for Undergraduates. This poster focused on resource effects on in-group boundary formation with regard to sexual identity. In March 2015, she presented her recent research at the San Diego State University’s Student Research Symposium and in May 2015, she co-presented an oral paper as part of a larger symposium at the annual Western Psychology Association convention, which focused on causal attributions towards mental and physical stigmas. Currently, Karen is working on a senior project where she is investigating the effects of perspectives (either individual or social) on affective responses and behavioral intentions towards stigmatized individuals. The results will provide a more thorough understanding of the stigmatization process taking into account the importance of perspective. Understanding these two perspectives will provide an integrated social model that is a necessary step towards breaking down the stigmatization process. With hopes of reducing stigmatization towards individuals with mental and physical disabilities, Karen looks forward to pursuing a doctorate in psychology. Through her involvement in different activities, Karen aspires to become a university professor – conducting research and mentoring diverse students. Karen will be graduating in May of 2016 and will be applying to doctoral programs in Fall of 2015.


JUAN PENA, Psychology & Spanish
IMSD Mentor: Elizabeth Klonoff, Ph.D.

Scholar Juan Pena in Mexico City

Juan Peña is a Psychology and Spanish major and a Latin American Studies minor. Juan began the MBRS/IMSD program in October 2014 and has been working under the mentorship of Dr. Klonoff since Spring 2014. Dr. Klonoff’s lab focuses on research in cultural diversity, tobacco and health. Juan is currently part of Project VOCES, a study of wellbeing among undocumented Latino immigrants living in San Diego, where he was inspired to pursue a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and continue doing research in Latino health disparities including Latino mental health. Juan recently completed his honors thesis on “Prevalence of Traumatic Events and Symptoms among Deportees Living in a Border Community in Mexico.” This summer, Juan participated in USC’s Latino Mental Health International Research Training Program (MHIRT), where he conducted research on caregiver scaffolding in patients with schizophrenia. In the future, he would like to continue researching Latino health disparities including mental health as well as collaborate at an international level in Spanish speaking countries where he can continue doing Latino health disparity research to inform the development of culturally sensitive interventions in the U.S. and in these countries.

Juan will be graduating in May of 2016 and will apply to graduate programs in Fall of 2015.


SHANNON YANDALL DEJESUS, Psychology, minor in Biology and Interdisciplinary Studies
IMSD Mentor: Paul Gilbert, Ph.D.

Shannon Yandall, SRS Presentation

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.


THERESA MORRISON, Applied Math, minor in Physics
IMSD Mentor: Christopher Curtis, Ph.D.

Theresa Morrison, IMSD Scholar, presenting research poster

Theresa Morrison is a senior Applied Mathematics student with a minor in physics and began the IMSD program in April 2015. She is currently working with Dr. Christopher Curtis in the Department of Mathematics on analysing the dynamics of the surface evolution of bilinear shear flows. Inparticular she is studying the surface and internal layers and the creation of nonlinear waves. This work is an important fluid dynamics question because it has an additional layer of complexity because the fluid we are studying has a constant vorticity. This allows our model to better approximate the true dynamics of fluid layers in more complicated systems such as the ocean. This work is going to presented at the Joint Mathematics Meeting in January 2016.

In the 2013-2014 academic year Theresa also worked on a project with Dr. Peter Salamon and Dr. Rebecca Theilmann on the movement of mucus within the lungs with Cystic Fibrosis. This work was peresented at the SDSU SRS in the spring of 2014. In the summer of 2014 Theresa had the opportunity to work at Fairfield University with Dr. Shanon Reckinger studying oceanic overflows. This work was presented at the American Physical Society- Division of Fluid Dynamics and the Joint Mathematical Meeting where she earned the outstanding poster award. In the summer of 2015 Theresa worked at UC Merced with Dr. François Blanchette and Dr. Mayya Tokman studying the use of exponential time integrators in simulating fluid flows.


DIANA LEE,  Applied Mathematics (emphasis in Biology)
IMSD Mentor: Antoni Luque, Ph.D.

Diana is a senior majoring in Applied Mathematics with an emphasis in Biology, and has been with IMSD since September 2015. Currently works in Dr. Antoni Luque’s lab in the mathematics department since summer 2015, her work focuses on the geometry of the capsids of bacteriophages as part of the lab-wide effort to understand the role of these viruses in both marine environments and the human body. Diana comes to SDSU from a long background of corporate experience in data analysis and audit, and is currently researching opportunities for graduate programs that align with her strengths and interest in biomathematics.



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