Current Students: Academic Year 2019-2020


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: 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: 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.

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.

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.


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 Giovogue, Psychology
IMSD Mentor: Terry Cronan, Ph.D.



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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