Current Students: Academic Year 2017-2018


PRISCILA RODRIGUEZ, Cell and Molecular Biology
IMSD Mentor: Joy Phillips, Ph.D.

Rodrigue, Priscila
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.

TOBIAS HERNANEZ QUEVEDO, Cell and Molecular Biology
IMSD Mentor: Sandy Bernstein, Ph.D.


Tobias joined IMSD in the summer 2017, and his future goals include graduating from SDSU in the Spring of 2018 with a B.S. degree in Molecular and Cell biology and continuing onto a Ph.D program. In the past, Tobias was involved in Bridges to the Baccalaureate at SDSU and is currently participating in the Faculty-Student Mentorship Program (F-SMP). Tobias is an undergraduate researcher in Dr. Sanford Bernstein’s lab where the lab focuses on the investigation of gene expression and protein function in muscle cells using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as our model organism. He is working on developing chimeric UNC-45 fusion constructs. UNC45 is hypothesized to have a chaperone function that assists in myosin folding and assembly during muscle development. Homologs of UNC45 have been identified in a wide range of eukaryotic organisms such as Drosophila melanogaster and mammals. Previous work in the lab has shown that expression of either human isoform in the indirect flight muscle (IFM) of flies disrupts flight ability. These constructs will be used to make transgenic flies with expression of the UNC45 chimeric constructs regulated by the GAL4-UAS system. These chimeric UNC45 constructs will allow us to investigate each domain individually by looking at the interaction of the human UNC45A and UNC45B fusion proteins during Drosophila muscle development.

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.


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.


TAMMY PHAM, Chemistry
IMSD Mentor: Diane Smith, Ph.D.

Tammy Pham, IMSD Scholar, Chemistry major

Tammy Pham is a chemistry major at San Diego State University and joined the IMSD program spring of 2017. She is currently working in an electrochemistry laboratory under the guidance of Dr. Smith. Tammy first joined Dr. Smith’s lab in fall of 2016 as an undergraduate. In the lab, she does cyclic voltammetry to see the electron transfer, proton transfer, and hydrogen bonding chemistry that happens within the molecule. Additionally, she adds different “guest” to see if the chemistry changes among the molecule. This allows her to predict the different mechanistic path that can happen. In addition, Tammy also mentors freshmen commuters as well as provide tutoring at San Diego State University. Tammy’s plan is to graduate in May of 2018 and pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry.  

IMSD Mentor: Douglas Grotjahn, Ph.D.

Esteban is currently working in Dr. Grotjahn’s lab where he is conducting organometallic chemistry research. Specifically, he is working to develop Z-alkene isomerization catalysts. There are not many effective and efficient catalysts of this sort. Synthesizing these catalysts will help in better understanding the mechanism by which these catalysts function. Doing so may enable us to efficiently synthesize a family of these catalysts, which is important since (Z) alkenes are present in the structures of an array of natural products and medicines, including Oximidine III and (+)- Peloruside, respectively.

Esteban is currently conducting this line of research to help one day synthesize novel anticancer agents as an MD/PhD educated cancer researcher and oncologist. Esteban hopes to be accepted into Stanford’s MD/PhD program, where he will conduct medicinal chemistry research in the field of cancer. His ultimate goal is to synthesize novel cancer treatments that are effective, safe, affordable, and accessible to anyone, especially those who are underrepresented and underprivileged, who needs them. 

IMSD Mentor: Jeffrey Gustafson, Ph.D.

Gregory joined the IMSD program in the Summer of 2017 and is currently working on his Bachelor’s degree in biochemistry at San Diego State University. He has previously worked in the Carrano group where he was trained in measuring Iodide concentrations of seawater via square wave stripping voltammetry. However, Greg soon found his passion in organic chemistry and joined the Gustafson group in January 2017. He is specifically working on a project that utilizes a cinchona alkaloid based catalyst to facilitate a nucleophilic dynamic kinetic resolution of biaryl naphthoquinones. Inspired by his work on asymmetric catalysis; Gregory plans to attend graduate school in pursuit of a Ph.D. in organic chemistry following his graduation in May 2018.

IMSD Mentor: Byron Purse, Ph.D.

I joined the IMSD program in the summer of 2017 and I am currently working towards my Bachelor’s degree in chemistry. I have been working in Dr. Purse’s lab for one year, mainly focusing on the supramolecular project. My project involves synthesizing a modified version of the pyrogallol[4]arene capsules, and most recently guest/host exchange studies with the Ball Mill method. Working in the Purse group has inspired me to pursue a PhD in organic chemistry after graduation in the spring of 2018.

AMY JACKSON, Chemistry
IMSD Mentor: Jeffrey Gustafson, Ph.D.

Amy joined the IMSD program in the 2017 Fall semester. She is a transfer student working towards her Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry at SDSU. Her passion for organic chemistry was inspired by Dr. Jeff Gustafson’s Chem 432 class and she joined his lab in October, 2016. Currently, her research focuses on the multi-step synthesis of a cinchona alkaloid-based catalyst library. These small molecule catalysts are used to catalyze the methylation of a diaryl ether napthoquinone scaffold in order to rigidify a naturally interconverting axis, and reduce steric strain. In the phenomenon known as atropisomerism, the purpose is to design a catalyst with the most efficient functional groups in order to obtain a methylated product with enantiomeric excess values greater than 85%. She is planning to begin her Ph.D. in Chemistry in the Fall of 2018.

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: Jeffrey Gustafson, Ph.D.

Faith Aynekulu is currently working on her bachelor’s degree in chemistry and minoring in Leadership. Her research interest is in medicinal chemistry particularly the atropselective synthesis of kinase inhibitors. In her current project, NHE-1 Stapled Peptides, she is contributing to the development of alternative stapling method that will utilize less expensive reagents and linkers. The traditional method of stapling peptides then stapling chemistry is cost prohibitive. This method will avoid the use of non-natural amino acids. Faith synthesizes different kinds of aryl linkers that will be used for the stapling purposes. She plans on attending a Ph.D. program in organic chemistry in Fall 2018.


IMSD Mentor: Claire Murphy, Ph.D.

Ilex Beltran-Najera, Psychology scholar

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.

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.

ELLYN “ELLY” PUESCHEL, Psychology, Minor in Statistics and Interdisciplinary Studies
IMSD Mentor: Inna Fishman, Ph.D.

Elly Pueschel is a third year student at SDSU. She is a psychology major, a statistics minor, and an interdisciplinary studies minor. Elly is a member of SDSU’s Weber Honors College, and over the course of her time at SDSU she has also gained membership with the Psi Chi international Honor society, and the Society for Neuroscience. Elly has been a member of the SDSU Brain Development Imaging lab for almost two years. She has worked on multiple projects, with her main research focus being the study of atypical sensory processing in children with autism spectrum disorders. Currently, she is under the mentorship of Dr. Inna Fishman and together they are developing a project to study sensory processing abnormalities in toddlers with autism spectrum disorders. She is also finishing a project funded by the Autism Science Foundation in which she is combining images from existing brain atlases to create a template of the typically-developing infant brain so that it can be compared to the brains of infants at risk for autism. Elly plans to graduate in May 2018 and pursue a Ph.D. in clinical or experimental psychology.

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.


ADRIAN RIVERA, Aerospace Engineering
IMSD Mentor: Satchi Venkataraman, Ph.D.


Adrian Rivera is a Aerospace Engineering Major and has been an IMSD scholar since the fall of 2016. His current research is on detection of damage in composite laminates using electrical topography. He is in charge of designing the test profiles and the circuit schematics to run compression tests on multi-directional carbon fiber laminates. This includes preparation of the composite materials with a chemical work-up and the installation of silver-epoxy electrodes.

Previous research, funded by the Office of Naval Research and Technology, was on bearing failure of composite laminate joints to better understand the life-cycles of F-16 composite parts. He facilitated in the testing of several joints on different bearing load fixtures, while also providing the microscopy imaging that identified the failure modes occurring in the composite joint Adrian also participated in the construction of SDSU Structures Lab fixture for testing Naval Battleship exterior hull panels. This fixture will open future research opportunities for both the Civil and Aerospace Engineering Departments in both the government and private sectors.


SHANE WITSELL, Electrical Engineering
IMSD Mentor: Reza Sabzehgar, PhD

Shane Witsell, BEP Scholar, by Engineering building

Shane Witsell is a Electrical Engineering major and began the IMSD program in August 2015. He is currently working in Dr. Sam Kessegne’s Micro Electromechanical Systems Laboratory (MEMS) in the Department of Mechanical Engineering investigating the detection of various electro-chemical interactions in both the brain and spinal cord . Specifically, Shane is working on  the design, fabrication, and testing of multi site Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) devices used for the detection and stimulation of the central nervous system specifically 5Ht detection in the spinal cord. Shane is also specialized in the lithography fabrication and coventorware design methods of these chips as well as the electrochemical and electrophysiological detection uses of said devices.

In the past, Shane has worked on a wide range of projects in various disciplines of neuroscience and electrical engineering. As the Vice President of The San Diego State Student Chapter of The Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers Shane has been involved in various projects such as: The formation of Aztec Aeronautical Integrated Robotics (AIR), Director Assistant for the first bi-anual hackathon. Shane is also the Vice President of The San Diego State University Student Chapter of The Engineers Without Borders, where under the leadership of Donovan Giger he is an ongoing member of the humanitarian projects working in Nicaragua, Agua Fira, and Mesa Grande. Shane strides to further his curiosity regarding the electrical interactions and uses of the both the micro and macroscopic worlds with his innovative approach to engineering, science, and technology.


KRISTINE DINH, Statistics with emphasis in Actuarial Science, Minor in Interdisciplinary Studies
IMSD Mentors: Giang Thuy Pham, Ph.D. and Chii-Dean Lin, Ph.D.

Kristine DInh, Stats Major, IMSD

Kristine Dinh joined the IMSD program in Spring 2017 as a statistics major. She is currently working at Dr. Pham Giang’s Bilingual Development in context lab to investigate language development among bilingual children, especially children who primarily speak Vietnamese and Spanish and learning English in their early childhood. Kristine uses a Dynamic Systems to examine interactions between first and second languages, cognitive, and social systems across timescales and ability and disability levels. She works particularly in assisting Dr. Pham to create new examination tasks that are available in other languages but Vietnamese, transcribe children’s audio, and collect data by giving children language tasks and interviewing parents. Through IMSD, it is possible for me to explore interdisciplinary projects between Speech Language Hearing Sciences and Math/Statistics. She looks forwards to work with Dr. Chii-Dean Lin in his statistics lab to focus more on longitudinal data analysis, statistical computing, and statistical methods in clinical trials.

Kristine has taken leadership position in both on campus and the community. She is a sophomore SURGE mentor who assists sophomores at SDSU with significant important information and resources needed during the sophomore year. She also volunteers to teach Vietnamese and Catechism and serves as a youth leader at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church every weekend.


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 double minor in Counseling and Social Change and 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 code-switching, translation equivalents, and how these relate 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 developmental psychology 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.

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