Current Students


Fetherolf, Tara

MBRS Mentor: William F. Welsh, Ph.D.

Tara joined the IMSD-MBRS program as an astronomy major and math minor in September 2013. She has been working in the Eclipsing Binary Working Group under Dr. William Welsh and Dr. Jerome Orosz since spring 2011, and is finishing her project of accurately measuring the masses and radii of the eclipsing binary star system KIC 8736245. There exists a well-known discrepancy between the masses and radii of low-mass stars, in which the observed radii are larger than predicted. Knowing the masses and radii of the low-mass stars in KIC 8736245 will aid in understanding the nature of the discrepancy. In the summer of 2013, Tara was accepted into the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program at the California Institute of Technology, where she worked with Drs. Heather Knutson, John Asher Johnson, and Avi Shporer. Over the course of the summer, she developed an automated program which modeled the out-of-transit portions of thousands of Kepler transiting planet candidates, and has decided to continue working beyond the original scope of this summer project in order to to analyze the results. By systematically organizing the automated results, interesting systems can quickly be identified and later analyzed in detail. Tara will be graduating with her B.S. in Astronomy in May 2014, and is interested in transitioning into extra-solar planet research in her graduate studies. Her long-term goal is to stay in academia after earning her Ph.D. so she can continue her research as well as teach.


Cable, KatrinaKATRINA CABLE, Cell and Molecular Biology
MBRS Mentor: Ricardo Zayas, Ph.D.

In July 2013, Katrina joined the MBRS/IMSD program as a cell and molecular biology major. She is working in the lab of Ricardo Zayas, Ph.D., where they study the cellular and molecular mechanisms of nervous system regeneration in fresh water planarians Schmidtea mediterranea. Due to the abundance of pluripotent stem cells throughout the body, this model is able to regrow all of its body tissue after injury or amputation. Katrina is currently working on characterizing the patterns of expression and function of the SOX C, SOX H and several WNT genes in this model. Katrina would like to obtain her Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology, specifically in the area of developmental epigenetics. She is interested in understanding the important link of developmental epigenetic markers and disease. She aspires to help develop gene therapies that will ease symptoms of incurable diseases.


Portrait of Marely Hilleger Marely Hilleger, Microbiology
MBRS Mentor: Stanley Maloy, Ph.D.

Marley Hilleger joined IMSD in January 2014. She is a Microbiology major and conducts research in Dr. Stanley Maloy’s lab. The lab investigates the impact of phage-encoded genes on the formation of environmental reservoirs to facilitate the evolution of novel pathogens. Specifically, Marley’s project focuses on phage-encoded antibiotic resistant genes in the environment and in wastewater treatment plants. Marley will graduate in spring 2015 and will be applying to PhD programs this upcoming fall. Her goals include earning a PhD in Biomedical Sciences.




Headshot of Efren Reyes

MBRS Mentor: Kelly Doran, Ph.D.

Efren joined the MBRS program in December 2012. He is a biology major with an honors minor in interdisciplinary studies and conducts research in the laboratory of Dr. Kelly Doran, where the main interest is bacterial pathogens associated with Central Nervous System disease. Specifically, the Doran Lab focuses on the mechanisms by which bacteria penetrate the blood brain barrier to cause meningitis and seeks to identify gene and gene products associated with cellular invasion and characterize host innate immune response to infection. Efren’s project seeks to examine the effect of Group B streptococcus infection on the expression and distribution of the ZO-1 protein, the primary regulatory protein of tight junction formation in the BBB, as well as identify important bacterial factors responsible for BBB breakdown. Efren will apply to PhD programs in Fall 2013 and hopes to work at an academic institution, where he will be able to combine his passions for research and mentoring.


Villanueva, Marlo PhotoMARLO VILLANUEVA, Biology
MBRS Mentor: Natalie Gude, Ph.D.

Marlo joined the MBRS program in December 2013. He is majoring in Biology and conducts research in Dr. Mark Sussman’s laboratory. Marlo entered the Stem Cell and Myocardial Research Laboratory in January 2012, working under the mentorship of Dr. Natalie Gude. Marlo’s main project deals with Notch signaling, which enhances cardiac repair in cardiac progenitor cells. His goal is to earn a Ph.D. in stem cell biology. Marlo will graduate in Spring 2015, and plans on entering a Ph.D. program after earning his B.S.



Posed portrait of Eric LopezERIC LOPEZ, Chemistry
MBRS Mentor: Diane Smith

Eric has been working in the Quinone electrochemistry group in Dr. Diane Smith’s research lab since spring 2013, and joined the IMSD program as a chemistry major in August 2013. Eric primarily conducts cyclic voltammetry experiments to investigate the effects of Hydrogen bonding on the electron transfer mechanism of Vitamin K in organic solvents, particularly dichloromethane and acetonitrile. Eric is scheduled to graduate with a B.S. in Chemistry and ACS certification in May 2015, and plans to pursue a Ph.D. in either chemistry or chemical engineering.


SASHARY RAMOS, Chemistry Sashary Ramos2
MBRS Mentor: William Tong, Ph.D

Sashary joined the IMSD program as a Chemistry major in January 2014. Her research experience began Fall 2011, when she began volunteering in Dr.William Tong’s laser spectroscopy laboratory. The Tong lab uses nonlinear laser wave-mixing spectroscopy paired with capillary electrophoresis for separation and determination of proteins, amino acids, and small molecules. Her current project in the Tong lab focuses on the detection of the p24 antigen, a HIV marker; and CA 15-3, a breast cancer marker. During the summer of 2013, she had the opportunity to conduct research at the University of Michigan under the mentorship of Dr. Gus Rosania; there she used polarization microscopy to characterize fluticasone propionate, an active ingredient in a popular asthma medication. Her goal is to earn a Ph.D. in Chemistry and continue to do research incorporating her two main interests: Chemistry and Physics. Sashary plans on graduating in May 2015 with a B.S. in Chemistry.


MBRS Mentor: Carl Carrano, Ph.D

Jerrell joined the MBRS program in May 2012 as Tisnado Head Shota chemistry major with an emphasis in biochemistry. His adolescent-age interest in the sciences came from his affinity for the traditional white lab coat–and to this day he thinks it looks pretty cool. Jerrell developed a deeper appreciation for the sciences over time, particularly during his junior year as an undergraduate intern at Prometheus Labs, a biotechnology company, where Jerrell entered into his first research position. Here he participated in cancer research focused on further developing proprietary cancer diagnostics instrumentation aimed at identifying various cancer cell phenotypes. Jerrell’s work at Prometheus earned him a competitive scholarship from the Biotech Employee Development Coalition (BEDC) who recognize and support San Diego County students who have demonstrated academic and workplace excellence. Currently, Jerrell is continuing to build his research experience at SDSU in a bioinorganic laboratory with Dr. Carl Carrano, Chair of chemistry department. This project is investigating the effects that an increasingly acidic ocean has upon the iron uptake (and storage and control) by a variety of algal-associated marine bacteria. Insight regarding this interaction is important given the critical role that iron plays as an essential marine micronutrient at all trophic levels. Jerrell intends to graduate from SDSU with a B.S. in BioChemistry with ACS certification and will begin applying for Ph.D. programs in Fall 2013. Summer 2013 Research: Harvard University.


Robert Vasquez, BiochemistryPortrait of Robert Vasquez
MBRS Mentor: Douglas Grotjahn, Ph.D

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 Diversely Research Fellowship in Chemistry was accepted.  He is currently conducting research in Dr. Grotjahn’s lab synthesizing n-heterocyclic carbene/pyridyl ligands that chelate with ruthenium to test their ability to oxidize water and organic substrates using electrochemistry. Robert’s goal is to eventually earn a PhD in biochemisty; he will graduate in the spring of 2016.


AARON WARD, Biochemistry
MBRS Mentor: Tom Huxford, Ph.D

Aaron joined the MBRS program in June 2012. He is biochemistry major and is currently doing research in Dr. Huxford’s lab. Dr. Huxford’s research focuses on the NF-kappaB signal transduction pathway, particularly the structure and function of the IkappaB Kinase complex. Aaron is currently investigating cation binding characteristics of a murine antibody. Aaron’s goal is to earn a PhD. in biochemistry. Aaron will graduate in the spring of 2014, and apply to PhD. programs in the fall of 2013.


Headshot of Carlos BrambilaCARLOS BRAMBILA, Bioengineering
MBRS Mentor: Paul Paolini, Ph.D.

Carlos joined the IMSD-MBRS 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. This laboratory focuses on the mechanics and dynamics of the neonatal rat cardiocyte to further understand human heart. In the Spring of 2013, Carlos presented his first poster on his research done in the laboratory in the Student Research Symposium, titled Rosiglitazone Causes Gene Expression Changes in the Neonatal Rat Cardiocyte. His current project focuses on the comparison of cardiocyte cultures between paced and unpaced cells in order to create a model to observe changes in gene (e.g. neonatal vs. adult isoform) expression during development. Carlos is very interested in the application of bioengineering aspects in this project and plans to focus in the field of prosthetics, and intends to apply for a PhD program in Bioengineering. His prime goals in academics is to obtain his doctoral degree in bioengineering and have a laboratory of his own in a university where students will have the same opportunity, as he did, to unfold their passion and potential for the sciences.


ELIZABETH FORTIN, Mechanical Engineering
MBRS Mentor: Satchi Venkatamaran, Ph.D.

Elizabeth joined the MBRS Program in September 2012. She started working in Dr. Venkataramans’ Aerospace Structures Laboratory in Spring 2012. Over the past summer, Elizabeth participated in the Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies (ASSIST) Research Program for Undergraduates at North Carolina State University, which was funded through the National Science Foundation. There she worked with Dr. Yong Zhu in developing a silver nanowire and polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) based impedance sensor for hydration monitoring. Elizabeth is currently working with Dr. Venkataraman on observing the crushing pattern of the honeycomb core to be used in the tapered region of a sandwich composite. She is looking into applying homogenization methods to obtain the equivalent material properties of the densified honeycomb core. She will graduate in May 2014 with her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and will be applying to Ph.D. programs this fall.



Headshot of RosannaeROSANNAE CHHOUK, Environmental Science and Sociology
MBRS Mentor: Richard Gersberg, Ph.D.

Rosannae Chhouk is a Sociology and Environmental Science major and began the MBRS/IMSD program in September 2011. She is currently working in the laboratory of Dr. Richard Gersberg in the Department of Public Health on measuring pyrethroids, particular bifenthrin and permethrin, in collected stream sediment samples. Understanding this pesticide is critical. They are known to be toxic to non-target invertebrates, like zooplankton, that are beneficial to our environment. To separate the pyrethroids from the sediment, ultrasonificaiton and microwave extraction techniques were used. Samples were processed using the liquid chromatography coupled to a quadrupole mass spectrometer (LC-MS/MS). Parameters were manipulated to promote accurate pyrethroid detection. In summer 2012, Rosannae was granted another excellent opportunity to research aquatic ecosystems at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) as a summer fellow in the Summer Student Fellowship program. At WHO Rosannae worked in the Biology Department in Dr. Donald Anderson’s laboratory and under the direct mentorship of Dr. Michael Brosnahan and Dr. Katherine Hubbard. Her project focused on how advances in remote sensing shape our understanding of harmful algae blooms, particularly through two new developments: the imaging flow cytobot (IFCB) and the environmental sample processor (ESP). Harmful algae blooms (HABs) describe the proliferation of toxic phytoplankton and microalgae that adversely affect our natural resources and public health. Over 12 weeks, she explored how the ESP and IFCB can be used to detect cellular abundance and predict the growth rate of Pseudo-nitzschia seriata and Alexandrium tamarense respectively. Summer 2013 Research: University of Wisconsin-Madison, Integrated Biological Sciences Summer Research Program.


McKinnon, SymoneSYMONE MCKINNON, Psychology
MBRS Mentor: Terry Cronan, Ph.D.

Symone McKinnon joined the MBRS program in June 2013. Symone is a psychology major and has been working in Dr. Terry Cronan’s Health Outcomes Studies Lab since spring 2013. Dr. Cronan’s lab focuses on developing, implementing, and evaluating intervention programs to encourage healthy behaviors among people suffering from chronic diseases. The lab’s current study, entitled Fight FMS, is an intervention-based study which tests the effectiveness of two interventions (education or physical activity) on improving functioning in Fibromyalgia (FMS) patients. As a result of her early research experience in Dr. Cronan’s lab, Symone is now inspired to continue research in graduate school to pursue a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. In this career, she hopes to research ethnic health disparities, work with people suffering from mental health disorders, and develop treatment plans to help people overcome some of these issues. Symone is an EOP student and will graduate in May 2015 with a B.A. in Psychology.

SAVANNA TIERNEY, Psychology, minor in BiologyTierney, Savanna
MBRS Mentor: Paul Gilbert, Ph.D.

Savanna joined the MBRS program in January 2013. She is a psychology major with a minor in biology and currently conducts research at the Center for Healthy Aging and Neurodegenerative Disease Research under the direction of Dr. Paul Gilbert. This lab investigates the effects of neurodegenerative disease on cognition, with a specific focus on memory function. The principal method of her current research is neuropsychological assessment of specific clinical populations, including individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease, as well as cognitively healthy older and young adults. Her projects investigate the impacts these diseases have on daily activities and how to detect age-related changes and deficits earlier in individuals with these conditions. She transferred from San Diego Mesa College in the fall of 2012. As a Bridges to Baccalaureate Scholar, Savanna presented her summer project exploring source memory function in individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students. In the future, she would like to apply her background in biology and physiology to concentrate not only on diagnosis, but also uncovering more information about the etiology of neurodegenerative diseases as well as effective methods of both treatment and prevention. Savanna will graduate in May of 2015 and plans to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical neuropsychology. Summer 2013 Research: University of Oregon SPUR.


DUYEN TRANG, Psychology
BEP Mentor: May Yeh, Ph.D.

Duyen joined the IMSD Program in June 2013 as a psychology major with a minor in statistics. She is currently conducting research at the Child and Adolescent Services Research Center (CASRC) under the mentorship of Dr. May Yeh. The laboratory focuses on examining cognitive match, or agreement, between therapists and clients in psychotherapy. Duyen’s project investigates the relationship between cognitive match and contributing factors (e.g., parent-therapist ethnic match, parent-therapist acculturation match, and acculturation level of parent) that may increase therapeutic alliance between therapists and parents of youths receiving outpatient mental health services. The purpose of this study is to identify and understand factors of cognitive match that may help to increase youths’ therapy attendance, progress, and possibly outcomes. As a former Biomedical Exploratory Program (BEP) Scholar and a current IMSD Scholar, Duyen aspires to pursue a Ph.D. degree in Clinical Psychology to learn more about children’s mental health with an emphasis on cultural issues. Her distal goal is to join academia as a university professor. Duyen will apply to graduate programs in Fall 2014 and earn her B.A. in psychology in Spring 2015.


Annalia Valdivia

MBRS Mentors: Linda Gallo, Ph.D. and Patricia Gonzalez, Ph.D.

Annalia Valdivia joined the MBRS program in July 2012. Annalia is a psychology major and has been working in Dr. Linda Gallo’s research lab over the past year that focuses on health disparities with an emphasis on cardiovascular disease. Specifically, Dr. Gallo’s lab focuses on psychological and social factors in the etiology and course of cardiovascular diseases in three general domains 1) Psychosocial factors and interpersonal experiences in cardiovascular stress responses 2) Psychosocial factors and outcomes in cardiac patient populations and 3) Gender, ethnic, and cultural factors in psychosocial risk processes. Annalia’s ambition is to continue on to graduate school to obtain a Ph.D in Clinical psychology, Counseling, and/or Health psychology. She is involved in clubs/organizations such as Psi Chi, EOP, and Compact Scholar. Also, she enjoys helping the community by doing volunteer work whether it is in San Diego or Tijuana, Mexico. Annalia hopes to gain a great deal of research experience and other important skills that will lead her to her future goals. She will graduate May 2014 with a B.A in Psychology. Summer 2013 Research: University of Arizona: Minority Health Disparities summer program

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