MOSAIC Scholars

Ayobami Akenroye, M.D., M.P.H.

Project Title: Synthesizing Trial and Real-World Data on the Use of Biologics in Patients with Severe Asthma
Institution: Johns Hopkins University
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities
Grant ID: K99MD015767
MOSAIC Scientific Society: AAMC

Ayobami Akenroye grew up in Ile Ife, Nigeria, where she graduated at the top of her medical school class prior to arriving in the U.S. to pursue an M.P.H. from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. She is a trained internist and allergist/immunologist. Her research interests include generalization of trial findings to individualscommonly racial and ethnic minoritiesunderrepresented in trials. Dr. Akenroye is also interested in career transitions from clinical fellowships to faculty, especially for individuals underrepresented in academia. She has been involved in multiple initiatives for minorities, andlooks forward to continuing as a role model and mentor to undergraduate and postdoctoral trainees.


Lillian Brady, Ph.D.

Project Title: Sex Differences in Cholinergic Regulation of Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor Modulation of Local Nucleus Accumbens Circuitry Underlying Motivation
Institution: Vanderbilt University
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute on Drug Abuse
Grant ID: K99DA052641
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASBMB

Lillian Brady's interest in science began while growing up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and intensified after her family moved to Jackson, Mississippi, where she participated in her first research laboratory experience while still in high school. She received a full academic scholarship to Alcorn State University in Mississippi, graduating with a B.S. in chemistry and then an M.S. in biotechnology. Dr. Brady earned her Ph.D. in cell, molecular, and developmental biology, with a concentration in neurobiology, from the University of Alabama at Birmingham before entering Vanderbilt University as an Academic Pathways Postdoctoral Fellow in the department of pharmacology and the Vanderbilt Center for Addiction Research. Her current research focuses on sex differences in cholinergic regulation of dopamine release mechanisms underlying reward learning as it relates to substance use disorder. She has been active in numerous activities within her department to promote diversity, including serving as the co-chair of the Inaugural Gathering of Pharmacology and Cell Signaling Researchers postdoctoral seminar series, and is an active member of her department's diversity, equity, and inclusion committee. Dr. Brady has consistently volunteered with local organizations throughout her career to promote STEM education to middle and high school students and truly enjoys the time she spends mentoring and training undergraduate students. She hopes to continue these efforts as an independent investigator.


Elizabeth Brown, Ph.D.

Project Title: The Neural Basis for Aging-Dependent Decline in Taste Function
Institution: Florida Atlantic University
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute on Aging
Grant ID: K99AG071833
MOSAIC Scientific Society: AAMC

Elizabeth Brown grew up in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and became interested in research as an undergraduate volunteer in a lab at Florida State University. There, she received her B.S. degree in anthropology and then went on to receive her Ph.D. in biological sciences at the University of Cincinnati. Dr. Brown is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Texas A&M University, where her current research interests broadly focus on understanding the genetic and neural circuits that regulate chemosensory function. As the first person in her family to graduate college, Dr. Brown is committed to advocating for and mentoring trainees from disadvantaged and underrepresented backgrounds.


Jenna R. Christensen, Ph.D.

Project Title: Evolution of Cargo Transport
Institution: The University of California, San Diego
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences
Grant ID: K99GM140269
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASCB

Jenna R. Christensen grew up in Overland Park, Kansas, and received her B.A. in molecular biology from William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri. She received her Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology from the University of Chicago and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California (UC), San Diego. Her research is focused on understanding when and why different organisms use different modes of microtubule-based transport. Dr. Christensen has been active in mentoring and integrating undergraduate students, specifically those historically excluded from the biological sciences, into her research through both the Faculty Mentor Program and Biology Undergraduate and Master’s Mentorship Program at UC San Diego.


Leah A. Gates, Ph.D.

Project Title: Integration of Metabolism and Chromatin in Regulating Gene Expression In Vivo
Institution: Rockefeller University
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences
Grant ID: K99GM143550
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASCB

Leah A. Gates grew up in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, and developed a strong interest in science during childhood. Her research experiences at the University of Minnesota during her undergraduate and master’s studies cemented her interest in research, particularly in molecular biology. Dr. Gates received her Ph.D. at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, in the lab of Bert W. O’Malley, and she is currently pursuing her postdoctoral studies at Rockefeller University in New York, in the lab of C. David Allis. Her research focuses on how metabolism regulates the chromatin landscape and impacts gene expression. Dr. Gates has been committed to diversity through both advocacy and mentorship activities, in part through serving on the Rockefeller Inclusive Science Initiative and on the executive board of the Postdoctoral Association. She is committed to continuing activities to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion during her transition to independence and beyond.


Junior Gonzales, Ph.D.

Project Title: Development of Multimodal Agents from Natural Spider Peptides for Prostate Cancer via Sodium-Channel NaV1.7
Institution: Sloan Kettering Institute of Cancer Research
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences
Grant ID: K99GM145587
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASBMB

Junior Gonzales was born in the Amazon rainforest of Iquitos, Peru, and grew up in Bushwick, Brooklyn. He attended Queensborough Community College, majoring in chemistry. He then became a Maximizing Access to Research Careers award scholar, continuing his education at Hunter College of the City University of New York (CUNY), where he received his B.A. degree in biochemistry. In 2017, he obtained his Ph.D. in chemistry from the Graduate School and University Center of CUNY. Dr. Gonzales sees promoting diversity as an equalizer of merit, and he motivated minority students through teaching chemistry at a community college. Now a research associate in the radiology department of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, he works with fluorescent and radioactive synthetic probes to image the peripheral nervous system and/or cancer. Dr. Gonzales has started efforts to build a bio-natural laboratory to support minority students on their way to becoming scholars.


Cassandra K. Hayne, Ph.D.

Project Title: Structural and Functional Characterization of Pontocerebellar Hypoplasia Associated Nucleases
Institution: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences
Grant ID: K99GM143534
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASBMB

Cassandra K. Hayne’s interest in science grew from her experiences as a childhood cancer survivor. She received her B.S. in biology and B.A. in biochemistry from the University of Northern Iowa before completing her Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, where she studies RNA processing factors that are linked to a rare neurodevelopment and neurodegenerative disease. Dr. Hayne has been actively involved in leadership activities, community outreach, and mentorship to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the biomedical sciences. She loves sharing her science through outreach activities, particularly those aimed at making meeting a scientist accessible to all students across North Carolina. She is also actively mentoring students, including many from underrepresented backgrounds. Dr. Hayne looks forward to continuing and growing these skills and activities through the MOSAIC program and in her future research group.


Alfa Herrera, Ph.D.

Project Title: Small Host GTPases: Direct Targets of Vibrio vulnificus MARTX Toxin Effectors
Institution: Northwestern University at Chicago
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Grant ID: K99AI167819
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASBMB

Alfa Herrera was raised in Rock Island, Illinois. After high school, she enrolled at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and worked in the lab of Dr. Rachel Whitaker, which incited her fascination for microbiology and its involvement in everyday life. She then received a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa where her studies in the lab of Dr. Patrick Schlievert focused on the S. aureus ß-toxin and its role in infective endocarditis. Dr. Herrera is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University in the lab of Dr. Karla Satchell, where she is working on characterizing the function and mechanism of action of the Vibrio vulnificus MARTX-toxin MCF effector. V. vulnificus rapidly causes severe and life-threatening infections, and understanding its toxins may help develop therapeutics. Dr. Herrera hopes to use her findings and project she has developed to start her own independent research group. She has been and is committed to continuing as a mentor for future scientists—in particular, for women and minorities. In her own research group she plans on working with scientists from a wide variety of backgrounds to promote their inclusion and equality in science.


Cristal M. Hill, Ph.D.

Project Title: Dietary Protein Restriction Remodels Adipose Tissue to Defend Against Age-Related Metabolic Decline
Institution: LSU Pennington Biomedical Research Center
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute on Aging
Grant ID: K99AG070273
MOSAIC Scientific Society: AAMC

Cristal M. Hill grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, with ambitions in veterinary medicine, but a strong interest in endocrine diseases developed while working at a local veterinary clinic during high school. Dr. Hill received her B.S. and M.S. degrees in animal sciences from Tuskegee University, with a thesis centered on inflammatory responses during cardiovascular disease. She then moved to Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, where she earned a Ph.D. in molecular biology, microbiology, and biochemistry under the direction of Dr. Andrzej Bartke. Her training included a heavy focus on the mechanisms of biological aging. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where her research focuses on the effect of dietary protein restriction on the cellular and molecular changes in adipose tissue that impact metabolic health during aging. Dr. Hill’s commitment to fostering diversity includes teaching at all levels and mentoring undergraduates at various minority-serving institutions. She has held the positions of trainee vice-chair and secretary of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Opportunities Committee of the American Aging Association trainee chapter, and is now its co-chair. Dr. Hill continues to support diversity by endorsing an environment of institutional inclusion in the biomedical research workforce for individuals from underrepresented backgrounds.


Anel A. Jaramillo, Ph.D.

Project Title: Neuropeptide-Dependent Parabrachial Control of the BNST During Alcohol Abstinence-Induced Negative Affect
Institution: Vanderbilt University
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Grant ID: K99AA029467
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASCB

Anel A. Jaramillo is the daughter of Mexican immigrants, and she was raised in a diverse urban community in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Jaramillo found an outlet for her curiosity in science while doing addiction neuroscience research at the University of Texas at Austin. Following her newfound interest in the alcohol research field, she attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and obtained her Ph.D. in neuroscience. Currently, Dr. Jaramillo continues her biomedical training as a postdoctoral scholar at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Her research focus is to understand how neurocircuits integrate stress and negative affective states during alcohol abstinence. Additionally, Dr. Jaramillo’s cultural and economic backgrounds provide her with a deep understanding of the barriers that underrepresented scientists face when navigating a biomedical career. Thus, she holds leadership positions and regularly participates in outreach and mentorship opportunities to encourage the retention of diverse scientists.


John R. Jimah, Ph.D.

Project Title: Structural Basis of Dynamin-Mediated Membrane Fission, Actin Bundling and Interaction with Binding Partners
Institution: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences
Grant ID: K99GM140220
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASBMB

John R. Jimah grew up in Ghana and moved to the U.S. to attend college. He earned his B.A. in molecular biology from Colgate University in Ithaca, New York, and his Ph.D. in biology and biomedical sciences from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, as a fellow of the Chancellor’s Graduate Fellowship Program. He is currently a Nancy Nossal postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Jenny Hinshaw at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Dr. Jimah's research focuses on determining the molecular mechanism of membrane remodeling processes in human cells and eukaryotic parasites primarily using structural biology (cryo-electron microscopy and X-ray crystallography), cell biology, and biophysical approaches. He has also been active in promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in biomedical research and was part of a group of trainees who started the TREaDS (Trainees Recognizing Excellence and Diversity in Science) seminar series within the NIDDK intramural research program.


Barbara Juarez, Ph.D.

Project Title: Dopamine Circuit Regulation of Morphine Reinforcement Across the Opioid Exposure Cycle
Institution: University of Washington
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute on Drug Abuse
Grant ID: K99DA054265
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASCB

Barbara Juarez is a neuroscientist interested in understanding the neural basis of affective disorders. She was born in Miami, Florida, and attended Florida International University for her B.S. degree in biological sciences. She was selected to participate in Icahn School of Medicine’s Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program in New York City, where she then enrolled in graduate school. Dr. Juarez led investigations that helped explain how the brain’s dopamine system regulates individual behaviors. She now conducts her postdoctoral research at the University of Washington in Seattle and has been an advocate for initiatives that promote diversity, inclusivity, and equity in academia throughout her research tenure.


Agnes Karasik, Ph.D.

Project Title: The Role of Host mRNA Cleavage by RNase L in Viral Infections
Institution: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Grant ID: K99GM143484
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASCB

Agnes Karasik grew up in Hungary and developed an interest for molecular biology when she was 14 years old. She graduated from Eötvös Loránd University and completed her M.Sc. thesis research on the working mechanism of a subset of ABC transporters at the Institute of Enzymology in Hungary. Then, she moved to the U.S., where she obtained her Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. During her Ph.D., she characterized a novel group of precursor tRNA processing enzymes from various eukaryotic organisms in the laboratory of Dr. Markos Koutmos. Currently, Dr. Karasik is a fellow at the NIGMS Postdoctoral Research Associate Training Program and works in the laboratory of Dr. Nicholas Guydosh. Her research focuses on the role of an antiviral factor (Ribonuclease L) in protein translation and cell physiology. Additionally, she is devoted to enhancing diversity through mentoring and advocating for changes that benefit underrepresented persons at her institute.


Andrew Kekupa‘a Knutson, Ph.D.

Project Title: Epigenetic Regulation of the Hypoxic Response in the Mouse Heart
Institution: University of Hawai'i at Manoa
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences
Grant ID: K99GM145410
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASCB

Andrew Kekupa'a Knutson was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. He became interested in science during high school through a unique program that integrated the scientific method and with traditional knowledge of Hawaiian medicinal plants. After high school, he earned a B.S. in biology from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and a Ph.D. in molecular, cell, and developmental biology from the University of California at Santa Cruz. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, where he uses mouse genetics and next-generation sequencing technologies to study chromatin factors in the mouse heart. Dr. Knutson has worked with the Hawai'i Academy of Science, serving as a head judge for high school science fairs and symposia. Acknowledging his deep connection to Hawaii’s people, history, and culture, he hopes to give back to his community through various outreach activities. One goal is to develop a series of workshops for Hawaiian immersion schools that teaches genetics through an Indigenous lens using Hawaiian concepts and language.


Theresa B. Loveless, Ph.D.

Project Title: Deep Cell History Tracking: Engineering Cells That Write Their Detailed Life Stories Into Their DNA to Study DNA Damage
Institution: University of California, Irvine
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences
Grant ID: K99GM140254
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASCB

While attending high school in Phoenix, Arizona, Theresa B. Loveless found out that the growth and behavior of multicellular organisms can be explained by chemical reactions occurring in cells, and has been primarily interested in biology ever since. From then through to the end of her Ph.D., she studied basic cell and molecular biology, with a focus on how cells respond to DNA damage. As a postdoc, she has turned to synthetic biology, making "cellular flight recorders" that convert transient events in a living cell into permanent records in the cell's DNA. A disabled scientist, Dr. Loveless has ample experience determining which accommodations will make it possible for her to perform her research. Now she works with others in the disability community, pooling their experience and knowledge to make scientific research more accessible to disabled people, who are still significantly underrepresented in STEM.


Josefina Inés del Mármol, Ph.D.

Project Title: Elucidating the Structural Determinants of Odor Specificity in Insect Olfactory Receptors
Institution: Rockefeller University
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
Grant ID: K99DC019401
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASBMB

Josefina Inés del Mármol grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and first developed an interest in science during high school, where she participated in after-school research programs and local biology competitions. She obtained a Licenciatura degree in biology from the University of Buenos Aires and moved to the U.S. to conduct graduate studies at Rockefeller University in New York City, where she obtained a Ph.D. in molecular neurobiology and biophysics in the laboratory of Dr. Roderick MacKinnon. As a postdoctoral associate in the laboratory of Dr. Vanessa Ruta at Rockefeller University, Dr. del Mármol studies the structural mechanisms of odorant recognition by olfactory receptors. She participates in initiatives that aim at improving retention and recruitment of women and historically underrepresented groups in STEM, including volunteering for the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science, mentoring through the ‘Científico Latino’ initiative, and serving as committee member of the Graduate Women in Science Fellowship program. Locally, she has served since 2018 as head of the neuroscience seminars committee at Rockefeller University, where she works to ensure the participation of a diverse group of speakers.


Marco S. Messina, Ph.D.

Project Title: An Activity-Based Biomolecule Labeling Platform for the Imaging of Cells and Tissues Under Oxidative Stress
Institution: University of California, Berkeley
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences
Grant ID: K99GM143573
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASBMB

Marco S. Messina grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas, and became interested in science during his undergraduate organic chemistry courses and laboratory research at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi. He obtained his Ph.D. at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where his research merged synthetic polymer chemistry, main-group chemistry, and organometallic chemistry with an emphasis on biological applications. His ongoing research at the University of California, Berkeley, involves developing molecular probes for the activity-based sensing of reactive oxygen species and small molecules involved in biological signaling and oxidative stress. Throughout his graduate career, Dr. Messina held officer positions in multiple organizations and efforts—such as the Organization for Cultural Diversity in Science and the Scientific Excellence through Diversity Seminar series at UCLA—with the goal of increasing diversity in science. He is currently involved in the Científico Latino Mentorship Program and is excited to continue mentoring and developing programs to promote diversity within STEM and in his independent career.


Laura E. Newman, Ph.D.

Project Title: The role of Mitochondrial/ER Contacts in the Regulation of mtDNA Release from Mitochondria, Innate Immune Signaling, and Responses to Viral Infection
Institution: Salk Institute for Biological Studies
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences
Grant ID: K99GM141482
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASCB

Laura E. Newman grew up in Indiana and discovered her passion for scientific research while volunteering in a research lab during her undergraduate studies in biology at Indiana University Bloomington. She completed her Ph.D. in the biochemistry, cell and developmental biology program at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, California. Her research interests focus on the roles of mitochondria within innate immune signaling pathways. Dr. Newman is an advocate for postdocs and graduate students within her current institution, with an emphasis on diversity and mental health. She has also been active in mentoring students, including those from underrepresented backgrounds, both in the lab and through the Biology Undergraduate and Master’s Mentorship Program at the University of California San Diego. She plans to continue mentoring and advocating for diverse trainees as she transitions to an independent investigator.


Benard Ogola, Ph.D.

Project Title: Interplay of Sex Hormones and Chromosomes in Vascular Oxidative Stress and Arterial Stiffening
Institution: Tulane University
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
Grant ID: K99HL155841
MOSAIC Scientific Society: AAMC

Benard Ogola is a postdoctoral fellow at Tulane University in New Orleans. He currently works under the mentorship of Dr. Sarah Lindsey, an associate professor in the department of pharmacology. He received his B.A. in biochemistry from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, and his Ph.D. in pharmaceutical sciences from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Amarillo. Dr. Ogola’s research focuses on the interplay of sex hormones and sex chromosomes in vascular oxidative stress and arterial stiffening. As a MOSAIC scholar, he is dedicated to promoting diversity in biomedical research by mentoring students from underrepresented backgrounds in the challenges and successes of basic research. Dr. Ogola plans to continue engaging with minorities through his transition to academic independence.


Caroline B. Palavicino-Maggio, Ph.D.

Project Title: Unraveling the Neural Basis of Female Aggression and Dementia-Related Aggression: A Systems Biology Approach
Institution: Harvard Medical School
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences
Grant ID: K99GM141449
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASCB

Caroline B. Palavicino-Maggio grew up in Washington Heights in New York City, and her scientific curiosity began by observing insectsspecifically how cockroaches lived in social groups and why they were most active at night. As she grew older, these interests remained prominent, and ultimately matured into a deep-rooted curiosity for understanding the neural circuits that mediate complex behaviors. At 13 years old, she experienced a life-altering event when her sister died by suicide. She began to seek out an explanation for this apparently inexplicable event, which focused her scientific interest in studying neural circuits of human behaviors, specifically to investigate what happens in the brain during these acts of self-aggression. She received her B.S. degree in behavioral neuroscience from Rider College in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, and her Ph.D. in neuropharmacology and neurophysiology from Rutgers University, New Jersey Medical School as an Alfred P. Sloan scholar. Her current research focuses on understanding the neural basis of female aggression and its relevance in psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases. Dr. Palavicino-Maggio has been consistently involved in activities to promote diversity in many K-12, undergraduate, and graduate pipeline outreach programs. Her latest project includes the creation of a mini-Ph.D. program, whereby middle and high school students from underserved communities in the local Boston area complete independent science projects and publish their results in a peer-reviewed journal. She also serves on various diversity committees at Harvard University Medical School and plans to continue promoting diversity in the sciences as a future independent investigator.


Mallory A. Perry, Ph.D., R.N.

Project Title: Pediatric Recovery After Sepsis Treatment in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit
Institution: Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences
Grant ID: K99GM145411
MOSAIC Scientific Society: AAMC

Mallory A. Perry grew up in Connecticut, where she developed her inquisitive nature and love for science. She found her passion as a pediatric critical care nurse in Hartford, caring for children and their families in their most vulnerable and life-changing moments. These experiences led her to pursue a Ph.D., for which she examined the underlying biopsychosocial factors associated with the transition from acute to chronic pain in children recovering from spinal surgery. Her current postdoctoral research focuses on the outcomes of children who survive critical illness in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). As a MOSAIC scholar, Dr. Perry aims to explore the potential association of inflammation in post-PICU physical outcomes, especially in children who survive sepsis. She is committed to advancing science and increasing diversity in all its forms. Mentorship has been pivotal in Dr. Perry’s career; as such, giving back is foundational. She has served as a mentor to diverse biomedical students, including nurses interested in research and pediatric critical care, where diversity is greatly needed.


Elias Picazo, Ph.D.

Project Title: Strategic Molecular Activations for the Selective Synthesis of 2-Deoxy-Beta-Glycosides, and for the Synthesis of Novel Donor-Acceptor Stenhouse Adducts
Institution: Harvard University
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences
Grant ID: K99GM140070
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASBMB

Elias Picazo grew up in California’s Central Valley. He received his B.S. in chemistry with a minor in mathematics as a Leadership Excellence through Advanced Degrees scholar at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Dr. Picazo then received his Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) as an NIH predoctoral fellow. His doctoral studies primarily focused on the total synthesis of complex natural products. Recently, he began his postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he is developing new organocatalytic reactions. His activities to promote diversity have included serving UCLA’s Organization for Cultural Diversity in Science as the social chair, and sustaining community connections to introduce students from underrepresented groups to scientific careers, and Dr. Picazo plans to continue these efforts as a professor of chemistry.


Iris Nira Smith, Ph.D.

Project Title: Unraveling the PTEN Interactome: Modeling Structural and Functional Dynamic Network Architecture for Therapeutic Modulation in Cancer and Autism
Institution: Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine - CWRU
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences
Grant ID: K99GM143552
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASBMB

Although Iris Nira Smith developed an interest in science at a young age while growing up in Houston, Texas, it wasn’t until she was personally affected by endometriosis at the age of 19 that her passion for scientific research began. She received both her B.S. and Ph.D. in Biochemistry with an emphasis in computational biophysics at the University of Houston, where her research on the structure-function mechanism of PTEN somatic mutations leading to endometriosis and cancer was supported by the NIH NRSA F31 Pre-Doctoral Research Fellowship. A serendipitous encounter with her current mentor Dr. Charis Eng led her to the Genomic Medicine Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, OH. Her research currently investigates the structure-function mechanism of germline PTEN mutations which can lead to different outcomes such as cancer, the seemingly disparate autism spectrum disorder, or sometimes both. Committed to enhancing diversity in STEM, Iris has led STEM outreach and mentoring programs throughout her scientific career, including a Cleveland Clinic-wide outreach initiative with the Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services for underprivileged, at-risk children and teens. She plans to continue her outreach and mentorship efforts to individuals in STEM from disadvantaged backgrounds as an independent researcher through the training she receives as a MOSAIC K99/R00 scholar.


Yadira M. Soto-Feliciano, Ph.D.

Project Title: Understanding Mechanisms of Transcriptional Regulation by Chromatin Adaptor Proteins
Institution: Rockefeller University
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences
Grant ID: K99GM140265
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASCB

Yadira M. Soto-Feliciano grew up in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico and her first research experience was during her freshman year in college, when she had the opportunity to work in a physical chemistry laboratory. It was there where she learned that a professional career in life and physical sciences was possible. She received her B.S. in chemistry at the University of Puerto Mayagüez as Maximizing Access to Research Careers award scholar and National Science Foundation Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation scholar. She then earned her Ph.D. in biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. Her research focuses on understanding how chromatin and transcriptional regulatory mechanisms maintain tissue homeostasis and how these processes become disrupted during the course of human diseases. Dr. Soto-Feliciano has been active in efforts to promote diversity in science, including mentoring summer students from underrepresented backgrounds while at MIT, by participating in Rockefeller University's RockEDU Science Outreach initiatives. She will continue this work as a MOSAIC scholar.


Nicole R. Sparks, Ph.D.

Project Title: Analysis of Environmentally Sensitive Epigenetic Machinery During Osteogenic Differentiation
Institution: The University of California Riverside
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Grant ID: K99ES032486
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASCB

Nicole R. Sparks is from San Bernardino, California, and the premature birth of her children and family’s smoking history fueled her interest in developmental toxicology. She received her B.S. in biology from La Sierra University in Riverside; her M.Sc. from California State University, San Bernardino (SCUSB), as a California Institute for Regenerative Medicine Bridges scholar; and her Ph.D. in environmental toxicology at the University of California, Riverside (UCR). Dr. Sparks was a recipient of the University of California Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellowship. Her doctoral and postdoctoral research focused on the changes of stem cell fate due to toxicant exposure that associates with skeletal developmental toxicity. Specifically, her findings have uncovered regulatory factorsnecessary for bone differentiationnegatively impacted by compound exposure. Her work has potentially uncovered an underlying mechanism between maternal compound exposure and skeletal birth defects. Dr. Sparks is committed to diversity and inclusion, serving on the Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) committee, and mentoring underrepresented students at UCR and CSUSB. She plans to further promote DEI as a MOSAIC scholar.


Chelsey C. Spriggs, Ph.D.

Project Title: Hijacking Host Cellular Motors for the Nuclear Entry of Polyomaviruses
Institution: University of Michigan
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences
Grant ID: K99GM141365
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASBMB

Chelsey C. Spriggs grew up in Detroit, Michigan, and although her interest in science began through participation in local and state-wide science fairs, it deepened with her first undergraduate research experience. After receiving her B.S. in microbiology from Michigan State University, she went on to earn her Ph.D. in microbiology-immunology from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the department of cellular and developmental biology at the University of Michigan, where her research is focused on understanding the virus-host interactions required for DNA tumor virus entry. Dr. Spriggs has shown a commitment to enhancing diversity in STEM by participating in outreach and mentorship programs and more recently through helping to organize the first Black in Microbiology Week. She plans to continue these efforts as an independent researcher and MOSAIC scholar to create inclusive research environments for all.


Lisandra Vila Ellis, M.D.

Project Title: Mechanism of Pulmonary Endothelial Cell Heterogeneity and Its Role in Disease
Institution: The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
Grant ID: K99HL155845
MOSAIC Scientific Society: AAMC

Lisandra Vila Ellis’ interest in medicine began as a child growing up in Cuba, offering “medical services” to her family and neighbors, such as taking their blood pressure at home. She received her medical degree at Tecnologico de Monterrey, in Monterrey, Mexico, and subsequently completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Her research focuses on the development of blood vessels in the lung, and how the disruption of this process can lead to disease. Dr. Vila Ellis' commitment to diversity has included teaching at an undergraduate institution that serves underrepresented populations, mentoring minority students, and serving as a member of the education committee of the North American Vascular Biology Organization. As a MOSAIC scholar, she is eager to continue championing diversity and inclusion in the scientific community.


Elizabeth V. Wasmuth, Ph.D.

Project Title: Biochemical, Structural and Molecular Dissection of Androgen Receptor Transcriptional Activity
Institution: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Institution
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences
Grant ID: K99GM140264
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASBMB

Elizabeth V. Wasmuth grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey, an urban community rich in ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. She received her B.S. from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, majoring in both animal science, and development sociology, with a focus in inequalities. She received her Ph.D. from the Gerstner Sloan Kettering Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in New York City, employing structural, biochemical, and genetic tools to study fundamental processes related to RNA decay in the lab of Dr. Christopher Lima. She is currently a joint postdoctoral fellow at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center with Dr. Charles Sawyers and at Rockefeller University in New York City with Dr. Sebastian Klinge, where her work explores defining key molecular interactions that influence prostate cancer progression. Throughout her scientific career, Dr. Wasmuth has mentored and performed outreach to individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds, and is excited to further develop these skillsets as a MOSAIC scholar.


Evan J. White, Ph.D.

Project Title: Neuroscientific Exploration of Cultural Protective Factors in American Indians
Institution: Laureate Institute for Brain Research
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities
Grant ID: K99MD015736
MOSAIC Scientific Society: AAMC

Evan J. White is a member of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma and also descendant from the remaining federally recognized bands of Shawneesthe Eastern Shawnee Tribe and Shawnee Tribe. He received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology with an emphasis in quantitative methods at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater and completed his predoctoral clinical internship at the Charleston Consortium in South Carolina. His research focuses on utilizing tools of psychophysiology and neuroscience to understand the neural underpinnings of risk and resilience factors for psychopathology. Dr. White is currently seeking to delineate the neural correlates of the protective role of cultural engagement against poor mental health outcomes among American Indian populations.


Charisse Winston-Gray, M.S., Ph.D.

Project Title: Ethnoracial Impact on Blood-Based Biomarker Detection of Alzheimers in Primary Care Patients
Institution: The University of California, San Diego
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute on Aging
Project ID: K99AG070390
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASCB

Charisse Winston-Gray was raised in Richmond, Virginia, and her first science job was working in a genetics lab at Virginia Commonwealth University during the summer. As she earned her B.S. in biochemistry from the University of Virginia (UVA) in Charlottesville, she volunteered as an emergency medical technician at the Charlottesville fire department, which helped her realize that practicing medicine wasn’t the right path for her but that she wanted to remain in science. So, she began as a technician in an electrophysiology lab at UVA, earned an M.S. in biochemistry at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and furthered her training as a postbaccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award fellow at the National Institute for Mental Health. Dr. Winston-Gray returned to Georgetown to earn her Ph.D. in neuroscience, where she studied molecular mechanism of repeat mild traumatic brain injury. Currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, San Diego, she investigates blood-based biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease. Her passion for science is matched by her drive to cultivate a new generation of future scientists. She routinely mentors undergraduate and graduate students in the lab. Moreover, Dr. Winston-Gray is equally committed to increasing STEM awareness and access to opportunities for underrepresented minorities. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.; serves as the ResearcHER Liaison for The Scholarly Sewist; and regularly volunteers with local organizations that promote STEM activities to middle and high school students.


Velencia J. Witherspoon, Ph.D.

Project Title: Quantitative Characterization of the Extracellular Matrix Components of Connective Tissue: Fingerprinting Macromolecular Components Through Low-Field Magnetic Resonance
Institution:Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences
Grant ID: K99GM140338
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASBMB

Velencia J. Witherspoon fell in love with science's enlightening challenges while completing her secondary education in Jacksonville, Florida, leading her to receive a B.S. in chemical engineering as a Life-Gets-Better scholar at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee. This foundation positioned her to obtain a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of California (UC), Berkeley, where her research concerning molecular motion in adsorbent materials was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Graduate Research Fellowship Program, the UC Chancellor's Fellowship, and the D.A.A.D. (German NSF). Dr. Witherspoon has promoted diversity in STEM fields as an outreach volunteer and coordinator for minority-serving STEM organizations (e.g., National Society for Black Engineers, Black Graduate Engineering and Science Society) and has spent significant time training and actively mentoring undergraduate students. Currently, she is excited to partner with the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology to continue diversifying the landscape of those participating in the biomedical sciences.


Yvon L. Woappi, Ph.D.

Project Title: Delineating Epigenetic Coordination of Regenerative Cell Plasticity
Institution: Brigham and Women's Hospital
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences
Grant ID: K99GM123456
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASCB

Yvon L. Woappi’s passion for life sciences ignited during his childhood in Douala, Cameroon, and was magnified after his family immigrated to Hanover, Pennsylvania, during his middle school years. He went on to receive his B.S in biology at the University of Pittsburgh, and his Ph.D. in biomedical sciences as a Grace Jordan McFadden Fellow at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina. His current research focuses on developing multifunctional gene-editing platforms to understand how epithelial cells epigenetically coordinate with local immunity during tissue repair. Dr. Woappi served on the steering committee for the Maximizing Student Development and Postbaccalaureate Research Education programs as a graduate student and is currently a mentor in the Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences program at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. As an independent investigator, he will continue to lead and promote university-wide efforts to foster diversity, inclusion, and belonging.