D-SPAN Awardees

The NIH Blueprint and BRAIN Initiative Diversity Specialized Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Advancement in Neuroscience (D-SPAN) Award supports the pre- to post-doctoral transition of diverse graduate students. This two-phase award will facilitate completion of the doctoral dissertation and transition of talented graduate students (F99 phase) to strong neuroscience research postdoctoral positions (K00 phase), and will provide career development opportunities relevant to their long-term career goal of becoming independent neuroscience researchers. Past and present awardees are profiled below.

Cohort 10

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Rifqi Affan
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Rifqi Affan
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Boston University | Sponsors: Ben Scott; Co-Sponsors: Michael Hasselmo & Joseph McGuire

Rifqi O. Affan is a PhD candidate in the Graduate Program for Neuroscience at Boston University and a member of Dr. Ben Scott’s lab in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. He earned a B.A. in Psychology at San Diego State University, where he worked with Dr. Ksenija Marinkovic as a Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) scholar. As an NSF GRFP fellow, he worked with Dr. Marc Howard to study time constants in cortical neurons during motor planning and collaborated with Drs. Adam Charles and Gal Mishne to develop a novel tool for analyzing mesoscale dynamics in the cortex. His dissertation project combines behavioral modeling, cellular-resolution calcium imaging, and chemogenetic manipulations to investigate the role of the retrosplenial cortex in multi-step planning. His ultimate goal is to establish an independent research program to unravel the cellular and circuit-level computations that underlie cognition. As a scientist, Rifqi aims to cultivate a diverse and inclusive training environment for aspiring students and researchers.


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Ismary Blanco
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Ismary Blanco
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Georgetown University | Sponsor: Katherine Conant & Eric Glasgow

Ismary Blanco is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience at Georgetown University (GU). At GU, under the guidance of Dr. Katherine Conant, an expert in metalloproteinases, Ismary’s research focuses on studying how matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9) regulates neuronal population dynamics in the telencephalon of the zebrafish. Specifically, she is interested in deciphering the molecular and functional mechanisms by which MMP-9 inhibition affects learning and memory in the zebrafish. Ismary earned her BA in Biology from Bard College and her MS in Molecular Biology from New York University. After earning her MS, Ismary worked as a Research Technician at Weill Cornell Medicine before applying to GU. Ismary has been funded by various training grants including the Neuronal Injury and Plasticity (NIP) grant and most recently the National Research Service Award (NRSA). Besides research, Ismary is very passionate about proving guidance and mentorship to younger scientists, specifically those of underrepresented backgrounds. She co-founded the graduate student run Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) committee where graduate students from GU mentored underrepresented seniors from Bard College to aid them in their transition to the graduate program/job of interest. A fun fact is that Ismary enjoys drawing Walt Disney characters.


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Adelis Cruz
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Adelis Cruz
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Texas A&M University | Sponsor: Rachel Smith

Adelis Cruz is a Ph.D. candidate in Dr. Rachel Smith’s laboratory in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Texas A&M University. In 2018, she earned her B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of Texas at El Paso where she was awarded the NIH BUILDing SCHOLARS fellowship, which provides research and professional development opportunities for underrepresented minorities. As a BUILD Scholar, she completed a senior thesis investigating a pre-synaptic dopamine mechanism involved in stimulant drug abuse under the mentorship of Dr. Edward Castañeda. Through this work, she developed a passion for addiction neuroscience research, which she has continued as a graduate student by studying the neural circuitry involved in relapse and habitual and compulsive cocaine seeking. Her dissertation research examines the behavioral and neural mechanisms of compulsive cocaine seeking despite negative consequences. Adelis is also devoted to mentorship and promoting diversity in STEM and is an active leader in student organizations in her department, the neuroscience community at Texas A&M, and SACNAS. Her long-term goals include obtaining a tenure-track faculty position where she will establish a laboratory investigating the neural mechanisms of addiction, devote herself to diversity and inclusion efforts, and mentor students with a passion for science.


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Kelvin De Leon
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Kelvin De Leon
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Brown University | Sponsor: Judy Liu

Kelvin Ariel De Leon is a PhD candidate in the Neuroscience Graduate Program at Brown University. Under the mentorship of Dr. Judy Liu, he studies genetic epilepsy using animal models. His dissertation project investigates different patient-specific mutations in the sodium-dependent plasma membrane citrate transporter (SLC13A5) which underlie early infantile epileptic encephalopathy (EIEE). His research characterizes these mutations in SLC13A5 at the behavioral, circuit, and cellular levels, in order to identify mechanisms of pathogenicity for subsequent therapeutic design. Kelvin obtained a B.A. in Psychology at Hunter College, whereas an ENDURE scholar, he gained diverse research experience in a number of neuroscience laboratories. During his ENDURE summer appointments, he worked with Dr. Tara White investigating the neurocognitive effects of alcohol and stimulants on healthy volunteers. Kelvin’s undergraduate and graduate research experience inspired his strong interest in translational neuroscience, motivating him to work with patients and families who can directly benefit from his work.  Combining his research experience with mentoring opportunities in the graduate program allows him to continue mentoring underrepresented minority (URM) STEM students in academia. To make research accessible to younger generations of underrepresented groups, Kelvin also mentors high school students for the Translational Neuroscience Outreach Program (TNOP) at Brown.


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Mark Gergues
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Mark Gergues
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of California, San Francisco | Sponsor: Mazen Kheirbek; Co-Sponsor: Vikaas Sohal

Mark (he/him) is a doctoral candidate at UCSF in the neuroscience program. He completed his B.A. in Cell Biology & Neuroscience, Psychology, and Cognitive Science at Rutgers University. While at Rutgers, Mark worked on studying how oxidative stress impacts neurochemistry and behavior with Dr. George Wagner. After graduation, he worked as a technician in the lab of Dr. Benjamin Samuels studying the neurobiological mechanisms of stress and antidepressant response, and in the lab of Dr. Kasia Bieszczad studying epigenetic modulation of long-term memory formation. Currently a graduate student, he works in Dr. Mazen Kheirbek's lab studying how the ventral hippocampus encodes anxiogenic contexts and the inputs that mediate them using optical approaches. At UCSF, Mark is an active member of the executive committee, admissions committee, diversity equity and inclusion committee, where he works to improve the neuroscience program community and support students. His efforts earned him the Kavli Service Award in 2021. His long-term goal is to continue studying the neural circuity involved in emotional behaviors and neuropsychiatric disease in his own lab while working on efforts towards justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in academia. Outside of lab, Mark enjoys reading, listening to Bad Bunny, and going to the beach.


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Margo Heston
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Margo Heston
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Wisconsin-Madison | Sponsor: Barbara Bendlin

Margo is a PhD Candidate in Cellular and Molecular Pathology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, working with Dr. Barbara Bendlin. She aims to become a tenured professor and conduct translational team research that links life-course socioeconomic disadvantage with biomolecular precursors to Alzheimer’s disease. Margo began studying built environments and neurobiology with Dr. Tilak Ratnanather, while completing her BS in Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Proceeding to graduate school, she centered her dissertation on socioeconomic disadvantage as a driver of gut microbiome changes that could lead to Alzheimer’s disease. Her work has earned a T32 NIGMS fellowship, a US Fulbright award, and funding from the Alzheimer’s Association and Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC). Margo is dedicated to equity in health and STEM education. With the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, she works on equitable admissions and student support, graduate program infrastructure, and policy guidelines toward promoting a diverse and thriving community. She also mentors undergraduate and graduate students, and she engages in Wisconsin ADRC participant outreach. Through her research and advocacy, Margo ultimately aims to inform therapeutic and policy interventions that benefit those who are underserved by our current health, economic, and social systems.


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Ashley Holloway
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Ashley Holloway
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Northwestern University | Sponsor: Talia Lerner

Ashley Holloway is a PhD candidate in Dr. Talia Lerner’s lab at Northwestern University. She is a first-generation college graduate who received her BS in neuroscience from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. There, she worked in the lab of Dr. Justin Rhodes helping characterize a mouse model of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and completed a senior thesis on exercise-induced acceleration of conditioned place preference for cocaine in mice. After receiving her BS, Ashley joined the lab of Dr. Mark Wainwright at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago as a research technician, where she investigated mechanisms of astrocyte dysfunction after traumatic brain injury in mice. Ashley went on to join Dr. Talia Lerner’s lab in 2018 and has since earned a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to support her work on glucocorticoid regulation of striatal dopamine transmission. Ashley’s long-term goal is to lead a lab investigating astrocyte modulation of limbic circuit function. In addition to running a lab, Ashley hopes to use lessons from her own experience as a first-generation student in academia to advocate for and mentor students from underrepresented backgrounds in the sciences.


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Megan Kelley
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Megan Kelley
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Yale University | Sponsor: Joy Hirsch

Megan Kelley is a neuroscience PhD candidate in the Brain Function Lab of Dr. Joy Hirsch at Yale School of Medicine. She is interested in the basic neural processing mechanisms of live human-human social interaction. Her dissertation is on the role of active visual sensing in the neural processing of and information extraction from live human faces. She is a first-generation college who graduated cum laude with a degree in psychology from the University of Georgia. During her time there, she worked in The Visual Perception Lab with Dr. James Brown, the CNS development lab with Dr. James Lauderdale, and the Clinical and Cognitive Neuroscience Lab with Dr. Jennifer McDowell. She later participated in the Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program at Yale University, where she worked with Dr. Albert Powers using psychophysical and computational techniques to understand hallucinations in those with and without schizophrenia. Long term, she is interested in understanding how dysfunction in social processing networks in the brain contributes to loss of social support structures and functionality in schizophrenia. As an academic with dyslexia, she hopes to destigmatize disabilities and break down barriers impacting all of those who are marginalized in Academia and in science.


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Omar Koita
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Omar Koita
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Vollum Institute | Sponsor: John Williams

Omar Koita is a doctoral candidate at the Vollum institute under the tutelage of John T. Williams. After graduating from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) with a B.A. in Biology, Omar worked as a post-baccalaureate researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) with Mario Penzo. There he studied how stress is encoded in the brain by combining neuroanatomical tracing studies with in vivo neuronal manipulations during behavioral assays. As a graduate student, Omar’s dissertation work aims to describe how regions of the brain involved with stress and negative affect are altered by chronic opioid use using electrophysiology, pharmacology, and 2-photon microscopy. His ultimate goal is to combine these single-cell techniques with circuit- and behavioral-level experiments to determine molecular substrates of stress and related behaviors. Omar hopes these findings will further our understanding of mental illnesses such as major depressive disorder, and the persistence of drug cravings (and relapse) in substance use disorder.


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Courtney McDermott
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Courtney McDermott
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Rutgers University | Sponsor: Emanuel DiCicco-Bloom; Co-Sponsor: Martin J. Blaser

Courtney McDermott is a Neuroscience PhD Candidate who has personal and professional interests in investigating the pathogenesis of neurodevelopmental disorders. She earned a BA in Neuroscience-Biology at Queens College CUNY, where she worked in Dr. Carolyn Pytte’s laboratory as a Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) Scholar. In Dr. Pytte’s lab, she investigated the effects of statins on the production of neurosteroids in mice and zebra finch songbirds, which resulted in six research awards. She is currently pursuing a PhD at Rutgers University in the laboratory of Dr. Emanuel DiCicco-Bloom, co-sponsored by Dr. Martin Blaser. Her dissertation work examines the effects of early-life antibiotic exposure on the gut microbiome and neurogenesis in 16p11.2 microdeletion mice. Before becoming a D-SPAN Scholar, Courtney was awarded predoctoral fellowships from the New Jersey Governor’s Council for Medical Research and Treatment of Autism and the New Jersey Alliance for Clinical and Translational Science TL1 program. Outside of the laboratory, Courtney is highly involved in science outreach and advocacy. She serves on the Board of the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine Diversity Committee, volunteers at the Rutgers Center for Adult Autism and Services, and is the Neuroscience Graduate Mentor Fellow for the Rutgers Honors College.


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Alesa Netzley
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Alesa Netzley
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Michigan State University | Sponsor: Galit Pelled

Alesa Netzley is a Ph.D. candidate in Biomedical Engineering at Michigan State University. During her undergraduate training at Alma College, she developed a Program of Emphasis (PoE) in Neuroscience, graduating with the institution’s first B.S. in Neuroscience.  After graduation, she gained clinical experience as a Rehabilitation Technician at the Lighthouse Neurological Rehabilitation Center before securing a position as a Laboratory Research Technician at the University of Michigan. There, she worked with Dr. Shelly Flagel and Dr. Terry Robinson, investigating drug addiction and the propensity to attribute incentive salience to reward cues in a large population of outbred rats. Since joining the Pelled lab, Alesa has dedicated her graduate training to establishing a Yucatan minipig model of pediatric concussion and characterizing how post-concussive symptoms present using a battery of behavioral and physiological assessments. Alesa is a first-generation college graduate who is passionate about encouraging individuals from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue career opportunities in STEM. She plans to one day establish her own neuroscience research laboratory as a tenure-track professor at an R1 institution. Her future research goals are to develop novel therapeutic strategies to improve the quality of life for patients living with acquired brain injuries.


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Kaysaw Tuy
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Kaysaw Tuy
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Alabama at Birmingham | Sponsor: Anita Hjelmeland

Kaysaw Tuy is a PhD candidate in the Graduate Biomedical Sciences Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham under the mentorship of Dr. Anita Hjelmeland. Her dissertation research is focused on understanding how brain tumor initiating cells, a sub-population of therapeutically resistant cells, modulate metabolic pathways to circumvent oxidative stress. This work is important as redox regulators, depending on context, promote or suppress tumor growth. Additionally, redox balance is critical for maintaining neural integrity, as dysregulation of redox homeostasis can drive neurodegeneration. As her dissertation research progressed, Kaysaw developed an interest in neuroimmunology. Specifically, she is fascinated by the role that peripheral immune cells play in resolving or promoting brain tumor growth and other CNS pathologies. Accordingly, her long-term research focus is to better understand the regulation of peripheral immune cell recruitment, trafficking, activation, and polarization within the microenvironments of brain tumors and other CNS pathologies. In addition to solving important questions related to neuroimmunology, Kaysaw is dedicated to helping and supporting other ambitious individuals with challenging backgrounds to pay forward the same kindness and support she has received at every step of my scientific career.   


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Samara Vilca
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Samara Vilca
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Miami | Sponsor: Luis Tuesta; Co-Sponsor: Roberta Brambilla

Samara Vilca is a Neuroscience Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Miami, where she studies microglial transcriptomics and epigenetics in the context of substance use disorders in the lab of Dr. Luis M. Tuesta. Prior to her graduate training, Samara earned her Honors BA from Florida Atlantic University and completed her honors thesis research at The Scripps Research Institute Florida, in the lab of Dr. Patricia McDonald. There, she became interested in, and developed, cell-based assays to study the molecular mechanisms underlying psychiatric disorders. For her graduate dissertation, Samara is combining sophisticated behavioral models of addiction with transcriptomic and low-input epigenetic profiling to determine the role of microglia in methamphetamine use disorder. Samara’s long-term goal is to become an independent investigator studying the mechanisms by which microglia respond to early life adversity and potentially increase susceptibility to psychiatric disease later in life. As a mentor, she hopes to continue her advocacy for diversifying STEM at all education levels and inspire the future generation of neuroscientists.


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Taylor Wise
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Taylor Wise
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Brown University | Sponsor: Rebecca Burwell

Taylor Wise is a PhD candidate for the Department of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences at Brown University under the guidance of Dr. Rebecca Burwell. Taylor completed her BA in Animal Behavior at Bucknell University where she conducted research with Dr. Tristan Stayton on reptile phylogenetics and was further mentored by primatologist Dr. Reggie Gazes. Looking to combine her passion for evolution and animal cognition, Taylor next conducted full-time research with Dr. Victoria Templer at Providence College where she studied social behavior and age-related cognitive decline in rats. During this time, she also became fascinated with cortical evolution and its contributions to present-day cognition in translational animal models. In her PhD, Taylor focuses on characterizing the posterior parietal cortex (PPC), a region thought to have been co-opted for both spatial and social cognition via exaptation. Using the highly spatial (and social) rat model Taylor’s work contributes to our understanding of PPC function in integrating spatial and social information. She hopes her research will also exemplify how neuroscience techniques can be applied to studying cognitive evolution in a novel way. Modeling the support of her own advisors, Taylor is dedicated to mentoring students often underrepresented in neuroscience. Taylor hopes to ultimately establish her own research program in neuroethology and comparative cognition while continuing to mentor and teach.


Cohort 9

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Diego Aldarondo
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Diego Aldarondo
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Harvard University | Sponsor: Bence Ölveczky

Diego Aldarondo is a doctoral candidate in the Program in Neuroscience at Harvard University and a member of Dr. Bence Ölveczky’s lab in the department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology. Prior to graduate school, Diego studied neuroscience and computer science at Princeton University and developed a fascination for animal behavior while working in the lab of Dr. Mala Murthy. There, he developed tools to automatically quantify animal pose from video recordings and used these tools to study the courtship behavior of fruit flies. With the support of the NSF GRFP and D-SPAN F99, Diego continues to study animal behavior in graduate school, but has turned his attention to the natural behavior of rats. His dissertation focuses on developing a virtual rodent that can imitate the natural behaviors of real rats in a physics simulator. By taking the neural activity recorded from real rats during spontaneous behavior and the network activity of the virtual rodent when imitating the same movements, this work enables the quantitative comparison of motor neural activity to analytical control models of known structure and function. Diego hopes that the quantitative measurement, analysis, and modeling of animal behavior will improve our understanding of biological neuromotor control in health and disease.


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Julianna Brutman
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Julianna Brutman
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Washington State University | Sponsor: Gary Wayman

Julianna Brutman is a Neuroscience PhD Candidate at Washington State University (WSU), where she investigates the neurogenetic controls of appetite under the mentorship of Drs. Gary Wayman, Emily Qualls-Creekmore, and Suzanne Appleyard. In 2018, Julianna earned her Honors BS in Neuroscience from WSU as part of an early-entry, accelerated biosciences BS/PhD program. During her undergraduate studies, she became fascinated by how our environmental surroundings influence the decision to consume food. In her dissertation work, she has utilized a genome-to-behavioral-phenome approach to understand the molecular mechanisms that underlie the decision to eat. Her scientific contributions have resulted in prestigious, highly competitive awards from the National Science Foundation and the Goldwater Foundation. Julianna’s ultimate goal is to better inform current treatment strategies for appetite disorders ranging from anorexia to obesity, and to mentor aspiring scientists from diverse backgrounds as a faculty member at a leading research institution. Outside of the lab, Julianna is passionate about making science accessible to all. She organizes local STEM outreach events and teaches both introductory and advanced cellular/molecular neuroscience courses for undergraduate students. Julianna also enjoys hiking, photography, and spending time with her rescue dog, Phoebe.


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Victoria Castro
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Victoria Castro
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Texas at El Paso | Sponsor: Anita M Quintana; Co-sponsor: Dr. Bruce Appel

Victoria is a first-generation graduate student born and raised in El Paso, Texas. She is a PhD candidate in the Biosciences Program at The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) in the lab of Dr. Anita Quintana. She has taught undergraduate students as an Assistant Instructor of Developmental Neurobiology and has served as the graduate student representative for the Minority Affairs Committee for the American Society for Cell Biology. Her predoctoral support from the UTEP Keelung Hong Graduate Student Research Fellowship has led her dissertation research, which focuses on neural precursor cell (NPC) development and particularly how the HCFC1 transcriptional co-factor causes brain disease. Victoria applies a combination of immunohistochemistry, cell flow-cytometry, behavioral analysis, transcriptomics, and proteomics to delineate the loss of function effects of HCFC1 on NPC function and to identify a mechanism underlying abnormal brain development. She has been accepted into the 2022 Future Fellows Research Program at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital where she plans to pursue her postdoctoral fellowship in the Developmental Neurobiology Department. Her long-term career goal is to become an assistant professor and mentor to future generations of students in STEM.


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Emmanuel Crespo
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Emmanuel Crespo
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Central Michigan University | Sponsors: Ute Hochgeschwender & Christopher Moore

While completing a BA in Neuroscience at Drew University, I convinced myself that I was not prepared or competitive enough to apply to graduate schools due to tumultuous undergraduate experiences negatively affecting my GPA. After college, I was hired as the Events Director for a multi-Michelin star winning restauranteur further derailing me from applying to graduate school. This profoundly changed when my undergraduate mentor, Dr. Brianne Barker, helped me rebuild my confidence to pursue my passion to study neuroscience. I actively sought out this mentorship centered pedagogy for my biochemistry, cell and molecular biology doctoral program at Central Michigan University. My current F99 mentors, Drs. Ute Hochgeschwender and Christopher Moore further fostered my academic development by immersing me in a collaboration that spans diverse ideas, backgrounds, institutions, and methodological approaches. Throughout this fellowship and onwards, my professional goal is to serve as a role model for aspiring scientists by mentoring and encouraging future “non-traditional” mentees, specifically that there is a place for them within the scientific community—regardless of academic pedigree. In my future lab, I will employ an interdisciplinary approach leveraging molecular engineering and computational modeling to visualize and control dynamic sensory encoding within the neocortex.


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Brianna George
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Brianna George
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Wake Forest School of Medicine | Sponsor: Sara Jones

Brianna George is currently a doctoral candidate at Wake Forest School of Medicine working with Dr. Sara Jones. Her dissertation research focuses on examining the interactions of early-life stress, biological sex, and mesolimbic dopamine system functioning in driving vulnerability to opioid abuse.  She earned a B.A. in Psychology from Texas Tech University, where she worked in the lab of Dr. Paul Soto to investigate the long-term effects of adolescent exposure to antipsychotic medication on behavior, cognition, weight, and metabolic function. Aside from research, Brianna is passionate about advocating for increased diversity and inclusion and access to mental healthcare in science.  Her long-term goal is to obtain a tenure-track faculty position in hopes of leading her own diverse, inclusive lab group investigating how environmental factors may alter brain reward circuitry to increase susceptibility to substance use disorders.

 


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Dena Goldblatt
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Dena Goldblatt
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: New York University | Sponsor: David Schoppik

Dena Goldblatt is a Neuroscience PhD Candidate at New York University. Her long-term aim is to lead her own lab that investigates the logic underlying neural circuit assembly, and how these mechanisms go awry in neurodevelopmental disorders. Dena’s fascination with developmental neuroscience began at Brandeis University, where she was an undergraduate researcher in the labs of Dr. Nicolas Rohleder and Dr. Suzanne Paradis. She graduated from Brandeis in 2017 with a triple B.S. in Neuroscience, Biology, and Psychology, a minor in History, and an accelerated M.S. in Neuroscience. Currently, her doctoral work in Dr. David Schoppik’s lab aims to understand how sensory and motor partner populations assemble a model vestibular reflex circuit in the larval zebrafish. She uses perturbative (two-photon ablations and constitutive knockouts), functional (two-photon and single-objective, volumetric light-sheet calcium imaging), and behavioral (optogenetically-evoked assays) approaches. She has previously been supported by NINDS T32 and R25 training grants. Dena is deeply committed to mentoring, teaching, and outreach at the high school and undergraduate levels. To that end, she has volunteered with several NYC nonprofits, as well as with programs through Brandeis and NYU, to support the next generation of diverse neuroscientists.


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Martina Hernandez
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Martina Hernandez
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Virgnia Commonwealth University | Sponsor: Audrey Lafrenaye; Co-sponsor: Jeffrey Dupree

Martina Hernandez (she/they) is a doctoral candidate in the Neuroscience program at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). They completed their B.S. in Chemistry, concentration in Biochemistry, and minor in Biology at VCU and a strong inclination toward neuroscience. As an undergraduate, she earned an Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) scholarship to pursue research in the laboratory of Dr. Jeff Dupree. As a graduate student, Martina was awarded a Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) Doctoral scholarship for minority students who aim to diversify the professoriate. Their current doctoral work is in the laboratory of Dr. Audrey Lafrenaye, focusing on membrane disruption mechanisms in neurons following traumatic brain injury (TBI). Martina is a first-generation college graduate, Latinx/a, and LGBTQ+ researcher; these intersectionalities propel her dedication to mentoring the next generation of underrepresented students in neuroscience. Outside the lab, she is an advocate for the destigmatization of mental illness in science and academia. She serves as a writer and creative director for the neuroscientist-led podcast, Crossmodal.


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Alexa Iannitelli
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Alexa Iannitelli
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Emory University | Sponsor: David Weinshenker

Alexa Iannitelli received her BS in Neuroscience and BA in Psychology at Susquehanna University, where she was first exposed to scientific research while working with Dr. James Briggs to investigate the mechanisms of fear acquisition and extinction in rats. Alexa is currently a doctoral candidate in the Neuroscience Graduate Program at Emory University, where she works with Dr. David Weinshenker to investigate the mechanisms underlying locus coeruleus susceptibility in neurodegenerative disease. Alexa’s thesis project combines genetic, behavioral, and transcriptomic approaches to comprehensively understand dysfunction of the noradrenergic system as it relates to early, non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Alexa’s research efforts have so far resulted in Journal of Neuroscience and Psychopharmacology articles, as well as funding from the NIEHS, NIA, NINDS, and the Udall Foundation. Alexa is also passionate about neuroscience education, has developed and instructed several undergraduate courses, and has received the Emory Center for Faculty Development’s Innovative Teaching Award and the Emory Excellence in Teaching Award. Alexa’s long-term goal is to establish her own laboratory at an institution that values both undergraduate education and rigorous neuroscience research.


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Julia Jones
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Julia Jones
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: The Scripps Research Institute | Sponsor: Xiang-Lei Yang

Julia Jones is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Molecular Medicine at The Scripps Research Institute. She earned her B.S. in Chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After graduation, she worked in the Saunders Lab at Duke University investigating the antibody response to HIV-1 vaccination strategies in animal models to better characterize their B-cell response. Currently in the Yang Lab, she is investigating the nuclear response of aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases and their connection between oxidative stress response and Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease pathogenesis. By studying her mouse model’s physiology, she discovered a disruption in metabolism and the auditory system where she is currently studying the underlying mechanisms. Her future research goals aim to continue uncovering commonalities in stress pathways in motoneuron-related diseases to find molecular targets for therapeutic development. Outside of her thesis work, she is heavily involved in the Scripps’ Scientific Diversity Association and Network for Women in Science community outreach programs and event planning to foster an inclusive environment where she found her passion for teaching and mentoring. Her long-term goals include combining her love for research and mentorship to pursue an independent career with a neuroscience lab that promotes URM participation and opportunity.


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Maria Jones-Muhammad
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Maria Jones-Muhammad
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Mississippi Medical Center | Sponsor: Junie P. Warrington

Maria Jones-Muhammad is a PhD candidate within the Program in Neuroscience at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) in the lab of Dr. Junie P. Warrington. She completed her undergraduate training at Tougaloo College in Jackson, MS, where she obtained her BS degree in Chemistry. Before entering her PhD program, she participated in several undergraduate research programs such as the Jackson Heart Study Undergraduate Training and Education Center program, the Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate program, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Scholars program. Maria's dissertation work focuses on investigating molecular mechanisms that increase sensitivity to seizures in an animal model of preeclampsia. She also receives training in epidemiology as a Smith Scholar under the Jackson Heart Study Graduate Training and Education Center at UMMC. Maria is passionate about mentoring undergraduate students interested in learning more about biomedical science. She plans to pursue a career as an academic neuroscientist as well as encourage students to pursue a career in research. She also wants to encourage students and researchers to share scientific findings with, not only the scientific community, but the non-scientific community as well. When away from the lab, Maria enjoys playing volleyball and going on nature walks.


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Tahiyana Khan
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Tahiyana Khan
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Georgetown University | Sponsor: Patrick Forcelli

Tahiyana Khan is a PhD candidate in the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience at Georgetown University, in Dr. Patrick Forcelli’s lab. Prior to pursuing her PhD, Tahiyana’s research focused on glia in neurodegeneration, both as an undergraduate in Dr. Tanya Ferguson’s lab at Temple University, and as a research assistant in the lab of Drs. Virginia Lee and John Trowjanowski. This research focus persists in her PhD where she is examining the contribution of senescent microglia in temporal lobe epilepsy and associated cognitive deficits, using immunohistochemistry, live imaging, transcriptomics, and behavioral assays. Tahiyana has been a T32 trainee under the Neural Injury and Plasticity training grant at Georgetown, has received grants for conference travel and projects adjacent to her dissertation research,  and awards related to her dissertation such as the Three Minute Thesis competition. In addition to her research, Tahiyana co-founded the Graduate Student Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion committee at Georgetown University. Tahiyana’s ultimate goal is to lead a research team and discover more effective senolytic therapies in the context of neurodegenerative diseases.


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Melissa Lenert
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Melissa Lenert
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: The University of Texas at Dallas | Sponsors: Michael Burton and Theodore Price

Melissa Lenert is a PhD candidate in the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Texas at Dallas (UT-Dallas) in the Neuroimmunology and Behavior Laboratory of Dr. Michael Burton. Melissa received her B.S. in Biology from Stephen F. Austin State University and her M.S. in Biotechnology from UT-Dallas. Melissa’s dissertation work investigates how neuroimmune interactions can be modulated by cellular metabolism to influence physiology differently between sexes. Her work focuses on understanding how immunometabolism drives sex differences in the development and maintenance of chronic muscle pain using behavioral assessments, RNA sequencing, flow cytometry, and cellular metabolic assays. Her long-term career goal is to help bridge the gap between preclinical and clinical pain research by having a translationally focused laboratory as a principal investigator. Melissa is passionate about improving both pharmacological and non-pharmacological therapeutics for treating chronic muscle pain, especially for women. She hopes to be an advocate and mentor for underrepresented students in the laboratory and to improve the accessibility of science and academia. Outside of the laboratory, Melissa enjoys playing video games, cooking, and spending time with her dogs.


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Kimberly Rose Madhwani
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Kimberly Rose Madhwani
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Brown University | Sponsor: Kate O'Connor-Giles

Kimberly Rose Madhwani is a Neuroscience Ph.D. candidate at Brown University, where she works under the supervision of Dr. Kate O’Connor-Giles. Kimberly completed her B.S. in Biochemistry at California State University, Northridge, where she worked with Dr. Jheem Medh investigating the relationship between lipoprotein metabolism and atherosclerosis as a Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) Scholar. Additionally, she received a CSUN’S Presidential Scholarship and Outstanding Graduating Senior Award. What truly solidified her decision to undertake neuro-centric graduate research was conducting full-time research at the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis through the Leadership Alliance at the University of Miami. She worked in the joint labs of Drs. Vance Lemmon and John Bixby to understand repair mechanisms after spinal cord injury by enhancing axon growth and regeneration in the central nervous system. Her current work focuses on understanding the neurodevelopmental role of a tRNA modifying enzyme found to cause intellectual disability. Strongly influenced by women of color during her undergraduate, she is committed to paying it forward by mentoring underrepresented students. She aims to establish a leading research program to investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying neurodevelopmental disorders and identify candidate therapies while prioritizing building an inclusive, accessible, and equitable STEM.


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Angelica Minier Toribio
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Angelica Minier Toribio
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai | Sponsor: Eric J. Nestler

Intrigued by the science of the brain, Angelica joined the laboratory of Dr. Gregory J. Quirk at the University of Puerto Rico in 2013. Then, she studied brain systems signaling appetitive and aversive memories in rats and transitioned from Hispanic Studies to a scientific career. In the summer of 2016, she joined the inaugural NSF International Program for the Advancement of Neurotechnology and worked with Dr. Ileana Hanganu-Opatz at the University of Hamburg in Germany, studying cognitive and sensory systems in mice. After, Angelica joined the lab of Dr. Yavin Shaham as a postbaccalaureate at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, where she investigated brain systems driving addiction-related behaviors in rats. Currently, Angelica is a doctoral candidate in Neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, mentored by Dr. Eric J. Nestler. Her dissertation research examines approach-avoidance decisions affected by stress insults by integrating behavior, calcium imaging, whole-brain immunolabeling, 3D-volume imaging, RNA-Sequencing, and chemogenetic approaches. Angelica’s goal is to establish an independent research program to study the neurobiology of decision-making shortcomings linked to stress-related psychopathologies. Moreover, as a Latina woman in science, her most significant goal is to continue nurturing diverse and non-traditional students.


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Shannin Moody
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Shannin Moody
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Iowa State University | Sponsor: Elizabeth Shirtcliff

Shannin N. Moody interns in the departments of Neurology and Cell Biology at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center- New Orleans. She is a former Presidential Fellow and current PhD. candidate at Iowa State University where her earlier bench work focused on novel measures of hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal hormones in hair. Shannin’s dissertation studies center on how cumulative hair cortisol and measures of social stress (e.g. exposure to racism) may impact the onset, as well as structural and clinical progression of Multiple Sclerosis. Her current goal is to become an interdisciplinary expert on biological stress systems as they relate to stress induced neurological health in marginalized groups. Her long term plans are to understand objective and subjective biopsychosocial processes using stress neurobiology, neuroscience and health to illustrate the dynamic impact of stress, racial discrimination and marginalization. Shannin graduated from the University of New Orleans with a B.S. in psychology at the age of 30 and began graduate school at the age of 31. When not in the lab, Shannin enjoys spending time with her spouse and two young children who continue to inspire her to tackle topics of neurological racial health disparities head on.


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Hope Peterson
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Hope Peterson
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Wake Forest School of Medicine | Sponsor: Paul Laurienti

Hope Peterson is a PhD candidate in the Neuroscience Graduate Program at Wake Forest School of Medicine, where she works with Dr. Paul Laurienti. Hope previously completed a B.A in Psychology and a M.S. in Biomedical Sciences as a member of the first class of a 4+1 dual degree neuroscience program at Wake Forest. Her dissertation research focuses on the relationship between autonomic nervous system function and brain states in healthy alcohol consumers, using innovative cardiac metrics, real-time behavioral survey data, and novel fMRI analytic techniques. Outside of the lab, Hope is involved with science outreach: tutoring local students; sharing neuroscience content with elementary, middle and high schools; and running an online community aimed to increase visibility of underrepresented scientists in the STEM and wider community. Her long-term career goal is to pursue an academic career teaching and mentoring first generation college and graduate students, conducting research examining the dynamics of autonomic nervous system function and brain states in healthy and disordered populations.

 


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Haroon Popal
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Haroon Popal
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Temple University | Sponsor: Ingrid Olson

Haroon Popal is a Ph.D. candidate at Temple University, working with Dr. Ingrid Olson. After graduating with a B.S. in psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University, Haroon worked as a post-baccalaureate researcher at the NIH and at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging. From these experiences, he developed a strong skill set in coding and neuroimaging analyses. Haroon’s dissertation work will investigate the cerebellum’s contributions to social cognition with a focus on models of social reward processing. After completing his dissertation, Haroon would like to focus more deeply on computational modeling of cerebellar functions. He hopes to translate his findings to clinical populations with social deficits and cerebellar alterations, such as autism spectrum disorders.

 

 


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Joseph Simon IV
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Joseph Simon IV
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai | Sponsor: Erin Rich

Joe Simon IV is a doctoral candidate with an interest in social cognition. A first-generation college student, he started his journey at Sacramento City College before transferring to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where he received his BS in neuroscience. Battling imposter syndrome and depression, Joe found solace in neuroscience, after joining the lab of Dr. Stephanie White in his senior year. The lab focuses on studying vocal learning in songbirds. Joe was involved in a DREADDs study aimed at understanding how manipulating activity in the song learning pathway affected song performance. This experience also led him to develop an interest in social behaviors. He would subsequently enroll in the Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, before matriculating into the PhD program at Sinai in 2017. Joining the lab of Dr. Erin Rich, Joe’s doctoral research uses a primate model to assess how the brain integrates information under social vs nonsocial context. Following his PhD, Joe plans to continue his research focus on social decision-making by integrating a multi-subject assay to assess the neurophysiology of social processing between interacting subjects. Joe’s other passions are teaching kids about neuroscience and photography.


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Michelle Stackmann
Michelle Stackmann
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Michelle Stackmann
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Columbia University | Sponsor: Christine Ann Denny

Michelle Stackmann is a PhD candidate in the Neurobiology & Behavior program at Columbia University in the laboratory of Dr. Christine Ann Denny. Michelle grew up in Guatemala City, Guatemala and moved to the U.S. to attend Duke University, where she earned her BS in Neuroscience and conducted research in the laboratory of Dr. Henry Yin. She then investigated the role of vasopressin and oxytocin in social behaviors as a post-baccalaureate fellow at NIMH in the laboratory of Dr. Scott Young. Michelle is interested in understanding the cellular and population mechanisms underlying memory processes. For her dissertation work, she is investigating how multiple memories are co-stored in the brain using a newly generated transgenic/viral system to identify and visualize multiple memories in a single mouse. For her work, she has been awarded an NIMH F31 NRSA and a slot in an institutional T32 grant. As co-president of Columbia University Neuroscience Outreach (CUNO) and co-founder of Scientist on the Subway (SciSub), Michelle has led various initiatives to disseminate science to the public and highlight the voices of those underrepresented in science. Her long-term goal is to integrate genetic, cellular, and population-level approaches to understand how memories are represented in the brain.


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Jared Tangeman
2022 D-SPAN Scholar

Jared Tangeman
2022 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Miami University | Sponsor: Katia Del Rio-Tsonis

Jared Tangeman is a doctoral student in the interdisciplinary Cell, Molecular and Structural Biology Program at Miami University, where he works in a tissue regeneration lab headed by Dr. Katia Del Rio-Tsonis. Jared’s primary thesis work is focused on understanding gene regulatory networks that establish and maintain cell identity in the developing retina and how these findings may be used in regenerative therapies. Before beginning his PhD, Jared graduated from Miami University in 2017 with a BA in Biology and minor in neuroscience. In 2019, Jared was awarded a Graduate Research Fellowship from the NSF to explore the role of DNA methylation in establishing retinal cell lineages. Jared’s current work leverages multi-modal data analysis and bioinformatic approaches to probe the mechanisms that impede neural retina regeneration in vertebrate systems. Broadly, Jared’s scientific interests are centered on expanding the regenerative capacity of the central nervous system, and Jared plans to become a principal investigator in the field of regenerative biology. In addition, Jared is active in undergraduate research mentorship, and is president of the Miami University Chapter of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science (SACNAS).


Cohort 8

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Laura Bell
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Laura Bell
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Utah | Sponsor: Karen Wilcox

Laura Bell is a PhD candidate in the Interdepartmental Program in Neuroscience at the University of Utah in the lab of Dr. Karen Wilcox. Previously, Laura completed her undergraduate training at the university of Colorado at Colorado Springs where she was an NIH BP-ENDURE Scholar in the lab of Dr. Eugenia Olesnicky Killian and an intern in the lab of Dr. Wendy Macklin at Anschutz Medical Campus in Denver. Laura’s dissertation has been supported by the NSF-GRFP and focuses on viral infection of the brain, and particularly how interactions between NG2-glia and immune cells contribute to the neuroinflammatory response and network reorganization involved in development of seizures and epilepsy following infection. She uses a combination of 2-Photon imaging, RNA & immunohistochemical labelling, and chemogentic cell ablation to examine the molecular, cellular, and behavioral effects of viral infection on glial cells and the brain. Laura is a Wisconsin-born Cherokee Nation citizen, and her non-traditional path from Community College to PhD inspires her work in K-12 outreach for girls and underrepresented students in STEM.


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tyler bonnen
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

tyler bonnen
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Stanford University | Sponsors: Anthony Wagner & Dan Yamins

After dropping out of high school, tyler began organizing with social justice movements throughout the United States and Sub-Saharan Africa. At twenty two he began his scientific training, first at Miami Dade Community College, then transitioning to Columbia University, the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, and MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Science. As a graduate student at Stanford University, co-advised by Anthony Wagner and Dan Yamins, tyler's research has been supported by both the NSF GRFP and the D-SPAN Fellowship. Currently, his PhD research integrates methods from deep learning, neuroscience, and psychology, in order to better understand the neurobiology of memory. More generally, tyler's work aims to understand the brain by approximating the functions it supports (i.e. "biologically plausible function approximation"). It is his hope that developing more formal, mathematical models of neural function will enable us to develop more grounded healing practices.

 


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Crystal Colón Ortiz, Ph.D.
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Crystal Colón Ortiz
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Columbia University | Sponsor: Carol M. Troy; Co-Sponsor: Carol Mason
K00 Phase:
Duke University | Sponsor: Cagla Eroglu

Dr. Crystal Colón Ortiz was raised in Puerto Rico, where her scientific career started through the RISE program at the University of Puerto Rico at Cayey. After earning a bachelor’s degree in General Biology, she participated in the Post-baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) at Case Western Reserve University and worked in the laboratory of Dr. Johannes von Lintig, studying the biochemical basis of vitamin A production. Crystal thesis work in the lab of Dr. Carol Troy focused on understanding the inflammatory role of caspases in a retinal model of neurovascular injury. During her graduate trajectory, she was awarded the NSF-Graduate Research Fellowship, the Association for the American Advancement of Science (AAAS) Program for Excellence in Science, and the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) Trainee Professional Development Award. To support the graduate journey of underrepresented minorities, Crystal co-founded the Graduate Initiative for Diversity (GID) at Columbia. Now, as a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Dr. Eroglu, Crystal will investigate the role of astrocytes in Multiple Sclerosis demyelination. Her career goal is to study the retinal-brain connection; specifically, how neuroinflammation is regulated in neurodegenerative diseases of the brain that cause retinal pathology.


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Sinda Fekir
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Sinda Fekir
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Brown University | Sponsor: Christopher Moore

Sinda Fekir is a doctoral candidate in the Neuroscience Graduate Program at Brown University, where she works in Dr. Christopher Moore’s laboratory focused on forebrain dynamics and behavior. Sinda uses a myriad of optical and imaging techniques; including optogenetic manipulation of cell behavior and calcium imaging, in conjunction with behavioral training to specifically investigate interactions between ventral tegmental area cells and forebrain vasculature. Prior to joining the Moore lab, Sinda received a BS in Neuroscience and a BS in Psychology at Christopher Newport University, where she worked with Dr. Darlene Mitrano to identify the location of noradrenergic receptors in the ventral periaqueductal gray area involved in arousal, using electron microscopy. The discovery of these noradrenergic receptors on glial cells piqued Sinda’s curiosity regarding the contribution of non-neural cell types to information processing and behavior. This curiosity inspired her to study brain vasculature and consider the impact of body signals on the brain and behavior. Throughout her research career Sinda also developed a fascination and love for imaging with hopes of establishing her own laboratory where she will investigate the impact of body signals on information processing in the brain and behavior by using and innovating on state-of-the-art imaging techniques.


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Juan Flores
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Juan Flores
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of California, Davis | Sponsor: Karen Zito

Juan is a first-generation immigrant from Mexico and the first member of his family to earn a college degree. Juan graduated from Central Washington University with a BS in Chemistry and a BA in Biology in 2017. During his undergraduate studies, Juan conducted independent research in Dr. Carin Thomas’s laboratory studying the toxicity of the fullerene nanoparticle, C60. Juan is currently a Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Physiology graduate student in Dr. Karen Zito’s lab at the University of California, Davis. Juan studies the molecular signaling mechanisms that underlie synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus, using 2-photon (2p) microscopy, 2p glutamate uncaging, 2p-fluorescent lifetime imaging and electrophysiology. During his time at UC Davis, Juan has received various awards including a spot in the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Ion Channels in Synaptic Physiology summer course, a spot in the UC Davis Pharmacology T32, and an ARCS fellowship. After finishing his thesis work in the Zito lab, Juan wants to go on to study the role of the mitochondria and bioenergetics in the context of neurodegenerative disease, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Outside of the lab, Juan is a dedicated father and husband who enjoys cooking and being outdoors.


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Sasha Fulton
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Sasha Fulton
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai | Sponsor: Ian Maze

Sasha Fulton is currently a doctoral candidate at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in the laboratory of Dr. Ian Maze, where her work focuses primarily on neuroepigenetics and exploring chromatin-based mechanisms of neuropsychiatric disease. Sasha completed her B.A. in Neuroscience at Columbia University, where she investigated the role of hippocampal neurogenesis in antidepressant efficacy using non-human primate models of Major Depressive Disorder. At Mount Sinai, Sasha’s thesis research has been funded by an NIMH F31 NRSA award, and utilizes both human postmortem brain tissues and preclinical rodent models to study epigenetic regulatory mechanisms of astrocyte plasticity in the context of inflammation, stress, and MDD. Her project uses single-nuclei transcriptomic profiling in combination with cell-type specific viral manipulation and behavioral phenotyping in rodents in order to explore the complex roles of diverse astrocyte subtypes in the function of cortical brain circuits, as well as the contribution of astrocyte plasticity to disease pathology. Moving forward, Sasha plans to apply these methodologies to explore how astrocytes interact with the surrounding cellular environment within distinct functional circuits during stress responses. Overall, she hopes that her research may help to guide putative pharmacotherapeutic strategies aimed at reversing inflammation-induced neuroadaptations underlying stress-related disorders, including MDD.


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Kathryn Graves
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Kathryn Graves
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Yale University | Sponsors: Nicholas Turk-Browne and Imran Quraishi

Kathryn Graves is a Psychology PhD candidate at Yale University, working with Dr. Nicholas Turk-Browne. She received an honors BA in Psychology from Brown University, where her work on human sequence learning with Dr. David Badre earned a Karen T. Romer Undergraduate Teaching and Research Award. She subsequently worked as a research assistant under Dr. Sharon Thompson-Schill at the University of Pennsylvania, prior to coming to Yale where she was recognized with a Dean’s Emerging Scholars Fellowship. Her current research focuses on the neural mechanisms by which people learn and extract structure from their environments as they navigate, with a focus on the hippocampus. She uses behavioral studies, computational models, and intracranial EEG in epilepsy patients, including cutting-edge brain implants that can record neural activity from humans during real-world navigation. This work has received support from the Society for Neuroscience and the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation. Beyond the lab, Kathryn has striven to fix the “leaky pipeline” in higher academia as Co-Chair of her department’s Diversity Committee and Fellow in the Office of Graduate Student Development and Diversity, organizing mentorship programming and workshops with international reach for which she was bestowed a Jane Olejarczyk Service Award.


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Victoria Honnell
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Victoria Honnell
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: St. Jude Children's Research Hospital | Sponsor: Michael Dyer

Victoria Honnell is a PhD candidate in the Department of Developmental Neurobiology at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. She earned her BS in Neuroscience from Rhodes College in Memphis, TN. As an undergraduate, she participated in the NIMHD Minority Health International Research Training (MHIRT) Program at the University of São Paulo to study color vision deficiency. Upon graduating from Rhodes College, Victoria joined Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s translational research team at St. Jude as a research technologist. Here, she assisted with the development of clinically relevant models for pediatric solid tumors and subsequently assisted with a preclinical trial for rhabdomyosarcoma. She then joined the inaugural class of the St. Jude Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and is pursuing her doctoral thesis in the laboratory of Dr. Michael Dyer. Her research examines the role of super-enhancers in cell fate specification during retinal development and has been supported by an F31 National Research Service Award from the National Eye Institute. Victoria is committed to improving diversity and representation in neuroscience and serves as a Tennessee Achieves mentor to high school students. When away from the bench, Victoria enjoys long distance running and backpacking.


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Naznin Jahan
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Naznin Jahan
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of California, San Francisco | Sponsor: Eric J. Huang

Naznin Jahan is a doctoral candidate in the Biomedical Sciences (BMS) Graduate Program at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) where she works with Dr. Eric J. Huang to uncover the mechanism of frontotemporal dementia (FTD)-related genes, C9orf72 and Grn, in neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration. Born and raised in Bangladesh, she came to the sunny state of California to pursue her bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience at University of California, Berkeley. She was an undergraduate researcher in the laboratory of Dr. Daniela Kaufer, where she investigated a novel drug for seizure onset prevention post traumatic brain injury. For her research at UC Berkeley, Naznin was awarded the Maximizing Access to Research Career (MARC) fellowship. After graduation, Naznin worked as a research assistant for Dr. Hideho Okada at UCSF where she investigated the role of Isocitrate dehydrogenase mutation 1 (IDH1) in low grade glioma as a novel target for tumor immunotherapy. Her long-term goal is to study neurodegeneration and neuroinflammation in a complementary diseases model system using 3D organoid models to develop patient relevant therapeutics. As a first-generation college graduate, she is passionate about mentoring undergraduate students and teaching children about the fascinating world of neuroscience. When not in lab, she is exploring the vibrant mural art in San Francisco.


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Jordan Moore
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Jordan Moore
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: The Ohio State University | Sponsor: Daniel Gallego Perez

I am a PhD candidate in the Biomedical Engineering (BME) Department at The Ohio State University (OSU). Before joining the BME program, I earned my B.S. in Applied Mathematics (also at OSU) and joined the Nanomedicine Lab as a research assistant under the advisement of Dr. Daniel Gallego-Perez. The Gallego-Perez lab specifically focuses on developing nanoscale-based platforms and non-viral therapeutics for wound regeneration, and my main goal has been applying this methodology to the nervous system. My thesis work focuses on developing and implementing gene and cell-based therapeutics, primarily through cell-reprogramming, for peripheral nerve repair. In addition to my research, I participate in and organize activities to mentor new graduate students and introduce youth (elementary and middle school) to the STEM field. I have received multiple awards and recognitions for my research and accomplishments, such as being selected as a Fellow for Purdue University’s first cohort of Black Trailblazers in Engineering. My long-term goal is to establish a research program around gene and cell-based therapies for Cerebral Palsy and motoneuron-related developmental disorders while actively engaging with the community to educate the youth of the possibilities in STEM.


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Ileana Morales
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Ileana Morales
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Michigan, Ann Arbor | Sponsor: Kent Berridge

Ileana Morales is currently a PhD Candidate in the Psychology Department at the University of Michigan and works in the affective neuroscience lab of Dr. Kent Berridge. Prior to joining U of M, Ileana graduated with a B.S in Psychology from Reed College, where she worked in the labs of Drs. Timothy Hackenberg and Paul Currie. After graduating from Reed, she received a Fulbright Research Scholarship to work in the lab of Dr. Raúl Pastor-Medall at Universistat Jaume I in Castellon, Spain and investigated the role of the mu-opioid system on sugar and alcohol motivation. Since joining the Berridge Lab, Ileana’s dissertation work has been supported by an NIDCD T32 Training Grant and an NRSA from the National Institute of Mental Health. Her dissertation research focuses on understanding how brain hedonic hotspots contributes to ‘liking’ and ‘wanting’ for rewards, with relevance for understanding drug addiction and eating disorders. As a first-generation college student and Latina, Ileana is passionate about mentoring students from underrepresented backgrounds. Her long term goal is to become an independent affective neuroscientist focused on understanding how brain reward systems interact with homeostatic systems in the hypothalamus to generate excessive motivation for food and drug rewards.


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Nathaniel Parsons
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Nathaniel Parsons
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Medical University of South Carolina | Sponsor: Bärbel Rohrer

Nathaniel (Nate) Parsons is a Ph.D. candidate in the Molecular Cell Biology and Pathobiology graduate training program at the Medical University of South Carolina and affiliated with the Ophthalmology and Pathology Department. Nate received his B.S. degree in biology with a minor in chemistry from Anderson University (AU). At AU, Nate was the president of the science club where he actively engaged students in a variety of science discussions with local scientists. After obtaining his undergraduate degree, Nate worked as a clinical optometric assistant and biomedical ophthalmology technician where he began developing an interest in ocular pathology. For his thesis work, Nate joined the labs of Drs. Bärbel Rohrer and Hainan Lang to study complement dysregulation in aging diseases and its pathological effects on neurons in the eyes and ears. His broader focus is on developing novel strategies to regulate the complement-microglia feedback loop mechanism in age-related macular degeneration and age-related hearing loss. Nate has received numerous honors including two years of T32 funding and the Southern Regional Education Board funding, which is focused on supporting minority doctoral scholars in achieving a professor position to educate future generations. Nate’s overall goal is to become an independent principal investigator in neuroscience.


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Luis Ramirez
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Luis Ramirez
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Boston University | Sponsor: Sam Ling

How does the human brain construct coherent perceptual experiences and memories from a world teeming with visual information? Fascinated by this question, Luis D. Ramirez studied perception, attention, and memory through several disciplines. He earned a BSc in Science and Technology Studies from New York University Tandon School of Engineering. He intersected philosophy of science, anthropology, and neuroscience to investigate how brain imaging influences our society’s understanding of cognition, and through the NIH BP-ENDURE, worked in the Carrasco Lab to investigate the temporal dynamics of attention via non-invasive human brain imaging, and in the Tong Lab at Vanderbilt University, developing psychophysical tests for quantifying perceptual and memory capabilities. Currently, Luis is a PhD Candidate in the Graduate Program for Neuroscience at Boston University (BU), working with Dr. Sam Ling. His dissertation combines non-invasive human brain imaging, computational modeling, and psychophysics to understand the neurocomputational mechanisms that underly how attention regulates perception. In the long-term, Luis aims to investigate how perception and memory interact in visual cortex, and how attention facilitates this interaction. Moreover, as a first-gen, Afro-Latino student, Luis is committed to improving academia for historically excluded students, having led critical DEI committees and graduate student organizations throughout BU.


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Gabriella Robertson
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Gabriella Robertson
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Vanderbilt University | Sponsor: Vivian Gama

Gabriella Robertson received her bachelor’s degree in Molecular Biology from the University of Pennsylvania. During her time at Penn, she researched molecular mechanisms of breast cancer in the laboratory of Dr. Lewis Chodosh. After graduating, Gabriella worked in the lab of Dr. Evangelos Kiskinis as a research assistant and studied the role of astrocytes in genetic neonatal epilepsy. She is currently a PhD candidate in Cell and Developmental Biology at Vanderbilt University in the laboratory of Dr. Vivian Gama. Here she studies the impact of mitochondrial fission dynamics on metabolic signaling during corticogenesis. Gabriella is a recipient of the HHMI Gilliam Fellowship, Vanderbilt’s Sydney P. Colowick Graduate Student Award, and the Dean’s Award for Exceptional Achievement. Her long-term goal is to become an independent tenure-track researcher. She aims to investigate the mechanisms underlying metabolic signaling in early human brain development and how these mechanisms are perturbed in neurodevelopmental disorders such as epilepsy and autism. Alongside research, Gabriella is passionate about mentoring students from underrepresented backgrounds in science.


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Michael Rosario
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Michael Rosario
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Boston University | Sponsor: Karin Schon

Michael A. Rosario is a Crucian whose experiences both in the Virgin Islands and in the continental United States have propelled him to examine how our contextual experiences, specifically those related to stress and trauma, influence and change the brain, with a specific focus on the medial temporal hippocampal system. He is a Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate Program for Neuroscience at Boston University in the Brain Plasticity and Neuroimaging laboratory directed by Dr. Karin Schon. As an undergraduate student, he was a NIGMS RISE scholar and earned his B.S. in Psychology from the University of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix. He was Boston University’s first graduate student recipient of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Research Scholars award. Through this award, he focuses on how to use his neuroscience research to influence health policy. For his dissertation research, Michael is investigating the modulating role of (perceived) racism on hippocampal structure and function in Black young and older adults using behavioral and functional and structural MRI methods. In addition, Michael has contributed significantly to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) efforts, working tirelessly to uplift the voices of LGBTQ and Black and Brown people.


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Whitney Stevens-Sostre
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Whitney Stevens-Sostre
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Wisconsin-Madison | Sponsor: Gail A. Robertson

Whitney A. Stevens-Sostre is a Ph.D. candidate in the Neuroscience Training Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison working in the laboratory of Dr. Gail A. Robertson. Whitney earned her B.S. in Biology from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, where she participated in the NIH-funded Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE-2-BEST) and Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) training programs. After graduating, she worked as a research technician at the University of Chicago through the NIH-funded Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP), where she developed her passion for ion channel research. Whitney’s dissertation work is focused on elucidating the molecular mechanisms by which the intracellular domains of KCNH voltage-gated potassium channels modulate gating to control excitability in neurons and cardiomyocytes. As a graduate student, Whitney earned slots on two institutional T32 grants. In addition, Whitney founded Black In Biophysics and co-organized #BlackInBiophysicsWeek, an international social media initiative that highlighted and celebrated Black scholars in biophysics and related fields. Whitney’s professional goal is to become a tenured professor at a major research institution who studies channelopathies primarily affecting the nervous system, while also being an active advocate for underrepresented minorities in STEM. Outside the lab, Whitney enjoys gaming, watching anime, and spending time with her family.


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Brandon Yates
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Brandon Yates
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Indiana University School of Medicine | Sponsors: Andrew Coggan and Babar Khan

Brandon Yates is a Ph.D. candidate in Musculoskeletal Health Sciences at Indiana University School of Medicine (IUSM). He received his B.S. and M.S. in Exercise Science from Indiana-University-Purdue-University of Indianapolis (IUPUI) and the University of Connecticut, respectively. At IUSM, in the labs of Drs. Coggan and Khan, his dissertation focuses on improving our understanding of muscle-brain crosstalk in older adults admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. Specifically, he is investigating the relationships between systemic tryptophan metabolites, kynurenines and NAD+, and both biomarkers of musculoskeletal health and clinical diagnoses of acute and long-term cognitive impairment. His long-term career goal is to leverage his training in integrative exercise physiology and musculoskeletal health to design targeted physical rehabilitative interventions to improve both physical and cognitive health in older adults and critical care survivors (e.g., spinal cord injury, stroke, and burns). In addition, as a supplement to his doctoral studies Brandon’s has gained training in science communication as winner of the 2021 iBiology Share Your Research competition and as an editorial fellow for the journal Cell. Outside of the lab, Brandon also actively serves on various committees within the American College of Sports Medicine and American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine.


Cohort 7

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Danyal Alam
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Danyal Alam
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center | Sponsor: Todd Roberts

Danyal Alam is a PhD candidate in the Neuroscience Department at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UTSW) in the lab of Dr. Todd Roberts. Previously, Danyal completed his undergraduate work at Hunter College where he was a NIH BP-ENDURE Scholar. At UTSW, Danyal’s dissertation focuses on understanding sleep-based learning mechanisms in songbirds using in-vivo pharmacology, intersectional optogenetic and chemogenetic strategies, and deep learning to examine behavior at scale. His long-term goals are to better our understanding of the cellular and circuit level mechanisms regulating vocal learning and performance through the expansion of the genetic and molecular toolbox. Off the bench, Danyal dedicates time giving back to his immediate community and unwinds by creating light sculptures and playing League of Legends.

 


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Anusha Allawala
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Anusha Allawala
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Brown University | Sponsor: David Borton; Co-sponsor: Sameer Sheth

Anusha Allawala received her BS in Biomedical Engineering from San Jose State University, where she was a McNair scholar. Prior to graduate school, Anusha worked as a research associate on clinical applications of optogenetics at a neuroscience startup, Circuit Therapeutics. Following this research experience, she was awarded the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and returned to graduate school at Brown University, where she is currently a PhD candidate in Biomedical Engineering. Anusha is advised by Dr. David Borton, and co-advised by Dr. Sameer Sheth at Baylor College of Medicine. Her dissertation research is centered on characterizing the neural dynamics associated with cognitive control in treatment-resistant depression, and the effect of deep brain stimulation on cognitive control networks. Anusha’s long-term career goals are to use tools for neural circuit dissection to better understand and optimize neuromodulation in neuropsychiatric disorders.

 

 


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Jaime Castrellon, Ph.D.
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Jaime Castrellon
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Duke University | Sponsor: Gregory Samanez-Larkin; Co-Sponsor: Ming Hsu (UC Berkeley)
K00 Phase:
University of Pennsylvania | Sponsor: Joseph Kable and Adrianna Jenkins

Jaime Castrellon, Ph.D. is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania in the laboratories of Joseph Kable, Ph.D. and Adrianna Jenkins, Ph.D. where he is investigating how the brain integrates dynamic social information in learning and decision making. Before joining the labs, Jaime completed his Ph.D. in Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University in the lab of Gregory Samanez-Larkin, Ph.D. where he studied the role of dopamine in human reward valuation and decision making. Jaime is passionate about progressive practices in mentoring and specifically mentoring students from underrepresented backgrounds in science. He was recognized with two university-wide mentoring awards at Duke and actively mentors students through outside organizations.


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Vanessa Cerda
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Vanessa Cerda
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: The University of Texas at San Antonio | Sponsor: Nicole Wicha

Vanessa Cerda is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where she works with Dr. Nicole Wicha in the Brain, Language, and Cognition Lab. Vanessa is from a small Texas border town in the Rio Grande Valley. After graduating valedictorian from her high school with enough college credits to earn an Associates Degree, she received her BS in Neurobiology from The University of Texas at Austin in three years. At UT San Antonio, her dissertation incorporates event-related potentials (ERPs) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to understand the neural basis of arithmetic processing in Spanish-English bilingual children and adults. Her long-term research goal is to become a leader in the area of bilingual STEM cognition, spearheading advancements in bilingual education and neurocognitive development. Vanessa was a trainee of UT San Antonio’s Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) Program funded by the NIH. She was also a recipient of UT San Antonio’s Presidential Distinguished Research Fellowship and was recently named Outstanding Graduate Student in the College of Sciences. Outside of the lab, she is passionate about participating in community outreach events where she has the opportunity to expose young women and minorities to STEM.


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Noele Certain
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Noele Certain
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Stony Brook University | Sponsor: Lonnie Wollmuth

Noele Certain is a PhD Candidate in the Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology Doctoral Program at Stony Brook University, where she works in the Lab of Dr. Lonnie Wollmuth. Her dissertation work focuses on the role of auxiliary subunits in the regulation of AMPA receptor biogenesis. Her passion for science began at Saint Joseph’s College, where she earned a BS in Biology. She also completed her Masters in Biochemistry and Cell Biology, then transitioned to the PhD program to continue her research interests. Noele is committed to increasing STEM accessibility and providing mentorship to improve retention and representation in STEM through her leadership. She is currently a member of the Department of Pharmacological Sciences Diversity committee, a graduate student representative in the Graduate Student Organization, an NSF AGEP-Alliance Fellow, and a trainee of the Scholars in Biomedical Sciences Program at Stony Brook University. She is also an Associate Member of the SfN Neuroscience Scholars Program. She is a recipient of the Dr. W. Burghardt Turner Dissertation Fellowship and NINDS Diversity Supplement. Her long-term goal is to pursue a career as an independent neuroscientist studying synaptic physiology and disease, specifically the molecular mechanisms that regulate ion channel function.


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Devan Gomez
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Devan Gomez
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Marquette University | Sponsor: Matthew Hearing

Devan M. Gomez is a PhD candidate in the Biomedical Sciences department at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Devan received his BA in neuroscience from the University of Colorado at Boulder where he started his preclinical research career studying stressor controllability and stress resilience in the lab of Dr. Steven Maier through the Colorado Diversity Initiative. After graduating, Devan continued neurobehavioral research assisting the lab of Dr. Erik Oleson at the University of Colorado at Denver, focusing on motivated behavior and dopamine signaling. For his thesis work, Devan returned to the brain’s dopamine system in the lab of Dr. Matthew Hearing, where he studies the synaptic adaptations to dopamine cell subpopulations following opioid withdrawal. Devan’s work specifically focuses on motivational shifts for drug during protracted opioid withdrawal and concurrent changes to dopamine cell physiology. More broadly, Devan is interested in the neurobiological factors that mediate reward, motivation and susceptibility to drug abuse, and he would like to ultimately help devise better treatments for addiction. Also passionate about educational and scientific equity, Devan has years of volunteer and mentorship experience focused on underrepresented demographics, including participation in the 'Biology through a different lens' program tailored to mentoring first-generation Marquette STEM students.


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Shiva Hassanzadeh-Behbahani
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Shiva Hassanzadeh-Behbahani
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Georgetown University | Sponsor: Ronald Ellis

Shiva Hassanzadeh-Behbahani is a doctoral candidate in the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience (IPN) at Georgetown University. Before joining the IPN, Shiva earned her BA in Psychology with Honors from George Mason University. There her undergraduate research into the role of memory in sustained attention spurred her fascination with, and dedication to, understanding the mind and brain. In her senior year, Shiva was elected President of the George Mason chapter of Psi Chi, the National Honor Society in Psychology. Upon graduation she accepted a full-time laboratory manager position with the Cognitive Neuroimaging Laboratory at Georgetown University investigating how HIV affects the brain and leads to cognitive decline. This experience cemented her interest in using cognitive neuroscience and neuroimaging techniques to improve our understanding of neurological disorders. Her dissertation research integrates multimodal MRI data analysis and neurobehavioral approaches to investigate the underlying brain mechanisms of HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders. Shiva’s goal is to lead and mentor a collaborative and diverse research team seeking to understand how decision making, executive control, learning and memory are impacted by neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders.


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Raymundo Hernandez
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Raymundo Hernandez
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Virginia Tech | Sponsor: Michelle L. Olsen; Co-Sponsor: Michael A. Fox

Raymundo Hernandez is a PhD candidate in the Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health program at Virginia Tech. Ray is a first-generation college student, having acquired his BA in the Psychological Sciences at Arizona State University as a New American Scholar awardee. Ray served as an undergraduate research volunteer in Dr. M. Foster Olive’s Addiction Neuroscience Laboratory, where he first became fascinated by questions regarding glial cells in central nervous system development. Taking a less than traditional path after completion of his undergraduate studies, Ray established himself as a leader within Amazon.com’s fulfillment as a Worldwide Learning and Talent Development Program Facilitator. Ultimately, Ray chose to return to the world of neuroscience research to pursue his passion in understanding the development of astrocytes within neurotypical contexts and neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs). His dissertation research seeks to identify signaling responses in astrocytes upon brain-derived neurotrophin factor (BDNF) interaction and how these interactions may be disrupted and pathological in Rett Syndrome, a NDD with known BDNF deficiencies. Ray’s long term goals are to serve as an academic principal investigator in developmental glial biology and provide mentorship to facilitate the development of future research leaders.


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Heather L. Kosakowski
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Heather L. Kosakowski
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Massachusetts Institute of Technology | Sponsors: Rebecca Saxe & Nancy Kanwisher

Heather L. Kosakowski is a PhD in the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department at MIT. Kosakowski’s dissertation research focuses on the development of higher-level visual processes in the awake infant brain. Specifically, Kosakowski developed techniques to increase the quality of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data collected from awake infants leading to the discovery of face-, body-, and scene-selective responses in the ventral visual stream of infants. One goal of Kosakowski’s research is to development models to better understand and test theories of cortical function in the first year of life. Kosakowski had a non-traditional career path that included foster care, the Marine Corps, Community College, and being a single mother. This trajectory left Kosakowski with a deep desire for people that feel like outsiders to know there is a place for them, anywhere they want to be. Toward this goal, Kosakowski takes scientific mentorship seriously and maintains a blog where she discusses the way her past experiences interact with her current goals as a scientist.


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Josephine McGowan, Ph.D.
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Josephine McGowan
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Columbia University | Sponsor: Christine Ann Denny
K00 Phase: McLean Hospital of Harvard Medical School | Sponsor: William A. Carlezon, Jr.

Dr. Josephine McGowan is a Postdoctoral Research Scholar in the Behavioral Genetics Laboratory at McLean Hospital of Harvard Medical School. As a PhD candidate in the Neurobiology & Behavior program at Columbia University in Dr. Christine Ann Denny’s lab during her F99 phase, her research focused on the underlying biological basis of resilience against stress-induced psychiatric diseases such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive disorder (MDD). Her work demonstrated the potential to administer pharmaceuticals before stress in a vaccine-like fashion to prevent stress-induced psychiatric disorders. During her K00 phase, she will focus on the interactions among stress, sleep, and inflammation and develop her skills as an independent investigator. As a first-generation college student and Latina, she actively seeks to serve as a positive influence on others of similar background. Thus, she leads outreach activities that involve writing, spreading science education to underprivileged communities, and teaching effective science communication to early career researchers. She hopes to empower women, non-binary folks, and minoritized individuals to be leaders, and to advocate for the importance of supporting research. She is also passionate about literature, marathon running, playing the guitar, and seeing and engaging with as much of the world as possible.


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Katherine Meckel
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Katherine Meckel
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai | Sponsor: Drew Kiraly; Co-Sponsor: Paul Kenny

Katherine Meckel is a doctoral candidate in Neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She earned a BA in Biochemistry and a BM in Voice Performance from Lawrence University, both summa cum laude. There she performed behavioral pharmacology and electrophysiology research under Dr. Bruce Hetzler. She next joined the University of Chicago, working with Drs. Joel Pekow and Marc Bissonnette in the Section of Gastroenterology, where she developed an interest in understanding how peripheral factors such as dietary metabolites modulate brain function. Now in the lab of Dr. Drew Kiraly, she examines the effects of the gut microbiome and its metabolites on cocaine-seeking behaviors. For her efforts, she has been honored with a Trainee Professional Development Award from SfN, an Excellence in Teaching Award, and the Hausfeld Memorial Scholarship. Beyond the bench, Katherine is the co-founder of the student disabilities group (DREAMS) and serves as a student representative on the Graduate School Steering Committee. She volunteers with Mentoring in Neuroscience Discovery at Sinai, Music and Medicine Concerts, and previously with the Sinai COVID-19 Biobank Team. In the long-term, Katherine hopes to establish her own research laboratory where she will interrogate brain-gut interactions underlying substance use disorders.


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Tyler Nelson
​2021 D-SPAN Scholar 

Tyler Nelson
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine | Sponsor: Bradley Taylor

Tyler Nelson is a PhD Candidate in the Center for Neuroscience and Pittsburgh Center for Pain Research at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He received a BS in Biology and a BA in German at Wofford College. While at Wofford College he worked in the laboratory of Dr. David Pittman researching how benzodiazepines enhance taste palatability. Additionally, he participated in two summer research experiences with Dr. John Baird at Amherst College and Dr. Anilkumar Pillai at Augusta University. His current work in the Taylor laboratory focuses on the maladaptive changes to the spinal cord dorsal horn following peripheral nerve injury with a focus on identifying pharmacotherapeutic targets for neuropathic pain. Tyler’s dissertation work has received multiple honors, including T32 funding, an F31 National Research Service Award from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and several national and international poster and presentation awards. His long-term professional goal is to run a neuroscience laboratory at a Tier 1 research-intensive institution.


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Jean Rodríguez Díaz
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Jean Rodríguez Díaz
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Michigan-Ann Arbor | Sponsor: Kevin Jones

Jean Carlos Rodríguez Díaz received his B.Sc. in Biology from the University of Puerto Rico – Río Piedras Campus. As an undergraduate student, he was part of the ENDURE-NeuroID program which facilitated his first research experience in Dr. Lasalde’s laboratory. He developed an interest in neuronal network function which led him to participate in the International Program for the Advancement of Neurotechnology. He is currently a PhD Candidate at the Neuroscience Graduate Program at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Campus. Under the mentorship of Dr. Kevin Jones, his dissertation research is focused on determining the role of NMDARs in the development and maintenance of synchronous network activity. He attended the Summer Program in Neuroscience, Excellence and Success, as well as the Neural Systems and Behavior hosted at the Marine Biological Laboratory. His long-term goal is to become an independent academic researcher studying how neurons participate in neuronal networks and the impact of environmental insults on network activity. To achieve this goal, he has assembled a mentoring team consisting of Dr. Kevin Jones, Dr. Geoffrey Murphy, and Dr. Dominique Pritchett. In his spare time, Jean enjoys gaming, making terrariums, and keeping bonsai.


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Benjamin Shaw, Ph.D.
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Benjamin Shaw
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Kentucky | Sponsor: Dr. Steve Estus
K00 Phase:
Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute | Sponsor: Dr. Jessica L. Williams

Benjamin Shaw, Ph.D. is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute in the laboratory of Jessica L. Williams, Ph.D. studying the neuroimmunology of multiple sclerosis (MS). Specifically, he is interested in the cognitive deficits associated with progressive MS, and uses in vitro and transgenic animal models to investigate the impact of astrocyte cytokine signaling on cognition during neuroinflammatory challenge. Ben completed his Ph.D. at the University of Kentucky under Steven Estus, Ph.D. investigating the molecular genetics of multiple risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease.

 


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Cherish Taylor, Ph.D.
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Cherish Taylor
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: The University of Texas at Austin | Sponsor: Somshuvra Mukhopadhyay
K00 Phase: Boston Children’s Hospital/Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard | Sponsor: Beth Stevens

Dr. Cherish Taylor is a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Beth Stevens at Boston Children’s Hospital/Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. There, her research focuses on how environmental and genetic risk factors of neurodevelopmental disorders impact neuron-glia interactions. Before starting her postdoc, Cherish completed a B.A. in Psychology at Harvard University and a Ph.D. in Neuroscience in the Institute for Neuroscience at The University of Texas at Austin. Under the supervision of Dr. Somshuvra Mukhopadhyay, Cherish’s Ph. D. research focused on the mechanisms of manganese-induced disease and aimed to understand how brain manganese levels are regulated and how excess manganese impacts brain function. In addition to her research, Cherish is passionate about increasing the visibility and retention of women of color in STEM.


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Steven Wellman
2021 D-SPAN Scholar

Steven Wellman
2021 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Pittsburgh | Sponsor: Takashi Kozai

Steven Wellman is a PhD candidate within the department of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh. Prior to graduate school, Steven earned his bachelor’s in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Florida (UF). At UF, Steven cultivated his interest in nervous system injury and regeneration in Christine Schmidt’s lab, where he optimized chemical-free decellularization protocols to preserve the structure of acellularized nerve scaffolds for functional recovery of peripheral nerve injuries. Shifting his research interests towards understanding brain health and disease, Steven joined Takashi Kozai’s lab at Pitt as a prospective doctoral student exploring how implantable neural electrodes alter the structure and function of perivascular pericytes within the brain using a combination of in vivo two-photon microscopy, electrophysiology, and optogenetic techniques. While at Pitt, Steven has earned a diversity supplement from NINDS, a departmental travel grant award, and received distinction as Outstanding Research Assistant by the local graduate chapter of the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES). Ultimately, Steven aims to establish his own research group applying advanced neurotechnology to understand and treat neurodegenerative brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, while fostering an inclusive academic research environment that inspires and elevates the next generation of neuroscientists, particularly those from historically underrepresented backgrounds.

Cohort 6 

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Berenice Anaya
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Berenice Anaya
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: The Pennsylvania State University | Sponsor: Koraly Perez-Edgar

Berenice Anaya received her B.A. and M.S. in Psychology from Western Kentucky University (WKU). While at WKU, Berenice worked in Dr. Brandy Tiernan's and Dr. Elizabeth Lemerise's laboratories, merging her interest in neural circuitries of emotion regulation with her interest in understanding early developmental mechanisms of risk and resilience. In 2016, Berenice accepted an offer from the Developmental Psychology Graduate Program at The Pennsylvania State University (PSU) where she is a Ph.D. candidate in Dr. Koraly Perez-Edgar's laboratory. Currently, she is investigating neural development during infancy as a function of individual differences in temperament (including neural substrates), maternal anxiety, and mother-infant dynamic interactions. Berenice has received several honors, including a Distinguished Minority Fellowship from WKU, a Bunton-Waller Scholarship from PSU, and a Diversity Supplement from NIMH. Berenice is passionate about promoting diversity in academia and mentoring high school and undergraduate women from under-represented groups on their journey in education. Berenice is driven to pursue a career as a principal investigator in developmental neuroscience not only to expand our scientific knowledge and inform intervention and prevention efforts, but also to inspire Latina women like her to believe they are capable, worthy, and empowered to pursue their dreams.


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Paula Brooks
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Paula Brooks
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Princeton University | Sponsor: Kenneth Norman; Co-Sponsor: Maureen Ritchey 

Paula P. Brooks is a doctoral candidate at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, where she works with Dr. Kenneth Norman in the Princeton Computational Memory Lab. She is also a Visiting Scholar in the Memory Modulation Lab at Boston College, led by Dr. Maureen Ritchey. Paula is driven by a desire to understand how people regulate negative emotional memories and why some people are better at dealing with negative memories than others. For her dissertation, she is looking at how memory reactivation strength might predict one’s ability to deal with negative memories. Her work incorporates multiple methodologies including neuroimaging (fMRI), eye-tracking, and computational modeling. Moreover, Paula is dedicated to reproducibility in neuroimaging as a core member of the group developing the Princeton Handbook for Reproducible Neuroimaging, an online reference for best practices in reproducible fMRI research. Outside of the lab, Paula is committed to mentoring undergraduate students, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds, and to further developing her skills as a science communicator. Throughout her time in graduate school, Paula has received an NIH Diversity Supplement and has been named an SfN Neuroscience Scholars Program Fellow and a Harvey Fellow through the Mustard Seed Foundation.


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Gabriela Carrillo, Ph.D.
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Gabriela Carrillo
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Virginia Tech | Sponsor: Michael A. Fox

K00 Phase: Boston Children’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School | Sponsor: Elizabeth Engle         

Dr. Gabriela Carrillo is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in the laboratory of Dr. Elizabeth Engle. She is interested in understanding how brain and peripheral motor networks involved in facial movement and expression are assembled, particularly in the context of neurodevelopmental disorders and disease. Dr. Carrillo earned her Ph.D. in the Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health program at Virginia Tech. As a graduate student in the lab of Dr. Michael Fox, she studied how chronic brain infection with the parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, leads to cell-type specific changes in cortical connectivity. She used an array of microscopy, molecular, transgenic and reporter tools to investigate the neuroimmune mechanisms underlying these changes. Dr. Carrillo has a passion for mentorship and community building, both in and outside of academia. She has been widely recognized for these efforts, most recently as Virginia Tech’s Graduate Student of the Year. She is deeply committed to educating and mentoring the next generation of scientists and making science more accessible and inclusive to all.



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Christian Cazares, Ph.D.
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Christian Cazares
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of California, San Diego | Sponsor: Christian Gremel

K00 Phase: Salk Institute for Biological Studies | Sponsor: Kay Tye

An immigrant from Mexico, Dr. Christian Cazares received his B.A. in Cognitive Science at UC Berkeley funded by the Gates Millennium Scholarship. He spent the following two years doing post-baccalaureate research as a member of the PennPREP program at the University of Pennsylvania. Christian then earned a Ph.D. in Neuroscience at UC San Diego under the supervision of Dr. Christina Gremel. During this time, he was awarded the NSF-GRFP, became a SfN Neuroscience Scholars Program fellow, and was awarded the Leon Thal Award for Excellence in Neuroscience Graduate Research. Now, as a postdoctoral fellow working in Dr. Kay Tye’s lab, Christian is using in-vivo calcium imaging and optogenetic techniques to research serotonergic interactions with the cortical circuits governing social behaviors. When not in the lab, Christian skateboards and runs a graduate organization (Colors of the Brain) he co-founded which mentors underrepresented undergraduate students interested in applying to STEM graduate programs. In the Summer, Christian Co-directs the CoB-KIBM Scholars program in collaboration with the UC San Diego Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind, which offers a paid summer research experience to undergraduates from underrepresented backgrounds.


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Laura Cortes, Ph.D.
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Laura Cortes
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Georgia State University | Sponsor: Nancy Forger
K00 Phase: University of California Los Angeles | Sponsor: Stephanie Correa

Dr. Laura Cortes is a postdoctoral scholar in the Integrative Biology & Physiology department at the University of Los Angeles California. Laura earned her B.S. in Neuroscience at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign where she became interested in sex differences and hormones while working in the lab of Dr. Janice Juraska. At Georgia State University, she earned a National Science Foundation graduate fellowship to investigate the role of epigenetics in sexual differentiation of the mouse brain in Dr. Nancy Forger’s lab. Her dissertation investigated how DNA methylation and demethylation contribute to sex differences in cell type within the hypothalamus. She joined Dr. Stephanie Correa’s group in 2022 to gain training in cutting-edge tools to dissect the effect of estrogens on the hypothalamus. Her goal is to understand the mechanisms underlying thermoregulatory changes during pregnancy.


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Mitchell Farrell, Ph.D.
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Mitchell Farrell
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of California, Irvine | Sponsor: Stephen Mahler
K00 Phase: Albert Einstein College of Medicine | Sponsor: 
Lucas Sjulson

Dr. Mitch Farrell earned a BA in Psychology at The College of New Jersey. There, his interest in behavioral neuroscience began in Margaret Martinetti’s Alcohol Lab where he studied the effects of rearing environment on economic demand for alcohol and sugar rewards using operant conditioning in rats. Mitch went on to earn a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Stephen Mahler’s Lab at University of California, Irvine. There, Mitch was awarded an F31 NRSA for his research identifying a key role for ventral pallidum GABAergic neurons across appetitive and aversive motivational states. Subsequent work employed cell- and pathway-specific chemogenetics, immunohistochemistry, and self-administration models to examine the role of ventral pallidum GABAergic circuits in cocaine and opioid addiction in rat models of relapse. Currently, Mitch is a Sheryl and Dan Tishman Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Neuroscience at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. His current work focuses on large-scale neurophysiological recordings across ventral basal ganglia networks during the development of addiction-like behavior using rodent self-administration models.


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Antonio Fernandez
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Antonio Fernandez
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: New York University | Sponsor: Marisa Carrasco

Antonio Fernandez is a doctoral candidate in the Cognition and Perception program at New York University. He received a B.S. in Psychology with Honors from the University of Florida in 2015. While there, he worked in the lab of Dr. Andreas Keil where he conducted EEG research focused on the effect of emotion and attention on the human alpha rhythm.  His current work, in the lab of Dr. Marisa Carrasco, uses psychophysics and non-invasive brain stimulation to assess the cortical areas and mechanisms responsible for covert spatial attention’s effect on performance. As a postdoctoral fellow, to help fulfill his long-term goal of investigating the neural correlates of attention, Antonio will seek further training in the analysis of neural time series data.

 

 


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Joshua D. Garcia
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Joshua D. Garcia
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: The University of Colorado - Anschutz Medical Campus | Sponsor: Katharine R. Smith

Joshua D. Garcia is a Ph.D. candidate in the Pharmacology Graduate Training program at the University of Colorado - Anschutz Medical Campus. Joshua received a B.S. degree in biology from the University of New Mexico where he began his research career studying mechanisms of mitotic spindle positioning with Dr. Christopher Johnston, through the NIGMS funded IMSD program. As an undergraduate, Joshua also participated in the Amgen Scholars Program at the University of California - Berkeley, where he investigated proteostasis dysfunction throughout aging in Dr. Andrew Dillin’s lab. For his thesis work, Joshua transitioned into the synaptic neuroscience field and joined that laboratory of Dr. Katharine Smith, where he studies the molecular basis of synaptic inhibition and plasticity in the hippocampus. Joshua’s work specifically focuses on understanding the mechanisms that promote synaptic depression following cerebral ischemia. His broader interests focus on mechanisms of synaptic biology, specifically deficits that underlie neurological pathologies, and he plans to focus on neuropsychiatric disorders including autism. Joshua has received several honors including two years of T32 funding, an AHA predoctoral fellowship and several graduate school awards. He is also highly active in youth mentorship programs locally, with the aim of increasing exposure of under-represented minority students to scientific research.


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Maanasa Jayachandran
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Maanasa Jayachandran
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Florida International University | Sponsor: Timothy A. Allen

Maanasa Jayachandran is a Ph.D. candidate in the Cognitive Neuroscience Program at Florida International University (FIU). Maanasa earned her B.S. in Neuroscience and Molecular Biochemistry from the University of Miami where she explored the role of the active zone protein Bruchpilot (BRP) in Drosophila. She then completed her Masters in Brain and Mind Sciences at the University of Sydney where she studied miRNA-218 in motor neuron development in zebrafish. Currently, she works with Dr. Timothy A. Allen in the Neurocircuitry and Cognition Lab at FIU. Her research focuses on understanding the role of media prefrontal cortex in the memory for sequences of events. She recently used a projection specific synaptic silencing approach (AAV-hM4Di) to show that two different medial prefrontal cortex pathways bias retrieval strategies in sequence memory (Jayachandran et al., 2019, Cell Reports). She is currently following this up by studying the neural mechanisms of sequence memory using chronic silicon probes to record neural activity from these memory circuits in combination with optogenetic manipulations and tagging approaches. Looking forward, she will look to applying this framework in transgenic rodent models of mental health disorders such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease.


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Cristina María Ríos
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Cristina María Ríos
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Michigan | Sponsor: Jonathan Morrow

Cristina E. María Ríos is a native of Aibonito, Puerto Rico. Her experience in neuroscience research began in 2014 in the laboratory of Dr. Carlos Jiménez Rivera at the University of Puerto Rico, where she completed a junior thesis focused on neuroadaptations in the brain reward circuit induced by long-term cocaine exposure. To complement her early research training, she joined the NIH-funded Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) Program. In 2016, she received her B.S in Cellular-Molecular Biology at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras and then joined the Neuroscience Graduate Program at the University of Michigan, where she is currently pursuing her Ph.D under the co-mentorship of Drs. Jonathan Morrow and Geoffrey Murphy. Cristina has received several honors throughout the years, including the NSF-GRFP award and the SfN Neuroscience Scholars Program fellowship. For her dissertation, she is characterizing individual variation in electrophysiological properties and functional connectivity within reward pathways that may predispose some individuals toward addictive drug use and other pathological cue-motivated behaviors. Her long-term goals include leading her own research team to determine neurobiological processes that can make certain individuals more vulnerable or resilient to disorders of aberrant associative learning after early-life stress.


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Joseph M. Martinez, Ph.D.
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Joseph M. Martinez
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of California, Davis | Sponsors: Yang Kevin Xiang and Johannes Hell
K00 Phase: Boston University | Sponsors: Dr. Michael Wallace and Dr. Jennifer Luebke

Dr. Joseph M. Martinez is from Clovis, New Mexico, the youngest of three siblings.  He received his B.S. in Brain and Cognitive Sciences from MIT.  Upon graduation, Joseph worked as the Assistant Director at the Garrison Institute on Aging in Lubbock, TX researching Alzheimer’s disease for four years.  Joseph then completed dual MS/MBA degrees at TTU Health Sciences Center and the Rawls College of Business researching sex differences in alcohol use disorders and studying STEM business, respectively.  For his work, Joseph was awarded the Rawls College of Business Administration Excellence in Management Award and the TTUHSC Dean’s Recognition Award, the highest award given to master’s students. Joseph PhD in Neuroscience was completed at the University of California, Davis (UCD) in Dr. Kevin Xiang’s Lab where he studied adrenergic signaling pathways in the central nervous system focusing on learning and memory.  Upon matriculation to UCD, Joseph was awarded a spot in the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) program funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.   He later was awarded a position in UCD’s Pharmacology T32 Fellowship. His K00 research will be conducted in Dr. Michael Wallace’s lab at Boston University where Joseph will research sex mediated differences in stress on decision making in behaving animals focusing on basal ganglia circuits. Joseph’s goal is to further the understanding of the mechanism of learning and decision making and apply those findings to disease pathogenesis in neurodegenerative disorders.


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photo of Kelly Martyniuk
Kelly Martyniuk
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Kelly Martyniuk
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Columbia University | Sponsor: Christoph Kellendonk

Kelly Martyniuk received her Bachelor of Science in Physiology and Neuroscience from the University of California, San Diego. As an undergraduate and technician, she worked with Dr. Brenda Bloodgood studying the neural circuits and mechanisms underlying synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus. Currently, Kelly is a Ph.D. candidate in the Doctoral Program in Neurobiology and Behavior at Columbia University under the mentorship of Dr. Christoph Kellendonk. Her dissertation research investigates the complex interactions between dopamine and acetylcholine signaling in the brain and the role these neuromodulators play in reward learning. Kelly’s long-term research goals are to examine how the brain is affected by neurological and psychiatric disorders, identify the specific neural circuits that are disrupted by disease and develop novel therapeutic strategies.

 


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photo of Rolando Masís-Obando
Rolando Masís-Obando
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Rolando Masís-Obando
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Princeton University | Sponsor: Kenneth Norman

Since a young age, Rolando Masís-Obando has been fascinated by the “processes” in nature. His pursuit of the “how” and the “why” drove him towards the Pasteur Institute in France to investigate how bacterial pathogens infiltrate and control the host-cell machinery. Then, while finishing his bachelor's in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology from Yale University, he worked with Dr. Michael Higley and investigated the potential role of GABAergic interneurons in mediating anti-depressive behaviors in mice. Now, Rolando pairs virtual reality with fMRI to study how people’s use of schemas, like of events (e.g. birthdays) or spaces (e.g. Memory Palace technique), guide comprehension and consequently, memories of real-life experiences. These same questions motivate him towards innovating upon technological interventions that will help populations with learning and memory deficits and to that same end, provide insights that will improve an archaic education system that adversely affects underrepresented and low-income students. Outside the lab, Rolando explores process through his art as a composer and filmmaker. He has found that his scientific and artistic interests are deeply interwoven and frequently feed off each other. Rolando also enjoys giving back to the academic community and co-founded a resource for early-career academics called PhDx.


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photo of Kathleen McDonough
Kathleen McDonough
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Kathleen McDonough
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Texas Medical Branch | Sponsor: Jun-Ho La

Kathleen McDonough received a B.S. in Neuroscience with a minor in Biochemistry from Baylor University. While at Baylor she worked in the laboratory of Dr. Bradley Keele, where she completed an Honors Thesis on the neurobiological effects of stress. She was also an ASPET Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio under Dr. David Morilak. Kathleen is now Ph.D. candidate and Presidential Scholar of the Neuroscience Graduate Program at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas, where she is co-mentored by Dr. Jun-Ho La and Dr. Jin Mo Chung. Her research is focused on investigating sex-specific spinal cord mechanisms of nociplastic pain. Kathleen’s goal is to understand better the circuitry changes underlying chronic pain conditions in order to develop more effective therapeutics. She is also passionate about teaching and mentorship and hopes to help cultivate enthusiasm for neuroscience in future scientists.


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photo of Lilyana Quigley
Lilyana Quigley
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Lilyana Quigley
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center | Sponsor: Lenora Volk

Lilyana Quigley is a Ph.D. candidate in the Neuroscience Program at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UTSW). She earned her B.S. in Neuroscience from The University of Texas at Dallas, where she studied maladaptive plasticity mechanisms underlying migraine in the lab of Dr. Gregory Dussor. At UTSW, in the lab of Dr. Lenora Volk, her dissertation work investigates in vivo network dysfunction following removal of the synaptic scaffolding protein, KIBRA, a key regulator of plasticity that is associated with natural variation in human memory and several neuropsychiatric disorders. Lilyana was selected to participate in the Mechanisms of Disease and Translational Science (MoDTS) program at UTSW, which trains Ph.D. students in unique requirements for translational science and includes clinical research experience that complements their thesis project.  Her career goal is to identify mechanisms by which changes in genetic and neuronal properties contribute to abnormal circuit function and behavior in neuropsychiatric disease. Beyond the bench, she is passionate about educating the next generation of scientists and improving representation and inclusivity in STEM. Towards this goal, she has held leadership positions in the UTSW chapter of SACNAS and The Association of African American Scientists (TAAAS).  


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Elizabeth Sneddon, Ph.D.
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Elizabeth Sneddon
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Miami University | Sponsor: Anna Radke; Co-Sponsor: F. Woody Hopf

K00 Phase: University of California, San Diego | Sponsor: Olivier George

Elizabeth Sneddon, Ph.D. is a post-doctoral scholar at the University of California, San Diego. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology at Miami University. Her research focus was on developing rodent models to capture sex differences in addictive behaviors and investigating the mechanisms driving these differences in the RAD lab under the mentorship of Dr. Anna Radke. She received a B.A. in Psychology from the University of New Mexico. While at UNM, she worked in Dr. Benjamin Clark’s lab researching how spatial memory and navigation are altered in a preclinical model of Alzheimer’s disease. Elizabeth is devoted to promoting diversity and inclusion in STEM through various initiatives in academia and the community. She was an Associate in the Neuroscience Scholars Program and has received awards from Miami University, the Society for Neuroscience, the Research Society for Alcoholism, and the Midwestern Psychological Association. Her career goal is to develop a research program focused on sex-specific neuroadaptations pre- and post-drug exposure in addiction-related behaviors.


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photo of Jamal B. Williams
Jamal B. Williams
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Jamal B. Williams
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University at Buffalo | Sponsor: Zhen Yan

Jamal B. Williams is a neuroscience Ph.D. candidate at the University at Buffalo (UB). Currently Jamal is using epigenomic, electrophysiological, and behavioral analysis to identify and target changes in gene expression that facilitate aberrant neuronal function in Alzheimer's disease. Jamal received his undergraduate degrees in Biology and Mathematics from D'Youville College and studied for his Master's in Biology at SUNY Buffalo State. Outside of the lab, Jamal is co-host of a podcast called Reclaim the Bench, President of a science policy nonprofit Science Demands Action, President of UB's Neuroscience GSA, and involved in various mentoring programs. Jamal's overarching goal is to make science a more equitable environment, in both his research and in his community service. After graduate school, Jamal aims to understand how neuroepigenomics can aid in the development of novel treatment strategies for neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative diseases.

 

 


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photo of Kellie Williford
Kellie Williford
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Kellie Williford
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Vanderbilt University | Sponsor: Danny Winder

Kellie Williford received her B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis, where she was a John B. Ervin Scholar and majored in Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology with a minor in Biomedical Physics. While there, she researched mechanisms of synaptic specificity in pain processing with Dr. Robert Gereau as part of the MARC uSTAR program, and participated in uSTAR, HHMI EXROP, and CSHL summer research programs. She came to Vanderbilt University in 2016 through the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program and joined the lab of Dr. Danny Winder. Here she studies cell-type-specific and circuit mechanisms underlying stress responses and anxiety-like behaviors and hopes to pursue a career investigating the interaction of these with substance use disorders. Kellie is a recipient of the HHMI Gilliam Fellowship, Vanderbilt’s Levi Watkins, Jr. Student Award for Commitment to Diversity, and the Vanderbilt Brain Institute Student Leadership Award. She is also a co-founder and former President of the Graduate Students of Color Collective, member of the Graduate Diversity and Inclusion committee, and is passionate about community involvement, serving as Outreach Chair for the Neuroscience Student Organization.

Cohort 5

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Rylie Hightower, 2020 D-SPAN Scholar
Rylie Hightower
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Rylie Hightower
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Alabama at Birmingham | Sponsor: Matthew Alexander

Rylie Hightower is a New Mexico native and earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from New Mexico State University in 2015. Her passion for neuroscience began during a summer research internship at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA. As an undergraduate NINDS BRAiN (Building Research Achievement in Neuroscience) Scholar, she was part of the NMSU Falls Lab, helping understand relationships between physical activity, mobility, and risk for falling in older adult populations. She also completed a nursing internship at Memorial Medical Cancer Center in Las Cruces, NM as a nursing research assistant, helping identify patients eligible for clinical trials and administering phase II and III experimental therapeutics. Rylie is currently a PhD candidate in Dr. Matthew Alexander's laboratory at the University of Alabama at Birmingham studying how non-coding RNAs influence the pathological progression of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Throughout her time as a graduate student, Rylie has been named a UAB Civitan International Research Center Emerging Scholar Award winner, is a former UAB Center for Exercise Medicine trainee, and is a UAB Roadmap Scholar. Rylie's primary research interests include mechanisms of communication between muscle and nerve and plans on pursuing academic research in the field of motor neuron disease.


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Nahdia Jones, 2020 D-SPAN Scholar
Nahdia Jones, Ph.D.
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Nahdia Jones, Ph.D.
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Georgetown University | Sponsor: G. William Rebeck

Nahdia Jones is a Post-Doctoral Research Scientist at Columbia University.  She earned her Ph.D. from the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience (IPN) at Georgetown University in 2020. Before her Ph.D., she received her B.A. in Neuroscience from Boston University where she worked in the laboratory of Dr. Howard Eichenbaum focusing on investigating the effects of transient time cell disruption on memory recall.  At the IPN, she worked with Dr. Bill Rebeck in the Laboratory of Aging and Neurodegeneration. Her dissertation focuses on understanding the effects a high fat diet (HFD) has on the metabolism and the cognition of Apolipoprotein E (APOE) genotypes. Currently Nahdia is working with Dr. Anthony Ferrante to identify how HFD alters the CNS and results in CNS disturbances. Her goal is to bridge the gap between the periphery and the CNS and to understand what specific HFD associated peripheral changes lead to CNS deficits.

 


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Anisha Kalidindi, 2020 D-SPAN Scholar
Anisha Kalidindi
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Anisha Kalidindi
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: The Ohio State University | Sponsor: Karl Obrietan

Anisha Kalidindi completed her B.S. in Biological Science at Emory University. During her time at Emory, she was a fellow in the NIH BP-ENDURE Atlanta Net/work program and worked in the laboratory of Dr. Gretchen Neigh. Currently, she is a Ph.D. candidate in the Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology program at Ohio State University. Upon matriculation Anisha was awarded a University Fellowship and a spot in the Cellular, Molecular, and Biochemical Sciences Program NIH T32 training program.  She currently works in the laboratory of Dr. Karl Obrietan studying the molecular mechanisms governing circadian rhythms. Her thesis work examines the mechanisms of circadian clock disruption in Alzheimer's disease.

 

 

 


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Kavin Nuñez, 2020 D-SPAN Scholar
Kavin Nuñez, Ph.D.
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Kavin Nuñez
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Brown University | Sponsor: Karla Kaun
K00 Phase: New York University | Sponsor: Katherine Nagel

Kavin Nuñez, Ph.D. is post-doctoral research fellow at the Neuroscience Institute at New York University Langone in the laboratory of Katherine Nagel, Ph.D. studying multisensory integration in Drosophila melanogaster. Prior to working in the Nagel lab, Kavin earned his Ph.D.  in Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology at Brown University and was a recipient of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Gilliam Fellowship while working in the laboratory of Karla R. Kaun, Ph.D. Kavin received his B.S. in Neuroscience from Brown University in 2015, where he first discovered his passion for neuroscience in an introductory course covering a broad array of neuroscience topics. Kavin's dissertation work in the laboratory of Karla R. Kaun, Ph.D. investigated how an animal's internal state (fear, stress, hunger, etc.) can affect reward and memory processing circuits to motivate behavior. Specifically focusing on how food-deprivation directly modulates reward and memory processing circuits to impact memories for drugs of abuse, particularly alcohol, in Drosophila melanogaster. Kavin is also passionate in promoting and supporting diversity with inclusion initiatives in the sciences, and is an active mentor in and out of the lab.


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Ti'Air Riggins, 2020 D-SPAN Scholar
Ti'Air Riggins
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Ti'Air Riggins
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Michigan State University | Sponsor: Erin K. Purcell

Ti'Air Riggins is a current Biomedical Engineering PhD candidate at Michigan State University.  She received her bachelors in Biomedical Engineering from The Ohio State University in 2011 as the first black undergraduate BME student, and proceeded to earn a master's from the University of Cincinnati in 2013.  Her research focus is integrating tissue engineering with implantable electrodes to tune immune response in the brain, in the REIL lab under the direction of Dr. Erin Purcell. She is heavily involved in the BMES, NSBE and is in the speaker's bureau for the Rape And Incest National Network.  She has also served in the community under her platforms of sexual assault awareness and exposing underrepresented students to STEM as Miss Indiana United States 2015 and has received awards for her Social Justice in 2016 and Humanitarianism in 2018.  She was named a fellow in the Society for Neuroscience from 2016-2018. Her future goals include managing her own lab focusing on brain immune response to implantable neurotechnology and being a successful  mentor for students who are underrepresented in neuroscience and engineering. 


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Lester J. Rosario-Rodriguez, 2020 D-SPAN Scholar
Lester J. Rosario-Rodr­íguez, Ph.D.
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Lester J. Rosario-Rodr­íguez
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Puerto Rico-Medical Sciences Campus | Sponsor: Loyda M. Meléndez; Co-Sponsors: Valerie Wojna and José A. Lasalde-Dominicci
K00 Phase: University of Puerto Rico-Medical Sciences Campus | Sponsor: Valerie Wojna and José A. Lasalde-Dominicci

Lester J. Rosario-Rodrí­guez, Ph.D. is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Puerto Rico-Medical Sciences Campus (UPR-MSC), studying the therapeutic role of the alpha-7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor against HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND) in microglia and brain organoids models. He completed his Ph.D. degree in the Department of Microbiology at the UPR-MSC. He worked in Dr. Loyda M. Meléndez's laboratory which focuses on understanding and developing strategies against HAND. His thesis was aimed to understand the role of the cannabinoid receptor type 2  activation in cathepsin B neurotoxicity promoted by HIV-infected macrophages. His motivation for science began during high school, where he had the opportunity to represent Puerto Rico at the Intel International Scientific and Engineering Fair 2010. He completed his bachelor's degree in Biology at the University of Puerto Rico, Cayey Campus. As an undergraduate, he was an awardee of the Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship and participated in the NIH Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) program. Also, he participated in three summer research internships at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he performed studies of DNA damage, immunology, and virology, respectively. As a graduate student, he was a fellow of Yale Ciencia Academy, a RISE program trainee, and an associate of the Latin American Training Program of the Society for Neuroscience.


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Stephanie Sandoval-Pistorius, 2020 D-SPAN Scholar
Stephanie Sandoval-Pistorius, Ph.D.
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Stephanie Sandoval-Pistorius
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Michigan | Sponsor: Henry Paulson
K00 Phase: University of California, San Francisco | Sponsor: Philip Starr, Co-Sponsor: Simon Little

Dr. Stephanie Sandoval-Pistorius received her B.S. and M.S. in Neuroscience and minor in Chemistry from Brigham Young University (BYU). While at BYU, Stephanie worked in Dr. Scott Steffensen's laboratory studying the neural basis of drug reward and dependence. Stephanie received her PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Michigan (UM), under the mentorship of Dr. Henry Paulson. Her dissertation work investigated the role of the protein quality control factor Ubiquilin-2 in neurodegeneration, with an emphasis on its role in Parkinson’s disease. Stephanie is currently a postdoctoral scholar in Dr. Philip Starr’s laboratory where she is working to establish a minimally invasive technique for long-term cortical recordings in patients with Parkinson’s disease who are implanted with sensing-enabled deep brain stimulation devices. She is interested in using this technique to one day study potential differences in pathological oscillatory activity in patients with monogenic forms of Parkinson’s disease. 

Stephanie has received several honors, including an exceptional summer student award from the NIH-NINDS, ECPA and NSP fellowships from SfN, a Rackham Merit Fellowship from UM, and an F31-NRSA fellowship from the NIH-NIA. Stephanie is passionate about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in STEM and is continually working to increase inclusivity in academia. She hopes to one day be the principal investigator of a diverse research team working to improve treatments for individuals living with Parkinson’s disease.


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Wendy Wenderski, 2020 D-SPAN Scholar
Wendy Wenderski
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Wendy Wenderski
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Stanford University | Sponsor: Gerald Crabtree

Within the nucleus of a cell, proteins package the DNA so that only the genes needed by that particular cell are expressed at a given time. Mutations in components of this DNA:protein complex, referred to as "chromatin," are known to cause certain neurological disorders, as well as many cancers. As a Developmental Biology Ph.D. candidate in Dr. Gerald Crabtree's lab at Stanford University, Wendy identified an inherited form of autism caused by mutations in ACTL6B, which encodes a neuronal-specific subunit of the BAF chromatin remodeling complex. She found that mice lacking this gene exhibit similar brain morphology, behaviors, and neuronal gene expression patterns to the human patients. Notably, patient-derived brain organoids and electrically silenced Actl6b-/-  mouse neurons exhibited transcriptional signatures of neuronal activity, indicating that poor distinction between resting and active states may contribute to autism. Previously, Wendy was a research assistant with Dr. C. David Allis at The Rockefeller University. There, she helped uncover important roles for chromatin mechanisms, including histone turnover and DNA methylation, in regulating gene expression within the developing and adult nervous system. Looking forward, Wendy seeks to understand how chromatin regulators function within specific neuronal circuits to modulate behavior. 


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Cory White, 2020 D-SPAN Scholar
Cory White, Ph.D.
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Cory White, Ph.D.
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Johns Hopkins School of Medicine | Sponsor: Michael Wolfgang
K00 Phase: Johns Hopkins School of Medicine | Sponsor: Dionna Williams

Cory White, Ph.D. is a postdoctoral research fellow at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the laboratory of Dionna W. Williams, Ph.D. studying the metabolic consequences of HIV infection in the brain using multiple animal models. Before joining the Williams lab, Cory completed his Ph.D. in the Biochemistry, Cellular & Molecular Biology Graduate Program at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the laboratory of Michael Wolfgang, Ph.D. evaluating the capacity for the brain to oxidize fatty acids under normal conditions where he was a NINDS F31 NRSA Diversity fellow and a SfN Neuroscience Scholars Program fellow. Cory is invested in initiatives and organizations that mentor, support, and advocate for underrepresented trainees at Hopkins. Specifically, he serves as a peer mentor for the Hopkins NIH-funded Post-baccalaureate Research Education Program, served as vice president of programming for the Biomedical Scholar’s Association, and co-organized several Second Look Visits for Accepted Underrepresented Students.


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Jamal Williams, 2020 D-SPAN Scholar
Jamal A. Williams
2020 D-SPAN Scholar

Jamal A. Williams
2020 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Princeton University | Sponsor: Kenneth Norman

Jamal A. Williams is a Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience at Princeton University currently being advised by Dr. Kenneth Norman and co-advised by Dr. Uri Hasson and Dr. Elizabeth Margulis. Jamal uses neuroimaging and computational modeling to investigate the neural mechanisms underlying the complex relationship between music and memory. He received his B.A. in Psychology from the University of Memphis where he used artificial intelligence, computational modeling, and music to understand patterns of learning in humans. During the F99 phase of the award, Jamal will use fMRI to investigate how repeated musical themes in a film score shape viewers' memory for the film. Jamal plans to extend this type of research to different sub-populations such as infants and also across cultures, to better understand how music-related memory for real-world events develops within and across brains. Jamal hopes that his work will help guide music-based interventions in the classroom as well as in populations suffering from neurodegenerative disorders.

 

Cohort 4

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Kenneth Amaya, 2019 D-SPAN Scholar
Kenneth Amaya, Ph.D.
2019 D-SPAN Scholar

Kenneth Amaya, Ph.D.
2019 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Dartmouth College | Sponsor: Kyle Smith

Kenneth Amaya is a postdoctoral fellow in the Maguire Lab at Tufts University under the supervision of Dr. Jamie Maguire. Kenneth’s postdoctoral research is focused on valence processing, amygdalar microcircuitry, and neural oscillations, in both healthy and disordered animal models. Prior to joining the Maguire Lab, Kenneth earned his Ph.D. from the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College in the lab of Dr. Kyle Smith. There, his work examined the neural bases of habit formation and maintenance while incorporating various methodologies including optogenetics, DREADDs, and in vivo electrophysiology. Kenneth’s long-term research plans are to probe the neural networks dedicated to value learning and use with the goal of furthering the field's understanding of how these networks change in disordered states. 

 

 


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Joy Franco, 2019 D-SPAN Scholar
Joy Franco, Ph.D.
2019 D-SPAN Scholar

Joy Franco, Ph.D.
2019 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Stanford University | Sponsor: Miriam Goodman

Joy is a Ph.D. candidate studying mechanosensory neurons under Miriam Goodman, at Stanford University, with co-advisement from Beth Pruitt at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She discovered her passion for neuroscience while attending community college after learning of neurally-interfaced prosthetics. After transferring to San José State University, Joy was accepted to the MARC U*STAR program and began studying mechanosensation in muscle spindle afferents in Katherine Wilkinson’s neurophysiology lab. After beginning her graduate studies at Stanford, Joy rotated in the Stanford Microsystems Lab with Beth Pruitt, gaining exposure to the broader fields of mechanobiology and biofabrication. Joy chose to apply what she learned from Dr. Pruitt to the system of interest in Dr. Goodman’s lab: the touch receptor neurons (TRNs) of the roundworm C. elegans. Her formal training in mechanical engineering, both as an undergrad and graduate student, allows Joy to work at the interface of mechanics and neurobiology. Her dissertation research is focused on understanding the role that extracellular mechanics play in the function of TRNs. She hopes to one day study this phenomenon in central neurons following traumatic brain injury and in various disease states.


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Javier How, PhD 2019 D-SPAN Scholar
Javier How, Ph.D.
2019 D-SPAN Scholar

Javier How, Ph.D.
2019 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of California, San Diego | Sponsor: Saket Navlakha, Co-sponsor: Sreekanth Chalasani
K00 Phase: Johns Hopkins University  | Sponsor: Joshua Vogelstein, Co-Sponsor: Florian Engert

Javier earned his Ph.D. in 2020 from the University of California San Diego, where he worked with Saket Navlakha and Sreekanth Chalasani of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies to study how odorants and tastants change network-level interactions between neurons in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Javier is now a postdoctoral fellow studying transfer learning in larval Danio rerio (zebrafish) in the labs of Joshua Vogelstein of Johns Hopkins University, Florian Engert of Harvard University, and Misha Ahrens of Janelia Research Campus.

 

 


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Jasmine Kwasa, 2019 D-SPAN Scholar
Jasmine Kwasa, Ph.D.
2019 D-SPAN Scholar

Jasmine Kwasa, Ph.D.
2019 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Carnegie Mellon University | Sponsor: Barbara Shinn-Cunningham

Jasmine Kwasa is a post-doctoral fellow in the Neuroscience Institute at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and originally from the South Side of Chicago. She earned her B.S. from Washington University in St. Louis, her M.S. from Boston University (both in Biomedical Engineering), and her Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from CMU. Her work merges engineering, cognitive science, and neuroimaging with the aim of discovering quantitative, non-invasive measures of behavioral phenomena in human cognition. Her ongoing post-doctoral research seeks to understand the neural basis of individual differences (population heterogeneity) in top-down attention and other cognitive skills using high-density electroencephalography (EEG) and machine learning. In parallel, Jasmine is working to develop neurotechnologies, such as EEG and fNIRS, optimized for coarse, curly hair and dark pigmentation (melanin) with collaborators at CMU. Finally, she writes about inclusive neurotech and the history of racial bias in neuroscience, medicine, and technology.

Jasmine has received several honors throughout her training, including being named an NSF GRFP, a Ford Foundation Fellow, a Society for Neuroscience NSP fellow, and a “Rising Star in Biomedical" by MIT. In her free time, Jasmine is a dance fitness instructor and enjoys travel and time with her enormous family.


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Sofia Lopez, 2019 D-SPAN Scholar
Sofia A. Lopez, Ph.D.
2019 D-SPAN Scholar

Sofia A. Lopez
2019 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Michigan | Sponsor: Shelly B. Flagel, Co-Sponsors: Robert Kennedy and James Herman
K00 Phase: Oregon Health & Science University | Sponsor: Matthew Lattal, Co-Sponsor: Deena Walker

Dr. Sofia A. Lopez, a native of El Paso–Juárez, is a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Matthew Lattal’s learning and memory lab in the Department of Behavioral Neuroscience at Oregon Health & Science University. Dr. Lopez earned her B.S. in Psychology with a minor in Biology from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Michigan. Her behavioral neuroscience research experience began by participating in the NIH Research Initiative for Science Enhancement (RISE) program at UTEP. Under the mentorship of Dr. Edward Castañeda, she investigated the plasticity of presynaptic mechanisms that modulate neurotransmitter release during changes in behavior due to neurodegeneration or substance abuse. Upon graduating from UTEP in 2014, she received the Psychology Department Outstanding Achievement in Research Award. In 2015, she matriculated at the University of Michigan; joined Dr. Shelly Flagel’s lab and, in 2016, received the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) award. In 2020, Dr. Lopez defended her dissertation focused on the interaction between stress- and reward-mechanisms mediating individual differences in cue-motivated behaviors. Currently, as a postdoc in Dr. Lattal’s lab, she studies the neurobiology underlying the persistent effects of stress on reward learning. Her long-term goal is to become an independent scientist with a research program focused on understanding the neurobiology of motivated behavior and its relationship with stress. She is particularly interested in uncovering the neural mechanisms by which one is deemed vulnerable or resilient to psychopathology.


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Esteban Lucero, 2019 D-SPAN Scholar
Esteban Lucero, Ph.D.
2019 D-SPAN Scholar

Esteban Lucero
2019 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus | Sponsor: Huntington Potter, Co-Sponsor: Heidi Chial
K00 Phase: University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus | Sponsor: Chris Gignoux

Dr. Esteban Lucero is a postdoctoral fellow in in the department of biomedical informatics at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Esteban works with Dr. Chris Gignoux on a project that aims to identify patterns of admixture in Latíno populations and leveraging those data to determine how differential patterns of genetic ancestry spread across the genomes of Latíno sub-populations modifies Alzheimer’s disease risk. Prior to earning his PhD, Esteban earned his B.S. in Biology from New Mexico State University. At NMSU, Esteban was a BRAiN fellow supported by the Blueprint ENDURE initiative. He worked in the laboratory of Dr. Tim Wright where he investigated changes in neuronal gene expression in avian vocal learners in response to different social environments and how gene expression levels correlate with vocal learning. As an undergrad, Esteban also received a Smithsonian Institute Minority Internship Award allowing him to study at the Smithsonian Institute Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genomics on a project that mapped and characterized the genomic diversity of a specific population of endangered San Joaquin kit fox. Esteban went on to earn his Ph.D. in Human Medical Genetics and Genomics at the Univeristy of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus where he worked with Dr. Huntington Potter. His dissertation project focused on identifying novel targets for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) by understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying cognitive dysfunction associated with AD pathology. Esteban’s long-term goals is to leverage his skillsets in molecular biology and bioinformatics to lead a multi-disciplinary research program focused on the neurobiology of aging in under-represented populations. 


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Alexander Riordan, 2019 D-SPAN Scholar
Alexander Riordan
2019 D-SPAN Scholar

Alexander Riordan
2019 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Princeton University | Sponsor: David Tank

The merging of mathematical theory, experiment, and methods development revealed the ionic basis of the action potential and ushered in modern neuroscience. Alexander Riordan's long-term goal is to follow this interdisciplinary tradition, albeit in a modern context: to understand how neurons form circuits that enable the complex activity patterns underlying cognition. Currently Riordan is pursuing this goal as a Ph.D. candidate with David Tank at Princeton University. His thesis combines imaging technologies to test circuit models of memory and navigation. Previously, he has co-developed machine learning methods for cell detection in collaboration with Sebastian Seung, circuit models of cognitive flexibility with Carlos Brody, and nonlinear dynamical models of odor-tracking with Nathan Urban and Bard Ermentrout. His experimental work with Jan Thornton explored therapeutic roles of hormones in schizophrenia. Riordan received a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Oberlin College, and a master's in neuroscience from Princeton University.


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photo of Raele Robison
Raele Robison, Ph.D.
2019 D-SPAN Scholar

Raele Robison, Ph.D.
2019 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Florida | Sponsor: Emily Plowman
K00 Phase: University of Wisconsin-Madison  | Sponsor: Nicole Rogus-Pulia, Co-Sponsor: Nadine Connor

Dr. Raele Robison completed her Bachelor of Arts degree at West Chester University in Pennsylvania and her Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology at the University of South Florida. During her time as a master’s student, Dr. Robison completed a thesis under the tutelage of Dr. Emily Plowman investigating the impact of lingual resistance training in individuals with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Dr. Robison elected to continue her academic journey when she joined the University of Florida Rehabilitation Sciences doctoral program in August 2015. While working on her doctoral studies, Dr. Robison was awarded a NIH diversity supplement and a NIH NINDS specialized D-SPAN pre- to postdoctoral F99/K00 grant. Research interests under these funding mechanisms included understanding the contribution of homeostatic regulatory mechanisms to the normal and disordered swallowing process. Upon graduation, Dr. Robison transitioned to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to complete the K00 phase of her grant under the direction of Drs. Nicole Rogus-Pulia and Nadine Connor. Dr. Robison’s postdoctoral research is geared towards understanding how interrelated physiologic capacities throughout the body contribute to the development of dysphagia in frail older adults.


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Maureen Sampson, 2019 D-SPAN Scholar
Maureen Sampson, Ph.D.
2019 D-SPAN Scholar

Maureen Sampson, Ph.D.
2019 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of California, Los Angeles | Sponsor: David Krantz
K00 Phase: Emory University  | Sponsor: Steven Sloan

Maureen earned her PhD in Molecular Toxicology in the laboratory of Dr. David Krantz at UCLA. In the Krantz lab, Maureen studied serotonergic neuromodulation in the Drosophila melanogaster visual system. She found that serotonin signaling modulates visually induced calcium transients in L2 neurons, which are at the head of the light-OFF visual pathway.  Prior to graduate school, Maureen worked as a chemist in the Volatile Organic Compounds Laboratory at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). At the CDC, Maureen quantified toxicants in biological (e.g., human blood) and environmental samples (e.g., tobacco smoke) to support national and regional exposure investigations. For her K00 work, Maureen is studying neuron-astrocyte interactions following developmental exposures to environmental toxicants such as lead.

 


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Andrea Silva-Gotay, 2019 D-SPAN Scholar
Andrea Silva-Gotay
2019 D-SPAN Scholar

Andrea Silva-Gotay
2019 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Massachusetts Amherst |Sponsor: Heather N. Richardson, Co-Sponsor: Sandra L. Petersen

Andrea Silva-Gotay is a Ph.D. candidate in the Neuroscience and Behavior Program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She received her B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR)-Rio Piedras campus while conducting research at the UPR Medical Sciences Campus under the mentorship of Dr. Jennifer Barreto-Estrada. As part of the NIH Blueprint ENDURE Program, NeuroID, her undergraduate research focused on the effects of anabolic androgenic steroids on social behavior during puberty. She is currently working with Dr. Heather Richardson examining how alcohol consumption during pubertal development affects myelination. Her dissertation work has mainly focused on sex differences in neuroinflammatory mechanisms that could exacerbate alcohol-induced myelin damage. Her long-term research goal is to investigate the contribution of neuroimmune cells to neuroadaptations induced by alcohol exposure during adolescence and how these changes may be driving risk for alcohol use disorder later in life.


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Brandon J. Woods, 2019 D-SPAN Scholar
Brandon J. Woods
2019 D-SPAN Scholar

Brandon J. Woods
2019 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Harvard Medical School | Sponsor: David Van Vactor

Brandon J. Woods is a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard Medical School (HMS) with long-standing passion for biological research. Mr. Woods embarked upon his scientific journey as an undergraduate researcher at the University of California, Davis where he studied epigenetic origins of Autism-Spectrum Disorders. As a master’s student at San Francisco State University, he pursued new scientific interests on the frontiers of developmental biology and regenerative medicine. He conducted his master’s thesis with Dr. Yerem Yeghiazarians, which focused on the regenerative capacity of endogenous stem cell populations for tissue repair. As a current Ph.D. candidate with Dr. David Van Vactor at HMS, Mr. Woods became fascinated by the nervous system’s ability to mediate adaptive responses to changing environmental and behavioral states. For mechanistic exploration of this phenomenon, he uses the Drosophila neuromuscular junction to understand how neurons and their targets adapt highly specialized and complementary synaptic morphologies in response to neural activity. On the molecular level, Mr. Woods is interested in the regulatory contribution of microRNAs, and their downstream targets, in synaptic morphogenesis.

Cohort 3

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Hector Arciniega, Ph.D. 2019 D-SPAN Scholar
Hector Arciniega, Ph.D.
2019 D-SPAN Scholar

Hector Arciniega, Ph.D.
2019 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Nevada Reno | Sponsor: Marian E. Berryhill
K00 Phase: Brigham and Women's Hospital | Sponsors: Martha Shenton and Sylvain Bouix

Hector is a new postdoctoral research fellow in the Psychiatry Neuroimaging Lab (PNL) at Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical working with Prof. Martha Shenton and Dr. Sylvain Bouix. At the PNL, Hector will be studying the behavioral and neural consequences that follow repetitive head impacts in former athletes. Before joining the PNL, Hector completed his PhD at the University of Nevada, Reno working in the lab of Dr. Marian Berryhill. His dissertation researched focused on investigating the time course of recovery and degree of rehabilitation from concussion using behavioral, neuropsychological, electroencephalogram, and resting state fMRI approaches.

 


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Sikoya Ashburn, 2019 D-SPAN Scholar
Sikoya Ashburn, Ph.D.
2019 D-SPAN Scholar

Sikoya Ashburn, Ph.D.
2019 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Georgetown University | Sponsor: Guinevere Eden
K00 Phase: University of North Carolina Chapel Hill | Sponsor: Jessica Cohen

Sikoya M. Ashburn, PhD is a postdoctoral fellow for Dr. Jessica Cohen’s lab in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Ashburn earned her B.S. in Neuroscience from Duke University and her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Georgetown University. Her primary research interests are in the cerebellum’s involvement in cognition, neurodevelopmental disorders, neuroanatomy, development, and aging. Her overarching goal is to use neuroimaging techniques to explore the cerebellum’s role in cognition and neurodevelopmental disorders. To this avail, under the mentorship of Guinevere Eden D.Phil., her doctoral research used a combination of functional activation and connectivity to test potential cerebellar involvement in children with co-morbid reading (dyslexia) and math (dyscalculia) disabilities. Presently, she uses structural and functional connectivity to elucidate the cerebellum’s involvement in cognitive networks that have been implicated in children with ADHD. Outside of lab, Dr. Ashburn shares her passion for science by leading partnered outreach programs in grade schools and by teaching anatomy labs.


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John Del Rosario, 2019 D-SPAN Scholar
John Del Rosario, Ph.D.
2019 D-SPAN Scholar

John Del Rosario, Ph.D.
2019 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences-New Jersey Medical School | Sponsor: Tibor Rohacs
K00 Phase: Washington University in St. Louis | Sponsor: Robert Gereau

John Del Rosario is a postdoctoral research associate in the laboratory of Dr. Robert Gereau. Prior to joining Dr. Gereau’s lab, Dr. Del Rosario completed his pre-doctoral studies in the lab of Dr. Tibor Rohacs where he focused on elucidating the molecular and cellular pathways that modulate the activity of mechanically activated Piezo2 channels. In addition, Dr. Del Rosario also completed his master’s studies in the lab of Dr. Itzhak Mano identifying the cell death mechanisms that regulate the degenerative process of neurons in a C.elegans model of excitotoxicity. As a postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Del Rosario is currently studying the mechanisms of adaptive and maladaptive plasticity in the peripheral nervous systems during chronic pain triggered during a sustained neuronal activity or an aberrant channelopathy-driven neuronal activity. Dr. Del Rosario aims to gain new insights into these processes and identify new targets for treatment of chronic pain.


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Photo of Leland Fleming
Leland Fleming, Ph.D.
2019 D-SPAN Scholar

Leland Fleming
2019 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Alabama at Birmingham| Sponsor: Kristina Visscher
K00 Phase: McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School | Sponsor: Kerry Ressler; Co-Sponsors: Karlen Lyons-Ruth and Martin Teicher

Leland Fleming, Ph.D. is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Ressler Lab at Mclean Hospital/Harvard Medical School where he examines the enduring impact of stress-related disorders on the brain and behavior. Leland earned his B.S. in Neuroscience from the Baylor University. He then went on to earn his Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences with focus in Neuroscience from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Leland's graduate work focused on using neuroimaging approaches to understand adult cortical plasticity following central vision loss in patients with macular degeneration. As a postdoctoral fellow, Leland continues to explore cortical plasticity of sensory systems in the context of development and stress-related disorders through a combination of human neuroimaging and bioinformatics approaches.

 


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Oscar Mendez, 2019 D-SPAN Scholar
Oscar Mendez
2019 D-SPAN Scholar

Oscar Mendez
2019 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Arizona | Sponsor: Anita Koshy

Oscar Mendez completed his undergraduate degree from the University of California, Irvine. He was part of the MARC program and worked as a technician in the laboratory of Dr. Aileen Anderson defining how complement proteins modulate neurite outgrowth. After working as a technician, he joined the Neuroscience program at the University of Arizona. Now as a Ph.D. candidate in the laboratory of Dr. Anita Koshy, Oscar is defining the Toxoplasma gondii-brain interactions at the neuroanatomic and physiological level. He aided in the development of a semi-automated quantification program to localize and track neurons that have interacted with Toxoplasma. From these initial findings he is now implementing whole cell patch-clamping to determine if injection of Toxoplasma effector proteins is sufficient to alter the electrophysiology of medium spiny neurons. Given Oscar’s research background, he has developed an interest in utilizing various model systems to determine if specific immune molecules are used in certain neurodevelopmental stages across various organisms.


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Candler Paige, 2019 D-SPAN Scholar
Candler Paige
2019 D-SPAN Scholar

Candler Paige
2019 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Texas-Dallas | Sponsor: Theodore Price

Candler Paige is a doctoral candidate in the Cognition and Neuroscience Program at the University of Texas at Dallas where her dissertation research focuses on the neurobiology of pain. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina where her undergraduate research examined potential gene therapies to combat opioid tolerance in chronic pain patients. After graduating, Candler spent a year at Clemson University before joining the lab of Dr. Alfonso Romero-Sandoval as a lab manager at the Presbyterian College School of Pharmacy. Her research in the Romero-Sandoval lab focused on the use of nanoparticles for targeted gene delivery in post-surgical pain patients. Candler started her doctorate in the lab of Dr. Theodore Price in 2015. Her current dissertation research focuses on the sex-differences underlying the transition from an acute to chronic pain state. In the future Candler plans to continue her research using RNA sequencing and computational methods to uncover novel pharmacological targets for chronic pain.


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Ciorana Roman Ortiz, 2019 D-SPAN Scholar
Ciorana Roman Ortiz
2019 D-SPAN Scholar

Ciorana Roman Ortiz
2019 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai | Sponsor: Roger L. Clem

Ciorana Roman Ortiz is a Ph.D. candidate in the Neuroscience Department at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She obtained her B.S. in Health Sciences from the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus. During this time, she worked in Dr. Gregory Quirk’s lab characterizing the structures involved in the learning and extinction of active fear responses (avoidance). Currently, Ciorana works in Dr. Roger Clem’s laboratory where she utilizes molecular and electrophysiological approaches to study how specific GABAergic populations modulate behavior during fear conditioning and extinction, and how changes in inhibitory transmission support these forms of learning. Her research interest is to further understand how neural circuits encode emotional memories and how faulty brain circuits can result in psychiatric disorders.

 

 


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Photo of Ubadah Sabbagh
Ubadah Sabbagh, Ph.D.
2019 D-SPAN Scholar

Ubadah Sabbagh, Ph.D.
2019 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute | Sponsor: Michael A. Fox
K00 Phase: MIT | Sponsor: Guoping Feng

Dr. Ubadah Sabbagh is a neuroscientist at the McGovern Institute at MIT, where he is a postdoctoral associate in Dr. Guoping Feng’s laboratory. He develops novel viral (AAVs) and genetic tools to study thalamocortical neural circuits. His work seeks to understand the molecules and circuits underlying pathologies in complex psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders. Dr. Sabbagh attended community college for three years before transferring to the University of Missouri–Kansas City, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in biology. He then pursued his PhD at Virginia Tech, where his research, with Dr. Michael A. Fox, focused on mapping the development and circuitry of the visual system. Outside of the lab, Dr. Sabbagh is heavily involved in science outreach, advocacy, and policy. He co-founded and serves on the Board of Black In Neuro, and has written extensively on topics at the intersection of science and policy, with articles published in the Washington Post, Scientific American, and other popular press. His contributions have been recognized with multiple awards, including being named to the 2021 Forbes 30 Under 30 list.


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Nihal Salem, 2019 D-SPAN Scholar
Nihal Salem, Ph.D.
2019 D-SPAN Scholar

Nihal Salem, Ph.D.
2019 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Texas A&M University Health Science Center| Sponsor: Rajesh Miranda
K00 Phase: The University of Texas at Austin | Sponsor: Dayne Mayfield

Nihal is a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Dayne Mayfield’s laboratory at the Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research, The University of Texas at Austin. She obtained her B.Sc. in pharmaceutical sciences from Ain Shams University, Egypt, her Master’s degree in Biotechnology and her PhD in Neurosciences from Texas A&M University. In her graduate training, Nihal developed a passion for studying the intersection of alcohol use disorders (AUDs), pregnancy and developmental disabilities including fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). Her graduate research focused on understanding the biology of long non-coding RNAs as mediators of ethanol’s effects on neural stem cells. Her graduate training emphasized the insight that behind every child with an FASD is an adult with unmet mental health needs that lead to risky patterns of alcohol consumption or AUDs. Her career goal is to make a difference in the lives of individuals who suffer from AUDs. Under the mentorship of Dr. Mayfield, she will integrate brain cell-type specific and spatially defined transcriptomic data from a mouse model of escalated alcohol drinking to find novel molecular mechanisms implicated in alcohol consumption escalation. She aims to utilize drug repurposing to identify therapeutics to target those mechanisms.  


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Natalia Vélez, Ph.D., 2019 D-SPAN Scholar
Natalia Vélez, Ph.D.
2019 D-SPAN Scholar

Natalia Vélez, Ph.D.
2019 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Stanford University | Sponsor: Hyowon Gweon
K00 Phase: Harvard University | Sponsor: Samuel Gershman, Co-Sponsor: Firey Cushman

Natalia Vélez is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University, where she is mentored by Dr. Sam Gershman and Dr. Fiery Cushman. Prior to her postdoc, Natalia was born and raised in Puerto Rico, received a B.S. in Brain & Cognitive Sciences at MIT, and completed a PhD in Psychology at Stanford University. Natalia is broadly interested in collaboration: How do humans combine their limited knowledge and skills to achieve goals that are beyond the reach of a single person? Her work combines multiple methodologies to pursue this question, including behavioral studies of children and adults, computational cognitive models, neuroimaging (fMRI), and analysis of large, naturalistic datasets. Her dissertation research with Drs. Hyowon Gweon and Jamil Zaki combined functional neuroimaging and computational models of social cognition to characterize how humans use mental state inferences to make decisions that benefit themselves and others. Moving forward, she hopes to examine the neural mechanisms that support decisions about what to teach, as well as the community-level processes that shape successful collaborations.

Cohort 2

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Ismail Ahmed, Ph.D., 2018 D-SPAN Scholar
Ismail Ahmed, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar

Ismail Ahmed, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 phase: University of Pennsylvania | Sponsor: Feng Gai, Co-Sponsor: Virginia Lee
K00 Phase: New York University | Sponsor: Robert Froemke

Ismail Ahmed did his undergraduate studies at The City College of New York where he studied Biochemistry and carried out research in protein design of artificial electron transfer proteins. Ismail subsequently completed his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics. His dissertation focused on the development and use of unnatural amino acids as spectroscopic probes for versatile applications in biological spectroscopy and microscopy. Ismail is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Robert Froemke at New York University School of Medicine where his goal is to map in real-time the neuromodulatory role of oxytocin on social and maternal behavior in rodents. To achieve this, Ismail is using his diverse background in chemistry and biophysics to develop a toolbox for sensing and controlling oxytocin to combine with classical neuroscience approaches.

 

 


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Yanaira Alonso Carabello, Ph.D., 2018 D-SPAN Scholar
Yanaira Alonso Caraballo, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar

Yanaira Alonso Caraballo, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Michigan at Ann Arbor | Sponsor: Carrie Ferrario, Co-Sponsor: Jill Beckerc
K00 Phase: McLean Hospital/Harvard University | Sponsor: Elena Chartoff

Yanaira Alonso-Caraballo completed her bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences at the University of Puerto Rico at Ponce where she was part of the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) program. The following year she conducted research in the lab of Dr. Jill Becker through the University of Michigan NIH-funded Post-baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) in Ann Arbor. She recently received her Ph.D. in Neuroscience at The University of Michigan where she worked under the mentorship of Dr. Carrie Ferrario. Her dissertation studies combined behavioral, biochemical, and electrophysiological approaches to understand how ovarian hormones influence motivation and the potential role of diet-induced glutamatergic plasticity in the nucleus accumbens of female rats. Yanay is currently a postdoctoral fellow at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School in the laboratories of Elena Chartoff and Vadim Bolshakov. Her research is focused on investigating the role of the estrous cycle and ovarian hormones on the behavioral and electrophysiological mechanisms of incubation of oxycodone craving in female rats. Her long-term career goal is to lead a successful research program that tackles fundamental questions about the neurobiology of motivation and reward-seeking in females. She is deeply committed to mentorship, and to sustaining and advancing diversity in STEM education. 


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Abraham Beyene, Ph.D., 2018 D-SPAN Scholar
Abraham Beyene, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar

Abraham Beyene, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of California, Berkeley | Sponsor: Markita Landry, Co- Sponsor: Linda Wilbrec
Currently: Group Leader, HHMI Janelia Research Campus

Abraham Beyene is a fifth-year graduate student in chemical and biomolecular engineering at University of California, Berkeley. Abraham received his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where he was a Meyerhoff and MARC scholar. After receiving his undergraduate degree, Abraham worked as a chemical engineer for ExxonMobil before returning to graduate school in 2015. In graduate school, Abraham became interested in developing novel fluorescent tools for applications in neurobiology. His graduate thesis work with Professor Landry is focused on developing near infrared fluorescent and nongenetically encoded probes for neuromodulators. In addition to new tool development, he is interested in applying the tools he develops to investigate the neurobiology of modulatory neurotransmitters such as biogenic amines and neuropeptides. In 2019, Abraham accepted a position as group leader at Janelia Research Campus of Howard Hughes Medical Institute. His lab, which will open in February 2020, will focus on development and application of tools that fluoresce in the near infrared range of the spectrum to study brain neurochemistry.


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Jose Cano, 2018 D-SPAN Scholar
Jose Cano, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar

Jose Cano, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Texas El Paso | Sponsor: Karine Fenelon, Co-Sponsor: Michael Kenney
K00 Phase: University of Rochester Medical Center | Sponsor: Steven Goldman

Jose C. Cano is a postdoctoral research associate at the Center for Translational Neuromedicine of the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC). In the laboratory of Steven A. Goldman, M.D., Ph.D., Jose investigates the influence of schizophrenia-derived glia in differentially modifying neuronal development and function using human glial chimeras. Born and raised in the El Paso, US - Ciudad Juarez, Mexico borderland, Jose earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). As a Ph.D. student at UTEP and visiting student at UMass Amherst under the mentorship of Dr. Karine Fénelon, his dissertation work focused on investigating the neural substrates and pathways underlying sensorimotor gating, a pre-attentive processing mechanism, using electrophysiological recordings and optogenetic manipulations in mice. His primary research interests include further characterizing and designing approaches to treat the neural substrates and cellular mechanisms dysregulated in neurological disorders, such as schizophrenia and generalized anxiety disorders. 


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photo of Rose Creed
Rose Creed, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar

Rose Creed, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Alabama at Birmingham | Sponsor: Matthew Goldberg, Co-Sponsor: Lori McMahon
K00 Phase: University of California, San Francisco | Sponsor: Alexandra Nelson

Rose B. Creed is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Francisco, in the laboratory of Alexandra Nelson, M.D., Ph.D. There, she takes a systems neuroscience approach to examine how impairments in the basal ganglia circuit underlie different types of movement disorders. Rose obtained her Bachelor’s of Science degree in Biology at Stetson university in 2014, and received her Ph.D. from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) in summer 2020. While at UAB she worked in the labs of Drs. Matthew Goldberg and Lori McMahon, investigating how loss of function of the mitochondrial targeted kinase PINK1 impacts the striatal circuit and its implication for Parkinson’s disease.

 


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Valerie Estela-Pro, 2018 D-SPAN Scholar
Valerie Estela-Pro, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar

Valerie Estela-Pro, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Brown University | Sponsor: Rebecca Burwell
K00 Phase: Children's Hospital of Philadelphia/University of Pennsylvania | Sponsor: Seema Bhatnagar

Valerie Estela-Pro got her Bachelor’s of Science in biology from Lehigh University. While there, she worked in the lab of Dr. Murray Itzkowitz studying the influence of female size on male aggression and mate preference in the convict cichlid, Amatitlania nigrofasciata. Following graduation, Valerie worked at WIL Research, a contract research organization, conducting preclinical trials within their Developmental and Reproductive Toxicology department for several years examining the impact of drugs and chemicals on fertility, reproduction, and development, especially neurological development. Valerie's graduate work in Dr. Rebecca Burwell’s lab at Brown University focused on learning and memory using in vivo electrophysiology in rats during a spatial memory task, specifically targeting the hippocampal and parahippocampal cortices. Using these techniques, she examined how the postrhinal cortex participates in encoding contextual environmental information in conjunction with the hippocampus and uncovered novel oscillations within these regions. During her post-doctoral work, Valerie will be focusing on how stress affects learning and memory in the lab of Seema Bhatnagar.


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Katherine Eyring, 2018 D-SPAN Scholar
Katherine Eyring, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar

Katherine Eyring, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: New York University School of Medicine | Sponsor: Richard Tsien
K00 Phase: University of California, Los Angeles | Sponsor: Dan Geschwind

Katie Eyring is a postdoctoral research fellow in Dr. Dan Geschwind’s laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles. There, her research focuses on how prenatal environmental events affect neural development and may relate to neurodevelopmental disorders like autism spectrum disorder. She completed her doctoral training under the supervision of Dr. Richard Tsien at New York University. Her dissertation research focused on the actions of oxytocin, a behaviorally and clinically relevant neuromodulator, in the hippocampus. Katie was first exposed to research as an undergraduate at Wellesley College and completed internships at the National Institutes of Health and Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research before committing to pursue a career in academic neuroscience research.

 


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Serena-Kaye Sims, Ph.D., 2018 D-SPAN Scholar
Serena-Kaye Sims, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar

Serena-Kaye Sims, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Medical University of South Carolina | Sponsor: DeAnna Adkins
K00 Phase: The Medical University of South Carolina | Sponsor: Catrina Robinson

Serena-Kaye Sims is a postdoctoral fellow in the Neurology Department at the Medical University of South Carolina where her research focuses on neonatal stroke therapies advised by Dr. Catrina Robinson. Before starting her postdoc she completed her undergraduate at the College of Charleston and completed her PhD in the neuroscience department at the Medical University of South Carolina advised by Dr. DeAnna Adkins. Her PhD research focused on answering long-standing questions involving the activated pathways after brain stimulation that produce the improvements seen with concurrent stimulation and rehabilitation. In addition to her research, Serena-Kaye is passionate about teaching as she is also an adjunct professor at her alma mater College of Charleston.

 


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Tony Larkin, 2018 D-SPAN Scholar
Tony Larkin
2018 D-SPAN Scholar

Tony Larkin
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Michigan at Ann Arbor | Sponsor: Daniel Clauw, Co-Sponsors: Richard Harris and George Mashour

Tony Larkin is a doctoral candidate in the Neuroscience Graduate Program at the University of Michigan. He received a B.S. in Biology with Honors from Morehouse College in 2013. During this time, under the mentorship of Daniel Hummer, Ph.D., he conducted behavioral neuroscience research, focused on studying the neural mechanism of photic entrainment on circadian rhythms in Syrian Hamsters.  At the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center, he is currently developing skills and training associated with functional connectivity and graph theoretical analyses of data acquired through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG). Co-mentored by Richard Harris, Ph.D. and George Mashour, M.D., Ph.D., his graduate work is focused on adopting a network approach to understand how multiple brain regions interact as a complex functional system. Ongoing analyses include identifying network mechanisms of hypersensitivity among chronic pain patients and healthy individuals.


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Kristin Lyon, Ph.D., 2018 D-SPAN Scholar
Kristine Lyon, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar

Kristine Lyon, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Harvard University | Sponsor: Susan Dymecki
K00 Phase: Salk Institute for Biological Studies | Sponsor: Nicola Allen; Co-Sponsor: Lauren Orefice

Dr. Krissy Lyon is a postdoctoral fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. She studies the role of astrocyte secreted factors in neurodevelopmental disorders in Dr. Nicola Allen’s lab with co-mentoring from Dr. Lauren Orefice. As an undergraduate at Lewis & Clark College, Dr. Lyon participated in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Exceptional Research Opportunity Program (EXROP), where she received training in neuroscience at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. In 2021, she earned her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Harvard University. Working in the lab of Dr. Susan Dymecki, her dissertation research examined the functional properties and circuitry of a population of dopamine-responsive serotonin neuron central to the modulation of social and defensive behavior. As a graduate student, Dr. Lyon received the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, the HHMI Gilliam Fellowship, and the NIH DSPAN F99/K00. In addition to her research, Dr. Lyon led Harvard’s Women in Neuroscience group and was active with Harvard’s Underrepresented Scholars in Neuroscience. In her postdoc, and throughout her career, Dr. Lyon plans to continue her advocacy for marginalized groups in STEM.


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Gabriela Manzano Nieves, 2018 D-SPAN Scholar
Gabriela Manzano Nieves, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar

Gabriela Manzano Nieves, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Brown University | Sponsor: Kevin Bath, Co-Sponsor: Christopher Moore
K00 Phase: Weill Medical College of Cornell University | Sponsor: Connor Liston

Gabriela Manzano Nieves received a B.S. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Puerto Rico - Rio Piedras Campus. As an undergraduate she worked in Dr. Gregory J. Quirk’s lab investigating the role of the infralimbic prefrontal cortex in conditioned fear extinction and memory recall. As a graduate student in Dr. Kevin G. Bath’s lab she studies the developmental consequences of early life stress in a mouse model. Early life stress (ELS) is known to significantly impact neuronal development, with implications for cognitive and emotional development. While a great deal of work has focused on the link between ELS and affective development, less is known regarding the mechanisms underlying the relationship between ELS and disturbances in memory function. Knowing when and how ELS affects the development of memory systems will be critical for identifying the impact of memory on behavioral development and elucidating the mechanisms by which childhood experiences alter neuronal circuits. To study the effects of ELS, she uses mice exposed to maternal bedding restriction stress (from P4-P11) and control-reared animals. To assess possible mechanisms and effects of ELS on specific neuronal populations and brain structures she uses a combination of molecular, systems, and behavioral techniques.


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Jennifer Martin, Ph.D., 2018 D-SPAN Scholar
Jennifer Martin, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar

Jennifer Martin, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: State University of New York at Buffalo | Sponsor: David Dietz, Co-Sponsor: Fraser Sim
K00 Phase: State University of New York at Buffalo | Sponsor: Zhen Yan

Jennifer A. Martin, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo, in the laboratory of Zhen Yan, Ph.D. Dr. Martin earned her Ph.D. in in Pharmacology at SUNY at Buffalo under the mentorship of David Dietz, Ph.D. Her predoctoral work established a role for oligodendrocyte progenitor cells in regulating heroin-induced behavioral and cellular plasticity in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Building upon this, Dr. Martin’s postdoctoral research will investigate astrocytic contribution to neuronal plasticity that mediates stress-induced depression. To this end, Dr. Martin will utilize DREADD technology, in vivo electrophysiology, morphological analyses and RNA-sequencing to establish a currently undefined role for astrocytes in mediating neuronal plasticity associated with stress-induced depression.

 


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Monique Mendes, Ph.D., 2018 D-SPAN Scholar
Monique Mendes, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar

Monique Mendes, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Rochester | Sponsor: Anna Majewska

Monique Mendes is originally from Kingston, Jamaica. She received her degree in Biology from the University of Florida. She then pursued a PhD in Neuroscience at the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York. In the laboratory of Dr. Ania Majewska, Monique researched specific cells known as microglia. Microglia are the brain’s immune cells and have long been appreciated for their critical roles during brain injury and disease. Despite their importance in the brain, very little is known about how microglia sustain themselves after they enter the brain during development. Using in vivo two photon microscopy, Monique showed that microglia undergo a process known as self-renewal to sustain their population in the adult brain. Additionally, despite their stability, microglia can rapidly repopulate the brain when depleted. Newly-born microglia quickly acquire mature characteristics such as motility and injury response. Monique successfully defended her PhD thesis in July 2020 and will continue her career as a Post-Doctoral Fellow in Dr. Mark Schnitzer’s lab at Stanford University. Monique will study how astrocytes participate in hippocampal network function and behavior.

 


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Stephanie Noble, Ph.D., 2018 D-SPAN Scholar
Stephanie Noble, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar

Stephanie Noble, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Yale University | Sponsor: Todd Constable, Co-Sponsor: Dustin Scheinost
K00 Phase: Yale University | Sponsor: Dustin Scheinost

Stephanie Noble is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging at Yale where she is working on improving fMRI statistical methods and software advised by Dr. Dustin Scheinost. She is part of the state-of-the-art BioImage Suite Web software team co-led by Dr. Scheinost (http://www.bioimagesuite.org). Before starting her postdoc, she completed her undergraduate in Chemical Engineering at Princeton, co-founded neuroscience startup goBlue, worked as a technical consultant at Source Signal Imaging (now part of Cortech Solutions), and completed her PhD in the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program at Yale advised by Dr. Todd Constable. Her PhD work addressed open questions regarding reliability of functional connectivity and sensitivity of fMRI cluster-based inference and has been recognized by a number of awards, including the NSF GRFP and NIH DSPAN F99/K00. In addition to her research, Stephanie is passionate about elevating fellow Latinas and all URMs in STEM and about visual art. 


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Chicora Oliver, 2018 D-SPAN Scholar
Chicora Oliver, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar

Chicora Oliver, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Temple University of the Commonwealth | Sponsor: Scott Rawls
K00 Phase:  Nathan Kline Institute/NYU Langone Health | Sponsor: Robert Sears

Chicora Oliver is an Assistant Research Scientist and postdoctoral researcher at the Nathan Kline Institute and New York University. Chicora studies how astrocytes integrate the survival signals which guide behavior. Her K00, "Glial Integration of Survival Circuits" will determine how central amygdala astrocytes control motivation when the need to feed is pitted against the need to avoid threats. Chicora also serves on the Board of Directors of several non-profit organizations that provide mental health services to under-served communities. Chicora is also developing an artificial intelligence and machine learning-guided tool that uses unlikely metrics to diagnose depression. Finally, Chicora is a falconer, an individual who hunts wild game with birds of prey. Chicora discovered research when she was awarded an NIMH Career Opportunities in Research training grant as an undergraduate. Her undergraduate research was conducted at Columbia University and examined PKMζ regulation during memory reconsolidation. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Hunter College, Chicora completed a postbaccalaureate fellowship at the NIH, where she worked with Dr. Jacqueline Crawley on mouse models of autism and with Dr. Elisabeth Murray on economic choice behavior in rhesus macaques. Chicora then earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience at Temple University. There, her dissertation work was supported by a NIDA training grant and the NINDS F99 research grant. Chiocra's dissertation work examined immunological contributions to the rewarding effects of psychostimulants, such as synthetic cathinones ('bath salts'). So far, Chicora has published 14 peer-reviewed articles on her research as an undergraduate, postbaccalaureate fellow, and graduate student. She has also filled many service, teaching, and mentoring roles that promote minority inclusion in scientific research. As a D-SPAN awardee, Chicora will continue gaining the experiences necessary to successfully pursue a career as an independent neuroscience investigator.


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Aaron Sampson, Ph.D., 2018 D-SPAN Scholar
Aaron Sampson, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar

Aaron Sampson, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of California, San Diego | Sponsor: Terrence Sejnowski
K00 Phase: Johns Hopkins University | Sponsor: Ernst Niebur; Co-Sponsors: Veit Stuphorn and Sridevi Sarma

Aaron Sampson is a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Ernst Niebur’s laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. A member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Aaron was born in Norman, Oklahoma and grew up both there and in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. After completing an undergraduate degree in physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Aaron worked as a research technician in Dr. Patrick Purdon’s laboratory at the Massachusetts General Hospital studying the mechanisms of general anesthesia. During his graduate studies at the University of California San Diego he worked with Dr. Claudia Lainscsek in the laboratory of Dr. Terrence Sejnowski on applying Delay Differential Analysis and related tools to EEG and human intracranial recordings to study the neurophysiology of sleep as well as disorders such a schizophrenia and epilepsy. As a postdoc, he is working with Dr. Niebur as well as Dr. Sridevi Sarma and Dr. Veit Stuphorn to study decision making using complicated multiple-choice tasks with epilepsy patients undergoing intracranial recordings.


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Kaela Singlton, Ph.D., 2018 D-SPAN Scholar
Kaela Singleton, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar

Kaela Singleton, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Georgetown University | Sponsor: Elena Silva
K00 Phase: Emory University | Sponsor: Victor Faundez

Dr. Kaela S. Singleton is a developmental neuroscientist interested in the cellular and molecular signals that control neuron development in normal and disease states. As an undergraduate at Agnes Scott College, she earned NINDS’ Engaging Undergraduates in Neuroscience Research (ENDURE) fellowship where she trained at Georgia State, Emory and Vanderbilt University in pharmacology, physiology and molecular neuroscience. In 2020, Dr. Singleton earned her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Georgetown University where she continued to excel. As a graduate student, Dr. Singleton thirteen awards for research 11 honors and awards for research, presentation and service excellence, gave six invited and seven poster presentations at national conferences and won spots on two institutional T32s (NINDS, Predoctoral Training in Integrative Neuroscience & NINDS, Training in Neural Injury and Plasticity Fellowship). Currently, she is completing her postdoctoral training in Dr. Victor Faundez’s lab at Emory University studying mitochondria integrity in Menkes Disease, a rare form of childhood neurodegeneration that is triggered by dysregulation of copper. As a first-year K00 scholar, Dr. Singleton published a review in iScience on Rare Genetic diseases, earned a spot in Emory’s IRACDA FIRST teaching program, and earned an adjunct faculty position at  Agnes Scott College. Additionally, she co-organized #BlackInNeuroWeek, an international social media initiative that amplified and highlighted Black scholars in neuro related fields. Her efforts in this initiative were featured in Forbes and USA Today. Due to her innovative science, funding track record and commitment to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion, Dr. Singleton was invited to speak on panels hosted by the National Academy of Science, Medicine and Engineering and NINDS; she has also guest lectured to the Department of Biology at the University of Oregon and Tulane University’s BRAIN Institute. Dr. Singleton’s contributions have been recognized by the community in many ways, most recently by being named one of Cell Press’s ‘100 More Inspiring Black Scientists,’ and Agnes Scott College’s Outstanding Young Alumna in 2020.


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Mario Zubia, Ph.D., 2018 D-SPAN Scholar
Mario Zubia, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar

Mario Zubia, Ph.D.
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of California, San Francisco | Sponsor: Lily Jan

Mario Zubia is a PhD candidate in biomedical sciences in the lab of Lily Jan at the University of California, San Francisco. His work focuses on investigating the role of TMEM16F, a lipid scramblase, in microglial function in physiology and disease. Specifically, he studies how TMEM16F affects microglial extracellular vesiculation and what effect this has on the propagation of pathogenic proteins in tauopathy. Prior to his graduate studies, he completed a Bachelor of Science in biology from the California Institute of Technology. There, he studied genetic drive systems as a technique to prevent mosquito-borne illnesses, as well as investigated the interaction between the CNS and the immune system in Huntington’s disease. Mario’s research interests lie in exploring neuroinflammation in neurodegeneration and uncovering new therapeutic targets to tackle neurodegenerative disease.

 

Cohort 1

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Justin Brantley, Ph.D., 2017 D-SPAN Scholar
Justin Brantley, Ph.D.
2017 D-SPAN Scholar

Justin Brantley, Ph.D.
2017 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Houston | Sponsor: Jose Contreras-Vidal
K00 Phase: University of Pennsylvania | Sponsor: Konrad Kording

Justin Brantley is a postdoctoral fellow in the Kording Lab at the University of Pennsylvania. His K00 research is focused on understanding the limits of human learning-to-learn (L2L) during motor control through a combination of movement psychophysics experiments and computational modeling. Justin's long-term research plans are to study complex natural and functional human movement in healthy individuals and those with movement disorders, with the goal of developing better strategies for restoring lost function. He hopes to draw from theories and techniques in movement science, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, and engineering to rethink the way we study movement and the brain. Prior to joining the Kording Lab, he received his PhD from the University of Houston under the supervision of Dr. Jose Contreras-Vidal, where he focused on developing non-invasive neural interfaces, robotic rehabilitation, and prosthetic devices for the restoration of lost function. For his dissertation, he developed a real-time brain-machine interface for control of a powered-leg prosthesis by above-the-knee amputees.


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Austin Coley, Ph.D., 2017 D-SPAN Scholar
Austin Coley, Ph.D.
2017 D-SPAN Scholar

Austin Coley, Ph.D.
2017 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Drexel University | Sponsor: Wen-Jun Gao
K00 Phase: Salk Institute for Biological Studies |Sponsor: Kay Tye

Austin A. Coley, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies under the mentorship of Kay Tye, Ph.D. Dr. Coley earned his doctorate degree in neuroscience at Drexel University College of Medicine studying the molecular and synaptic underpinnings of schizophrenia. He focused on the effects of PSD-95 deficiency in the prefrontal cortex. His current postdoctoral work investigates the neural circuits and behavior, as well as state-dependent and region-specific synaptic aberrations implicated in anhedonia using ex-vivo electrophysiology and Ca2+ imaging techniques. Dr. Coley is also an Instructor in Cellular Neurobiology at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).  ​

 

 


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Serra Favila, Ph.D., 2017 D-SPAN Scholar
Serra Favila, Ph.D.
2017 D-SPAN Scholar

Serra Favila, Ph.D.
2017 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: New York University | Sponsor: Jonathan Winawer, Co-Sponsor: Brice Kuhl
K00 Phase: Columbia University | Sponsor: Mariam Aly, Co-Sponsor: Josh Jacobs

Serra Favila is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Psychology at Columbia University, where she works with Dr. Mariam Aly and Dr. Joshua Jacobs. Her work investigates how interactions between the human visual and medial temporal lobe systems support intelligent memory-guided behavior. Her research employs a variety of methods, including functional neuroimaging, intracranial recordings from epilepsy patients, eye-tracking, and computational modeling. Originally from Los Angeles, CA, Serra began her scientific training at Stanford, where she earned a B.A. in Human Biology. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from New York University, where she was supervised by Dr. Brice Kuhl and Dr. Jonathan Winawer. Her dissertation work used functional neuroimaging and quantitative models of vision to characterize how visual information is transformed and distorted by long-term memory systems. Serra's research has been supported by the NSF GRFP, an NIH T32 training grant, and the NIH D-SPAN F99/K00 award. Her long-term goal is to bridge models of sensory and cognitive neuroscience and to explain the rich repertoire of human memory-guided behaviors.


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Photo of Nathaniel Harnett
Nathaniel Harnett, Ph.D.
2017 D-SPAN Scholar

Nathaniel Harnett, Ph.D.
2017 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Alabama at Birmingham | Sponsor: David Knight, Co-Sponsors: Farah Lubin, Adrienne Lahti, and Jerzy Szaflarski
K00 Phase: McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School | Sponsor: Kerry Ressler, Co-Sponsors: Diego Pizzagalli, Milissa Kaufman

Nathaniel G. Harnett, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Neurobiology of Affective and Traumatic Experiences laboratory at McLean Hospital. Dr. Harnett investigates the neural basis of susceptibility to trauma and stress-related disorders using a variety of tools including multimodal magnetic resonance imaging, psychophysiology, and psychometric assessments. His group also looks at how group disparities in pretraumatic risk factors, such as poverty and neglect, affect neural circuitry that underlies posttraumatic psychopathology. Ultimately, the goal of his research is to develop predictive and preventative neuroscience-based techniques to reduce the prevalence of trauma and stress-related disorders.


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Alexa Hendricks, Ph.D., 2017 D-SPAN Scholar
Alexa Hendricks, Ph.D.
2017 D-SPAN Scholar

Alexa Hendricks, Ph.D.
2017 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Wake Forest University Health Sciences | Sponsor: Debra Diz

Alexa S. Hendricks is from East Brunswick, New Jersey, and received her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Lehigh University, class of 2013, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. With numerous opportunities to pursue research during her undergraduate studies, she developed an interest in biomedical/translational topics and is pursuing her Ph.D. in neuroscience at Wake Forest University. Alexa’s dissertation investigates adult autonomic dysfunction and hypertension with fetal exposure to betamethasone, a drug commonly used to prevent respiratory distress syndrome in premature infants. Her project uses a sheep model to look at the role of the brain renin angiotensin system and oxidative stress. During her Ph.D., Alexa completed a Master’s in Business Administration from Wake Forest’s Working Professional’s Evening MBA program. In the fall of 2018, Alexa will expand her training in cardiovascular disease at Wake Forest as a postdoctoral fellow studying the cerebrovascular contributions and risk factors in Alzheimer’s disease pathology.


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Leanna Hernandez, Ph.D., 2017 D-SPAN Scholar
Leanna Hernandez, Ph.D.
2017 D-SPAN Scholar

Leanna Hernandez, Ph.D.
2017 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of California, Los Angeles | Sponsor: Mirella Dapretto, Co-Sponsor: Daniel Geschwind
K00 Phase: University of California, Los Angeles | Sponsor: Michael Gandal, Co-Sponsor: Andrew Fuligni

Dr. Leanna Hernandez's research focuses on the neurogenetic mechanisms underlying complex neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and schizophrenia. Her research incorporates methods in statistical genetics, functional genomics, in vivo brain imaging, and clinical phenotyping to investigate neurodevelopmental mechanisms of mental illness. Dr. Hernandez received her Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) under the mentorship of Drs. Mirella Dapretto and Daniel Geschwind, where she examined the relationship between genetic risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and brain network connectivity using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). She completed her postdoctoral training in psychiatric genetics working with Drs. Michael Gandal and Andrew Fuligni at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Her postdoctoral research leveraged large-scale pediatric neuroimaging and genetics data to characterize the consequences of genetically driven neural-immune signaling on brain development and the emergence of psychiatric symptoms during childhood. The ultimate goal of Dr. Hernandez's research is to understand how genetic risk for psychiatric disorders affects systems-level neurobiology and symptom progression during childhood in order to enable the development of biologically informed treatments to improve long-term outcomes.


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Stephanie Herrlinger, Ph.D., 2017 D-SPAN Scholar
Stephanie Herrlinger, Ph.D.
​2017 D-SPAN Scholar

Stephanie Herrlinger, Ph.D.
​2017 D-SPAN Scholar
​F99 Phase: University of Georgia | Sponsor: Jianfu Chen, Co-Sponsors: Amy Merrill, Lee Niswander, and Steven Stice
K00 Phase: Columbia University and Zuckerman Institute | Sponsors: Joseph Gogos and Atilla Losonczy

Stephanie received her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Georgia under the mentorship of Jian-Fu "Jeff" Chen exploring the impact of Neural Progenitor Cell (NPC) behaviors on brain development and neurodevelopmental disorders. Following concern from the Zika virus epidemic and subsequent increase in microcephaly incidence in affected areas, she developed an in uterointracranial inoculation method to establish a model of Zika virus-induced microcephaly in mice and discovered that the virus causes microcephaly by disrupting NPCs and vascular development. The second major focus of her dissertation was to examine the role of post-transcriptional regulators in brain development whereby she identified that the RNA-binding protein Lin28 drives NPC expansion by promoting mRNA translation, specifically regulating transcripts relevant to ribosome biogenesis, translation initiation, and the cell cycle. At Columbia, Stephanie is working with Joseph Gogos and Attila Losonczy to uncover disrupted biological mechanisms underlying neuropsychiatric disorders. Schizophrenic patients exhibit cognitive deficits including defective episodic memory and working memory and previous work studying a mouse model for 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, the largest genetic known risk for SCZ, indicates that disrupted hippocampal place cell activity may contribute to this pathophysiology. Her collaboration aims to identify the biological processes underlying these deficits in the hippocampus by directly linking changed physiological properties and altered transcriptional activity in hippocampal place cells during goal directed learning in a model for 22q11.2 deletion syndrome.


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Nadia Khan, Ph.D., 2017 D-SPAN Scholar
Nadia Khan, Ph.D.
2017 D-SPAN Scholar

Nadia Khan, Ph.D.
2017 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Wisconsin-Madison | Sponsor: Avtar Roopra
K00 Phase: Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai | Sponsor: Tristan Shuman

Nadia Khan is a Ph.D. candidate in cellular and molecular biology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison). She is currently a member of Dr. Avtar Roopra’s lab, where she characterizes the role of a histone modifier named Enhancer of Zeste Homolog 2 (EZH2) in epilepsy. Prior to graduate school, Nadia earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Texas at Austin and worked as a research scientist at the University of North Carolina Gene Therapy Center with Dr. Steven J. Gray. While at UW-Madison, Nadia has received a number of awards to present her research both in the US and abroad from organizations such as SACNAS, the CURE Epilepsy Foundation, and the UAB Neuroscience Roadmap Scholars program. In 2017, she was inducted into the Edward Alexander Bouchet Graduate Honor Society. Outside of the lab, Nadia is involved in science outreach activities such as being a course instructor for the Pre-Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence (PEOPLE) program and is an active member of the SciMed GRS Peer Mentoring Committee. Nadia’s long-term goal is to become a tenured professor at an R1 university and begin her own lab studying the relationship between seizures and the development of neurological disorders.


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Keven Laboy-Juarez, Ph.D., 2017 D-SPAN Scholar
Keven Laboy-Juarez, Ph.D.
2017 D-SPAN Scholar

Keven Laboy-Juarez, Ph.D.
2017 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of California, Berkeley | Sponsor: Daniel Feldman
K00 Phase: Harvard University | Sponsor: Bence Ölveczky

Keven Laboy’s main interests lie in understanding how neural circuits in the brain’s cortex process sensory information. Currently, he uses a combination of electrophysiological and computational tools to determine how neurons in primary somatosensory cortex (S1) represent complex tactile stimuli. His research has shown that S1 neurons provide extremely accurate representations of vibrotactile sequences through precise spike timing and fast sensory integration. He has also shown that S1 neurons preferentially code for Braille-like patterns of tactile stimulation rather than simple point-stimulation. In the future, he will use optical and genetic tools to monitor and manipulate neural circuits during active sensation. His goal is to establish how cortical circuits integrate motor and sensory information to support perception and flexible behavior.

 

 


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Alberto López, 2017 D-SPAN Scholar
Alberto López, Ph.D.
2017 D-SPAN Scholar

Alberto López, Ph.D.
2017 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of California, Irvine | Sponsor: Marcelo Wood
K00 Phase: Vanderbilt University | Sponsor: Erin Calipari, Co-Sponsor: Roger Colbran

Alberto López graduated from Duke University in 2011 with a B.S. in Neuroscience. He worked for two years under Dr. Thomas Kash at UNC Chapel Hill studying the neural mechanisms behind anxiety and alcoholism. He began graduate school at UC Irvine in 2013 through the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program (INP) and joined the Wood Lab later that year. In the Fall of 2018, Alberto will join the Calipari lab at Vanderbilt University as a D-SPAN post-doctoral fellow under Dr. Erin Calipari. Alberto’s research focuses on understanding the neural circuits that drive drug-seeking behavior. Specifically, he is interested in investigating the epigenetic mechanisms that are alter circuit function which, ultimately, underlie relapse behaviors.

 


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Kristen Schoonover, Ph.D., 2017 D-SPAN Scholar
Kirsten Schoonover, Ph.D.
​2017 D-SPAN Scholar

Kirsten Schoonover, Ph.D.
​2017 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Alabama at Birmingham | Sponsor: Rosalinda Roberts
K00 Phase: University of Pittsburgh | Sponsor: David Lewis

Kirsten Schoonover graduated summa cum laude from West Virginia University in 2014 with a B.A. in Psychology and as a member of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. As an undergraduate, she concurrently worked in several labs studying the similarities of cognitive deficits within unmanaged Type II diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, the validity of eyewitness testimony in legal trials, and potential neuroengineering based treatments for motor deficits induced by stroke. She then attended the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2014 to obtain her PhD. During this time, Kirsten studied schizophrenia using postmortem tissue and electron microscopy, and completed her dissertation studying the genetic mechanisms of copper homeostasis and dysbindin abnormalities in schizophrenia. While at UAB, Kirsten has received a number of awards including local winner and regional finalist of the Three Minute Thesis competition, Outstanding Graduate Student in Behavioral Neuroscience, and travel to further her training at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Furthermore, she has been involved in several scientific outreach activities such Brain Awareness Week and Big Brother Big Sister, and served as the Vice President of the Neuroscience Roadmap Scholars. In the Fall of 2019, Kirsten will join the lab of Dr. David Lewis at the University of Pittsburgh as a D-SPAN postdoctoral fellow. Her research there will focus on postmortem single cell genetics and proteomics as it pertains to the working memory cortical microcircuit in schizophrenia and the related cognitive deficits currently not addressed by today’s antipsychotic medications.


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Clarissa Valdez, Ph.D., 2017 D-SPAN Scholar
Clarissa Valdez, Ph.D.
2017 D-SPAN Scholar

Clarissa Valdez, Ph.D.
2017 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Northwestern University at Chicago | Sponsor: Dimitri Krainc
K00 Phase: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center | Sponsor: Marc Diamond

Clarissa Valdez is a postdoctoral researcher at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Through a multidisciplinary approach, she is currently investigating mechanisms of tau aggregation and propagation in the laboratory of Dr. Marc Diamond.  Her interests in cellular mechanisms of disease began as an undergraduate at Pomona College where she studied Molecular Biology and was awarded HHMI and Merk-AAAS summer fellowships to pursue her undergraduate thesis research project. As a predoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Dr. Dimitri Krainc at Northwestern University, Clarissa utilized patient iPSC-derived neurons to identify cellular mechanisms driving neurodegeneration in Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) caused by mutations in progranulin. While at Northwestern, she was also awarded the NIH CLIMB Fellowship and was previously nominated to the T32 Mechanisms of Aging and Dementia Training Grant. Additionally, she was a member of the Committee for Underrepresented Minority (URM) Affairs in the Northwestern Neuroscience PhD program and plans to continue to share her passion for encouraging younger students to pursue careers in STEM.