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Scholars

Cohort 6

Andrew Alvarez

Andrew AlvarezI received my associate’s degree in chemistry from Cypress Community College in 2019 and my bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) in 2021. I conducted my first research project with Dr. Kamil Godula through the 2017 Summer Training Academy for Research Success (STARS) program, where I synthesized mucin-mimetic polymers as a model to study the viscoelastic gelling properties of mucin and mucin’s ability to block the entry of pathogens. At CSULB, I joined the two-year NIH-funded MARC research program and conducted drug delivery research with Dr. Katarzyna Slowinska. I independently lead my project in analyzing the cell-penetrating and drug-releasing capability of hybrid collagen peptide drug carriers to maximize the synergistic effects of combination chemotherapy.

After graduating with my bachelor’s degree, I wanted to pursue full-time research at a doctoral-granting institution and joined the STAR-PREP program. I work with Dr. Ryan Pearson on analyzing the formulation-dependent parameters on the immunomodulatory properties of microfluidics-generated polymeric nanoparticles. With this full-time research experience, I hope to become more competitive for graduate school and also take full advantage of conducting intensive and collaborative research in the field of drug delivery and nanotechnology. After STAR-PREP, I plan to obtain a PhD in pharmaceutical sciences and lead a research laboratory in developing novel drug delivery systems to treat hard-to-cure diseases such as cancer and/or immunological diseases.

Belen Avelar

Belen Avelar

In 2018, I earned my Associate of Arts in General Studies at Prince George’s Community College and then earned my Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology at the University of Maryland, College Park in 2021. At UMD, I participated in The First-Year Innovation & Research Experience (FIRE), where I learned about how stress impacts our health and our relationships. Under the guidance of Dr. Sarah Racz, I studied the role of hostile behavior between parents and adolescents during structured conflict resolution tasks. I worked on developing a coding scheme for measuring and characterizing nonverbal hostile behavior in adult participants, in addition to administering behavioral, physiological, and observational assessments to research participants. During the summer of 2020, I also participated in UMD’s Aging, Diversity, and Professional Development (UM ADAPT) program. I engaged in didactic discussion each week on research ethics topics including protections of human and animal subjects, authorship responsibilities, data collection ownership, scientific misconduct, and conflicts of interest.

As a STAR-PREP scholar, I am working in Dr. Fontaine’s lab to understand the interaction between mesenchymal stromal cells and various components of peripheral whole blood. I am using techniques such as flow cytometry to measure surface marker expression and cytokine production of mesenchymal stromal cells and blood products to understand how stromal cells modulate immune cell function. After STAR-PREP, I plan to pursue a PhD in exercise physiology or cell physiology to study the role of metabolic and physical stress in skeletal muscle dysfunction. 

Claudia Hernandez-Chavez

Claudia Hernandez-Chavez

I graduated with honors from the University of California, Merced with a B.S. in Molecular and Cellular Biology. My senior year I received a Louis Stokes CAMP Fellowship where I worked with Dr. Juris Grasis in his Immunoviromics Lab. In his lab I conducted Bioinformatics research, creating phylogenetic trees for genes in the RNAi pathway (Dicer, Argonaute, and Aubergine), primarily focusing on 10 basal Metazoan animals, Drosophila melanogaster, and Homo sapiens. Through the construction of these phylogenetic trees, our goal was to provide a better understanding of where these antiviral genes arose in animal evolution and how they have managed to be conserved over time. I was then able to present my contributions to this research at several conferences like SACNAS, ABRCMS, and the NSF CAMP Statewide Symposium, where I received a Special Merit Award. Through this experience, I was recommended for a second fellowship with the eClose Institute where I was sent lab equipment and was able to create my own lab at home during the pandemic. My project was to use Drosophila melanogaster as a model to test if dietary interventions like Vitamin A and Vitamin C have an effect on the signaling of inflammation.

Now, as a STAR-PREP Scholar, I am currently working in the Gut Microbiome lab of Dr. Bing Ma, where I am researching the gut microbiome in preterm infants. More specifically, my project involves characterizing the mechanistic role that Bifidobacterium plays in postnatal maturation of the intestinal barrier in 200 preterm infants with high or low intestinal permeability. Our hope is that it will provide a biomarker species/ screening tool for “leaky-gut” and prevent conditions like Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC) in clinical practice. In the future, I hope to utilize my research experiences to pursue a Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology to better understand how microbes influence our lives every day.

Taya Lee

Taya Lee

I obtained a bachelor's degree in Bioengineering with a concentration in biomaterials from Clemson University. During my time at Clemson, I participated in various research experiences. I spent three years working in the lab of Dr. Delphine Dean to develop biomedical innovations for low-and-middle-income countries. With a team, I created a biosensor able to monitor antiretroviral drug adherence in HIV/AIDs patients. I also gained my first cancer research experience the summer of my junior year in Dr. Angela Alexander-Bryant's nanomedicine lab. There I volunteered and shadowed a PhD candidate creating a targeted delivery system for ovarian cancer.

As a STAR-PREP scholar, I am currently under the guidance of Dr. Eli Bar, studying the effects of microenvironmental factors on Glioblastoma tumor progression. I'm excited to gain more knowledge of cancer research, bench experience, and critical thinking skills to become an independent researcher within the field.

My previous research and personal experiences have sparked my interest in cancer treatments, more specifically immunotherapies. My goal is to pursue a PhD in bioengineering and hope to work towards making cancer treatments available for all.

Taylor Phillips-Jones
Taylor Phillips-Jones

I graduated with honors from Howard University in May 2021 with a B.S. in Biology and minors in Psychology, Spanish, and Chemistry. I was also a member of the inaugural cohort of Karsh STEM Scholars at Howard University. During my undergraduate career, I conducted research in various labs focused on understanding the pathogenesis of neurological and psychiatric diseases.

I spent four years in the lab of Dr. Kimberlei Richardson at the Howard University College of Medicine investigating the activation of subregions of the paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus in response to binge eating behavior in rodents. I also participated in the Life Sciences Summer Undergraduate Research Program at the University of Minnesota, where I studied the neuroimmune factors that contribute to chronic neuropathic pain under the guidance of Dr. Lucy Vulchanova. The following summer, I participated in the Gateways to Laboratory Program at Weill Cornell Medical College. Through the program, I worked in Dr. Winrich Freiwald’s lab at Rockefeller University to create an experimental paradigm for studying attention utilizing aspects of virtual reality.

During my previous research experiences, I developed a passion for neuroscience and discovered how scientific research can be used to advance medicine. My current research interests involve exploring the interaction of the immune and nervous systems in both homeostatic and disease conditions. As a STAR-PREP scholar, I am currently working under the mentorship of Dr. Margaret McCarthy to study the role of immune cells in neurodevelopment. I am excited to develop new laboratory skills and explore my interest in neuroimmunology. In the future, I plan to pursue an MD/PhD with the long-term goal of developing better treatments for patients with neurological disorders.

Kylie Sumner
Kylie Sumner

I graduated with distinction from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 2021 with a Bachelors of Science in Biochemistry with a minor in Biology and Biotechnology. Starting in high school and continuing into college, I had a summer internship at Adimab LLC. During my few summers at Adimab, I worked with the Antibody Discovery team on their project of isolating neutralizing antibodies against yellow fever virus. This experience at Adimab showed me that I loved working in a laboratory and that I had a strong interest in immunology. During my undergraduate years, I participated in the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition (iGEM) where I conducted research on the effects of antifreeze proteins on the growth of biofilms. I also worked as a laboratory assistant in a biology and biotechnology laboratory where I assisted in the creation of a lead biosensor.

During this year, as a STAR-PREP scholar, I am working in Dr. Robert Ernst’s laboratory with his senior graduate student, Richard Smith on creating fast diagnostics of gram-negative bacterial infections by using fast lipid analysis technique (FLAT) and Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF MS or simply MALDI).

I hope to use all of the knowledge and experiences that I accumulate during this next year to succeed in my own graduate school experience, as I plan to pursue a PhD in immunology after the completion of the STAR-PREP program.

William Witt

William Witt

I graduated with my Bachelors in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology with a Minor in Public Health from Goucher College. During my undergraduate years I participated in a range of research projects, experiencing the breadth of research experiences the biological sciences has to offer. I worked with Dr.Robert Yasuda in studying the effects and potential application of CRISPR as a therapeutic agent on nicotinic neural receptors.  I worked with the DC Department of Public Health in the construction of community outreach projects for testing the quality of the food given in summer programs, and helping the lab develop tests and procedures for testing for Zika. On campus, I worked with Dr. Jay Garaychochea in his study of G-coupled protein receptor ligands, in particular the olfactory receptor PSGR2 and its C.elegans analog NPR-18. My work instilled in me a passion for studying the biochemic and genetic mechanisms of disease, and a strong belief in the importance of science outreach.

As a STAR-Prep student I’ve been working with the Center for Vaccine Development’s Malaria Research Center under the esteemed Dr. Shannon Takala Harrison. My project focuses on measuring the effects of PfCRT mutations and Plasmepsin2 multicopy on the ability of geographically categorized strains of Plasmodium falciparum on its ability to resist piqueraquine and its overall fitness. Upon the completion of the program, I intend to pursue a degree in Biochemistry.