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Our scholars have matriculated into programs at: 

  • Albert Einstein College of Medicine
  • Emory University
  • Howard University
  • Johns Hopkins School of Medicine 
  • Meharry Medical College
  • Ross University School of Medicine
  • Stony Brook University
  • UNC Chapel Hill
  • University of Alabama Birmingham
  • University of Maryland School of Medicine Graduate Program in Life Sciences
  • University of Minnesota 
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Vanderbilt University 
  • Virginia Tech University

Cohort 4

Carl Bannerman

Carl BannermanI graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in May 2019 with a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences. Prior to that, I graduated from the Community College of Baltimore County with an Associates of Science in Science. During my undergraduate career, I was a part of the MARC U*STAR, Meyerhoff, McNair Scholar Programs and the BUILD Training Program which supported my passion for the biomedical sciences.

Needless to say, I am very interested in biomedical science research. I have conducted research at institutions such as the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. These experiences were in the fields of microbiology, genetics and cellular biology. I hope to one day pursue infectious disease research and treat patients suffering from infectious diseases as a physician-scientist.

This year I will be working in Dr. Takala-Harrison’s Lab under the  at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. My project will focus on characterizing the role of Plasmodium falciparum PfCRT mutations in piperaquine resistance. I hope to accomplish this through the use of the CRISPR/cas9 system for gene editing and whole genome sequence data to understand the genetic lineage and origin of resistant parasites. Through the wonderful opportunities and resources provided by STAR-PREP, I hope to expand my research portfolio and continue on to pursue an MD/PhD combined degree.

Uriel Jean-Baptiste

Uriel Jean-BaptisteI graduated from Florida State University (FSU) in May 2018 with a bachelors in Biochemistry. While at FSU, I conducted undergraduate research in the lab of Dr. Hong Li in the Institute of Molecular Biophysics investigating the structural parameters that confer higher enzyme specificity onto Acidothermus cellulolyticus Cas9 (AceCas9).

Post undergraduate, my journey continued in the lab of Dr. Vince Luca at the Moffitt Cancer center evolving high affinity peptide inhibitors for the NLRP3 inflammasome complex.

I want to pursue a PhD in biochemistry and structural biology to understand protein-structure relationships and protein-protein interactions in a variety of cellular contexts. This has led me to the STAR-PREP Postbaccalaureate program where I will be mentored by Dr. Alex Poulopoulos and Dr. Bekir Altas in the Poulopoulos lab. Under Dr. Altas, I am studying proteins that are extremely important because of their role in axonal projections across the corpus callosum. Certain neurodevelopmental disorders are correlated with the improper projection of these axons from hemisphere to hemisphere.

Jatia Mills

Jatia MillsI am a recent honors graduate of Morgan State University with a Bachelors of Science in Biology. I was born and raised right here in Maryland. I am eager to continue my education by enrolling in graduate school and obtaining my PhD in Pathology.

I am currently a part of the NIH funded postbac program, STAR-PREP, within the University of Maryland Baltimore School of Medicine.  My current research is on the immune system of nurse sharks under the supervision of Dr. Helen Dooley at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET).

My goal for the future is to obtain my Ph.D., study comparative neuropathology, and some day obtain my D.V.M. as well. I am looking forward to learning as much as possible with my time while continuing to develop my research skills.

Darex Vera-Rodriguez

Darex Vera-RodriguezI have a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Biotechnology with a Minor in Project Management from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus (UPRM). As a rising researcher, one of the key topics that caught my attention was the study of macromolecules and their physical-chemical behavior in the human body. Following the topics in this research area, I participated in a summer program at the University of Pittsburgh, conducting health sciences research using computational (in-silico) approaches.

Working under the guidance of Dr. Carlos Camacho, I was able to track drug discovery methods using a ligands’ library. I was looking for ligands that could potentially inhibit HRas oncogenic protein activity in excess proliferation in the pancreas and lung, preventing cancer development. I continued this project in Dr. Alberto Santana’s lab at UPRM and implemented novel computational techniques for molecular dynamics simulations and energy minimization steps analyzing Ras isoforms K-Ras and N-Ras for potential oncogenic activity.

In my last year of undergraduate studies, I performed an industry practice at Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson (J&J). One of the projects that I worked on was the historical and technical analysis of protein loading and the purification process for optimization of chromatography columns, efficiency, and protein final bulk productivity.

Industry techniques such as time management, communication approaches, risk considerations, and organizational methods were learned and implemented in the field. Using these skills resulted in the success of all the projects assigned. This was an excellent opportunity to utilize my minor and gain professional development at the industry level.

My interests in any field are always directed towards diversity and innovation. This was one of the main reasons I decided to apply to STAR-PREP, where I am working in Dr. David Weber’s lab studying S100 proteins proportionality in malignant melanoma cancer. We are implementing structural biology and biochemical techniques such as nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and column chromatography for drug discovery approaches on potential S100 inhibitors and tumor suppressor proteins.

My goal as a researcher, is to combine in-silico and in-vitro together for a wide understanding and discussion of methods and results. With the academic experiences and professional development STAR-PREP is providing me, I will have all the necessary skills to pursue a PhD in Biophysics and Biochemistry.

Cohort 3


Yessenia Cedeno

I graduated with honors from the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez Campus with a BS in Industrial Biotechnology. During my undergraduate career, I had the opportunity to be exposed to different research areas in Biomedical Sciences. I participated in several laboratory rotations at Ponce Health and Science University in Puerto Rico. After my rotations in PHSU, I had the privilege to work for two years with Vanessa Rivera Amill, PhD. Our research interest was to study the Effect of HIV-1 gp120 expression on glutamate metabolism in human astrocytes.

In order to follow with my scientific growth, I conducted a research project in Dr. Maribella Domenech’s Lab at UPRM. I worked in a tumor-inflammatory in vitro model of Hedgehog signaling. The focus of my research project was to evaluate the contributions of Hedgehog signaling in macrophages phenotypes M1 and M2 in the growth and stem cell distribution of breast tumor cells using a new 3 micro-well array as a cell culture platform.

During the last year of my bachelor, I performed my industrial biotechnology practice in Abbvie Biotechnology Ltd at Barceloneta, Puerto Rico. I was part of the Technical Operations department where I performed experiments in small scale bioreactor models to study raw materials and compounds in order to improve the cellular viability and cell performance for the production of Humira.

Currently as a STAR-PREP Research Fellow, I’m working under the guidance of Antonio Passaniti, PhD. whose research is focus in study RUNX family genes in breast cancer progression. Our goal is to study how RUNX genes interact with each other to regulate tumor growth and metastasis in breast cancer.

I hope that the STAR-PREP program at UMB help to expand my academic portfolio in order to pursue a PhD degree in Biomedical Engineering.

Kanisa DavidsonKanisa Davidson

I graduated with honors from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University with my BA in Psychology. During my undergraduate career, I was appointed as a Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) Scholar and had the privilege of working as a research assistant under Dr. Antoinette Maldonado-Devincci for two years. I conducted an independent study observing neurosteroids and their neuroprotective properties through “exogenous use.” Our specific questions focused on increasing the most potent GABAergic neuroactive steroid, allopregnanolone in specific brain limbic regions of C57/B mouse models through exogenous administration of pregnenolone.

Currently at STAR PREP at UMB, I am excited to work under the guidance of Dr. Jessica Mong who’s lab focuses on ovarian steroids control in sleep and arousal system.  My project observes estrogens protective role in central hearing in mice. We are investigating changes in microglial and astrocytes cell number activation that are indicative of neuroinflammation and tissue damage. Our hypothesis is that estrogen will protect against noise induced damage within the CNS.

With the knowledge and skills I have learned through all my research experiences I developed a passion for learning about neuropsychiatric disorders and neurodegenerative diseases. After growing as a researcher with experience with STAR PREP provides, I would like to pursue a graduate degree in neuroscience so that I can research to understand how neurological disorders develop during the normal process of aging and injuries to the brain.

Antonio Figueiredo

I graduated from the University at Buffalo with a B.S. in Biological Sciences, concentrating in Neuroscience and Cellular & Molecular Biology, and a B.A. in Chemistry in 2016.

During my undergraduate studies, I worked under Dr. Valerie Freriches analyzing samples of anions from local bodies of water, using Ion-Exchange HPLC, in order to study concentration gradients and determine the effects from both a human health and ecological standpoint. During my senior year, I worked under Dr. Sarah Walker examining the importance of phosphorylation zones on translation factor eIF4E by utilizing CRISPR to alter phosphorylation site in yeast cells.

Upon graduating, I accepted a research position at the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions under Dr. Panayotis Thanos focusing on the role of fatty acid binding proteins as transporters of endocannabinoids. After one year as a research assistant, I was promoted to technician and lab manager, with additional duties of lab supervision, research assistant management, and experiment selection.

Currently, I am working under Dr. Joseph Cheer to further investigate the role of cannabinoid type 1 receptors on motivated behavior and memory in the Hippocampus. Upon finishing my time at STAR-PREP, I hope to pursue a PhD in Neuroscience and continue researching the endocannabinoid system and addiction.

DillionDillion Francis

I graduated with honors from University of West Florida with a B.S. in Chemistry/Biochemistry. During my undergraduate career, I received funding support through the MARC U*STAR Scholars Program to conduct research full-time as a research assistant. My first exposure to research began in the physical chemistry laboratory of Dr. Karen Molek. Our research project focused on studying the growth kinetics of surface modified nanoparticles with potential applications in biology and medicine.

To broaden my knowledge base, I followed my burgeoning interest in the spectroscopic technique using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. In the summer semester of 2016, I participated in the ten-week Summer Biomedical Training Program (SBTP) at University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) working in Dr. Michael F. Summers’ laboratory to study retrovirus structure and function. I gained a better understanding of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) clinical background as well as two-dimensional NMR spectroscopic techniques to study large biomolecules.

Through my research experiences, I gained an appreciation for the potential of research and how that potential can positively impact the medical field. As a STAR-PREP scholar, I plan to pursue a career as a physician-scientist to use the skill set I have gain to better serve people suffering from diseases that are not well understood yet. I am hopeful that my participation in the STAR-PREP program and mentorship received will guide me on the path to become a successful biomedical researcher.‌

Cassandra Jordan

Cassandra Jordan

I graduated from Aurora University in May 2018 where I received my Bachelor of Science in Biology with a minor in Chemistry. Although I graduated from a smaller university that was not research heavy, I was able to acquire research experience that helped me to realize a career in the lab is right for me.

I was able to enroll in more advanced lab based courses as well as work alongside my professor and a few other students on a synthetic biology experiment, in which we developed a temperature sensitive biosensor (E. coli) through the use of the 2017 iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) kit.

This year I will be working in Dr. Carbonetti’s lab to help in ongoing research investigating the bacteria primarily responsible for whooping cough, Bordetella pertussis. Through the research opportunities, guidance, and additional resources provided through the STARPREP program, I hope to pursue a PhD that would best prepare me to help further advance the field of biomedical sciences.

Cohort 2


Kaia Amoah

"I am a 2017 graduate of Hampton University where I received a BS in Cellular and Molecular Biology. I am fortunate to have had a diversity of research experiences, which has exposed me to various areas of concentration for my plans to pursue a MD/PhD. I was introduced to scientific research my freshman year of college when I interned at the Feinstein Institute in New York. At Feinstein, I researched prostate cancer epidemiology-- specifically analyzing biomarkers for prostate cancer metastasis.  The following summer, I served as a research intern at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine where I examined Rotavirus genome replication. Most recently, I served as CRAB fellow at my undergraduate institution, and worked on a continuing research project that examined the genetic diversity among the red crab population in the Atlantic region. I have presented my research at various conferences and symposiums throughout my undergraduate career.

Currently, I work under the direction of Dr. Thomas Blanpied, who is conducting exciting research that examines the structural organization at synapses and the role that this plays in neuronal propagation. Specifically, my project will examine the role of Kynurenic acid in cognitive diseases such as Schizophrenia.

From this experience, I plan to build an extensive network of mentors in the field while also laying a strong foundation for what awaits me in my career as a physician-scientist. I thank STAR-PREP for giving me the opportunity to do just that."

Mc Millan ChingMc Millan Ching

I graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa (UHM) with a BS in Molecular Biosciences and Biotechnology, and a BA in Philippine Language, Linguistics, and Literature. I conducted various research projects during my tenure as an undergraduate student in several academic and research institutions in the US and overseas. I was once a visiting scholar under Toshio Miki, PhD of the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine investigating the engraftment of human amniotic epithelial stem cells in transgenic animal models for congenital liver diseases. I then participated in an international research training for tropical medicine, under the supervision of Sirida Youngchim, PhD, in Chiang Mai University, Thailand where I studied the pathogenesis of Penicillium marneffei, a fungal pathogen endemic to Southeast Asia that causes the AIDS-defining illness penicilliosis. I also worked under Linda Chang, MD of the Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu for her clinical research on the effects of Cognitive Memory (CogMed) training in patients with HIV-Associated Neurocognitive Disorders (HAND). During my time at the UHM, my research thesis, sponsored by Dulal Borthakur, PhD, centered on the investigation of the molecular transport of iron via metal-chelating pathways in leguminous plants.

Here, at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, I am currently conducting research under the guidance of Jocelyn Reader, PhD, and Amy Fulton, PhD, whose research is focused on investigating the role of PGE2  pathway members EP4 and MRP4 in stem-like and tumor-initiating phenotypes of ovarian and breast cancers. My project is centered around investigating the effects of interrupting MRP4 and EP4 signaling pathways in ovarian cancer.

My ultimate goal is to become a physician scientist who can perform both PCR and CPR!


Dominique Earland

I graduated with Honors from Southern Methodist University with a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences and a Bachelor of Arts in Human Rights with Distinction in 2017. During my undergraduate career, I developed interests in maternal health and birth outcomes after completing social science and public health research.

I was fortunate to study these topics in a global health perspective while conducting research in the Epidemiology department of Cornwall Regional Hospital in Montego Bay, Jamaica. We focused on the predictors and prevalence of anemia in pregnancy in Western Jamaica. I was able to apply the knowledge I gained in a local setting through the Embrey Human Rights Community Outreach Fellowship. I developed an education and resource toolkit to address the high maternal mortality rate in Texas with the Fetal Infant Mortality Review (FIMR) of Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas.

I want to purse an MD/PhD to directly serve the health needs of the community as well as develop clinical research knowledge required to improve standards of care.  Currently, I am working under Dr. Miriam Laufer, whose research is focused on malaria pathogenesis, disease burden, and drug resistance. We are studying the genetic polymorphism of MSP1, a malaria parasite surface protein, in asymptomatic Plasmodium falciparum infections.

Edith HernandezEdith Hernandez

I graduated from The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) in 2017 with two B.S. degrees in  Biology and Psychology. My main research interests revolve around the concept of drug abuse, addiction, and related behaviors. I am interested in pursuing a combined MD/PhD degree, which would allow me to continue my research endeavors and have the opportunity to apply my knowledge in the clinic as well.

My first 3 years at UTEP, I worked with Theodore V. Cooper, PhD, in the Prevention and Treatment in Clinical Health (PATCH) Lab. I assisted in the management of the smoking cessation clinic, StopLite and was part of the A Smoke-Free Paso del Norte Initiative and Tobacco Control Network in the bi-cultural region of El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. During my time working with Dr. Cooper, I participated in tobacco-related clinical research focused on treatment and youth prevention. Having seen the clinical aspect of addiction, I became curious about the neurobiological mechanisms that drive drug dependence and joined the Behavioral and Neural Plasticity Lab with Eddie Castañeda, PhD. I became familiar with the dopamine system by exploring potential diagnostic behavioral biomarkers during early neurodegeneration in the onset of Parkinson’s Disease. Subsequently, I led my own independent study during my last year at UTEP, looking at the neural mechanisms involved in amphetamine-induced behavioral sensitization. Additionally, I volunteered with Katie Serafine, PhD, in the Behavioral Pharmacology Lab at UTEP to enhance my skillset and learn about pharmacological assays used to test the impact of diet to drug sensitivity.

To further prepare myself for a combined degree, I branched out from my addiction-based research in the summer of 2016 to learn about health-related research in a developing country. I participated in the Minority Health International Research Training (MHIRT) Program, in which I traveled to Ambato and Pelileo, Ecuador to establish a culturally-appropriate labor and delivery method for the indigenous female population at The Hospital of Pelileo. We spent 2 months working in conjunction with the hospital’s staff and traveling to remote areas of the Andes with the local Promotores de Salud in the hopes of improving health care access to the Quechua people.

Currently as a STAR-PREP Scholar at UMB, I am excited to start my research with Joseph Cheer, PhD, exploring a novel calcium imaging method in freely moving animals using mini-endoscope technology. Our lab is centered in exploring the neuromodulation of motivated behaviors by the endogenous cannabinoid system. My project will be centered around determining the impact of this system in spatial and working memory.


Elena Muse

I graduated from Emory University, in May 2017, with a BS in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology. There, I conducted research in the Boulis laboratory in the Neurosurgery department. I worked on a pilot study delivering Heat Shock Factor 1 (HSF1) via adeno-associated virus 9 vector (AAV9) with intent to up-regulate heat shock proteins (HSPs) in transgenic rat models that mimic amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The aim of my research was to alleviate protein aggregates through the increased levels of HSPs.

In addition, I had the opportunity to work in the Sampson lab at Duke University during the summer of 2016. I worked with T cells that were genetically engineered with chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). These CAR T cells target type III epidermal growth factor (EGFVRIII), which is a glioma tumor specific mutant receptor. After witnessing promising results from this therapy, this project sparked my interest in continuing to work in immunotherapy.

I have the privilege to work in Dr. Davila’s lab whose focus is on tumor immunology and immunotherapy. I’m currently working on engineering artificial antigen presenting cells. The basis of my work over the next year will involve utilizing these aAPCs to expand T cells of known specificities; we will genetically modify them to express specific MHC I and tumor peptides.

My goal at UMB is to gain more knowledge and obtain expertise in common protocols involved in being a researcher in immunotherapy, while concurrently expanding my academic portfolio in order to pursue an MD/PhD.

Kayla-Rayford‌Kayla Rayford

I graduated from Bowie State University in May 2017 with a BS in Biology and a minor in Chemistry. Before matriculating to Bowie State, I was in the UCLA Pre-College Science Education program which allowed me to conduct oral cancer research at UCLA’s school of Dentistry. Though my university did not have much research funding for students, I utilized my summers by participating in research opportunities at other universities such as The University of Oregon and Georgetown University.

Currently, I am working in Dr. Frieman’s lab understanding the mechanisms of diabetes enhanced MERS-CoV pathogenesis. Our lab primarily focuses on interaction between SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV and host organisms. With this extensive research experience and resources and guidance from STAR-PREP leadership, I hope to gain admission into a great graduate program in Microbiology/Immunology.

Cohort 1

Hilary BrightHilary Bright

I graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) in May 2016, with a BS in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Before attending UMBC, I was a part of the Science and Technology Program at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, located in Prince Georges County, MD. During my undergraduate career, I was part of the Meyerhoff Scholarship Program and was also funded by the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Currently, I am conducting research on the protein thymine-DNA glycosylase (TDG) in the laboratory of Dr. Alexander Drohat. TDG is an enzyme that removes thymine from T:G mismatch pairs. Our lab is primarily focused on determining how TDG recognizes T:G mismatch pairs, and its likely role in epigenetic regulation.

After finishing my time at UMB, I plan to pursue a MD/PhD in Human Genetics.

Kevin Harold Kevin Herold

I graduated from University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) with a bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences. There, I conducted research under Phyllis Robinson, PhD, and Kathleen Hoffman, PhD, where I worked to mathematically model the phototransduction pathway of the photopigment melanopsin. I then went to Towson University and completed my master’s degree. At Towson I worked under Elana Ehrlich, PhD, to determine how the Kaposi’s sarcoma associated herpes virus manipulates signaling pathways in the host to promote viral latency.

I am working under Margaret McCarthy, PhD, whose research is focused on the effects of hormones on sex differences in the developing brain. My current project is centered around determining the influence of kinases downstream of endocannabinoid receptors in the brain on cell proliferation.

I want to gain the research and academic experience necessary to be accepted into a neuroscience PhD program where I can study the link between abnormal cellular processes in the brain and brain diseases.

Dominique ParkerDominique Parker

I graduated from Towson University in December of 2015 with a degree in Cell and Molecular Biology. My interest in immunology is fairly new; after losing my grandfather to lung cancer I became interested in the convoluted interactions that occur within our immune system. I want to purse an MD/PhD so that I am able to obtain knowledge in research and apply it to the clinical field. I feel as though it is important to treat the whole human body and not just the problem.

During my time at Towson University, I conducted research in a pathogenesis lab. We focused on the innate immunity, specifically Tir A, using Dictyostelium discoideum I was fortunate enough to work at another lab at the University of Iowa. We aimed to study the effects of micro RNA’s on Multiple Myeloma in hopes of finding a novel therapeutic discovery.

Currently, I am a STAR-Post baccalaureate student in Dr. Davila’s lab conducting exciting research. Here I am able to combine immunology and oncology together by understanding how cancers are able to suppress our immune system. We are looking at the interactions that occur between myeloid derived suppressor cells and CD8+ T-cells. Although, I lack experience with the adaptive immunity, I am excited for the new knowledge that I have already begun to obtain and I will continue to do so.

My ultimate goal is to discover novel immunotherapies for a variety of cancers and diseases and I am able to get the knowledge that I need to do so here at The University of Maryland, Baltimore.