• Welcome the 2018 UPLIFT Cohort

    Left to Right: Erin Sanders, Portia Mira, Tracy Johnson, Jackie McCourt, Erica Pandolfi, Azeez Aranmolate, Ana Garcia Vedrenne, Jesse Bateman, and Rachel Kennison

  • Left to Right: Azeez Aranmolate, Jackie McCourt, Jesse Bateman

  • Left to Right: Erica Pandolfi, Ana Garcia Vedrenne, Portia Mira

Cohort 1

Jenny Link
Department of Medicine
2016 UPLIFT Cohort

Co-Instructor for BIOL1200
Cal State, Los Angeles

I have been passionate about and committed to scientific research and education for several years. Currently, I am working in the laboratory of Dr. Thomas Vallim, studying how bile acids, which are metabolites derived from cholesterol, interact with the body in health and disease. I received my Ph.D. in Molecular Biology under the excellent training of Dr. Karen Reue at UCLA. My doctoral thesis work focused on sex differences in obesity and related metabolic disorders. As a graduate student, I worked for the Undergraduate Research Center, helping students find research opportunities and convey their work to their peers. Because I enjoy communicating science to people of all ages, I volunteer at the Natural History Museum of LA County on weekends.

By becoming a professor dedicated to both research and education, I aim to increase scientific literacy among our future generations, and further our understanding of human health.

Helen Vuong
Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology
2016 UPLIFT Cohort

I received my B.S. in Neuroscience from UCLA in 2009 and PhD from UCLA in 2015. I am a recipient of the Jules Stein Eye NIH Pre-doctoral Fellowship and the Jules Stein Eye Institute Research Excellence Award. Currently, I am studying the influence of the maternal microbiome on neurotransmitter biosynthesis and fetal neurodevelopment. In my free time, I enjoy hiking in national parks and cooking.

My interest is in an academic career focused on teaching neuroscience to undergraduates in addition to innovative research.

Santiago Pineda
Department of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology
2017 UPLIFT Cohort

I was born in Bogota, Colombia and immigrated to New Jersey at 6 years of age with my family. We lived there for 5 years as my father, a psychiatrist, finished his residency training. He obtained a sponsored position in Indiana and we moved there when I was 12. I stayed in Indiana through college, a master’s program (Masters of Science in Medical Science through IU Med school), and work as a technician in Dr. Anthony Firulli’s cardiac development lab. I then applied to graduate school and was fortunate enough to be accepted and attend UCSD Biomedical Sciences PhD program in 2010. There I worked with Dr. Rolf Bodmer on ion channel and idiopathic cardiac arrhythmias using Drosophila as a model. I graduated in 2016 and am now in the lab of Dr. Leanne Jones working on the characterization of factors that influence cell fate decisions of stem cells and their progeny, also using Drosophila as a model system.

My ultimate goal is to teach as a main lecturer in a primarily undergraduate institution while also taking my passion for teaching and research skills into my own lab.

Cohort 2

Sunny C. Chang
Department of Medicine, Division of Cardiology
2017 UPLIFT Cohort

I grew up in New York City and attended a math and science specialized high school. I traded in the hustle and bustle of the city for sunshine at the California Institute of Technology where I received my B.S. in Chemistry. I pursued Ph.D. at UCLA in the Dept of Chemistry and Biochemistry with Dr. Todd Yeates, studying X-ray crystallography and Bacterial Microcompartment proteins. Currently, I am a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Jessica Wang and co-sponsor Dr. Jake Lusis in the Dept of Medicine-Cardiology. Under the direction of my sponsors, I apply my background in structural and molecular biology to basic research in Heart Failure and Inherited Cardiomyopathies. We use in vivo and in vitro approaches to identify novel genetic factors contributing to disease, both from the clinic and from animal models. In addition, I enjoy doing science outreach activities with the Organization for Cultural Diversity in Science.

I have been lucky to be the recipient of a great STEM education that has allowed me to persist toward degrees in STEM. However, the traditional STEM education leaves many students behind and much reform is needed. I believe using evidence-based practices is the key to improving the way we teach science and even to increasing diversity in science. With the UPLIFT fellowship in partnership with CSULA mentor Dr. Jamil Momand in the Dept of Biochemistry, I aim to learn new methods of teaching & assessment and prepare for an academic career in research & teaching.

Mayra A. Carrillo
Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology and Oncology
2017 UPLIFT Cohort

I am a first generation Mexican-American from the San Fernando Valley. I received my B.S. in Biological Sciences at UC Irvine. I received my Ph.D. at UCLA in the department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics under the excellent mentorship of Dr. Elissa Hallem. My Ph.D. work involved studying neural circuits controlling CO2 avoidance behavior in C. elegans.  Currently, I am in the laboratory of Dr. Scott Kitchen working on developing novel immunotherapeutic strategies for the treatment of HIV infection. In my free time, I enjoy hiking with my lab mates, playing video games, and discovering new music.

My long-term goals are to become a faculty member at a research institution and teach undergraduate courses in immunology and molecular biology. I aim to be involved in outreach programs that introduce students of disadvantaged backgrounds to research science and learn about STEM careers.

Juliet R. Girard
Department of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology
2017 UPLIFT Cohort

I grew up in the urban jungles of New Jersey and went to college on the east coast before pursuing the wonders of the west in graduate school. I received my PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from University of California San Francisco in 2015 under the supervision of Dr. David Morgan. In my PhD thesis I studied the biochemistry of the cell division. I am currently working in the lab of Dr. Utpal Banerjee, studying the genetics of blood cell development in fruit flies.  My current project looks at developmental control of cell division in blood progenitors.  When I’m not in lab, I really enjoy going to museums and cooking.

My experience learning from wonderful teachers and mentors throughout my education has inspired me to want to create a similar supportive, inclusive environment in my teaching and mentoring of undergraduate students. I hope to become a professor at an institution that primarily serves undergraduates.

Kristen N. Holbrook
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
2017 UPLIFT Cohort

I am interested in the molecular details of how subcellular organization leading to compartmentalized / organelle function is established, and how the environmental and physiological factors modify these processes. My PhD research in the laboratory of Dr. Barry Bruce at the University of Tennessee has provided me with excellent training and experience in several life science disciplines, including biochemistry, structural analysis, molecular biology and microbiology. For my postdoctoral research in Dr. Sabeeha Merchant’s group at UCLA, I am building on my previous training to investigate metal uptake, metabolism and sequestration, which will allow me to address new questions about organelle function and subcellular organization. Together, my sponsor, research project and the UPLIFT training plan will build a solid foundation to reach my goals.

My long-term career goal is to develop an independent research program in an academic environment. As an educator I want transfer my enthusiasm, perseverance, and training to help build the next generation of scientists.

Cohort 3

Azeez Aranmolate
Department of Microbiology, Immunology & Molecular Genetics
2018 UPLIFT Cohort

I received my Bachelor’s degree in Biology (2006) and Master’s degree in Molecular & Cellular Biology (2008) from Brandeis University. I have worked in both pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry. I also obtained my PhD in Molecular & Cellular Biology (2017) from Stony Brook University. My PhD research focus was in the field of Neuroscience (glial development and degeneration), where I determined a new role for the protein, Dystrophin, in myelination of the Central Nervous System and helped identify a potential cause for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD)-associated brain defects. In addition to my passion for science, I also enjoy beaches, riding motorcycles, fitness, trying new foods and traveling with friends. Lastly, as a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology & Molecular Genetics at UCLA, I am currently studying mechanisms of infection between Trichomonas vaginalis (Tv) and human host cells in-vitro and in-vivo.

So far, my career has been an amalgamation of numerous STEM related experiences. Accordingly, in addition to my academic life, I have also managed to work in both pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Consequently, due to the multifaceted nature of my experiences, my ideal career will combine my passion for scientific research, mentoring and teaching. Therefore, regardless of which path I take in the future (i.e. academia, government or industry), I plan to continue inspiring younger scientists to overcome higher education barriers and improve their community through STEM research & mentorship.

Jesse Bateman
Institute of the Environment and Sustainability
2018 UPLIFT Cohort

I grew up in rural New York. Years spent scrambling over rocks and rooting through leaves looking for salamanders fostered in me a deep love for the natural world and a curiosity about the processes that shape it. For college, I traveled to the rocky coasts of New England to pursue a degree in Geology–Biology at Brown University. At Brown I worked in a terrestrial biogeochemistry lab exploring plant–soil interactions, focusing particularly on seedling uptake of the plant-important nutrient phosphorus. I earned my PhD from Stanford University’s Earth System Science Department working with Dr. Peter Vitousek. In my doctoral work I investigated climatic controls on soil development and nutrient cycling in ecosystems. Currently I am a postdoctoral scholar working with Dr. Aradhna Tripati in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. Dr. Tripati’s lab specializes in applying isotopic methods to understanding paleoclimates. I use my background in terrestrial ecosystems to investigate climatic controls on biological communities. For this work, I use a combination of isotopic climate proxies, paleopollen records, and geomorphological studies. In addition to my scientific pursuits, I volunteer with the Center for Diverse Leadership in Science focusing on scientific outreach in the broader Los Angeles community.

I aim to pay forward the support and encouragement that I received from my teachers and mentors over the years. To achieve this, I want to become a professor at an institution where I can support undergraduate and graduate education, and provide students from underrepresented groups in STEM with opportunities to pursue scientific research.

Jackie McCourt
Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology
2018 UPLIFT Cohort

I grew up in Minneapolis, MN but took the trek to Azusa Pacific University outside of Los Angeles where I received a B.S. in Biochemistry and where I fell in love with proteins and teaching. I moved back to the midwest to pursue my PhD in Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Biophysics at the University of Minnesota, where I studied the the structure-function relationship of proteins involved in muscular dystrophy. Last year, I returned to Los Angeles and joined the lab of Dr. Rachelle Crosbie-Watson at UCLA as a postdoc studying cardiac fibrosis in the context of muscular dystrophy-associated cardiomyopathy and myocardial infarction. Outside of the lab, I enjoy reading, cooking, the LA music scene, serving at my church, and the beach.

 My goals are to achieve excellence in both research and teaching with a focus on being part of the movement to bridge the achievement gap for underrepresented minorities and people with different abilities in the STEM fields. I look forward to taking the valuable lessons and experiences gained from the UPLIFT fellowship and applying them to my future laboratory, classroom, and academic community.

Portia Mira
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
2018 UPLIFT Cohort

I was born and raised in the central valley of California. Earned my A.S. in Chemical Sciences at Merced College, B.S. in Biological Sciences with emphasis in Developmental Biology at UC Merced, and my Ph.D. in Microbial Evolution in the Quantitative and Systems Biology Program at UC Merced. My postdoctoral research will focus on the effects of combinatorial and cyclical antibiotic therapies on the evolution of antibiotic resistance with an emphasis on Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CREs).  Aside from my research, I am a mom of three young children who keep me busier than my research does! Spending time with them is what keeps me going.

Along side my research, I also enjoy teaching and mentoring students, especially those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, as I myself grew up in a foster home. I hope to obtain a position where I am able to teach and continue my research and mentor students both in and out of my lab. 

Erica Pandolfi
Department of Molecular Cell and Developmental Biology
2018 UPLIFT Cohort

I grew up in Northern Virginia outside of DC along the beautiful Potomac river. I went for the ultimate change when I decided to move out to California and attend UCSB. I got my degree in Biological Sciences and dabbled in various areas of research from ocean ecology to materials science. For my PhD I decided to attend UCSD to study diseases of inherited infertility in Dr. Pamela Mellon’s lab.  At UCLA, I am in Dr. Amander Clark’s  laboratory, using human stem cells to understand the basis of germline cell formation. In my free time I enjoy sailing and listening to all the great live LA music.

In my career I want to focus on conducting research that will improve women’s health, and I also want to educate women so they are empowered to make safe and healthy decisions about their bodies.

Ana Garcia Vedrenne 
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
2018 UPLIFT Cohort

I got my bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Biology from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). I first came to California as part of an Education Abroad Program- little did I know that the Parasitology class I signed up for would forever change the way I thought about parasites. I returned to pursue my PhD in the Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology Department at UC Santa Barbara. My doctoral research examined the social organization of trematode parasites in their snail hosts (turns out some species have a non-reproductive soldier caste that defend the parasite colony from invaders!). While at UCSB, I also obtained an MA in Applied Statistics and a Certificate in College and University Teaching. Now, as a postdoc in Dr. Robert Wayne’s lab at UCLA, I use environmental DNA signatures to identify and quantify parasite and pathogen biodiversity in California ecosystems. I am also developing curriculum for the new Environmental DNA for Science Investigation and Education Program. I love dancing and being outdoors.

I hope to become a professor at a primarily undergraduate institution. I believe in promoting student engagement through active learning and in giving students authentic experiences in scientific inquiry. As teacher and mentor, my role is not to take students by the hand on their journey, but to motivate, support, and challenge them while they create their own adventure.