PREP (Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program)

PREP Alum Spotlights

Dr. Juan Ápiz Saab (PREP class of 2018) earned his Ph.D. in Cancer Biology from the University of Chicago in 2023. Congratulations to Juan on completing his doctorate! He received his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Puerto Rico at Cayey and participated in the PREP program from 2017-2018, where he was mentored by Dr. Russell Zelig Szmulewitz and Dr. Donald Vander Griend. Juan mentioned upon completing the PREP program, “The UChicago PREP allowed me to get hands-on research experience, and see myself as a member of the scientific community who can really strive for positive change.” Next, Juan conducted his graduate research in the Ben May Department for Cancer Research under the mentorship of Dr. Alexander Muir, and has made several valuable contributions to his field. Juan has published six research articles that have been cited over 270 times in total, including articles in eLife, Nature, and Current Opinion in Biotechnology. Additionally, while a Ph.D. candidate, Juan mentored graduate and undergraduate students, guiding them towards Ph.D. candidacy or admission into Ph.D. programs. Juan assumed multiple leadership roles on and off campus as a graduate student, serving as a team leader for the Graduate Recruitment Initiative’s URM Team at the University of Chicago and helping to organize a vaccine drive led by Dr. Elaine Kouame for residents of the Chicago South side. He also worked as an instructor for Clubes de Ciencia, designing a two-week remote workshop on cancer genetics for high school and college students in Mexico. Juan’s extensive volunteer work led him to receive a BSD Diversity Committee (BDC) Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Award from the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center. He is currently finishing his projects in his graduate lab while applying for industry positions. Congratulations, Juan!

Dr. Angélica Martínez Pérez (PREP class of 2012) earned her Ph.D. in Disability Studies from the University of Illinois Chicago College of Applied Health Sciences in 2023. Congratulations to Angélica on earning her doctorate! She earned her Master’s in Public Health from the University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health in 2016 and her Bachelor’s of Science in Biology from the University of Puerto Rico – Rio Piedras in 2011. Additionally, she completed the UChicago PREP under the mentorship of Dr. James Holaska and holds a certificate in Disability Ethics from the University of Illinois Chicago College of Applied Sciences. Angélica conducted her doctoral research on the use of assistive technology such as mobility aids amongst Hispanics with disabilities. She specifically focused on the barriers to access that lead Hispanics with disabilities to use assistive technology less frequently than non-Hispanic white individuals, as well as interventions that may help Hispanics with disabilities access assistive technologies that can improve their quality of life by reducing secondary health conditions and promoting safety and independence. During her time as a doctoral student, she received two Institute of Disability and Human Development Research Awards from the University of Illinois Chicago Department of Disability and Human Development. She also received a Carlos Drazen Memorial Research Fund Scholarship Award in 2020, a Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) Fellowship in 2017 as part of the Maternal and Child Health Training Grant, and a University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Diversity Fellowship in 2016. While in graduate school, she served as a consultant for Chicago community organization Lo Que Puede Venir, as well as LEND, providing information about assistive technology. She has also taught a variety of courses in rehabilitation sciences, qualitative methods in health studies, and disability studies. She is passionate about providing bilingual education about assistive technology to Chicago community members, as well as developing culturally and linguistically appropriate resources for community organizations. Her work has been published numerous times, including in the Disability and Health Journal and Disability in American Life: An Encyclopedia of Concepts, Policies, and Controversies. She also launched a Twitter account, @ATespanol, that provides Spanish speakers with information and resources regarding assistive technology in the U.S. Congratulations Angélica on all of your accomplishments thus far!

Dr. Xiomarie Alejandro-Navarreto (PREP class of 2016) recently completed her doctorate at the University of Illinois Chicago in the Microbiology and Immunology Department. She received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao. During the PREP program, she conducted microbiology research in the laboratory of Dr. Sean Crosson, and the results of her research were published in the Molecular Microbiology Journal in 2019. Xiomarie was awarded an NSF Bridge to the Doctorate Fellowship for her first two years of graduate school, as well as an AAAS/Science Program for Excellence in Science Fellowship in 2018, a UIC CCTS Pre-doctoral Education for Clinical Translational Scientists Fellowship in 2019, and an American Society of Microbiology Future Leader Mentoring Fellowship in 2022.  She conducted her graduate research in the laboratory of Dr. Nancy Freitag at UIC and received numerous travel grants to conferences to present her research. Her research was published in the PLOS Pathogen Journal and the Molecular Microbiology Journal in 2022. Additionally, she served as a teaching assistant and research mentor at Latin@s Gaining Access to Networks for Advancement in Sciences for three years, working with over 50 Latinx undergraduate students in STEM. In 2022 she accompanied these students to the annual SACNAS conference in Puerto Rico. She has also served as the Vice President and Secretary of UIC’s Graduate Chapter of SACNAS. Now that she has earned her PhD, she has begun post-doctoral training at UIC’s College of Pharmacy in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences. She hopes to further her academic growth through participation in an International Research and Academic Career Development Award (IRACDA) program and pursue an academic career in research and teaching! Congratulations again, Xiomarie!

Congratulations to Dr. Whitney A. Stevens-Sostre (PREP class of 2016) on earning her Ph.D.! She obtained her doctorate in Neuroscience from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2023, conducting her graduate research in the laboratory of Dr. Gail Robertson. In 2015, she earned her Bachelor’s degree with honors in Biology from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez before participating in the PREP program from 2015-2016 under the mentorship of Dr. Nancy Schwartz and Miriam Domowicz. Currently, she is working as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences in the laboratory of Dr. Mrinalini Hoon. As a graduate student, Whitney was awarded the National Institutes of Health Blueprint Diversity Specialized Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Advancement in Neuroscience F99/K00 Award, the Science and Medicine Graduate Research Scholars Fellowship, and the Yale Ciencia Academy Fellowship as well as slots on two institutional T32 grants and numerous travel grants to present her research at national and international conferences. At the 2022 Neuroscience Training Program Re-Connectome Symposium, she won Best Poster. In 2022, she was also inducted into the University of Wisconsin-Madison Bouchet Honor Society.

Whitney is passionate about mentoring the next generation of scientists and creating a community for current and future Black scientists. She has volunteered at Madison East High School, Sherman Middle School, Muskego Virtual Classes, Sun Prairie High School, and the Madison Childrens’ Museum, among other educational institutions, bringing STEM-related fun and education to students. She has also mentored numerous undergraduate, post-baccalaureate, and graduate students. Additionally, she is the founder of Black in Biophysics, an organization and movement that aims to recognize and celebrate Black biophysicists. She co-organized #BlackInBiophysicsWeek in 2021 and 2023, facilitating opportunities for Black biophysicists and scientists in related fields to network and engage in professional development opportunities. Congratulations on all of your accomplishments thus far, Whitney!

Dr. Natasha Wadlington (PREP class of 2005) has recently accepted a new role as a Senior Medical Writer for SB Pharma Solutions, supporting clients in such diverse fields as cancer, psychiatry, epilepsy, and hormone replacement therapies. Following her time in the PREP program, Natasha pursued her PhD in Neurobiology from the University of Chicago and graduated in 2013. She then continued her training as a Postdoctoral Scholar at UChicago in Nancy Schwartz’s lab researching developmental brain injuries. Natasha has long been interested in science communication and outreach and has worked in scientific writing for the last five years. Natasha also has a passion for volunteering and has completed countless service hours, including with Wonder & Skepticism, the Illinois Science Council’s Associates Board, and the University of Chicago’s Biological Sciences Division Postdoctoral Association. With her extensive scientific writing background, we know that Natasha will undoubtedly be successful in her new role. Congratulations!

We want to congratulate Dr. Essence Maston (PREP class of 2010) who graduated this Spring with her Masters in Regulatory Affairs and Health Policy from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences University. After participating in the PREP program, Essence received her PhD in Molecular and Translational Medicine from the Boston University School of Medicine in 2016. Essence has over 10 years of experience in clinical and nonclinical research, and most recently has been working as a Research Program Coordinator for Lahey Hospital and Medical Center. Essence is also working with the National Institute for African American Health (NIAAH), a nonprofit organization with the goal of improving the health of African Americans. We are so excited that Essence has received her MS degree, and congratulate her on all of her accomplishments.

Dr. Miranda Munoz (PREP class of 2017) recently defended and publicly presented her PhD thesis, “The Beneficial and Detrimental Effects of Antiparkinson Medication and Subthalamic Nucleus Deep Brain Stimulation on Eye and Reaching Movements”.  After completing her undergraduate degree at the Carnegie Mellon University, Miranda joined the PREP program, working with Dr. Miriam Domowicz on traumatic brain injury research. Miranda then pursued her PhD at Northwestern University in Neuroscience, specifically focusing on Parkinson’s disease in the lab of Dr. Daniel Corcos. Miranda has received several accolades for her scientific research, including the NIH F31 Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award and the David Hovda Research Excellence Award, and has authored 14 scientific publications to date. After her graduation this spring, she is planning to continue in her current lab as a postdoctoral fellow with new co-mentorship from one of her collaborators, Dr. James Reilly at Northwestern. We are so excited for Miranda. Congratulations!

Dr. Marlene Brito-Millán (PREP Alum 2007) has recently accepted an Assistant Professor position in the School of Environmental Sustainability at Loyola University Chicago. Following the PREP program, where she worked with Dr. Catherine Pfister in the department of Ecology and Evolution, Marlene entered the Scripps Institution of Oceanography/UCSD where she earned her MS in 2014 and her PhD in 2017. During her time as a graduate student, Marlene was awarded an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, a Ford Foundation Fellowship, the UC President’s Dissertation Year Fellowship among numerous other prestigious awards and fellowships. Following graduate school, Marlene held Postdoctoral Research and Teaching Fellow positions at the University of San Diego, UCMEXUS / Universidad Autónoma de Guerrero and Northwestern University. During her time as a postdoc, Marlene was awarded the USD Diversity Postdoctoral Teaching Fellowship, a National Academy of Sciences/Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship and several other grants. In 2022, Dr. Marlene Brito-Millán accepted her faculty position at Loyola where she applies ecological, environmental justice, and complexity science frameworks to her research of coastal and terrestrial socio-environmental systems. Marlene is also working to establish the ‘Laboratory for Indigenous Complex Socio-Environmental Systems’ at Loyola, and she is a co-organizer at the Center for Interdisciplinary Environmental Justice.

Dr. Brandon Hatcher (PREP Alum 2007) is now serving as the Director for the Office of Laboratory Safety for the Center of Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. Previously, he has served as a Lead Scientist for Booz Allen Hamilton and the Corporate Biosafety Officer at GlaxoSmithKline. Dr. Hatcher received his PhD in Microbiology from the University of Alabama in 2014 where he studied the mechanism of nonhematogenous central nervous system invasion of streptococcus pneumoniae. He then completed his postdoctoral fellowship through the National Biosafety and Biocontainment Training Program at the NIH. During his time in PREP at the University of Chicago, he worked with Dr. Kenneth Alexander, the Chief of Pediatric Infectious Disease, studying the Human Papilloma Virus oncoproteins E6 and E7 interactions with NF-KB regulator protein CYLD during the establishment of infection. Brandon recently shared the following about his PREP experience: “The PREP program gave me the confidence and experience needed to be successful in graduate school. In addition, the skills I learned apply to traditional research settings (i.e., running a laboratory) as well as related scientific fields. I use the skills I learned from PREP daily, and I am grateful for my time in the program.” Thank you, Brandon!

Dr. Tristan Jordan (PREP Alum 2009, Randall Lab) has newly accepted a faculty position with the University of Washington Department of Microbiology. As a PREP Scholar, he studied the role of phosphatidylinositol-4 III kinase alpha in Hepatitis C virus replication under the guidance of Dr. Glenn Randall. Tristan completed his graduate studies at the University of Chicago where he continued his work in Dr. Randall’s lab, and was awarded a PhD in Microbiology in 2016. He then went on to complete a Post-doctoral program in Microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. He was recently featured on the ‘Let’s Meet the Virologists’ Podcast where he discussed his work identifying new potentially-druggable targets to prevent and treat COVID-19 using a CRISPR screen and protemoics of the virus replication complex. His research interests include the cell biology of virus-host interactions and the evolutionary pressures exerted on RNA viruses by different antiviral systems. In addition to this work, Tristan also enjoys engineering recombinant viruses for potential therapeutic applications. To date, his research pursuits have resulted in 14 total publications.

Dr. Diandra Vaval Taylor (PREP Alum 2015, Schwartz lab) recently graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a PhD in Microbiology (Spring 2022). As a PREP Scholar at UChicago, she studied the ways in which the extracellular matrix influences chondrocyte differentiation under the control of the transcription factor Sox9, under the guidance of Drs. Nancy Schwartz and Miriam Domowicz.  Upon completing her PREP year, Diandra enrolled at  the University of Illinois at Chicago and was awarded the prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Bridge to Doctorate Fellowship in 2015.  At UIC, under the mentorship of Dr. Nancy Freitag, Diandra’s graduate research focused on the mechanism by which Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) escapes from host cell vacuoles by deciphering the role of bacterial peptide pheromones, utilizing genetic tools to elucidate key genes in this process.  Diandra is an active member of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) and has served as the ASM Ambassador to Illinois since 2020.  She has successfully mentored a PREP scholar and volunteers as a professional affiliate with the I CAN PERSIST (ICP) STEM Initiative for girls and women of color. Additionally, she has taught a Biomedical Seminar Series at a medical preparatory high school in Chicago and she has served as a guest lecturer at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and Chicago State University.  Diandra has recently accepted a Postdoctoral Research position at the University of Illinois at Chicago and hopes to pursue science policy efforts in the future.

Dr. Shanan Emmanuel (PREP Alum 2017, Manicassamy Lab) recently graduated from the University of Florida (UF) with a PhD in Biomedical Sciences (Spring 2022). While at UF she studied developing variant Adeno-Associated Virus (AAV) capsids that evade binding and neutralizing antibodies and defensins. To date, Shanan’s graduate research in the Agbandje-Mckenna lab has led to three publications. In her time at the University of Florida, Shanan won several awards including the Boyce Award, Medical Guild Bronze Award and Ruska Award. Just recently, Shanan was also awarded the esteemed Association for Academic Women’s (AAW) National Science Foundation (NSF) Emerging STEM Scholar Award. In addition to her graduate studies, Shanan completed an internship with LogicBio Therapeutics in Lexington, MA. Shanan is an active member of the American Society for Gene And Cell Therapy and was recognized as a Board of Education Scholar in 2017. As a PREP Scholar, Shanan investigated the role of the Rab11a cellular protein in the life cycle of influenza virus under the guidance of Dr. Manicassamy and her work was recently published in PLOS Pathogens.

Dr. Arnold Olali (PREP Alum 2017, Randall Lab) has recently accepted an offer to join the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia as a a Postdoctoral Fellow. He received a PhD in Integrated Biomedical Science from Rush University Medical Center in the spring of 2022. Under the Guidance of Dr. Ryan Ross and Dr. Lena Al-Harthi at Rush, Arnold’s studies focused on characterizing the individual contributions of HIV and combined antiretroviral therapy (cART) on bone related pathology in people living with HIV. Arnold’s dissertation research led to 3 publications thus far. In addition to his graduate studies, Arnold was a Research Intern with the Union of Concerned Scientists: Center for Science and Democracy. During his internship, Arnold conducted research on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientific advisory committee activities and practices. Arnold received an IMSD (Initiative for Maximizing Student Development) Fellowship in 2017 and has been awarded the prestigious American Society for Bone and Mineral Research (ASBMR) Young Investigator Award. He is also a SACNAS Registration scholarship recipient.

Daisy Castillo-Guzman (UChicago PREP Class of 2016) is currently pursuing her PhD at University of California, Davis and was recently awarded a prestigious NIH F31 Dissertation Fellowship!  Daisy’s research project title is “Uncovering Novel Roles for Splicing Factor SF3B1 in Transcription Dynamics, R-loop Metabolism, and Chromatin Structure” and her research is being performed in the Chedin Lab at UC Davis in the Molecular and Cellular Biology Department.  Earlier this year, Daisy had the opportunity to present her research in a plenary talk at the 2020 Keystone Gene Regulation Meeting.  When Daisy started in her graduate program, she was first appointed to the UC Davis IMSD program and then to the MCB T32 training grant, before applying for and receiving her F31 grant.  Besides working on her dissertation research, Daisy enjoys volunteering in the Young Scientist Program (YSP), an outreach program that provides opportunities that enhance K-12 science education through interactive experiments and activities in the classroom.  She has also participated in the PREP program admissions committee at UC Davis, and each year gets the opportunity to talk to PREP Scholars about her experience in applying to graduate school and provides them with advice as they prepare to enter PhD programs.   Congratulations to Daisy on her Fellowship award and all her success so far in graduate school!

Dr. Liz M. García Peterson, PhD, completed the UChicago PREP program in 2015 then enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for her graduate studies in Molecular & Environmental Toxicology.  Under the mentorship of her thesis advisor, Dr. Nihal Ahmad, Liz studied the role of the SIRT6 protein in melanoma development and progression.  Her dissertation research led to 4 publications including 2 first author manuscripts.  Throughout graduate school, Liz attended AACR and other national conferences where she presented her research.  She was supported by a SciMed Graduate Research Scholar (GRS) Fellowship and an NIAMS Diversity Supplement while at UW-M.  Liz was also involved in organizing science outreach activities for graduate students, and served as a TA and mentor in the laboratory to undergraduate students.  Liz graduated from UW-Madison with her PhD in May, 2019 and was subsequently awarded an NIH IRTA Fellowship.  She is now continuing her postdoctoral studies at the National Institute of Health in Washington, D.C. and was featured recently in an article from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. See link here.

PREP alum Tina Roman (PREP Class of 2015) is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago. In June of 2020, she was involved in organizing a fundraiser and initiative that provided and distributed protestor packs, which included facemasks and other supplies, to support the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests in Chicago. You can read more about this student-led initiative on the UChicago Medicine News website. Congrats and great work, Tina!

In the spring of 2020, PREP alum Camila Barrios-Camacho (PREP Class of 2014), was awarded the Presidential Award for Civic Life from Tufts University, where she is pursuing her PhD in Biomedical Sciences. Camila received this award for her outstanding achievement in community service and community leadership for her work in co-founding and leading the ongoing professional development and social programs of Tufts’ Scientists Promoting INclusive Excellence (SPINES), which provides a supportive and inclusive community for graduate students. Congratulations Camila!

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