PREP (Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program)

PREP Alum Spotlights

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.

Whitney Stevens-Sostre (PREP alum 2016, Schwartz/Domowicz lab) is enrolled in the Neuroscience PhD Training Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for her graduate studies.  Under the mentorship of her thesis advisor, Dr. Gail Robertson, Whitney studies structure-function relationships in the KCNH family of voltage-gated potassium channels using structural, biochemical and electro-physiological approaches.  Her dissertation research has led to 2 publications thus far. As a graduate student, Whitney was awarded a Science and Medicine Graduate Research Scholars Fellowship, earned slots on two institutional T32 grants, and was awarded travel grants to present her research at national and international meetings, including BPS and the joint 2019 SOBLA/SGP meeting in Valparaiso, Chile.  Whitney is a 2019 Yale Ciencia Academy Fellow and is passionate about mentoring the next generation of scientists.  In 2021, she was also awarded a prestigious NIH Blueprint Diversity Specialized Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Advancement in Neuroscience (D-SPAN) Award (F99/K00).

In addition to her research work, Whitney founded Black In Biophysics, an organization/movement that aims to recognize and celebrate Black biophysicists. She also co-organized #BlackInBiophysicsWeek, an international social media initiative that highlighted and celebrated Black scholars in biophysics and related fields.  The 2021 Black In Biophysics Week recorded events can be accessed here and you can connect with this organization on Twitter:  Congratulations Whitney on all your accomplishments thus far!

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.

Xiomarie Alejandro-Navarreto received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao, and participated in the University of Chicago PREP Program in 2015-16.  As a PREP Scholar, Xiomarie joined the laboratory of Dr. Sean Crosson in the Department of Microbiology.  Her PREP research was recently published in 2019 in the Molecular Microbiology Journal.  After the PREP, Xiomarie enrolled in the University of Illinois at Chicago, Graduate Education in Biomedical Sciences program, where she was awarded an NSF Bridge to the Doctorate Fellowship for her first two years of graduate school.  Xiomarie joined the laboratory of Dr. Nancy Freitag at UIC and is continuing her research in the Microbiology field.  In graduate school, Xiomarie has been the recipient of multiple travel grants to conferences to present her research, and was awarded the AAAS/Science Program for Excellence in Science Fellowship in 2018.  She passed her qualifying exams this year and has been involved in teaching, mentoring undergraduate trainees in her lab, and is active in her local SACNAS chapter serving as Secretary of the Board.  Congrats Xiomarie on all your accomplishments!

PREP alum Tina Roman (PREP Class of 2015) is currently a PhD candidate at 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 Tuft’s Scientists Promoting INclusive Excellence (SPINES), which provides a supportive and inclusive community for graduate students. Congratulations Camila!

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