Winter 2021 Cohort
I study gut-brain signaling by lipid signalling molecules called endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids can behave like neurotransmitters within your brain and GI tract to give you information about when and what to eat. I am particularly interested in looking at how this signaling process becomes disrupted in obesity and how it can influence the development of obesity. I think it's important for scientists to be involved with policy because we can provide a perspective that many politicians and other policymakers do not possess. Laws and policies that are informed by scientific findings can effectively serve the public in a way that is equitable to all members of society.
Microbiology & Plant Pathology
My name is Gabriel Santiago Ortiz, I'm a fourth year PhD candidate in the Department of Plant Pathology. I'm currently studying the interaction among crops and beneficial soil bacteria. I aim to understand the human impacts on the interaction and how this knowledge can be used to develop sustainable strategies for crop improvement. I am interested in using science policy as a tool to have a positive impact in my community as well as to improve my science communication skills.
Physics & Astronomy
I am a PhD Candidate in Physics & Astronomy. I work on developing and applying astronomical and statistical techniques that allow us to map the universe and learn about its history and origin. I believe both that science should be an important part of determining the most effective public policies and that improving the policies that govern how science is done can make research more open, sustainable, and equitable.
As a Ph.D. Candidate in entomology, my work centers around my lifelong fascination with insects. However, working at UCR has also introduced me to the world of agriculture and revealed the interconnected impact of insects, soil, and climate on the success of crops. California is an agricultural hub, and I strive to educate growers and other people throughout the state on how to improve their agricultural practices. I also hope to inform policymakers and influence change at the policy level to make the food and agriculture industries more sustainable in the long-term. Through S2P, I hope to learn how to influence these changes and effectively communicate my science knowledge.
Physics & Astronomy
I am a first-year Ph.D. student in Physics and Astronomy, and I am presently working in a lab that studies outflows from galaxies. I will be studying outflows from dwarf galaxies to discern whether these outflows are caused by Active Galactic Nuclei, which would throw light on how stars stop forming in these galaxies. I am interested in Science policy to find out how my research can help the community in general and learn how to communicate scientific research in a way that everyone understands it!
Melanie Kushida, a 6th year PhD candidate in Sociology, studies how differences in how people see themselves compared to how they perceive others see them might impact self-esteem and mental health, specifically self-injury behavior. In collecting data for this project, Melanie developed an interest in the broader impact of this work on science policy. She hopes her research could aid in the improvement and development of better mental health policies.
Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology
Originally from Virginia, I am now a 5th year PhD Candidate in the Evolution, Ecology, and Biology Graduate Program at UC Riverside. My research focuses on how highly specialized biological structures, such as some jaws of bony fishes, are able to adapt to novel environmental conditions despite a general assumption by evolutionary biologists that it would be “difficult” for such complex structures to change. I investigate this using the Trinidadian guppy, a small freshwater fish that has been shown to evolve rapidly when environmental conditions change, which adds another dimension of interest to my work. While I shifted course sometime during my undergraduate years, my original interest in biology as a career arose from a desire to find causes and solutions to the environmental issues I was just then learning about. I am interested in science policy as a way to return to my roots as a budding scientist and find ways to use science effectively to address a wide range of problems facing us today.
Botany & Plant Sciences
Leticia Meza, a mother of two who returned to school in her early thirties, was born and raised near the southwest side of Chicago. After earning her Associate’s degree in Liberal Arts from a city college in Chicago, she majored in biology and graduated with high honors from Chicago State University. She is currently in her fifth year of her PhD in the Botany and Plant Sciences program at the University of California, Riverside (UCR), a world-renowned Plant Science program. Her studies target leveraging plant-microbe interactions as a way to optimize agricultural strategies using microbiome data and nanobiotechnology tools. Recently, she conducted research for 6 months at the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) in Bordeaux, France. INRA is the epicenter for agricultural science in Europe, and there she examined the role of cultural vineyard practices as they impact microbial dynamics of the grape variety that is used to make cognac. She attributes her passion for plant biology to her family upbringing but also her participation in funding programs such as LSAMP, NSF-GRFP, RISE-MBRS, and Amgen Scholars as it provided opportunities to engage in meaningful research, and travel to Kenya and France. Alongside advocating for minority participation in higher education in the STEM fields, her long-term goals are to enter into administrative leadership/service-ship positions at a minority serving institution and start an agricultural consulting company that bridges the public, private, and academic sectors to aide growing economies around the world.
Chris Rudnicki is originally from outside Chicago and is now a 4th year Ph.D. Student in the Mechanical Engineering Department. He works on using non-thermal plasma processes to synthesize plasmonic nanoparticles, specifically ZrN, as an alternative to gold and silver for photocatalytic applications. Chris is hoping that his science background and interest in politics can be combined to contribute to building a more just and equitable society.
Jenna Roper is a 4th year PhD student in the Department of Bioengineering. She develops next generation sensors for small, rural farmers in developing nations in order to increase agricultural sustainability. She is interested in the intersection of science and public policy and aims to transition into policy upon the completion of her degree.
Botany & Plant Sciences
Emily Blair is a fifth-year PhD student in Botany and Plant Sciences. She grew up in the California Central Valley, a bountiful agricultural region, where her passion for California agriculture has since turned into a vocation. Her PhD work aims to inform future crop improvement strategies by understanding the molecular and genetic mechanisms of the plant circadian clock. She is specifically interested in understanding how the clock promotes plant survival after exposure to temperature extremes.
Chemical & Environmental Engineering
I am a 4th year PhD candidate in the Chemical & Environmental Engineering department. In David Cocker’s group at CE-CERT, I research aerosols at each stage of the lifecycle of atmospheric pollutants: emissions from sources including modern ocean-going vessels and wildfires, the atmospheric chemical processes that modify their characteristics and form secondary pollutants such as ozone, and the health effects of these directly emitted and “aged” pollutants with collaborators in the biomedical sciences and microbiology. The breadth of this work has enabled me to work to bridge gaps between multiple fields of work, and engage with tangible questions regarding energy, environmental, economic, and social issues.