Meet our current scholars.

Michele Ocana

Michele Ocana

My name is Michele Ocana. I am majoring in Psychology and minoring in Mathematical and Statistical Modeling of Complex Systems. As an undergraduate research assistant, I work with Dr. Andrew Young and Dr. Breckie Church investigating the role of cognitive reflection and gesture and if and how they play a part in the learning of symbolic equivalence in elementary children. I also have a passion for social psychology and neuropsychology.

Conferences and Summer Research Experiences

Summer 2022: Summer Research Experience at New York University in the Cognitive Development laboratory of Dr. Andrei Cimpian, Professor of Psychology

May 6, 2022: Poster presentation “Can high working memory improve math learning and help close the achievement gap?” at the 2022 John Sargon Albazi Research and Creative Activities Student Symposium, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago.

April 21-23, 2022: Poster presentation “How do cognitive and social factors contribute to math learning?” at the 2022 Cognitive Development Society Conference, Madison, Wisconsin.

March 4, 2022: Attended the Chicago Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting, DePaul University, Chicago.

Nov. 10-13, 2021: e-poster presentation “Working Memory: The Secret to Math Achievement Regardless of Socioeconomic Status” at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS): Virtual Experience. Won e-poster presentation award in Social and Behavioral & Public Health.

Oct. 5-29, 2021: e-poster presentation “Learning math: Does working memory or socioeconomic status matter?” at the 2021 SACNAS NDiSTEM Digital Conference.

Oct 1. 2021: Podium presentation “Learning math: Does working memory or socioeconomic status matter?” at the 13th Annual Student Center for Science Engagement (SCSE) Research Symposium, Northeastern Illinois University.

Summer 2021: Summer Research Experience at Northeastern Illinois University (through the Student Center for Science Engagement Summer Program) in the Psychology Department under the supervision of Dr. Breckie Church and Dr. Andrew Young.

March 12 & 26, 2021: Attended the 4th Annual Women in Science Conference, Northeastern Illinois University (virtual).

Samantha Macksey

Samantha Macksey

My name is Samantha Andrea Macksey, and I am pursuing a bachelor’s degree with a major in Psychology and a minor in Mathematical and Statistical Modeling of Complex Systems. I am currently conducting research in the Psychology Department, working with Dr. Andrew Young and Dr. Breckie Church. This research examines cognitive resources such as cognitive reflection, working memory and strategy variability when children solve mathematical equivalence problems (problems that test children’s understanding of the equal sign). I specifically examined how strategy variability (the number of incorrect strategies children use when solving math problems) and working memory influences children’s receptivity to math instruction. The U.S. is 39th (out of 70) industrialized countries in math competency. Over the summer (2022), I am working with Dr. Vlach at the University of Wisconsin SERP (Summer Education Research Program) examining how children's understanding of science can predict how likely they are to go into STEM careers, understand climate change and make informed decisions about government public issues. My research will help navigate mechanisms driving acquisition of math and science understanding which is essential for increasing the capacity for students to enter into biomedical and STEM research. My professional goal is to pursue a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology to improve the educational system early in development. Children often experience anxiety when it comes to math and science. I hope to explore how to decrease this anxiety and increase the opportunities for children to explore their inner scientist. 

Conferences and Summer Research Experiences

Summer 2022: Summer Research Experience at University of Wisconsin-Madison in the laboratory of Dr. Haley Vlach, Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Psychology.

May 6, 2022: Podium co-presentation “Individual differences in children’s online math learning” at the 2022 John Sargon Albazi Research and Creative Activities Student Symposium, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago.

April 21-23, 2022: Poster presentation “Individual differences in cognitive resources predict math learning: working memory helps but strategy variability hurts” at the 2022 Cognitive Development Society Conference, Madison, Wisconsin.

April 9, 2022: Poster presentation “Individual differences in cognitive resources predict math learning: working memory helps but strategy variability hurts” at the 2022 Chicago Area Undergraduate Research Symposium, Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center, Chicago.

March 4, 2022: Attended the Chicago Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting, DePaul University, Chicago.

Feb. 25-26, 2022: Poster presentation “Strategy Variability and Working Memory in Math Learning” at the 2022 Illinois LSAMP Symposium, Rosemont, Illinois. Won first place for poster presentation in Mathematics.

Dec. 3, 2021: Podium co-presentation "Do Parenting and Working Memory Affect Children's Math Learning?" at the 16th Annual Fall Psychology Student Symposium, Northeastern Illinois University

Nov. 10-13, 2021: e-poster presentation "Does Working Memory and Strategy Variability Influence a Child's Readiness to Learn?" at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS): Virtual Experience.

Oct. 1, 2021: Podium presentation "Does working memory and strategy variability influence a child’s readiness to learn?" at the 13th Annual Student Center for Science Engagement (SCSE) Research Symposium, Northeastern Illinois University.

Summer 2021: Summer Research Experience at Northeastern Illinois University (through the Student Center for Science Engagement Summer Program) in the Psychology Department under the supervision of Dr. Breckie Church and Dr. Andrew Young.

Christian Torres

Christian Torres

Christian Torres is coursing his senior year as a Biology major with a Mathematics minor. In 2013 he received the Horatio Alger Scholarship and has presented previous research at the PRISM/JTM conference in Puerto Rico. He is currently a MARC scholar, a McNair scholar, and a Society of Developmental Biology (SDB) Choose Development! fellow. His future goal is to earn a Ph.D. in Developmental Biology, and he currently works with Dr. Jorge Cantu studying apoptotic genes involved in early development of zebrafish.

Conferences and Summer Research Experiences

July 19, 2022: Poster Presentation“Characterizing the apoptotic role of PIG11 during the embryonic development of zebrafish” – The Joint Society for Developmental Biology – Pan-American Society for Evolutionary Developmental Biology Meeting, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Summer 2022: Summer Research Experience at San Diego State University in the laboratory of Dr. Ricardo Zayas, Associate Professor in the Department of Biology

May 6, 2022: Podium presentation “Characterizing the apoptotic role of PIG11 during the embryonic development of zebrafish” at the 2022 John Sargon Albazi Research and Creative Activities Student Symposium, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago.

March 4, 2022: Poster presentation “Characterizing the apoptotic role of PIG11 during the embryonic development of zebrafish” at the Chicago Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting, DePaul University, Chicago.

Feb. 25-26, 2022: Poster presentation “Characterizing the Apoptotic Role of PIG11 During the Embryonic Development of Zebrafish” at the 2022 Illinois LSAMP Symposium, Rosemont, Illinois. Won first place for poster presentation in Molecular Biology.

Nov. 10-13, 2021: e-poster presentation “Characterizing the Apoptotic Role of PIG11 During the Embryonic Development of Zebrafish” at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS): Virtual Experience.

Oct 1, 2021: Attended the 13th Annual Student Center for Science Engagement (SCSE) Research Symposium, Northeastern Illinois University.

Summer 2021: Summer Research Experience at Northeastern Illinois University (Society for Developmental Biology Choose Development! Fellow) in the Biology Department under the supervision of Jorge Cantu, Ph.D.

Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas is pursuing a B.S in Biology with a minor in Mathematical and Statistical Modeling of Complex Systems. He is also a McNair Scholar and University Honors Student. His current research, under the mentorship of Dr. Elyse Bolterstein and Dr. Aaron Schirmer, investigates the role of artificial light at night to disrupt circadian rhythms and uses fruit flies to model its impact on physiology. He plans to pursue a graduate degree in the biomedical sciences.

Conferences and Summer Research Experiences

Summer 2022: Summer Research Experience at University of Chicago in the laboratory of Dr. Edwin Munro, Associate Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology.

May 6, 2022: Attended the 2022 John Sargon Albazi Research and Creative Activities Student Symposium, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago.

Michelle Vargas

Michelle Vargas

I am majoring in Psychology and minoring in Mathematical and Statistical Modeling of Complex Systems. I work in the neuropsychology lab with Dr. Shannon Saszik and I am currently examining whether the personality traits of introverts and extroverts change in different social environments. I would like to incorporate in my research the impact of people’s biology and how it might influence people’s behaviors. In the lab, I use zebrafish as a model to test my hypothesis. My professional goal is to earn a Ph.D. in psychology.

Conferences and Summer Research Experiences

Summer 2022: Summer Research Experience at Northeastern Illinois University in the laboratory of Dr. Shannon Saszik, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology.

May 6, 2022: Podium presentation “Personality traits: introvert and extrovert in different social environments” at the 2022 John Sargon Albazi Research and Creative Activities Student Symposium, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago.

May 6, 2022: Poster presentation “The effects of exclusion and inclusion on creativity” at the 2022 John Sargon Albazi Research and Creative Activities Student Symposium, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago.

Mykee Vives

Mykee Vives

I am a Psychology major with a minor in Mathematical and Statistical Modeling of Complex Systems. I am also the current Peer Mentor in the University Honors Program Living Learning Community, as well as a Presidential Scholar. I am currently working with Dr. Young and Dr. Church to investigate cognitive reflection in children, and am looking to pursue a PhD in Counseling Psychology after graduating.

Conferences and Summer Research Experiences

Summer 2022: Summer Research Experience through NIH ChicagoCHEC program.