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.

Apr 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.

Apr 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.

Mar 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.

Alejandra Ruiz

Alejandra Ruiz

I am currently a junior pursuing a major in Biology, and a minor in Mathematical and Statistical Modeling of Complex Systems at NEIU. This year I was awarded the PRE–MARC scholarship, allowing me to further expand my knowledge and experience in the research field. Under the mentorship of Dr. Jorge Cantú, I am studying gene expression and localization of Pig11 in zebrafish. This mentorship and the experience in the lab thus far have presented me the opportunity to familiarize myself with standard laboratory equipment and techniques, commonly accessible only to those in the field. My immediate goal is to gain as much knowledge and experience as an undergraduate researcher and then to pursue a Ph.D. in neuroscience upon graduation from NEIU.  

Conferences and Summer Research Experiences

Summer 2022: Summer Research Experience at Northeastern Illinois University under the mentorship of Dr. Jorge Cantú, Associate Professor in the Department of  Biology.
 
Rut Ortiz

Rut Ortiz

Rut Ortiz is a second bachelor’s seeking student majoring in chemistry with a biochemistry focus and minoring in mathematics. Under the guidance of Dr. Elyse Bolterstein, she is researching the response of the WRN homolog to oxidative stress in D. melanogaster. Her goal is to complete the MARC Training Program and apply to graduate schools so that she may practice translational research while pursuing innovations in cancer biology and treatments.

Conferences and Summer Research Experiences

Nov 10-13, 2021 – ePoster Presentation – “Elucidating the Interaction of the TAZ-CAMTA1 Fusion Protein with Epigenetic Modifiers” – The Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS): The Virtual Experience

Oct 1, 2021 – Podium Presentation – “Elucidating the interaction of the TAZ-CAMTA1 Fusion Protein with Epigenetic Modifiers” – The 13th Annual Student Center for Science Engagement (SCSE) Research Symposium, Northeastern Illinois University

Jul 28, 2021 – Podium and Poster Presentation – “Elucidating the interaction of the TAZ-CAMTA1 Fusion Protein with Epigenetic Modifiers” – The CURE Summer Research Program Poster Session, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA

Summer 2021 – Summer Research Experience at University of Iowa in the Department of Pathology under the supervision of Munir Tanas, MD

Apr 27, 2021 – Oral Presentation – “Modifying the wolf-sheep predation model to utilize flocking and herding dynamics found in traditional agricultural systems to reduce sheep predation in NetLogo” – The 17th Mathematical and Statistical Modeling of Complex Systems Workshop, SGH Warsaw School of Economics & Northeastern Illinois University (Virtual)

Apr 22-23, 2021 – Oral Presentation – “Measuring the response of WRNexo-deficient Drosophila to metabolic stress” – 28th Annual NEIU Student Research and Creative Activities Symposium (Virtual)

Apr 8-9, 2021 – Attended – The Virtual Chicago Society for Neuroscience Meeting

Mar 12 & 26, 2021 – Attended – The 4th Annual Women in Science Conference, Northeastern Illinois University (Virtual)

Nov 9-13, 2020 – Poster Presentation – “Measuring the response of WRNexo-deficient Drosophila to oxidative stress” – 2020 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS): The Virtual Experience. Won poster presentation award in Developmental Biology and Genetics 

Oct 16, 2020 – Oral Presentation – “Measuring the response of WRNexo-deficient Drosophila to oxidative stress” – The Student Center for Science Engagement 12th Annual Summer Research Online Symposium, Northeastern Illinois University

Jul 22, 2020 – Virtual Attendance – Frontiers in Nanotechnology Virtual Mini-Conference by International Institute for Nanotechnology

Summer 2020 – SRE at Northeastern Illinois University, under the supervision of Dr. Elyse Bolterstein, Department of Biology

Nov 14, 2019 – Poster Presentation – “Validation of a high-throughput drug screen on a YAP-TFE3 driven anchorage-independent cell growth assay” – Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS), Anaheim, CA. – Won travel award

Sep 27, 2019 – Poster Presentation – “Validation of a high-throughput drug screen on a YAP-TFE3 driven anchorage-independent cell growth assay” – The Student Center for Science Engagement Research Symposium, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago, IL

Jul 24, 2019 – Poster Presentation – “Validation of a high-throughput drug screen on a YAP-TFE3 driven anchorage-independent cell growth assay” – University of Iowa CURE Symposium, Iowa City, IA

Jul 23, 2019 – Podium Presentation – “Validation of a high-throughput drug screen on a YAP-TFE3 driven anchorage-independent cell growth assay” – University of Iowa CURE Symposium, Iowa City, IA

Summer 2019 –  Summer Research Experience at University of Iowa (CURE Summer Program) under the supervision of Dr. Munir Tanas, Department of Pathology

Summer 2019 –  Summer Research Experience through the ChicagoCHEC Program

Rogelio Alvarado

Rogelio Alvarado

My name is Rogelio Alvarado. I am majoring in Biology, minoring in both Mathematical and Statistical Modeling of Complex Systems, and Chemistry. Currently, I am conducting research in Dr. Debabrata Chakravarti’s lab at Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. I am studying MYC inhibitors that directly disrupt MYC and MAX interactions, impairs MYC driven expression, while suppressing tumor growth. Prior to joining Dr. Chakravarti’s lab, I conducted research with Dr. Cindy Voisine at Northeastern Illinois University. We studied the toxic effects of expressing the human gene TDP-43 in C. elegans. I am interested in biomedical research and plan on applying to graduate schools that offer me the chance to build my research skills and help the scientific community make new discoveries.

Conferences and Summer Research Experiences

Nov 10-13, 2021 – ePoster Presentation – “Investigating Transcriptional Regulation of the Androgen Receptor by MYC in Prostate Cancer Cells” – 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 Northwestern University in the laboratory of Debabrata Chakravarti,  PhD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Erica Natalie Belloso

Erica Natalie Belloso

My name is Erica Natalie Belloso. I am pursuing a degree in Environmental Science with a minor in Mathematical and Statistical Modeling of Complex Systems. My research interest is sustainability, biology, and the effects of climate change on human health. I am currently doing research in the Biology Department under Dr. Slate’s mentorship. We are identifying different algae and diatom species and examining their abilities to remove excess nutrients and pollutants from wastewater. Our project is promising because it can add a third step to further clean wastewater before it is discharged into the Chicago River. My professional goal is to pursue a PhD to better the quality of life through a more sustainable, green-friendly approach. Environmental injustice affects human health and I hope to bring awareness and change to communities including my own.

Conferences and Summer Research Experiences

Nov 10-13, 2021 – ePoster Presentation – “Understanding the Change in Irrigation Methods, Farms, Acres, Irrigation Education Sources and the Barriers Faced in Efforts to Conserve Water, Over the Last 15 Years” – The Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS): The Virtual Experience

Oct 1, 2021 – Podium Presentation – “Understanding the change in irrigation methods in Michigan and Indiana, over the last 15 years” – The 13th Annual Student Center for Science Engagement (SCSE) Research Symposium, Northeastern Illinois University

Jul 28, 2021 – Poster Presentation – “Understanding the change in irrigation methods, farms, acres, irrigation education sources, and the barriers faced in efforts to conserve water, over the last 15 years” – 11th Annual Mid-Michigan Symposium for Undergraduate Research Experiences (MID-SURE), Michigan State University (Virtual)

Summer 2021 – SROP at Michigan State University (Virtual) in the Biosystems & Agricultural Engineering Department under the supervision of Dr. Younsuk Dong

Apr 22-23, 2021 – Poster Presentation – “Examining the impact of algae on microbial communities in wastewater” – 28th Annual NEIU Student Research and Creative Activities Symposium (Virtual). Won best poster presentation award in STEM

Apr 8-9, 2021 – Attended – The Virtual Chicago Society for Neuroscience Meeting

Mar 15-18, 2021 – Poster Presentation – “Growing algae in wastewater to mitigate climate change” – Climate Change Conference (Virtual), School of Environmental Sustainability, Loyola University Chicago

Christina Rouhotas

Christina Rouhotas

Christina Rouhotas is majoring in Biology and double minoring in Mathematical and Statistical Modeling of Complex Systems and Chemistry. She is also a part of the McNair Scholars Program. Christina is currently working under the mentorship of Dr. Jorge Cantu, studying how Schwann cells interact with the cytoskeletal protein Merlin to cause Neurofibromatosis Type 2 using CRISPR/Cas9 to model the disease in Zebrafish. She is interested in biomedical research, particularly in how genes act as tumor suppressors and plans to pursue a PhD in Cancer Biology.

Conferences and Summer Research Experiences

Nov 10-13, 2021 – ePoster Presentation – “Characterizing Apoptosis in the Spinal Cord of Pig11aBBH1 Zebrafish (Danio rerio) Knockouts” – The Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS): Virtual Experience. Won e-poster presentation award in Developmental Biology and Genetics

Oct 1, 2021 – Podium Presentation – “The influence of postnatal growth restriction on heart morphology” – The 13th Annual Student Center for Science Engagement (SCSE) Research Symposium, Northeastern Illinois University

Jul 28, 2021 – Poster Presentation – “The influence of postnatal growth restriction on heart morphology” – 11th Annual Mid-Michigan Symposium for Undergraduate Research Experiences (MID-SURE), Michigan State University (Virtual)

Jul 26, 2021 – Oral Presentation – “The influence of postnatal growth restriction on heart morphology” – Michigan State University Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP) Closing Activities (Virtual)

May 22, 2021 – Oral Presentation – “Impacts of hypertension on life satisfaction and confidence in medicine” – Michigan State University Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP) Closing Activities (Virtual)

Summer 2021 – SROP at Michigan State University (Virtual) in the Reproductive and Developmental Science Program under the supervision of David Ferguson, PhD

Apr 27, 2021 – Oral Presentation – “Modifying the wolf-sheep predation model to utilize flocking and herding dynamics found in traditional agricultural systems to reduce sheep predation in NetLogo” – The 17th Mathematical and Statistical Modeling of Complex Systems Workshop, SGH Warsaw School of Economics & Northeastern Illinois University (Virtual)

Apr 22-23, 2021 – Oral Presentation – “Characterizing apoptosis in the spinal cord of PIG11ABBH1 zebrafish (Danio rerio) knockouts” – 28th Annual NEIU Student Research and Creative Activities Symposium (Virtual)

Apr 8-9, 2021 – Attended – The Virtual Chicago Society for Neuroscience Meeting

Mar 12 & 26, 2021 – Attended – The 4th Annual Women in Science Conference, Northeastern Illinois University (Virtual)

Nov 9-13, 2020 – Poster Presentation – “Characterizing cellular senescence during zebrafish (Danio rerio) development using Beta-galactosidase” – 2020 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS): The Virtual Experience

Oct 16, 2020 – Oral Presentation – “Characterizing cellular senescence during zebrafish (Danio rerio) development using Beta-Galactosidase” – The Student Center for Science Engagement 12th Annual Summer Research Online Symposium, Northeastern Illinois University

Summer 2020 – Summer Research Experience at Northeastern Illinois University, under the supervision of Dr. Jorge Cantu, Department of Biology

Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2019 – Poster Presentation – Modeling Neurofibromatosis Type 2 in Zebrafish (Danio rerio)”- SACNAS National Conference, Honolulu, HI

Sep 27, 2019 – Poster Presentation – “Modeling Neurofibromatosis Type 2 in Zebrafish (Danio rerio)” – Northeastern Illinois Student Center for Science Engagement 11th Annual Student Research Symposium, Chicago, IL

Summer 2019 – Summer Research Experience at Northeastern Illinois University, under the supervision of Dr. Jorge Cantu, Department of Biology