IRACDA Past Scholars

Cohort 1

Jenny Link Chen
Department of Medicine
2016 IRACDA Cohort

Current position: Assistant Professor at Whittier College in California 

I have been passionate about and committed to scientific research and education for several years. Currently, I am working in the laboratory of Dr. Thomas Vallim, studying how bile acids, which are metabolites derived from cholesterol, interact with the body in health and disease. I received my Ph.D. in Molecular Biology under the excellent training of Dr. Karen Reue at UCLA. My doctoral thesis work focused on sex differences in obesity and related metabolic disorders. As a graduate student, I worked for the Undergraduate Research Center, helping students find research opportunities and convey their work to their peers. Because I enjoy communicating science to people of all ages, I volunteer at the Natural History Museum of LA County on weekends.


By becoming a professor dedicated to both research and education, I aim to increase scientific literacy among our future generations, and further our understanding of human health.

Santiago Pineda
Department of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology
2017 IRACDA Cohort

Current position: Associate Specialist at UCI and Southern California University of Health Sciences (SCUHS)

I was born in Bogota, Colombia and immigrated to New Jersey at 6 years of age with my family. We lived there for 5 years as my father, a psychiatrist, finished his residency training. He obtained a sponsored position in Indiana and we moved there when I was 12. I stayed in Indiana through college, a master’s program (Masters of Science in Medical Science through IU Med school), and work as a technician in Dr. Anthony Firulli’s cardiac development lab. I then applied to graduate school and was fortunate enough to be accepted and attend UCSD Biomedical Sciences PhD program in 2010. There I worked with Dr. Rolf Bodmer on ion channel and idiopathic cardiac arrhythmias using Drosophila as a model. I graduated in 2016 and am now in the lab of Dr. Leanne Jones working on the characterization of factors that influence cell fate decisions of stem cells and their progeny, also using Drosophila as a model system.

My ultimate goal is to teach as a main lecturer in a primarily undergraduate institution while also taking my passion for teaching and research skills into my own lab.

Cohort 2

Sunny C. Chang
Department of Medicine, Division of Cardiology
2017 IRACDA Cohort

Current Position: Instructor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

I grew up in New York City and attended a math and science specialized high school. I traded in the hustle and bustle of the city for sunshine at the California Institute of Technology where I received my B.S. in Chemistry. I pursued Ph.D. at UCLA in the Dept of Chemistry and Biochemistry with Dr. Todd Yeates, studying X-ray crystallography and Bacterial Microcompartment proteins. Currently, I am a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Jessica Wang and co-sponsor Dr. Jake Lusis in the Dept of Medicine-Cardiology. Under the direction of my sponsors, I apply my background in structural and molecular biology to basic research in Heart Failure and Inherited Cardiomyopathies. We use in vivo and in vitro approaches to identify novel genetic factors contributing to disease, both from the clinic and from animal models. In addition, I enjoy doing science outreach activities with the Organization for Cultural Diversity in Science.

I have been lucky to be the recipient of a great STEM education that has allowed me to persist toward degrees in STEM. However, the traditional STEM education leaves many students behind and much reform is needed. I believe using evidence-based practices is the key to improving the way we teach science and even to increasing diversity in science. With the IRACDA fellowship in partnership with CSULA mentor Dr. Jamil Momand in the Dept of Biochemistry, I aim to learn new methods of teaching & assessment and prepare for an academic career in research & teaching.

Cohort 3

Kristen N. Holbrook
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
2017 IRACDA Cohort

Current position: Scientist at Amgen

I am interested in the molecular details of how subcellular organization leading to compartmentalized / organelle function is established, and how the environmental and physiological factors modify these processes. My PhD research in the laboratory of Dr. Barry Bruce at the University of Tennessee has provided me with excellent training and experience in several life science disciplines, including biochemistry, structural analysis, molecular biology and microbiology. For my postdoctoral research in Dr. Sabeeha Merchant’s group at UCLA, I am building on my previous training to investigate metal uptake, metabolism and sequestration, which will allow me to address new questions about organelle function and subcellular organization. Together, my sponsor, research project and the IRACDA training plan will build a solid foundation to reach my goals.

My long-term career goal is to develop an independent research program in an academic environment. As an educator I want transfer my enthusiasm, perseverance, and training to help build the next generation of scientists.


Cohort 4

Azeez Aranmolate
Department of Microbiology, Immunology & Molecular Genetics
2018 IRACDA Cohort

Current position: Senior Regulatory Medical Writer at KITE Pharma

I received my Bachelor’s degree in Biology (2006) and Master’s degree in Molecular & Cellular Biology (2008) from Brandeis University. I have worked in both pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry. I also obtained my PhD in Molecular & Cellular Biology (2017) from Stony Brook University. My PhD research focus was in the field of Neuroscience (glial development and degeneration), where I determined a new role for the protein, Dystrophin, in myelination of the Central Nervous System and helped identify a potential cause for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD)-associated brain defects. In addition to my passion for science, I also enjoy beaches, riding motorcycles, fitness, trying new foods and traveling with friends. Lastly, as a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology & Molecular Genetics at UCLA, I am currently studying mechanisms of infection between Trichomonas vaginalis (Tv) and human host cells in-vitro and in-vivo.

So far, my career has been an amalgamation of numerous STEM related experiences. Accordingly, in addition to my academic life, I have also managed to work in both pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Consequently, due to the multifaceted nature of my experiences, my ideal career will combine my passion for scientific research, mentoring and teaching. Therefore, regardless of which path I take in the future (i.e. academia, government or industry), I plan to continue inspiring younger scientists to overcome higher education barriers and improve their community through STEM research & mentorship.

Jesse Bateman
Institute of the Environment and Sustainability
2018 IRACDA Cohort

Current position: Assistant Professor at State University of New York College at Cortland

I grew up in rural New York. Years spent scrambling over rocks and rooting through leaves looking for salamanders fostered in me a deep love for the natural world and a curiosity about the processes that shape it. For college, I traveled to the rocky coasts of New England to pursue a degree in Geology–Biology at Brown University. At Brown I worked in a terrestrial biogeochemistry lab exploring plant–soil interactions, focusing particularly on seedling uptake of the plant-important nutrient phosphorus. I earned my PhD from Stanford University’s Earth System Science Department working with Dr. Peter Vitousek. In my doctoral work I investigated climatic controls on soil development and nutrient cycling in ecosystems. Currently I am a postdoctoral scholar working with Dr. Aradhna Tripati in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. Dr. Tripati’s lab specializes in applying isotopic methods to understanding paleoclimates. I use my background in terrestrial ecosystems to investigate climatic controls on biological communities. For this work, I use a combination of isotopic climate proxies, paleopollen records, and geomorphological studies. In addition to my scientific pursuits, I volunteer with the Center for Diverse Leadership in Science focusing on scientific outreach in the broader Los Angeles community.

I aim to pay forward the support and encouragement that I received from my teachers and mentors over the years. To achieve this, I want to become a professor at an institution where I can support undergraduate and graduate education, and provide students from underrepresented groups in STEM with opportunities to pursue scientific research.