IRACDA Scholars

Cohort 1

Helen Vuong
Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology
2016 IRACDA Cohort

I received my B.S. in Neuroscience from UCLA in 2009 and PhD from UCLA in 2015. I am a recipient of the Jules Stein Eye NIH Pre-doctoral Fellowship and the Jules Stein Eye Institute Research Excellence Award. Currently, I am studying the influence of the maternal microbiome on neurotransmitter biosynthesis and fetal neurodevelopment. In my free time, I enjoy hiking in national parks and cooking.

My interest is in an academic career focused on teaching neuroscience to undergraduates in addition to innovative research.

Cohort 2

Mayra A. Carrillo
Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology and Oncology
2017 IRACDA Cohort

I am a first generation Mexican-American from the San Fernando Valley. I received my B.S. in Biological Sciences at UC Irvine. I received my Ph.D. at UCLA in the department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics under the excellent mentorship of Dr. Elissa Hallem. My Ph.D. work involved studying neural circuits controlling CO2 avoidance behavior in C. elegans. Currently, I am in the laboratory of Dr. Scott Kitchen working on developing novel immunotherapeutic strategies for the treatment of HIV infection. In my free time, I enjoy hiking with my lab mates, playing video games, and discovering new music.

My long-term goals are to become a faculty member at a research institution and teach undergraduate courses in immunology and molecular biology. I aim to be involved in outreach programs that introduce students of disadvantaged backgrounds to research science and learn about STEM careers.


Cohort 3

Juliet R. Girard
Department of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology
2017 IRACDA Cohort

I grew up in the urban jungles of New Jersey and went to college on the east coast before pursuing the wonders of the west in graduate school. I received my PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from University of California San Francisco in 2015 under the supervision of Dr. David Morgan. In my PhD thesis I studied the biochemistry of the cell division. I am currently working in the lab of Dr. Utpal Banerjee, studying the genetics of blood cell development in fruit flies. My current project looks at developmental control of cell division in blood progenitors. When I’m not in lab, I really enjoy going to museums and cooking.

My experience learning from wonderful teachers and mentors throughout my education has inspired me to want to create a similar supportive, inclusive environment in my teaching and mentoring of undergraduate students. I hope to become a professor at an institution that primarily serves undergraduates.

Cohort 4

Jackie McCourt
Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology
2018 IRACDA Cohort

I grew up in Minneapolis, MN but took the trek to Azusa Pacific University outside of Los Angeles where I received a B.S. in Biochemistry and where I fell in love with proteins and teaching. I moved back to the midwest to pursue my PhD in Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Biophysics at the University of Minnesota, where I studied the the structure-function relationship of proteins involved in muscular dystrophy. Last year, I returned to Los Angeles and joined the lab of Dr. Rachelle Crosbie-Watson at UCLA as a postdoc studying cardiac fibrosis in the context of muscular dystrophy-associated cardiomyopathy and myocardial infarction. Outside of the lab, I enjoy reading, cooking, the LA music scene, serving at my church, and the beach.

My goals are to achieve excellence in both research and teaching with a focus on being part of the movement to bridge the achievement gap for underrepresented minorities and people with different abilities in the STEM fields. I look forward to taking the valuable lessons and experiences gained from the IRACDA fellowship and applying them to my future laboratory, classroom, and academic community.

Cohort 5

Portia Mira
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
2018 IRACDA Cohort

I was born and raised in the central valley of California. Earned my A.S. in Chemical Sciences at Merced College, B.S. in Biological Sciences with emphasis in Developmental Biology at UC Merced, and my Ph.D. in Microbial Evolution in the Quantitative and Systems Biology Program at UC Merced. My postdoctoral research will focus on the effects of combinatorial and cyclical antibiotic therapies on the evolution of antibiotic resistance with an emphasis on Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CREs). Aside from my research, I am a mom of three young children who keep me busier than my research does! Spending time with them is what keeps me going.

Along side my research, I also enjoy teaching and mentoring students, especially those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, as I myself grew up in a foster home. I hope to obtain a position where I am able to teach and continue my research and mentor students both in and out of my lab.

Erica Pandolfi
Department of Molecular Cell and Developmental Biology
2018 IRACDA Cohort

I grew up in Northern Virginia outside of DC along the beautiful Potomac river. I went for the ultimate change when I decided to move out to California and attend UCSB. I got my degree in Biological Sciences and dabbled in various areas of research from ocean ecology to materials science. For my PhD I decided to attend UCSD to study diseases of inherited infertility in Dr. Pamela Mellon’s lab. At UCLA, I am in Dr. Amander Clark’s laboratory, using human stem cells to understand the basis of germline cell formation. In my free time I enjoy sailing and listening to all the great live LA music.

In my career I want to focus on conducting research that will improve women’s health, and I also want to educate women so they are empowered to make safe and healthy decisions about their bodies.

Ana Garcia Vedrenne
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
2018 IRACDA Cohort

I got my bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Biology from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). I first came to California as part of an Education Abroad Program- little did I know that the Parasitology class I signed up for would forever change the way I thought about parasites. I returned to pursue my PhD in the Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology Department at UC Santa Barbara. My doctoral research examined the social organization of trematode parasites in their snail hosts (turns out some species have a non-reproductive soldier caste that defend the parasite colony from invaders!). While at UCSB, I also obtained an MA in Applied Statistics and a Certificate in College and University Teaching. Now, as a postdoc in Dr. Robert Wayne’s lab at UCLA, I use environmental DNA signatures to identify and quantify parasite and pathogen biodiversity in California ecosystems. I am also developing curriculum for the new Environmental DNA for Science Investigation and Education Program. I love dancing and being outdoors.

I hope to become a professor at a primarily undergraduate institution. I believe in promoting student engagement through active learning and in giving students authentic experiences in scientific inquiry. As teacher and mentor, my role is not to take students by the hand on their journey, but to motivate, support, and challenge them while they create their own adventure.

Cohort 6

Nan Hultgren
Department of Ophthalmology
2019 IRACDA Cohort

I was born and raised in Hangzhou, China, a city just an hour outside of Shanghai. After high school, I came to the US to pursue higher education. I received my B.S. in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry from California State University, East Bay and my PhD in Vascular Biology from University of California, Irvine. Currently, I am conducting my postdoctoral study in Dr. David Williams’ lab at UCLA, studying mitochondrial dynamics and motility in retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells, a cell type that is implicated in various retinal degenerative diseases. I have had fairly diverse research experience and I am interested in leveraging my knowledge in the broader field of molecular and cell biology to study cell-cell interactions in complex tissue environment and pathology. At every stage of my career, I encountered great teachers and mentors who not only passed on their knowledge and wisdom, but also affected me on a personal level, to be passionate and dedicated to my own pursuits, to be caring and respectful of others, and to commit to serving the community. Therefore, I hope to use what I learned to help and inspire the next generation of young scientists. Outside of work, I am a board member of the ARCS foundation to advocate and help fund college and graduate level research. I also enjoy practicing yoga, cooking and gardening.

My long-term goal is to obtain an academic position where I could conduct research, teach undergraduate courses and continue to mentor students. Being a first-generation myself, I also hope to advocate for and help immigrants and students from underrepresented communities to achieve their own goals.

JoAnn S. Roberts
Department of Ophthalmology
2019 IRACDA Cohort

Born on the beautiful island of Bermuda, I was raised by Jamaican parents, with whom I immigrated to the United States at the age of 9. I earned my B.A. in Biological Chemistry and M.S. in Biomedical Science from Florida Atlantic University. I continued my education at the Medical University of South Carolina, where I completed my Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology (Research Emphasis: host-pathogen interactions in the oral cavity). Currently, I am a postdoc in the laboratory of Dr. Sophie Deng. My research addresses challenges in the ex vivo cultivation of stem cells for corneal transplantation. In my free time I am a singer-songwriter and a worship leader at my church. I love creative environments and basking in the serenity of nature.

I have a passion to promote equity and inclusivity in STEM. Therefore, I would like to work to develop, implement, and direct STEM initiatives that focus on increasing STEM interest, retention, and success – specifically among underrepresented groups.


Cohort 7

Hannah Carroll
Department of Earth Planetary and Space Sciences (EPSS)
2020 IRACDA Cohort

I grew up in a small town in southwest Missouri. I received my BS in Environmental Science from University of Washington-Tacoma, with a thesis project focused on marine larval ecology. I earned my PhD from Iowa State University with co-majors in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB), and Environmental Science (ENVS). My dissertation research focused on plant communities at regional to sub-continental scales and how they have interacted with climate over geologic time. I was awarded the Graduate Research Excellence Award for my dissertation research, as well as the Graduate Teaching Excellence Award for my role in leading the Environmental Science Undergraduate Learning Community at Iowa State University.

As an IRACDA@UCLA postdoctoral fellow and Center for Diverse Leadership in Science Early Career Fellow, I am co-mentored by Aradhna Tripati and Nathan Kraft. My current research applies cutting-edge big data techniques to the calibration of paleoclimate signals and development of plant functional ecology as a new paleoclimate tool that can serve as an early warning system for events that can harm human health.
I am passionate about undergraduate science education, and my teaching interests center around evidence-based teaching methods aimed at promoting equity and inclusion in STEM. My goal is to become faculty at a university that values high-quality undergraduate education, where I can indulge my love of teaching and mentoring while engaging in cutting-edge research.


Nina Latcheva
Department of Human Genetics
2020 IRACDA Cohort

I was born in Sofia, Bulgaria and immigrated to America with my family when I was 8 years old. In 2011, I received my Bachelor’s in Genetics from Rutgers University while working in a Drosophila lab studying neurodegeneration. In 2013, I went on to do my PhD in Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. There I worked in the Marenda Laboratory using fruit flies to study epigenetic mechanisms in neuronal development. I came to UCLA in 2019 to work in the Geschwind Laboratory studying regeneration associated gene network interactions after neuronal injury.

My long-term career goals are to start an academic lab where I can contribute to research on epigenetic mechanisms in neuronal development and disease and also help mentor the next generation of scientists. I hope to provide an inclusive and comfortable environment that allows young researchers the confidence to explore the scientific method without fear or consequences of making mistakes.

Sada Boyd
Department of Ecology& Evolutionary Biology
2020 IRACDA Cohort

I was born and raised in Detroit, MI. Earned my Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology from Bennett College of Women in North Carolina. I received my PhD in Applied Science and Technology with a concentration in Biosciences from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University under the supervision of Dr. Joseph Graves Jr. My PhD dissertation focused on the evolution of metal resistance in bacteria. I am currently working in the lab of Dr. Pamela Yeh, studying bacterial resistance to environmental stressors. In my free time, I enjoy learning new cooking recipes, doing yoga, and watching videos.

My professional goals include pursuing a career with combined teaching and research responsibilities. Having a unique experience as an AA woman in the field of Evolution, I hope to provide a diverse and inclusive environment for all students regardless of their background. I also hope to inspire the next generation of young scientists especially students from disadvantaged and underrepresented groups.

Leonila Lagunes
Integrative Biology and Physiology
2020 IRACDA Cohort

I am from Southern California, born and raised. Earned my Bachelor of Arts in Applied Mathematics at California State University Fullerton. I received my PhD in Biological Sciences with a focus on computational biology from the University of California Irvine under the supervision of both Drs. Lee Bardwell (Developmental and Cell Biology) and German Enciso (Mathematics). My PhD dissertation focused on understanding protein regulatory mechanisms in cell signaling. We used both mathematical modeling and experimental analyses to understand how protein post-translational modifications influence protein activity.

Currently, I am working in Dr. Eric Deeds' lab, studying the proteasome assembly from both a systems biology approach and an experimental one. My professional goals include pursuing a career as a research professor and both teach and conduct research.

When I am not in the lab, I spend time bullet journaling, creating stationary and taking care of my many houseplants. Having a highly interdisciplinary training, I hope to provide an inclusive and equitable environment for all students, including those with similar backgrounds and identities as my own.