Diversity in Life Science Programs

Keystone Symposia/ABRCMS Scholarships

Keystone Symposia and the Annual Biomedical Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) are working collaboratively to enhance participation in scientific research meetings by students from underrepresented populations in the United States. Each year at the ABRCMS Awards Banquet, two scholarships are awarded to Postdoctoral Fellows or senior graduate students based on their current research and career stage. The scholarships include the registration cost for one meeting and a stipend for lodging and travel. These scholarships allow the students to attend a Keystone Symposia research conference of their choice during the year. The scholarship recipients receive guidance from our Chief Scientific Officer and Director of Diversity in Life Science Programs regarding the conference which most readily parallels their career goals and research interests. The students receive recognition at the selected Keystone Symposia conference and are provided with mentoring both prior to and during the conference period. Such guidance and mentoring is designed to assist the student in having an excellent conference experience, learn how to network with established scientists at such meetings and introduce them to a community of researchers and scholars.

Map of Keystone Symposia/ABRCMS Awardees

2016 ABRCMS Awardees

Breann Brown My name is Breann Brown. I was born and raised in Maryland, just outside of Washington, DC. After developing an interest in science and hands-on research at an early age, I attended Duke University in Durham, NC for undergraduate studies and graduated in 2006 with a B.S. in Chemistry with a concentration in Pharmacology. I then traveled to Brown University in Providence, RI where my doctoral research focused on using X-ray crystallography to understand the molecular details of toxin-antitoxin pairs, which are protein complexes that play a role in mediating multidrug tolerance of bacterial biofilms. While at Brown, I received multiple awards including pre-doctoral fellowships from the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health. I also had the opportunity to present my research at several national conferences including being the keynote speaker at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Microbiology Educators' Network Annual Summer Student Research Symposium at Haverford College (PA). I have also presented internationally at the XXII International Congress and General Assembly of the International Union of Crystallography in Madrid, Spain. Additionally, I have authored seven peer-reviewed publications in multiple research journals including the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Nucleic Acids Research, and Nature Chemical Biology. In addition to my academic pursuits, I also served as a mentor to both graduate and undergraduate students with the Leadership Alliance Summer Research Early Identification Program and the NIGMS Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity program. In 2012, I graduated with a Ph.D. in Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology and was recognized as one of four recipients of the Joukowsky Family Foundation Outstanding Dissertation Award. I then began research in the Biology Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, MA where I currently work as a postdoctoral scholar after being awarded fellowships from the Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund for Medical Research and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. My current research focuses on understanding the molecular details of protein-protein interactions that regulate heme synthesis and red blood cell development.
Kaylia Duncan My name is Kaylia Duncan. I was born in and spent my formative years on St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a multi-island nation in the Southern Caribbean. I left home a little over 10 years ago on a scholarship to attend Fisk University in Nashville. In the summer before my senior year at Fisk University, I had the opportunity to participate in the Summer Undergraduate Research Program at SUNY Upstate Medical at Syracuse. This research experience was a revelatory one, in that I realized how much I enjoyed solving biological problems and being on the frontier of knowledge that can be applied to treating human diseases. Thus upon completing my undergraduate studies, which included a BA in Biology and Minor in Music (Piano) in 2010, I decided to attend Graduate School and enrolled in the Master of Pathology Program at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. I conducted my thesis work in the lab of Dr. Siegfried Janz and graduated in 2013. Currently, I am a 4th year graduate student in the Molecular and Cellular Biology Program at the University of Iowa conducting my thesis research in lab of Dr. Robert Cornell. The goal of my project is to construct the gene regulatory network (GRN) governing differentiation of the embryonic superficial epithelia (or periderm) in zebrafish. My lab and others previously demonstrated the necessity of transcription factor IRF6 in periderm differentiation. As IRF6 is a gene implicated in orofacial clefting, by elucidating its position in the periderm GRN, we can be better informed of its targets and additional components within the GRN. This will help to identify additional clefting risk loci and resolve the issue of missing heritability that underlies the complex genetics of non-syndromic cleft palate.

2015 ABRCMS Awardees

Ayo Adesanya My name is Ayo Adesanya. Having lived in Dallas, Texas and Greenville, Illinois, I left home in 2001 to attend boarding school at Phillips Academy Andover. Upon finishing high school, I began my undergraduate studies at The University of Chicago where I majored in Biological Chemistry, Chemistry, and Biological Sciences. Throughout these years, I sought out many different opportunities to be actively engaged in biomedical research. From such exposures, working alongside several physician-scientists in laboratories adjacent to major hospital facilities, I grew a strong desire to not only touch lives through medicine but to further explore unknown realms of disease and treatment. After completion of my undergraduate education, I matriculated into The Ohio State University College of Medicine and subsequently into the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program to pursue the combined M.D./Ph.D. training. While I have approached medical school with a very open mind, I do have potential interests in cardiovascular surgery, cardiology, and cardiac anesthesiology. In the laboratory of Dr. Jianjie Ma, I am currently studying heart valve biology, aiming to protect valvular cells from the fibrocalcific changes associated with valvular heart disease. Looking to employ my bench-based curiosities in tissue engineering, gene therapy, and cardiovascular biology, I hope that my endeavors will contribute to the growth of medicine and science and serve the underserved populations from which I have grown.
Danyeal Marie Heckard My name is Danyeal Marie Heckard and I was born and raised in Garland, Texas, just east of Dallas. I attended college at Texas Woman's University in Denton, Texas and then moved to Houston for a postbaccalaureate program at Baylor College of Medicine. Currently, I am a 6th year PhD candidate at Meharry Medical College. My lab is focused on the sex related differences in pain perception and control. In particular, my thesis work will explore the relationship between membrane estrogen receptors and the ORL1 receptor under neuropathic pain conditions. What truly brings me joy is giving back to the youth. Once I complete graduate school I would love to start a nonprofit organization that promotes interest in STEM fields for minority children. I have been blessed with amazing mentors who believed in and encouraged me when I did not believe in myself. I want to be that person for those coming behind me. Nothing brings more joy than the thought of helping a child reach his/her goals.

2014 ABRCMS Awardees

Erica Sanchez My name is Erica Sanchez, and I am a 5th year graduate student in the Molecular and Cellular Biology Program at the University of Washington, in Seattle. I graduated from the University of California, Davis in 2009 and completed a one-year postbaccalaureate program at the NIH in Bethesda, Maryland. Currently, I am conducting my thesis research in the laboratory of Dr. Michael Lagunoff, in the UW Microbiology Department, studying Kaposi's Sarcoma Associated Herpesvirus (KSHV). KSHV is the infectious agent of Kaposi's Sarcoma (KS), the most common tumor of AIDS patients worldwide. My project focuses on determining how KSHV infection alters host cellular metabolism, as it is known that cancer cells greatly alter metabolism during tumorigenesis. My goal is to identify potential therapeutic targets for treatment of KSHV infection and the KS tumor.
Phillip Price My name is Phillip Price, and I received a Bachelor's Degree in Biology from Sam Houston State University. Currently, I am a 2nd year graduate student at Emory University, pursuing my doctoral degree in Neuroscience. With a focus on neurodegenerative diseases, my research aims to understand the role of axonal localization and translation in disease pathogenesis. Presenting with severe deficits in motor neuron function and survival, Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is of particular interest to my lab. SMA is caused be a reduction in survival of motor neuron (SMN) protein levels. My lab and others have previously demonstrated that SMN associates with mRNA binding proteins, playing an important role in the axonal localization of growth-promoting mRNAs. My current research aims to characterize defects in axonal trafficking and mRNA processing in vivo, using SMA mouse models.

2013 ABRCMS Awardees

Jennifer R. Honda My name is Jennifer R. Honda and I was born and raised on Oahu, Hawai'i. I received a Biology/Zoology B.S. from Colorado State University in 1997, a Microbiology M.S. from the University of Hawai'i, Manoa in 2002, and a Microbiology PhD from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus (UC-AMC) in 2010. My long-term academic goal is to understand the molecular mechanisms that govern host-pathogen interactions. My current research interests as a fourth year postdoctoral fellow at UC-AMC and National Jewish Health involve elucidating the pathogenesis of nontuberculous mycobacterial (NTM) lung disease using basic science and translational approaches in addition to defining the unique epidemiology of NTM in the Hawaiian Islands. My free time is spent with my Australian Shepherds, "Kapono" and "Keola."
Jennifer M. King My name is Jennifer M. King, a 3rd year PENN- Postdoctoral Opportunities in Research and Teaching (PENN-PORT) Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Howard University followed by my doctorate in Biomedical Sciences with a focus on the pharmacological effects of Parkinson's disease treatment on dopamine synthesis. My current work investigates the pharmacological effects of antiretroviral therapies in the central nervous system of patients with HIV. We understand that antiretroviral therapy plays an undefined role in the persistence of HIV associated Neurocognitive Disorders (HAND). Previously our lab has shown increases in initiator proteins involved in the Integrated Stress Response (ISR) in neurons and astrocytes of HIV (+) tissue and HAND tissue from patients treated with antiretrovirals. Our in vitro studies using HIV infected human monocyte derived macrophages will provide a more defined link between the inflammatory response and ISR, and offer a therapeutic intervention in HAND.

2012 ABRCMS Awardees

Tamisha Y. Vaughan My name is Tamisha Y. Vaughan, a 3rd year Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Emory University School of Medicine. I received a B.S. degree in Biology from Johnson C. Smith University and my doctorate degree in Biological Sciences with primary research focus in innate immunity and inflammation. My previous work focused on a key TLR signaling protein, IRAK-1, known for its involvement in inflammatory complications leading to several health diseases. My current work now focuses on a family of adaptor proteins, Grb2-associated binding proteins (Gabs) and their involvement in colon inflammation and ultimately Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). I am currently a novel mouse model deficient in all three family members (Gab1, Gab2 and Gab3) and/or other Gab mutant combinations, to understand whether Gabs play a role in altered cytokine production, T-cell skewing, macrophage production deficiencies, and its role in the pathogenesis of IBD.
Donasian Ocan Ochola My name is Donasian Ocan Ochola, with a DVM from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. I studied Molecular Biology at University of Colorado-Boulder for two years then moved on to Colorado State University-Fort Collins in 2009 for my current Cell and Molecular Biology PhD Program. My research goal is in-dept knowledge of the molecular mechanism involved in DNA damage response and double strand break repair with respect to carcinogenesis. My current research project involves assessing radiation-induced DNA damage response in lung cells in their normal tissue context. I combine molecular biology techniques and molecular imaging for better mental visualization. My passion is to better know cancer and help to conquer it, and I look forward to life in academia and research.

2011 ABRCMS Awardees

Desmond Brown My name is Desmond A. Brown, a 6th year student in the RWJMS-UMDNJ/Rutgers University/Princeton University joint MD/PhD program. My clinical and academic interest is primarily in brain tumor development and treatment and I intend to pursue a career in academic Neurosurgery upon completion of the program. My PhD training in Molecular Biology & Neuroscience at Princeton University is aimed at understanding the role of Cell cycle related kinase (CCRK) in CNS development and medulloblastoma. I am also completing a certificate in Health and Health Policy at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs and initiated a small rural clinic in Ghana. I look forward to merging a career in basic science, clinical medicine, global health and policy.
Elizabeth Johnson My name is Elizabeth Johnson, a 4th year graduate student in the Department of Molecular Biology at Princeton University and a graduate of Spelman College with a B.S. in biology. Currently I am working to determine how mechanisms of post-transcriptional regulation are involved in the upkeep of cellular integrity during quiescence in human foreskin fibroblasts. This project and the techniques we use to address this issue tie into my general interest of using genomic techniques to understand complex regulatory networks. My goal is to further integrate the use of computational and molecular techniques as a means to gain perspective on complex cellular functions. Additionally, I enjoy long distance running and plan on completing my first ultra-thon event this upcoming winter.

2010 ABRCMS Awardees

Adaora Nwokoye My name is Adaora Nwokoye. I received a Bachelor's Degree in Chemistry from Delaware State University. Currently, I am a graduate student at the University of Michigan, pursing a PhD in Medicinal Chemistry. The larger goal of my research is to understand transcriptional activator protein-protein interactions. These types of interactions have been implicated in several diseases and as such are good targets for therapeutics. A major set-back towards the end of discovering inhibitors for transcriptional activator protein-protein interactions is that direct binding partners of transcriptional activators are not well understood. Therefore, there are few characterized structural and binding information available. With S. cerevisiae as my model system, my project focuses on using in vivo photo-crosslinking methodology to identify direct targets of transcriptional activators and further characterize their binding interfaces. I am a mother of a wonderful daughter, and my personal interests include writing and performing songs, and volunteering for science bowls.
Norris Hollie My name is Norris I. Hollie, II. I received a Bachelor's degree in Biochemistry from Oakwood University and am currently pursuing MD/PhD degrees in the Physician Scientist Training Program at the University of Cincinnati. I am in the Pathobiology and Molecular Medicine graduate program and my research interests include understanding mechanisms of cardiovascular diseases and obesity-related disorders. My undergraduate research sought to elucidate the role of opioid receptors in the development of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. My current project examines the metabolic effects of pancreatic enzymes. My career goal is to further academic medicine and human health through research, practice, and teaching.

2009 ABRCMS Awardee

Yvonne Kamau My name is Yvonne Kamau, from the University of Kansas, currently pursuing a degree in Microbiology and a co-major in International Studies and Global Development. During a summer internship at Harvard University, my project involved identifying a potential role for IKKε in the STAT 3 signaling pathway. At Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, my research focused on the use of pharmacy refill data in the assessment of adherence in pediatric asthma patients. At the University of Kansas, I am privileged to work with Dr. Liang Tang whose work focuses on understanding the structures of molecular complexes in pathogenic viruses and bacteria such as Herpes Virus, bacteriophages P7 and P22.

2008 ABRCMS Awardee

Christian R. Aguilera-Sandoval My name is Christian R. Aguilera-Sandoval. I was born in Guadalajara, Mexico in 1983. I received my Bachelors Degree in Microbiology from CSULB in the Spring of 2009 and began my PhD in Microbiology, Immunobiology and Molecular Genetics at UCLA this Fall 2009. My research interests are centered around immunobiology and HIV pathogenesis. However, my undergraduate research was in protein trafficking while using S. cerevisiae as my model system. My hobbies outside of school life include playing tennis, listening to classical music, reading fantasy novels and playing chess. I plan to eventually pursue a carrer in teaching science while continue to research.