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Meet Cornell’s McNair Scholars

McNair Scholars 2019-2020 Cohort

Ashley Ahmed is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences pursuing a double major in Statistics and Biological Sciences with a concentration in Computational Biology. In addition to a McNair Scholar, Ashley is also a Gates Scholar (2018). She is currently performing research in the Dorr Lab in the Microbiology Department. Her interests lie at the intersection of biological research and computer science. In the future, she hopes to pursue research involving data modeling, computational analyses of protein dynamics and binding, and automated image analysis.

Areion Allmond is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences studying Biology and Society on a pre-med track with a triple minor in nutritional sciences, public policy, and inequality studies. She is currently on the MD-PhD path to bridge the intersection that ignores Black women’s interactions in medicine and what that means for these women and their roles in society. Areion is a strong advocate for Black women and is currently working in the nutrition-cognition lab focusing on Maternal Choline Supplementation during the third trimester of pregnancy. The goal of this controlled feeding study to ultimately find the correct dosage of choline supplementation to recommend for women who do not identify as white. Areion aspires to reform the medical system by breaking down the stereotypes surrounding Black women and improving the quality of their care.

Amanuel Asras is a biology major concentrating in microbiology. His research interests are in biochemistry and in immunology/parasitology. Currently in the Crane group, Amanuel studies bacterial chemotaxis, mainly in the aspartate receptor (Tar). His future plans are to graduate from Cornell, and then pursue a dual MD/PhD degree. Outside of academics, he spends time outdoors, and with family and friends. Amanuel enjoys watching basketball and football. From Ethiopia, Amanuel also enjoys learning more about his culture and other cultures as well.

De’Aysia Barner is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences pursuing a major in psychology with a minor in crime, prisons, education, and justice. In addition to being a McNair Scholar, she is a first-generation college student, Dell scholar, and Richard Greene scholar. Her interest in psychology arose from her desire to better understand the components of the decision-making process in order to assist youth in making better life choices. She aspires to attain a Ph.D. in order to become a professor and positively influence the next generation.

Jonathan Gomez Barrientos is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences pursuing a major in astronomy and a minor in mathematics. In addition to being a McNair Scholar, he is also a Hispanic Scholarship Fund Scholar. His research interests lie in the areas of planetary system formation, dynamics and composition of planetary atmospheres, and habitability of planets. After graduation, Jonathan wishes to pursue a Ph.D. in planetary science.

Marina Carbi is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences pursuing a major in Biological Sciences, concentrating in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and double minoring in Education and Viticulture & Enology. She has previously worked with Dr. Edward Myers, focusing on the geographic distribution and diversification of anoles lizards, and Dr. Jessica Hua with the conservation of aquatic systems and ecological impacts of human activities on wetland communities. Her research interests include phylogeny, systematics, and conservation biology. She is currently working at the Reed Lab, and she is a volunteer firefighter at Cayuga Heights Fire Department. Her long-term goals include pursuing a career in academia and becoming a mentor for low-income girls interested in STEM.

Raquel Castromonte is a student in the College of Agriculture and Life Science studying Environment & Sustainability with a concentration on Evolutionary Biology and Applied Ecology and minoring in Information Science. Along with being a McNair Scholar, she is part of the Chi Alpha Epsilon National Honor Society and an Educational Opportunity Program student and ambassador. She is currently researching tree swallow physiology and behavior in the Vitousek Lab. She is interested in the intersectionality between computation and ecological concepts. After Cornell, she wants to pursue a Ph.D. program in wildlife conservation by making computational models on wildlife populations that are affected by climate change.

Rocio Chanez was born and raised in the Bronx, NY and is a sophomore majoring in Industrial and Labor Relations and minoring in Inequality Studies. Being an EOP student/ambassador, serving on the e-board for the Minority ILR Student Organization (MILRSO), and her experience working for Upward Bound and STEP for several semesters piqued an interest in the education system. Rocio plans to go into education or social policy and examine the inequality in education, which would entail looking at race/ethnicity, neighborhoods and immigration status as driving forces of that inequality.

Alexander Dasque is a sophomore in the college of Arts and Sciences pursuing a major in chemistry and a potential minor in physics. His current research interests are in analytical chemistry and physical chemistry. Alexander is interested in the characterization of chemical molecules and the intersection of chemistry and physics, specifically in the use of physical principles to help synthesize new molecules and new spectroscopic methods in the field. Furthermore, he is very interested in education process, especially with regard to the STEM field. Down the line, Alexander intends on earning a Ph.D. and becoming a chemistry professor with a heavy emphasis on not only the research, but the teaching aspect as well.

Cisco Espinosa is a sophomore Chemistry and Chemical Biology Major in the College of Arts and Sciences on the path to become a lifelong scholar. He is an adamant believer that, "Once you stop learning, you start dying." (Albert Einstein), and he takes this attitude seriously in the pursuit of an MD-PhD. A future physician-scientist he is passionate about research in general as he sees it as a way to help the most amount of people, something which drives him constantly. Specifically, he maintains research interests in biopharmaceuticals, chemotherapeutics, and enzyme pathways and functionality, particularly at the molecular level and with respect to cardiovascular medicine. His passion for research and natural curiosity pushes him every day to learn something new and push the boundaries of modern knowledge. Ultimately, Cisco’s goal is to find new methods of improving upon modern medical practices. A scholar, a dreamer, and a friend, Cisco is an eccentric and conscientious young man on the path to not only practice medicine but to innovate it for future generations to come.

Lauryn Gibbs is a sophomore at Cornell University. Her areas of interest are environmental science and chemistry. She is currently an undergraduate researcher in the Abruña lab in the Chemistry department researching non-precious metal catalysts in alkaline membrane fuel cells. Through the McNair program, she hopes to gain life-long connections, friends, valuable research experience, and ultimately a PhD somewhere in the field of renewable energy.

LeiLani Lattimore is an undergraduate student in the College of Arts and Sciences with an expected graduation date of May 2022. Hailing from the Bronx, NY before relocating to Houston, TX she is very active in the Cornell community as a member of four clubs and as an office coordinator for Ujamaa Residential College. She is pursuing a double major in Philosophy and Biology & Society. She is interested in the intersection of ethics and morality on social inequality and the effect the inequality has on healthcare. She is specifically interested in researching the prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCD’s) on poor communities of color, and how a lack of access to healthcare plays into that prevalence. Her experience as a Black woman with several chronic NCD’s has led her to this research interest. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Ethics in Healthcare after undergraduate graduation.

Vanessa Lau is a sophomore studying Plant Sciences and minoring in Entomology and Climate Change in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Born and raised in Miami, Florida, she is fascinated by the ecological contrast and microcosmic depiction of the natural world that Cornell has to offer and has consequently developed an interest in the unique relationship between humans and plants through ecology and agricultural systems.

Wendy Ying Lau is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences with great interests in the government and environmental sustainability. She is highly interested in researching the intersection of world politics and economics with a focus on high fossil fuel usage currently contributing to global climate change, and further seeks to understand how to mitigate those changes. On a more personal level, she is a Chinese-American, who loves to drink bubble tea and eat any type of Asian food and is very proud of her Chinese heritage. She loves to swim, try new food, go out for new and exciting experiences, and explore (if she could, she would want to travel all around the world!).

Valentina Loaiza is sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences pursuing a major in Government, as well as minors in French and Inequality Studies. Her research interests lead her to explore how race, ethnicity and socioeconomic factors impact the opportunity and achievement gap for underrepresented students in higher education. After Cornell, Valentina plans to continue her foreign language studies and pursue a Ph.D. program that will allow her to mitigate educational disparities through public policy.

Ezinwa Osuoha is a sophomore in the college of Arts and Sciences pursuing a major in Biology and Society with a minor in Inequality Studies on a Health Equity track. In addition to being a McNair scholar, Ezinwa is the co-president of Building Ourselves Through Sisterhood and Service (B.O.S.S.), an Engaged Ambassador, and a residential advisor. Ezinwa’s multi-faceted research interests pointedly overlap the fields of global public health, health equity, health practice and the sociology of healing. She is not only interested in the interconnectedness of health practices and the policy that governs them, but also in bio-sovereignty. When Ezinwa graduates from Cornell University, she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Health Policy to learn more about how political structures shape health. Ezinwa hopes to someday apply her studies to her own research to impact public policy.

Sophia Qu studies Biological Sciences with a concentration in Infectious Disease in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Her interests are in pathobiology, specifically the study of public health problems such as viral, bacterial and parasitic diseases and the biological basis of disease. She is currently performing research at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine studying the pathogenesis and disease associated with Salmonella enterica serovar Typhi, focusing on the molecular evolution and the roles in virulence of Salmonella toxins. She hopes that her research will help in the development of intervention strategies against these bacterial toxins, particularly the use of vaccines targeting toxins, and the understanding of their underlying protection mechanisms. After Cornell, she plans to enroll in a PhD program in Immunology and Microbiology and learn more about the multidisciplinary fields tied in with disease etiology.

Martin Ruvalcaba is a sophomore Biological Sciences major in the college of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He is interested in exploring the intersection of organic chemistry, engineering, and biology in the synthesis of new vaccines meant to address cancer cells and infectious diseases. His previous work in the Singh Lab dealt with synthesizing a self-assembling nanogel capable of binding antigen proteins. Upon graduating, his current goals are to complete a Ph.D. program in Biology or Chemistry, then enter a career in academia.

Sunny Wong is a sophomore studying Engineering Physics with a minor in Mechanical Engineering at Cornell University. He is interested in nanotechnology of renewable energy and plasma physics involved with nuclear fusion research. Sunny believes that research aimed at improving the efficiency of renewable energy technology will be vital in providing a cleaner future. After his undergraduate education, Sunny intends to pursue a Ph.D. in Applied Physics and a career in physics research.

Cassandra Zhen is a first-generation undergraduate in the College of Arts & Sciences studying American Studies with minors in Design + Environmental Analysis, Asian American Studies, and Inequality Studies. Her research interests include comparative cultures, interracial relationships on college campuses, and how immigrant communities interact with one another. Cassandra aspires to be a college professor one day and to conduct research with the next generation of students. She also hopes to serve as a resource and role model for future students that come from similar backgrounds. Aside from being a McNair Scholar, Cassandra is also a Higher Education Opportunity Program student and serves as a New York State Opportunity Program Ambassador.