STAR U: Alumni Bios

Gema Ortiz

Gema Ortiz

“Investigating the Role of fMRI Data in Family Controls and MAPT Mutation Carriers that Have Not Met the Diagnosis for bvFTD”

Mentor: Dr. Stephanie Cosentino

Gema Oritz is a rising senior at UCLA pursuing a major in Psychology. She currently volunteers for the Connectome Project-Aging (HCPA) at Dr. Susan Bookheimer's Lab under the supervision of Dr. Mirella Diaz-Santos. Some of her duties include providing support for bilingual participant visits, attending community events, data entry, NIH toolbox, and assisting with several neuroimaging procedures. As a STAR U Scholar during the summer of 2019, she conducted an independent research project under the mentorship of Dr. Stephanie Cosentino, Dr. Adam Brickman, and Dr. Edward Huey. Her project utilized resting fMRI data to map social cognitive changes in pre-clinical behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD). She also shadowed clinical trial visits, neurological evaluations and brain cutting sessions. At the end of the program, she presented her project at the STAR U research symposium. In addition, Gema will be participating in the Advancing Diversity in Aging Research Summit and presenting her research at the Gerontological Society Association (GSA) Conference at the end of the year in Austin, Texas. Gema will also be presenting her research at the International Neuropsychological Society (INS) Conference in Denver, Colorado in February 2020. As her senior year approaches, Gema wants to gain clinical experience and learn the skills required to conduct clinical interventions. She was the only undergraduate selected by Dr. Vindia Fernández to complete a year clinical training at The Center for Pediatric Neuropsychology in L.A to work with bilingual children and their families, test clients with a wide variety of neuropsychological assessments and understand the process of creating treatment plans based on clinical data. She will continue volunteering for HCP-A throughout the academic year and will be working closely with Dr. Díaz-Santos on an independent research project on typical aging looking at Marijuana use in older participants and its relationship with cognitive function and brain changes.


Elizabeth Soto

Elizabeth Soto

“Quantification of Pathological Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease”

Mentor: Dr. Andrew Teich

Elizabeth Soto is originally from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. She was born and raised in Santo Domingo and moved to New York in 2013. She is pursuing a B.S in Biotechnology and Neurodegenerative Diseases through the CUNY Baccalaureate Program for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies (CUNY BA). She wants to obtain a M.D/PhD and use interdisciplinary (such as biochemistry, epigenetics, confocal microscopy, cryo-electron microscopy and immunofluorescence microscopy) and translational research to study the biomolecular mechanisms of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases; while using her career and training to serve her community as well. As a STAR U Scholar, Elizabeth worked with Dr. Andrew Teich on a project that examined the quantification of pathological diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease.


Gricelda Weed

“Race, Ethnicity, and Cerebral Vascular Disease”

Mentor: Dr. Jennifer Manly

Gricelda Weed is a first generation student, proud product of immigrants, and a parenting student from Orange County, California. She is currently attends Cypress Community College located in Southern California. This summer, she worked with Dr. Jennifer Manly on a project that examined race/ethnicity and small vessel cerebrovascular disease using date from the Washington heights-Inwood Community Aging Project. She is also a proud Cypress College (STEM)2 Program Scholar, Peer Mentor, and former Associated Students Executive Vice President. Outside of academics, she enjoys community outreach, crocheting, watching documentaries, and traveling.  She developed an insatiable interest in aging and neuroscience research after spending the past decade caring for individuals with age-related neurodegenerative diseases.


Fahmida Moni

Fahmida Moni

“Examining the Relationship Between Inflammation and Alzheimer’s Related Cerebrovascular Disease in Down Syndrome”

Mentor: Dr. Adam Brickman

Fahmida Moni is a rising junior at Barnard College where she is majoring in Neuroscience and Behavior with a possible minor in Chemistry. She aspires to be the first in her family to graduate college and pursue a career in medicine. As a STAR U scholar this past summer, Fahmida had the opportunity to work with Dr. Adam Brickman on a project looking at the relationship between inflammation and Alzheimer’s-related cerebrovascular disease in Down Syndrome. Although it was a niche research focus, Fahmida couldn’t envision a space to explore that interest until STAR U. She is incredibly grateful that she was able to collaborate with some of the leading scholars in this field, specifically the Alzheimer’s Disease in Down Syndrome (ADDS) team. She hopes to harness the love, support, and mentorship she received from both the team and her STAR U cohort and use it to fuel future goals in research, namely, pursuing opportunities to conduct scientific research after college through Fulbright, as well as during her medical career.


Fahad Paryani

Fahad Paryani

“Using Neural Networks to Uncover Cell Types Through Single-nucleus RNA-Sequencing”

Mentor: Dr. Vilas Menon

Fahad is originally from Atlanta, Georgia and is a junior at UC Berkeley where he is currently studying applied math with a concentration in mathematical biology. He is passionate about the intersections between math, computer science, and biology and wants to utilize the tools from each of these fields in neuroscience research and healthcare in order to improve the lives of others. As a STAR U Scholar, Fahad worked with Dr. Vilas Menon on a project that examined the use of neural networks to uncover cell types through snRNA sequencing. He will be attending the Advancing Diversity in Aging Research Summit, the Gerontology Society of America, and the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) this Fall. In the future, Fahad envisions himself working in medicine and hopes to pursue an MD/PhD where he can combine his love for working with people and research in order to help the most vulnerable. At UC Berkeley, Fahad is active in a variety of activities and spends time playing IM basketball, pursuing health-tech solutions as a Fung Fellow, and tutoring elementary students in Oakland. Outside of the classroom, Fahad loves analyzing his favorite music albums, hiking around the Bay Area, and reading in his free time.


Marjana Tafader

Marjana Tafader

"Investigating the Role of Mitophagy in Parkinson's Disease"

Mentor: Dr. Ai Yammamoto

Marjana Tafader is a sophomore at Lafayette College double majoring in Biology and Art. This summer she conducted research on developing a novel reporter system to examine the role of mitochondrial turnover in Parkinson’s Disease under the mentorship of Dr. Ai Yamamoto and Christopher Griffey. She plans to continue studying aging and neurodegenerative diseases by participating in faculty lead research at her school during the school year. She loves doing research but also finds herself pulled by this inner calling to serve her community by becoming a physician. She grew up in a neighborhood surrounded by people who came from similar backgrounds as her yet but lacked quality care due to a limited number of physicians from her community who could communicate and spend quality time attending to each patient’s specific needs. At the same time, Marjana aims to continue fostering her passion for the aging brain and Parkinson’s Diseases by conducting research while being a physician. STAR U has opened her to seas of opportunities and resources that she never imagined possible. Most importantly, STAR U created a space where she felt welcomed and had a sense of belonging in the cohort and the STAR U community. She grew both emotionally and intellectually from the love, support and wisdom from her inspiring mentors and peers.


Udell Holmes III

Udell Holmes III

"Investigating the Role of the Default Mode Network in Subjects with Subjective Cognitive Decline"

Mentor: Dr. Stephanie Cosentino

Udell attends Cleveland State University where he is obtaining his psychology degree with honors and plans on graduating in the year 2020. During STAR U, Udell got the amazing opportunity to shadow a genetic counselor, observe the imaging of a research participant brain, attend lab meetings, and  work under the mentorship of Dr. Stephanie Cosentino, Silvia Chapman, and Eleanna Burns on a summer research project which was exploring possible neural signatures in the brain in relation to subjective cognitive decline. Over the summer, Udell made lifelong friends and connections through many of the STAR U social events such as; Lion King on Broadway, a cruise, and a Yankee’s game. STAR U has emboldened Udell to reach for the stars as he plans on obtaining higher education in the field of neuropsychology and clinical psychology by applying for a PhD program after his bachelor’s degree. Udell’s favorite memory of the program includes the first and final dinner where he could firsthand see all the amazing mentors, friends, and people that he got meet and build genuine relationships.


Kailande Cassamajor

Kailande Cassamajor

"Adverse Childhood Experiences and Late Life Cognition Across Race: An Investigation with the REasons for Geographic and Racial Difference in Stroke (REGARDS) Study

Mentor: Dr. Jennifer Manly

Kailande Cassamajor is current junior and member of the inaugural cohort of Bison STEM Scholars at Howard University. She is a Biology and Psychology double major and Chemistry and Africana Studies double minor from Silver Spring, MD born to Haitian parents. As a STAR U Scholar, Kailande worked under the mentorship of Dr. Jennifer Manly on a project that examined the impact of Adverse Childhood Experience and late life cognition in a large cohort (REGARDS Study) of 30,000+ participants across race. This November, she will be presenting her STAR U Research at the Gerontology Society of America Conference in Austin, the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) in Anaheim, and the International Neuropsychological Society (INS) Conference in Denver. Kailande seeks to pursue her PhD in Neuropsychology or Cognitive Neuroscience. She is an undergraduate research assistant in the Dept. of Psychology and participant of the Roswell Park/Howard University Cancer Scholars Program. She envisions herself running her own lab and collaborating with scientists from all over the world. She is enthusiastic about research in aging/neuropsychology and the STAR U program to understand the mechanisms responsible for neurodegeneration and apply acquired knowledge towards helping her community.


Aine Montgomery

Aine Montgomery

"Patient Centered Communication in Adult Neurology"

Mentor: Dr. Hiral Shah

Aine Montgomery is a current Junior at Butler University in Indianapolis, IN. She is also from Indianapolis, born and raised! She is a Psychology major with Neuroscience and Human Communication & Organizational Leadership minors. As a STAR U Scholar, she worked with Dr. Hiral Shah on a project that examined the importance of patient centered communication in adult neurology. Her career ambitions at this time are to either go into the field of Neuropsychology and continue to invest efforts in research for trauma and mental illness; or to utilize my degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs. In school, she is the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for our University's Student Government Association, a Resident Assistant in a First-Year Residence Hall, and a member of the Gamma Chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta.


Roger Omar Bautista

Roger Omar Bautista

"Investigating the Role of Caspases in Astrocytes by Using a Novel Model for Hemorrhagic Stroke"

Mentor: Dr. Carol Troy

Roger Omar Bautista is a second-year student from the South Ward of Newark, New Jersey studying Neuroscience at Brown University. As a STAR U Scholar, he was able to investigate the role of caspases in astrocytes by using a novel model for hemorrhagic stroke alongside Dr. Carol Troy, Crystal Collier, and James Belarde in the Troy Lab. Coming into STAR U he had no previous research experience and was only planning on obtaining an MD degree. After his experience in New York, he states “STAR U gave me the opportunity to be immersed in a world that I never knew existed. Of course I have heard the term “research” before, but I never knew what it truly entailed. I was able to learn about various techniques used in Neuroscience research and, as my mentor Dr. Troy taught me, critically analyze what the results truly present, not what we want them to show.” He now wants hopes to Columbia Medical School and obtain an MD/PhD degree. He truly loved living in New York City and gaining this research experience, but he feels as though the connection that he was able to build with everyone involved in the STAR U program is what made it one of a kind. From connecting with his fellow STAR U peers daily for dinner, to getting together with the other members of the Troy Lab outside of work, and even being able to go to Dr. Brickman’s home for a Barbecue with Kiana and the rest of the STAR U group, he truly treasured the opportunity to create a one-of-a-kind support system that he believes will last a lifetime.