MOSAIC Scholars

Ayobami Akenroye, MD, MPH

Project Title: Synthesizing Trial and Real-world Data on the Use of Biologics in Patients with Severe Asthma
Institution: Johns Hopkins University
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD)
Grant ID: K99MD015767
MOSAIC Scientific Society: AAMC

Ayobami Akenroye grew up in Ile Ife, Nigeria where she graduated top of her medical school class prior to her arrival in the US to pursue an MPH from Harvard School of Public Health. She is a trained Internist and Allergist/Immunologist. Her research interests include generalization of trial findings to individuals underrepresented in trials, commonly racial and ethnic minorities. She is also interested in career transitions from clinical fellowships to faculty especially for individuals underrepresented in academia. She has been involved in multiple initiatives for minorities, and is looking forward to continuing to serve as a role model and mentor to both undergraduate and postdoctoral trainees.


Lillian Brady, Ph.D.

Project Title: Sex differences in cholinergic regulation of nicotinic acetylcholine receptor modulation of local nucleus accumbens circuitry underlying motivation
Institution: Vanderbilt University
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute on Drug Abuse
Grant ID: K99DA052641
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASBMB

Lillian Brady's interest in science began while growing up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee and intensified after her family moved to Jackson, Mississippi where she participated in her first research laboratory experience while still in high school. She received a full academic scholarship to Alcorn State University in Mississippi where she earned her B.S. in Chemistry and M.S. in Biotechnology. Dr. Brady earned her Ph.D. in Cell, Molecular, and Developmental Biology, with a concentration in Neurobiology, from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) before matriculating to Vanderbilt University as an Academic Pathways Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Pharmacology and the Vanderbilt Center for Addiction Research. Her current research focuses on sex differences in cholinergic regulation of dopamine release mechanisms underlying reward learning as it relates to Substance Use Disorder. She has been active in numerous activities within her department to promote diversity including serving as the Co-chair of the Inaugural Gathering of Pharmacology and Cell Signaling Researchers (GPCR) Postdoctoral Seminar Series and is an active member of her department's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. Dr. Brady has consistently volunteered with local organizations throughout her career to promote STEM education to middle and high school students and truly enjoys the time she spends mentoring and training undergraduate students, in the hopes of continuing these efforts as an independent investigator.


Jenna R. Christensen, Ph.D.

Project Title: Evolution of Cargo Transport
Institution: The University of California, San Diego
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Grant ID: K99GM140269
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASCB

Jenna Christensen grew up in Overland Park, Kansas and received her B.A. in Molecular Biology from William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri. She received her Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Biology from the University of Chicago and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Diego. Her research is focused on understanding when and why different organisms use different modes of microtubule-based transport. Jenna has been active in mentoring and integrating undergraduate students, specifically those historically excluded from the biological sciences, into her research through both the Faculty Mentor Program (FMP) and Biology Undergraduate and Master’s Mentorship Program (BUMMP) at UCSD.


Lisandra Vila Ellis, M.D.

Project Title: Mechanism of pulmonary endothelial cell heterogeneity and its role in disease
Institution: The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
Grant ID: K99HL155845
MOSAIC Scientific Society: AAMC

Lisandra Vila Ellis’ interest in medicine began as a child growing up in Cuba, offering “medical services” to her family and neighbors such as taking their blood pressure at home. She received her medical degree at Tecnologico de Monterrey, in Monterrey, Mexico, and subsequently completed a postdoctoral fellowship at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX. Her research focuses on the development of blood vessels in the lung, and how the disruption of this process can lead to disease. Lisandra’s commitment to diversity has included teaching at an undergraduate institution that serves underrepresented populations, mentoring minority students, and serving as a member of the education committee of the North American Vascular Biology Organization. As a MOSAIC scholar, Lisandra is eager to continue championing diversity and inclusion in the scientific community.


John R. Jimah, Ph.D.

Project Title: Structural basis of dynamin-mediated membrane fission, actin bundling and interaction with binding partners
Institution: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Grant ID: K99GM140220
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASBMB

John Jimah grew up in Ghana and moved to the United States to attend college. He earned his B.A. in Molecular Biology from Colgate University and his Ph.D. in Biology and Biomedical Sciences from Washington University in St. Louis as a fellow of the Chancellor’s Graduate Fellowship Program. He is currently a Nancy Nossal postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Jenny Hinshaw at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), NIH. His research focus is determining the molecular mechanism of membrane remodeling processes in human cells and eukaryotic parasites primarily using structural biology (cryo-electron microscopy and X-ray crystallography), cell biology, and biophysical approaches. He has been active in promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in biomedical research and most recently was part of a group of trainees who started the TREaDS (Trainees Recognizing Excellence and Diversity in Science) seminar series within the NIDDK intramural research program.


Josefina Inés del Mármol, Ph.D.

Project Title: Elucidating the structural determinants of odor specificity in insect olfactory receptors
Institution: Rockefeller University
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
Grant ID: K99DC019401
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASBMB

Dr. del Mármol grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and first developed an interest in science during high school where she participated in after-school research programs and local biology competitions. She obtained a Licenciatura degree in Biology from the University of Buenos Aires and moved to the US to conduct graduate studies at the Rockefeller University, where she obtained a PhD in Molecular Neurobiology and Biophysics in the laboratory of Dr. Roderick MacKinnon. As a postdoctoral associate in the laboratory of Dr. Vanessa Ruta at the Rockefeller University, Dr. del Mármol studies the structural mechanisms of odorant recognition by olfactory receptors. Dr. del Mármol participates in initiatives that aim at improving retention and recruitment of women and historically underrepresented groups in STEM, including volunteering for the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science, mentoring through the ‘Científico Latino’ initiative, and serving as committee member of the Graduate Women in Science Fellowship program. Locally, at the Rockefeller University, she has served since 2018 as Head of the Neuroscience Seminars Committee where she works to ensure the participation of a diverse group of speakers.


Laura E. Newman, Ph.D.

Project Title: The role of mitochondrial/ER contacts in the regulation of mtDNA release from mitochondria, innate immune signaling, and responses to viral infection
Institution: Salk Institute for Biological Studies
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences
Grant ID: K99GM141482
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASCB

Laura Newman grew up in Indiana and discovered her passion for scientific research while volunteering in a research lab during her undergraduate studies in biology at Indiana University. She completed her Ph.D. in the Biochemistry, Cell and Developmental Biology program at Emory University and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Salk Institute. Her research interests focus on the roles of mitochondria within innate immune signaling pathways. Laura is an advocate for postdocs and graduate students within her current institution, with an emphasis on diversity and mental health. She has also been active in mentoring students, including those from underrepresented backgrounds, both in the lab and through the Biology Undergraduate and Master’s Mentorship Program (BUMMP) at UCSD. She plans to continue mentoring and advocating for trainees from underrepresented backgrounds as she transitions to an independent investigator.


Benard Ogola, Ph.D.

Project Title: Interplay of Sex Hormones and Chromosomes in Vascular Oxidative Stress and Arterial Stiffening
Institution: Tulane University
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
Grant ID: K99HL155841
MOSAIC Scientific Society: AAMC

Benard Ogola is a postdoctoral fellow at Tulane University in New Orleans. He currently works under the mentorship of Dr. Sarah Lindsey, Ph.D., an Associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology. He received his Bachelors in Biochemistry from Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas and Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Amarillo, Texas. Dr. Ogola’s research focuses on the interplay of sex hormones and sex chromosomes in vascular oxidative stress and arterial stiffening. Through the MOSAIC Postdoctoral Career Transition Award, he is dedicated to promoting diversity in biomedical research by mentoring students from underrepresented backgrounds in the challenges and successes of basic research. Dr. Ogola plans to continue engaging with underrepresented minorities through his transition to academic independence.


Caroline B. Palavicino-Maggio, Ph.D.

Project Title: Unraveling the neural basis of female aggression and dementia-related aggression: a systems biology approach
Institution: Harvard Medical School
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences
Grant ID: K99GM141449
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASCB

Caroline Palavicino-Maggio grew up in Washington Heights in New York City, and her scientific curiosity began by observing insects – specifically how cockroaches lived in social groups and why they were most active at night. As she grew older these interests remained prominent, and ultimately matured into a deep-rooted curiosity for understanding the neural circuits that mediate complex behaviors. At 13 years old, she experienced a life-altering event when her sister committed suicide. She began to seek out an explanation for this apparently inexplicable event, which focused her scientific interest in studying neural circuits of human behaviors, specifically to understand what happens in the brain during these acts of self-aggression. She received her B.S. degree in Behavioral Neuroscience from Rider College, Lawrenceville, NJ and her PhD in Neuropharmacology and Neurophysiology from Rutgers University, at New Jersey Medical School as an Alfred P. Sloan Scholar. Her current research focuses on understanding the neural basis of female aggression and its relevance in psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases. She has been consistently involved in activities to promote diversity in many K-12, undergraduate, and graduate pipeline outreach programs. Her latest project includes the creation of a Mini-PhD program, whereby middle and high school students from underserved communities in the local Boston area are involved in completing independent science projects and publishing their results in a peer-reviewed journal. She also currently serves on various diversity committees at Harvard Medical School and plans to continue promoting diversity in the sciences as a future independent investigator.


Elias Picazo, Ph.D.

Project Title: Strategic Molecular Activations for the Selective Synthesis of 2-Deoxy-Beta-Glycosides, and for the Synthesis of Novel Donor-Acceptor Stenhouse Adducts
Institution: Harvard University
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Grant ID: K99GM140070
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASBMB

Elias Picazo grew up in California’s Central Valley. He received his B.S. in Chemistry with a minor in Mathematics as a UCLEADS scholar at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Elias then received his Ph.D. in Chemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles as an NIH predoctoral fellow. His doctoral studies primarily focused on the total synthesis of complex natural products. Recently, Elias began his postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University where he is developing new organocatalytic reactions. He has been active in activities to promote diversity including serving UCLA’s Organization for Cultural Diversity in Science (OCDS) as the social chair, staying connected with his community to introduce students belonging to underrepresented groups to scientific careers, and plans to continue these efforts as a professor of chemistry.


Yadira M. Soto-Feliciano, Ph.D.

Project Title: Understanding mechanisms of transcriptional regulation by chromatin adaptor proteins
Institution: Rockefeller University
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Grant ID: K99GM140265
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASCB

Yadira M. Soto-Feliciano grew up in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico and her first research experience was during her freshman year in college where she had the opportunity to work in a Physical Chemistry laboratory. This is where she learned that a professional career in life and physical sciences was possible. She received her B.S. in Chemistry at the University of Puerto Mayagüez as a NIH-MARC and NSF-LSAMP scholar and her Ph.D. in Biology at MIT. Her research focuses on understanding how chromatin and transcriptional regulatory mechanisms maintain tissue homeostasis and how these processes become disrupted during the course of human diseases. She has been actively participating in efforts to promote diversity in science including mentoring summer students from underrepresented backgrounds while at MIT and Rockefeller, by participating in Rockefeller’s RockEDU science outreach initiatives and will continue this work as a MOSAIC K99/R00 Scholar.


Nicole R. Sparks, Ph.D.

Project Title: Analysis of environmentally-sensitive epigenetic machinery during osteogenic differentiation
Institution: The University of California Riverside
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
Grant ID: K99ES032486
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASCB

Nicole Sparks is from San Bernardino, California and the premature birth of her children and family’s smoking history fueled her interest in developmental toxicology. Nicole received her B.S. in Biology from La Sierra University, her M.Sc. from California State University San Bernardino as a CIRM Bridges Scholar, and her Ph.D. in Environmental Toxicology at the University of California Riverside. Nicole was a recipient of the University of California Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellowship (PPFP). Her doctoral and postdoctoral research focused on the changes of stem cell fate due to toxicant exposure that associates with skeletal developmental toxicity. Specifically, her research has uncovered regulatory factors, necessary for bone differentiation, negatively impacted by compound exposure, potentially uncovering an underlying mechanism between maternal compound exposure and skeletal birth defects. Nicole is committed to diversity and inclusion serving as a member of the Society for Birth Defects Research and Prevention’s DEI committee, mentoring underrepresented students at UCR and CSUSB, and plans to further promote DEI through NIEHS/NIH MOSAIC Program.


Chelsey C. Spriggs, Ph.D.

Project Title: Hijacking host cellular motors for the nuclear entry of polyomaviruses
Institution: University of Michigan
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences
Grant ID: K99GM141365
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASBMB

Chelsey Spriggs grew up in Detroit, MI and although her interest in science began through participation in local and state-wide science fairs, it deepened with her first undergraduate research experience. After receiving her B.S. in Microbiology from Michigan State University, she went on to earn her Ph.D. in Microbiology-Immunology from Northwestern University. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Cellular and Developmental Biology at the University of Michigan, where her research is focused on understanding the virus-host interactions required for DNA tumor virus entry. Chelsey has shown a commitment to enhancing diversity in STEM by participating in outreach and mentorship programs and more recently through helping to organize the first Black in Microbiology Week. She plans to continue these efforts as an independent researcher by using the training that she receives from the MOSAIC K99/R00 to create inclusive research environments for all.


Elizabeth V. Wasmuth, Ph.D.

Project Title: Biochemical, structural and molecular dissection of androgen receptor transcriptional activity
Institution: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Institution
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Grant ID: K99GM140264
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASBMB

Elizabeth Wasmuth grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey, an urban community rich in ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. She received her B.S. from Cornell University, majoring in both Animal Science, and Development Sociology with a focus in inequalities. She received her PhD from the Gerstner Sloan Kettering Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, where she employed structural, biochemical and genetic tools to study fundamental processes related to RNA decay in the lab of Dr. Christopher Lima. She is currently a joint post-doctoral fellow at Memorial Sloan Kettering with Dr. Charles Sawyers and the Rockefeller University with Dr. Sebastian Klinge, where her work focuses on defining key molecular interactions that influence prostate cancer progression. Throughout her scientific career, she has mentored and performed outreach to individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds, and is excited to further develop these skillsets as a MOSAIC scholar.


Evan J. White, Ph.D.

Project Title: Neuroscientific Exploration of Cultural Protective Factors in American Indians
Institution: Laureate Institute for Brain Research
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD)
Grant ID: K99MD015736
MOSAIC Scientific Society: AAMC

Evan White is a member of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma and also descended from the remaining federally recognized bands of Shawnees as well, the Eastern Shawnee Tribe and Shawnee Tribe. He received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Quantitative Methods at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, OK and completed his predoctoral clinical internship at the Charleston Consortium in Charleston, SC. His research focuses on utilizing tools of psychophysiology and neuroscience to understand the neural underpinnings of risk and resilience factors for psychopathology. Dr. White is currently seeking to delineate the neural correlates of the protective role of cultural engagement against poor mental health outcomes among American Indian populations.


Charisse Winston-Gray, M.S., Ph.D.

Project Title: Ethnoracial Impact on Blood-Based Biomarker Detection of Alzheimers in Primary Care Patients
Institution: The University of California, San Diego
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute on Aging
Project ID: AG070390

Charisse Winston-Gray was raised in Richmond, VA and her first science job was working in a Genetics lab at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) during the summer. As she earned her B.S. in Biochemistry from the University of Virginia (UVA), Charisse volunteered as an EMT at the Charlottesville Fire Department, which helped her realize that practicing medicine wasn’t the right path for her but that she wanted to remain in science. She started out was a technician in an electrophysiology lab at UVA then earned an M.S. in Biochemistry at Georgetown University, and furthered her training as a postbaccalaureate IRTA Fellow at the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH). Charisse returned to Georgetown to earn her Ph.D. in Neuroscience where she studied molecular mechanism of repeat mild TBI, and she’s currently a postdoctoral researcher at UC San Diego, studying blood-based biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease. Charisse’s passion for science is matched by her drive to cultivate a new generation of future scientists. She routinely mentors undergraduates and graduate students in the lab. Moreover, Charisse is equally committed to increasing STEM awareness and access to opportunities for underrepresented minorities. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.; serves as the ResearcHER Liaison for The Scholarly Sewist; and regularly volunteers with local organizations that promote STEM activities to middle and high school students.


Velencia J. Witherspoon, Ph.D.

Project Title: Quantitative Characterization of the Extracellular Matrix Components of Connective Tissue: Fingerprinting Macromolecular Components through Low-Field Magnetic Resonance
Institution:Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Grant ID:K99GM140338
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASBMB

Velencia J. Witherspoon fell in love with science's enlightening challenges while completing her secondary education in Jacksonville, Florida, leading her to receive a B.S. in Chemical Engineering as a Life Gets Better Scholar at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. This foundation positioned her to obtain a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, where her research concerning molecular motion in adsorbent materials was supported by the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program, UC Chancellor's Fellowship, and the D.A.A.D. (German NSF). She has been active in promoting diversity in STEM fields as an outreach volunteer and coordinator for minority-serving STEM organizations (e.g., National Society for Black Engineers, Black Graduate Engineering and Science Society) and has spent significant time training and actively mentoring undergraduate students. Currently, Velencia is excited to partner with the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology to continue diversifying the landscape of those participating in the biomedical sciences.


Yvon L. Woappi, Ph.D.

Project Title: Delineating epigenetic coordination of regenerative cell plasticity
Institution: Brigham and Women's Hospital
Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Grant ID: K99GM123456
MOSAIC Scientific Society: ASCB

Yvon Woappi’s passion for life sciences ignited during his childhood in Douala, Cameroon and was magnified after his family immigrated to Hanover, Pennsylvania during his middle school years. He went on to receive his B.S in Biology at the University of Pittsburgh, and his Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences as a Grace Jordan McFadden Fellow at the University of South Carolina (UofSC). His current research focuses on developing multifunctional gene-editing platforms to understand how epithelial cells epigenetically coordinate with local immunity during tissue repair. Dr. Woappi served on the steering committee for the NIH Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) and the Postbaccalaureate Research Education (PREP) Programs as a graduate student and is currently a mentor in the Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences (CURE) program at Harvard Medical School. He plans to continue to lead and promote university-wide efforts to foster diversity, inclusion, and belonging as an independent investigator.