2021 Honor Society inductees

Nicholas Amendola

Nicholas Amendola

  • University of Nebraska–Lincoln

When Amendola was a toddler fishing with his grandfather, he became fascinated by the complexities that make life work. He learned about biochemistry in college when some older students took him under their wing. It ended up being an ideal fit. He became involved in research after his sophomore year. He looks forward to building upon the skills he has learned in future research. He starts medical school in the fall and is considering a career in academic medicine to help train future physicians and continue doing research. While biochemistry is challenging, tapping into his childhood curiosity makes the field fulfilling.

Kimaya Bakhle

Kimaya Bakhle

  • Purdue University

Bakhle studied biochemistry with a minor in Spanish. She was secretary of the biochemistry club, which serves as Purdue’s ASBMB chapter. She worked in Vikki Weake’s lab for two years, using Drosophila melanogaster to study genetics involved in the aging eye. She now is taking a gap year to do research in the pathology department in Purdue’s college of veterinary medicine. After that, she hopes to attend veterinary school. Her hobbies include exercising, trying new recipes and being outdoors.

Ashleigh Bonanno

Ashleigh Bonanno

  • St. Mary's College of Maryland

Bonanno recently graduated with a biochemistry and Spanish double major and a neuroscience minor. She was an active member of the Biomolecular Organization of St. Mary’s Students, the college’s ASBMB chapter, for four years and served last year as vice president. She organized fundraisers, participated in club events, tutored students in biochemistry and chemistry, and created community outreach programs. Outside of school, she volunteered as an emergency medical technician, worked with her professors to develop resources for hospitals to minimize the Spanish–English language barrier and worked as a medical scribe in a local emergency room. In her free time, she enjoys going on long runs outside. She was an organic chemistry teaching assistant, a collegiate women’s basketball student coach and a lab assistant. This year she designed an experiment in the research lab investigating the effects of environmental enrichment on opioid-induced withdrawal and relapse using atosiban, an oxytocin inhibitor. Her research was preapproved for publication in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience. She is taking a gap year and working in a military research lab while applying to medical schools. Her career goal is to become an emergency room physician.

Elijah Castro

Elijah Castro

  • Marymount Manhattan College

Castro became interested in science when he took AP biology in high school. He was fascinated by the body’s ability to fight off infection and the development of antibiotic resistance. He has worked with a professor analyzing molecular dynamic simulations of polymerase IV in E. coli. This protein is present during translesion synthesis and can bypass certain mutations on the DNA template strand. This is important in understanding how bacteria can acquire antibiotic resistance by incorporating an incorrect nucleotide. He served as vice president of the college dance team most of his time at MMC. He enjoys expression through body movement and the body’s ability to mold and adapt. He attended several science society and pre-med club events made possible by the ASBMB Student Chapter. After graduation, he plans to apply to medical school with goals of becoming a doctor in medicine and continuing research in molecular biology.

Taylor Collignon

Taylor Collignon

  • University of Tampa

Collington recently earned a B.S. in biochemistry and will attend medical school in the fall. As an undergraduate, she conducted cardiovascular research at the Morsani College of Medicine at the University of South Florida and has worked on a project investigating the cancer protective effects of green tea. She plans to continue doing research in her future medical career. She served as president of the ASBMB Student Chapter at UT. She published an article in In-Training, an online medical journal, to educate aspiring physicians on the importance of disease prevention. She enjoys spending her free time outdoors, cooking, thrift shopping, weightlifting and relaxing with friends.

Victoria DeMarco

Victoria DeMarco

  • Monmouth University

DeMarco always has excelled in and enjoyed science, even as a younger student. This interest and passion led her to major in biochemistry. At Monmouth, she has worked in two research labs. With Jonathan Ouellet, she researched the structure and melting point properties of RNA aptamers. With the team in Martin Hicks’ lab, she worked toward developing a Covid-19 treatment and a therapy for glioblastoma tumors. She is a member of the NextGen Science Club (the ASBMB chapter at Monmouth), the Youth Activists and the Italian Club, and she works at the WMCX radio station on campus. After graduating in 2022, she plans to go directly into the science field either as a forensic scientist or as a research chemist. Outside of school, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, being outside — Monmouth is only a mile from the beach — and playing the piano.

Shadé Eleazer

Shadé Eleazer

  • Marymount Manhattan College

Eleazer is a junior with a double major in biomedical sciences and behavioral neuroscience. Her interest in science began at a young age, and she always has loved to help people and to learn more about the brain and body. She works as a research intern in the psychiatry department at Mount Sinai Hospital, where her focus is studying how extreme stress and fear can affect the brain and body and how these manifest in posttraumatic stress disorder and other panic disorders. She is the campus science society’s social media coordinator, Sustain MMC’s treasurer and the student government association’s senator for diversity, equity and inclusion. After graduation, she hopes to complete an M.D. specializing in internal/emergency medicine and a Ph.D. on individuals’ conscious and unconscious biases. With the assistance of Marymount’s IT department, Eleazer launched an online system whereby students can send their pronouns automatically to prospective professors so everyone can be addressed properly in the classroom.

Khaitlyn Figueroa

Khaitlyn Figueroa

  • Manhattan College

Figueroa is majoring in biology and minoring in chemistry. She began biochemical research during her sophomore year, where she saw that key concepts discussed in lectures could be applied to a laboratory setting. She worked with the nonvirulent bacteria Bacillus subtilis, which has plant-protecting abilities, to discover the mechanism of bacterial biofilm formation so that it could be applied in an agricultural setting, thus replacing chemical pesticides with a more natural approach. She is co-president of Just Peace, a student-run social activist group at the college. In her free time, she mentors underclassmen in related science majors and volunteers at Crisis Text Line. She plans to take two gap years to solidify her clinical experience before applying to medical school.

Teyana Grooms

Teyana Grooms

  • Stephen F. Austin State University

Grooms majored in biochemistry and minored in biology with the career goal of becoming a pharmacist and personally assisting in the mass production and shipping of medication to save thousands of lives. Her scientific research includes performing a bioinformatic analysis of various serum albumins, purifying leporine serum albumin from serum or plasma, assaying for the presence of common contaminants in the purified leporine albumin, and monitoring kinetics of its urea and heat-induced denaturation using fluorescence and circular dichroism. Serving as vice president of the university’s ASBMB Student Chapter helped Grooms enhance her leadership skills and become a spokesperson in scientific outreach.

Nour-Saïda Harzallah

Nour-Saïda Harzallah

  • Wesleyan University

Harzallah majored in molecular biology and biochemistry and physics in the college of integrative sciences. She joined Francis Starr’s lab in her sophomore year and crafted her senior thesis on molecular simulations of viral DNA ejection and packaging. In her freshman year, she joined the Wesleyan Women in Science steering committee, and she later became a STEM intern in the Wesleyan Office of Equity and Inclusion. Her involvement in racial and gender equity in STEM has shaped her commitment to work on projects that serve the underrepresented and marginalized outside the lab and from the lab bench. She hopes to pursue a career in biomedical engineering, particularly in tissue and molecular engineering with a focus on molecular oncology research. She hopes to continue advocating for women’s health issues by working on projects that elucidate the molecular underpinnings of ovarian cancer and diseases affecting the female endocrine system. Her dream is to develop initiatives that translate cutting-edge technologies into accessible and marketable means of diagnosis and therapeutics in her home country of Tunisia. In a parallel universe, she is a full-time graphic designer and a professional singer. In this universe, she enjoys singing in Wesleyan’s cultural showcases and is the designated poster designer for Wesleyan Women in Science.

Anna Hu

Anna Hu

  • St. Bonaventure University

Anna Hu is a senior majoring in biochemistry with an English minor at Wellesley College.

Isabella Jacus

Isabella Jacus

  • Saint Leo University

Jacus recently graduated with honors in religion and biology with a specialization in biomedical and health sciences. She was president of her campus circle of Omicron Delta Kappa, president of the Pre-Medical Club, head of outreach for Tri-Beta and part of a music ministry team. She helped create a biology mentorship program for incoming underclassmen and transfer students and created and led the Tampa Bay Area Brain Tumor 5k Walk/Run with the National Brain Tumor Society, which raised over $16,000 for brain tumor research, patient care and advocacy over three years. The ASBMB Student Chapter program helped her network with faculty and students to grow as a researcher. Over her undergraduate career, she participated in ecological, biomedical and clinical research. She plans to attend medical school. Her hobbies include playing the piano, taking long walks, socializing with friends, reading and caring for her plants.

Kayla Karnes

Kayla Karnes

  • Texas Wesleyan University

Karnes’ passion for science and research started at a young age — she learned about the scientific method in fourth grade, and there was no turning back. Her first research project at age 9 was on a type of tree on her school playground; to this day, she still is researching, but instead of trees her undergraduate research focused on autophagy-factor 7 in Trypanosoma brucei. She co-founded the Texas Wesleyan ASBMB Student Chapter. Outside of academics, she spreads her passion through her pageant platform, Embrace Your Inner Nerd, which is designed to encourage young girls and women to pursue careers in STEM. She received her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry in May and plans attend graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in biological chemistry and pursue a career in research. She truly believes science can change the world and hopes to make a lasting impact someday.

Anahita Keer

Anahita Keer

  • Texas Wesleyan University

Keer became seriously interested in science when she synthesized aspirin, a staple drug with multiple uses. Synthesizing other drugs such as phenacetin and phenytoin, extracting natural products like trimyristin, characterizing proteins and virtual screening fueled her desire to leverage science to improve patients’ lives. She was involved in undergraduate research for two years, with projects focused on finding novel therapeutics for malaria and cancer. She successfully defended her undergraduate honors thesis in March. She co-founded the Texas Wesleyan ASBMB Student Chapter and served as president. Using the ASBMB as a platform, she launched a virtual lecture series, “Women in STEM,” featuring women from three continents and four U.S. states. Keer held officer positions in Beta Beta Beta and the Student Government Association and was a member of the American Chemical Society, Mortar Board, the Black Students’ Association and the American Association of University Women. She graduated in May and plans to attend New York University to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry, subspecializing in organic synthesis. She then intends to complete her postdoc and build a career in academia. Keer complements her academic efforts by scuba diving as a certified rescue diver. To combat pandemic stress, she took to her roots, learning Indian cooking and yoga.

Jack Kwon

Jack Kwon

  • Wesleyan University

Kwon’s interest in science began in his ninth-grade honors biology class. He found it fascinating that the genetic information that serves as the blueprint for all the cells in our bodies is encoded by four simple nucleotides. His curiosity led him to learn more about genetic tools such as CRISPR/Cas9. He joined a biotechnology club that competed with intercollegiate teams; they performed basic laboratory procedures such as bacterial transformations, gel electrophoresis and designing genetic cassettes and received advice from a team at the Georgia Institute of Technology. As an undergraduate, he immediately became involved with Michael Weir’s lab, studying the ribosome. They are aiming to elucidate the function of a highly conserved region of the ribosome called the CAR interaction surface through wet lab experiments and dry lab molecular dynamics simulations. Kwon plans to earn his M.A. in molecular biology and biochemistry through the university’s B.A./M.A. program and continue his independent project in the Weir lab. He then intends to pursue either a Ph.D. in a related field or a research career in industry. He enjoys playing ultimate Frisbee during his free time and is captain of the Wesleyan men’s ultimate Frisbee team. The ASBMB Student Chapters program has allowed him to make invaluable connections and find mentors he would not have found otherwise.

Hope Lewis

Hope Lewis

  • Otterbein University

Lewis is a junior biochemistry and molecular biology major at Otterbein University. She became interested in science at a very young age during nature walks with her father. She continues to experience nature through hobbies such as biking and hiking at local metro parks. In addition to her studies, she is a teaching assistant for general chemistry and a hall director. She also is involved in a research project involving tissue cultures. She is studying perilipin 5, a protein involved with lipid storage droplets and protein transportation, and specifically is trying to identify which nuclear pore mechanism phosphorylated perilipin 5 employs. After graduating in the spring of 2022, she plans to attend medical school to study pediatric oncology. She joined her ASBMB Student Chapter as a freshman, and it has provided her with invaluable relationships and professional connections.

Shawn Lin

Shawn Lin

  • Wesleyan University

Lin is a junior majoring in biology, molecular biology and biochemistry, and biophysics. He has been doing research in Ishita Mukerji’s and Candice Etson’s labs since his freshman year. His research topic is elucidation of interactions between integration host factor and a DNA four-way junction. He is also founder of the National Organization for Rare Disorders Student Association Connecticut, the goal of which is to raise awareness among students through fundraising, guest lectures and rare disease day events. He is a teaching assistant and also has been part of Wesleyan’s Science Outreach Program and the Dean’s Peer Tutoring Program. Outside of academics, he enjoys long-distance cycling and classical music.

Elizabeth Lucas

Elizabeth Lucas

  • Rochester Institute of Technology

Lucas became interested in science during her freshman year of high school when she took her first biology class. She was enthralled by the microscopic world of cells and knew she had to pursue a life of science. She is now involved in enzyme characterization research, where she helps determine the function of enzymes with known structures. She presented her research at the national ASBMB meeting. She looks forward to continuing her education and would like to go on to graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in genetic counseling. Being part of the RIT ASBMB Student Chapter has helped her hone her leadership skills and has allowed her to make many friends in her time at RIT.

Luca Macias

Luca Macias

  • University of Texas at El Paso

Macias doesn’t remember when he first got interested in science, but he had a childhood fascination with dinosaurs, space and robots. He was also captivated by how life perseveres in so many ways, how life has changed and diversified, and how people understand these many discoveries. He had his first hands-on lab experience after he arrived in the U.S. to start his bachelor's degree. He wanted to experience what a scientist does, so he started volunteering as a research assistant in Renato Aguilera's lab in the biosciences department at the University of Texas at El Paso, where he worked on the discovery of novel drugs for anticancer treatments. This experience showed him the ups and downs of research. He will start graduate school in the biochemistry and cell biology program at Rice University in fall 2021. In addition to his scientific passion, he hopes to continue to enjoy hobbies such as biking, skateboarding and horseback riding. The ASBMB Student Chapter at UTEP allowed him to grow his network of peers and faculty within and outside the university. The chapter also recognized his work, supporting him to attend conferences such as the ASBMB annual meeting to share his work and keep growing in the field.

Diandra Mastrogiacomo

Diandra Mastrogiacomo

  • University of Tampa

Mastrogiacomo became interested in science during high school when she took chemistry and physics. She picked biochemistry as her major at UT and began research her junior year. Her research involves determining the effects of Polyphenon E, a standardized green tea extract, on FOXP2 protein expression in PC3 prostate cancer cells. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry (ASBMB-accredited) in May and starts the medical sciences Ph.D. program at the University of South Florida in August. After three lab rotations her first semester, she will choose her concentration and decide what lab to work in. For a year, she was vice president of the ASBMB Student Chapter at UT. Being a part of this community led her to make long-lasting friends and further her involvement in science. Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, chapter members went to a middle school, where they taught students about the structure of DNA and did a fun DNA extraction experiment with them. Mastrogiacomo found it rewarding and fulfilling to see students light up at the wonders of science very much the way she did when she was younger.

Rylee McDonnell

Rylee McDonnell

  • Goucher College

McDonnell recently graduated as a biochemistry and molecular biology major with a premedical concentration. She was a member of the Goucher ASBMB Student Chapter, a member and captain of the women’s soccer team, a co-president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, and a member of the Biology and Chemistry Club. She also served as a teaching assistant for general biology and a supplemental instructor for organic chemistry. She has known she wanted to pursue a career in the sciences since her high school freshman biology class. Since then, science classes have been her favorite part of her course load. In upper-level science courses, she enjoyed reading and discussing scientific papers. She loved applying knowledge from her earlier courses to current studies. She did independent biology research with Mark Hiller, investigating a potential testis-specific homolog for lactate dehydrogenase and the phenotype of a mutation in a testis-specific general transcription factor. She intends to take a gap year before attending medical school, where she plans to complete research in a genetics-related field such as aging or cancer.

Alex Meyer

Alex Meyer

  • University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Meyer recently graduated as a biochemistry major. His research was in a structural biology lab led by Kurt Piepenbrink where he worked to solve the crystal structure of the type IV pilin protein PilA2 from Clostridium perfringens. He also has done research with UNL’s international Genetically Engineered Machines, or iGEM, team advised by Jiantao Guo, Wei Niu and Massimiliano Pierobon, which developed a three-module genetic circuit in an E. coli host to seek out and destroy MRSA cells. Meyer was a teaching assistant for chemistry and biochemistry courses, served as a student leader in the UNL Honors Peer Mentoring Program, was a student ambassador for the biochemistry department and held leadership roles in several clubs. Outside of classes and school activities, he enjoys cooking, archery and music. He plans to pursue a Ph.D. in pharmacology

Aiah Nour

Aiah Nour

  • University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Nour is a senior biochemistry major. She works in Edward Harris’ lab on understanding O-fucosylation of the human Stabilin-2 receptor. She is a Ronald E. McNair scholar and had the opportunity to present her research at numerous conferences. Nour is president of the African Student’s Association on campus and vice president of the Black Student Union and serves as the chief of staff for UNL’s student government. At the Summer Health Professions Education Program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in 2019, she was exposed to interdisciplinary medicine and research. After graduation in December, Nour wishes to enroll in an M.D.–Ph.D. program.

Nicki Nouri

Nicki Nouri

  • University of Illinois at Chicago

Nouri recently completed her third undergraduate year majoring in biology with minors in chemistry and entrepreneurship; she has a passion for biochemistry and molecular biology research. Her interest in biochemistry began the summer before her senior year of high school when she was introduced to biochemistry through a mentorship in health-related biochemical topics at the UIC School of Dentistry. This inspired her to create an ASBMB Student Chapter at UIC in her freshman year; she has served as president ever since. The chapter has grown as a hub for undergraduates to get involved with biochemistry outside the classroom. Nouri conducts research in Vadim Gaponenko’s lab in the biochemistry and molecular genetics department, researching the mechanisms of oligomerization and induced cellular activity of G protein–coupled receptors implicated in acute myeloid leukemia and neurotic illnesses. She aspires to attend a D.D.S.–Ph.D. dual degree program where she can combine her interests in dentistry and basic science. She enjoys going on hikes, reading historical nonfiction and trying new foods.

Alex Poppel

Alex Poppel

  • Wesleyan University

Poppel is a master’s student in the molecular biology and biochemistry department, studying the homologous recombination pathway in budding yeast. After completing his undergraduate degree, he has continued to work in Amy MacQueen’s lab investigating the structure and function of the E3 SUMO ligase protein Zip3. He intends to earn a Ph.D. in structural biology and work in the pharmaceutical industry to create drug therapies for human diseases. As a member of Wesleyan’s ASBMB Student Chapter, his outreach involvement has focused on improving his school’s community by promoting undergraduate research opportunity awareness and equity and inclusion efforts in the sciences. Outside of academics and research, Poppel prefers to spend time outdoors running, playing tennis or enjoying a nice hike through the woods.

Paulina Rios

Paulina Rios

  • University of Texas at El Paso

Rios is the ultimate Mexican American hybrid of the cultures that meet in the El Paso–Juarez border. Two years ago, she found an activity that required discipline and time management skills and fulfilled her passion for science — research. She studies an enzyme believed to integrate a virophage’s DNA into its host in Chuan Xiao’s structural biochemistry laboratory. She aims to obtain a B.S. in biological sciences with a biomedical concentration and then work on a biochemistry Ph.D. to prepare herself to be employed in the pharmaceutical industry or a government health institution, where she would like to study the development of therapeutics for human diseases using molecular, cellular and biochemical principles. Eventually, she would like to reach a position that enables her to conduct experiments and mentor others. Rios became president of the ASBMB Student Chapter at UTEP in September 2020. Her responsibilities include presenting information and opportunities that can help members accomplish their goals. Being a part of the chapter has helped her improve her leadership skills, communication abilities and interpersonal relationships. She likes spending free time with her family and watching TV shows. Her family inspires and motivates her, so quality time with them is essential.

Elizabeth Scott

Elizabeth Scott

  • Marymount Manhattan College

Scott is an undergraduate student with a double major in biomedical sciences and urban and environmental sustainability and a chemistry minor. She is a research student in the college’s urban ecology lab. For her research, she surveyed MMC’s Lowerre Family Terrace’s biodiversity and compared air and soil temperature findings to Central Park to assess the urban heat island effect. She is president and co-founder of SustainMMC, the student government senator for service and sustainability, and secretary of the Science Society. In her free time, she loves to read. After she graduates, she intends to pursue either an M.Sc. or an M.P.H. and later a Ph.D. in environmental health sciences, combining her love for biology, chemistry and environmental science.

Ryan Torres

Ryan Torres

  • Manhattan College

Torres’ interest in biochemistry derived from time spent in Puerto Rico as a child trying to understand the underlying basis of life. His passion grew as classes gave him more insight into the molecular forces behind life. He began conducting research his freshman year with Sarah Wacker, focused on the molecular role of specific proteins during biofilm formation and how variations between wild isolates can protect plants better from diseases. Through his research, he became part of an ASBMB Student Chapter that held journal discussions about recent research papers and hosted an outreach program to help students learn essential molecular biology techniques. Torres recently was accepted into the University of Michigan’s program in chemical biology, and he conducted a summer rotation in the field of RNA and translation kinetics with Kristin Koutmou. He looks forward to learning skills in structural bioinformatics and biomolecular engineering while at the University of Michigan. After earning a Ph.D., he hopes to transition into the biotech industry or a government lab position.

Maya Vaishnaw

Maya Vaishnaw

  • Wesleyan University

Vaishnaw is a member of the Wesleyan University class of 2021. She is a molecular biology and biochemistry and psychology double major and was a member of Erika Taylor’s lab in the Wesleyan chemistry department. The Taylor lab takes a multidisciplinary approach to characterizing enzymes with applied chemical and biomedicinal applications. In the future, Vaishnaw hopes to pursue research in clinical genetics.

Zach Williams

Zach Williams

  • Rochester Institute of Technology

Williams has completed his third year as a biomedical science major and chemistry minor in the college of health science and technology at RIT. He serves as president of RIT’s Health Sciences and Technology Student Association and the honors program representative for the college. He is involved in biochemistry research in Lea Michel’s lab, where he studies the electrostatic interactions of water-soluble crystallin proteins in the optic lens, which may contribute to juvenile cataract formation. He served as a teaching assistant in the cell and molecular biology lab in 2019 and more recently in anatomy and physiology and organic chemistry. Outside of academic work, he plays club ultimate Frisbee for RIT, enjoys running and rock climbing, recently started learning to ski, and is teaching himself how to play the electric guitar. He also volunteers with the RIT ambulance and at the Friendly Home Senior Living Community near campus. After graduating from RIT in 2022, he will attend Upstate Medical University, where he will work to earn an M.D. and possibly a Ph.D. as well.

Kelly Wong

Kelly Wong

  • University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Wong has been involved in research since her freshman year as a member of Limei Zhang’s lab, studying the mechanism by which transcriptional regulation occurs via the White B-like family in Mycobacterium tuberculosis. She also has led several after-school outreach programs in the local community, where she guides students in science experiments that range from making baking soda volcanoes to edible water bottles. She is a peer mentor in the University Honors Program, teaching assistant for a biochemistry laboratory and a psychology class, and acting president of the local American Medical Women’s Association chapter on campus. She aspires to become a physician specializing in psychiatry or obstetrics/gynecology. In her free time, she enjoys playing piano, spending time with friends and family, and discovering new places to eat in the local area.