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2016 Bouchet Scholars

Marlene Brito

Marlene Brito, Ph.D. Candidate in Marine Biology

Marlene is a doctoral candidate at Scripps Institution of Oceanography where she studies the link between the ecology of complex coral reef systems, one of the most biologically rich ecosystems on the planet, and the human societies that depend on reef resources. Using primarily models, her dissertation employs a complex systems approach to generate a dynamically grounded multi-scale understanding of 1) demographic patterns of coral colonies, 2) emergent patterns of coral reefscapes, and 3) the behaviors of coupled human-reef fishing societies. Results are far-reaching in coral reef conservation efforts aimed at acknowledging and learning from the diversity of coupled human-seascape relationships across the globe. In the long-term, Marlene plans to use her work to stimulate increased correspondence between mathematical modeling and field experiments as well as between ecology and Central American coastal communities where she aims to build genuine two-way relationships. Marlene’s scholarly awards include fellowships from NSF, the Ford Foundation, UCSD’s San Diego fellowship program, and UCSD President’s Dissertation Year program. Marlene’s background of struggle as a Mexican American scientist, womyn of color, wife of a hard-working once undocumented immigrant, proud daughter of inspiring working-class parents and graduate student mother of two, compel her to remain active in underrepresented communities. She remains involved with grassroots organizations, including Peace and Dignity Journeys, which advocates for human and indigenous rights, and serves as keynote speaker for school-wide assemblies and the STEM Dare to Dream: Get Educated Latina Conference. She remains invigorated by the prospect of continuing to inspire youth into science, while empowering them to dismantle barriers and define themselves and their lives.
Nathan Combes

Nathan Combes, Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science

Nathan Combes is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of California, San Diego. His dissertation focuses on the public health system in Kenya, and which health services Kenyan politicians are incentivized to provide. In particular, Nathan’s research asks why over 11,000 Kenyan children under the age of five die from diarrhea annually. Through extensive survey research, an audit of the Kenyan dispensary system, and numerous interviews with local politicians, Nathan finds that politicians repeatedly use funds to build clinics, but fail to provide funds to supply them with essential medicines. Nathan is also engaged in researching pedagogy. His most recent project shows that learning gains are maximized when peer instruction questions are conceptually challenging, as opposed to questions that ask students to recall facts from reading or lecture. While at UCSD, Nathan has received the Summer Graduate Teaching Scholarship and his department’s TA Excellence Award.
Leilani Cruz

Leilani Cruz, Ph.D. Candidate in Biological Sciences

Leilani Cruz is a doctoral candidate in the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of California, San Diego. Working under Dr.Lifan Lu, Leilani transitioned into the field of immunology as she explored the field of microRNAs in T cell immunity. By using molecular and cellular approaches as well as the genetic tools and whole animal experimentation Leilani has extensively studied a single microRNA, miR-27, from a cluster family that can solely regulate T cell-mediated immunological tolerance of its own accord. Her investigation includes characterizing the role of miR-27 in regulatory T cell development, homeostasis and suppressor function by in vivo mouse research and flow cytometry analysis. Her future reach aims include exploring the molecular mechanisms underlying such microRNA-mediated T cell immune responses through identifying the corresponding microRNA targets, which could later be a foundation for developing effective therapeutic approaches in treating human immunological disease. In addition to research, Leilani enjoys giving back to the community by participating in various outreach events thru UCSD’s Diversity Committee and AWIS-SD. She has partnered with Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in the last few years to be a guest scientist in their summer camps, SciTech after school program and was a featured scientist in the Spotlight on San Diego Science series. She continues to volunteer through other wonderful organizations in she hopes to inspire others to see the excitement of science.
Jahmese Fort


Jahmese Fort, Ph.D. Candidate in Communication

Jahmese Fort is a doctoral candidate in the University of California, San Diego Communication Department. She studies notions of citizenship as expressed through moments of altered civic participation. As a theoretical concept, altered civic participation is as relevant to activities such as voting and military service as it is relevant to issues less commonly associated with citizenship such as the choice to marry or support the inclusion of certain spaces on the national registry of historic sites. Her current research focuses primarily on instances of evasion, boycotting, and partial cooperation in the 2010 U.S. Census survey. Her dissertation positions the survey as a site that provides a unique opportunity for America's residents to contest and re-imagine dominant notions of belonging and citizenship. Jahmese examines the relationship between the exclusivity of Classic citizenship, historical trauma experienced by America's marginalized groups, and altered civic engagement. Her research contributes to existing literatures on American democracy’s decline, barriers to Census participation, and civic engagement behaviors. Her long-term research goals are to reveal ways in which groups deemed deficient of proper civic behavior are often engaged in ways that are illegible according to the limited definition of civic engagement offered by the civic republican tradition. Jahmese’s research is motivated by her desire to produce research whose findings might disallow the mislabeling of marginalized groups in the U.S. as “apathetic.” Her work calls attention to the inventive ways marginalized groups express discontent with their access to protection, representation, and resources due a citizen. 
Joshua Francois


Joshua Francois, Ph.D. Candidate in Bioengineering

Joshua Francois is a doctoral student in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of California, San Diego. He studies the biomechanics involved in 3-dimensional neutrophil migration under the mentorship of his advisors Professor Juan Carlos Lasheras (Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering) and Professor Shu Chien (Bioengineering). Specifically, his dissertation is focused on developing in vitro experimental systems to investigate neutrophil migration in extra cellular matrices and computational methods to obtain the forces that neutrophils exert while migrating in these 3D environments. His work will contribute to the tools that are available to researchers studying 3D cell migration. It will also provide insight into the mechanics of neutrophil motility, which may aid in the development of therapeutics designs to regulate neutrophil migration during inflammatory processes. His long term research goal is to understand the relationship between biochemistry and mechanics during cell migration.
Tracey Kiser


Tracey Kiser, Ph.D. Candidate in Education Studies

Tracey Kiser is a doctoral candidate in the Teaching and Learning Department at the University of California, San Diego. Tracey's Dissertation Title is Students and Faculty Voices: Plugging Leaks in the Developmental Mathematics Pipeline. Her project is part of a larger study entitled Plugging leaks in the developmental math pipeline in the community college math sequence. Her dissertation work examines, what she perceives to be, a lack of support for low income and minority students who are struggling academically to persist through the community college developmental mathematics pipeline. Her research contributes to the gap in the literature and our knowledge about students’ learning needs; faculty perceptions of the students’ learning needs, and the ways their instructional practices address students’ learning needs.  Her long-term research goals are to continue to use students’ and faculty voices to shed light on effective strategies for maximizing students’ success in developmental math classes, and the interactions between students’ social and physical environments that mediate their thinking and understanding of developmental mathematics.
Shanthi Manian


Shanthi Manian, Ph.D. Candidate in Economics

Shanthi Manian is a doctoral candidate in economics and a trainee in the Division of Global Public Health’s interdisciplinary program on HIV and related infections in substance-using populations. Her research applies an economic approach to questions of public health interest, with a focus on vulnerable women and girls. In current work, she is studying sex worker registration programs, which allow female sex workers to avoid some criminal penalties if they register at a health clinic and agree to regular medical check-ups. She is implementing a field experiment that aims to cleanly identify the effects of a registration program in Dakar, Senegal,  on the market for sex work and health. Her dissertation also includes a paper studying the impact of drug-related violent conflict in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on risky sexual behavior among female sex workers and their clients. This paper received the Economics Department’s Walter Heller Memorial Prize Runner-Up. Beyond her research, Shanthi has been a leader of the UCSD Women in Economics program for three years. In this role, she has created new mentoring opportunities for female Ph.D. students in Economics and organized a one-day conference bringing together 8 female alumnae of the Ph.D. program with current faculty and Ph.D. students.
Alina Mendez


Alina R. Mendez, Ph.D. Candidate in History

Alina R. Méndez is a doctoral candidate in the History Department at the University of California, San Diego. She received her B.A. in Latin American History with a minor in Spanish Literature from UC Berkeley. Her research focuses on Mexican migration to the U.S.-Mexico borderlands in the mid-twentieth century. Alina has received generous support from a Fulbright-Garcia Robles Research Grant, a University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States Dissertation Research Grant, and a Jack Henning Graduate Fellowship in Labor Culture and History. She was also the 2015 winner of the Immigration and Ethnic History Society Graduate Student Blog Prize. Alina served as her department’s Graduate Diversity Officer for two years, time in which she organized a graduate student speaker series and outreached to potential applicants. She expects to complete her dissertation, entitled Cheap for Whom? Farmworker Migration and Social Reproduction in a U.S-Mexico Borderlands Region, 1942-1969, by June 2017. 
Steven Naleway


Steven Naleway, Ph.D. Candidate in Materials Science and Engineering

Steven Naleway is a Ph.D. candidate in the Materials Science and Engineering Program at the University of California, San Diego. His research focuses on the interconnected fields of biological materials science and bioinspired design. These fields employ engineering, chemistry and physics to first understand how natural organisms thrive in their environment, then employ those lessons learned from nature to modern materials and fabrication techniques to solve present scientific problems. His dissertation work focuses specifically on an advanced fabrication technique called freeze casting that, mimicking the method in which natural materials utilize a template of biopolymer to guide the growth of biomineral, utilizes the growth of ice crystals to form porous ceramic scaffolds. This research looks to create new structural composite materials for advanced, biocompatible bone implants and load-bearing applications. Steven’s research has resulted in a number of academic and professional awards including the UCSD Gareth Thomas Award, the ARCS Scholarship, the Graduate Student Association Peer Mentorship Award and inclusion as a Bernard and Sophia Gordon Engineering Leadership Center Scholar. In addition, Steven regularly provides lab tours and demonstrations to incoming freshman, high school and middle school students, including many from underrepresented demographics and low-income areas around San Diego.
Heidi Schneider


Heidi Schneider, Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology

Heidi Schneider is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at University of California, San Diego. As a first generation, transfer student, Ms. Schneider has first-hand knowledge of the complex individual and social forces that prevent millions of students from equal access to education. Her passion to restore equity to our education system inspires her research; Ms. Schneider studies how educational inequality is reproduced by the intersection of identity, face-to-face interaction and the politics of contested meaning. In her dissertation, she explores how disrespectful classroom culture is initiated by societal forces but co-produced by teachers and students inside the classroom, which contributes directly to failure for some students and indirectly to a sense of alienation for all students. Ms. Schneider’s research contributes theoretically to literature that examines the reproduction of inequities in the education system while also offering empirical evidence and suggestions for educators who may be locked into the struggle for respect with students. Overall, her research points to the necessity of maintaining a respectful classroom culture to increase student engagement and academic success and decrease teacher fatigue. Ms. Schneider will continue her research on how inequality is reproduced through face-to-face interaction in schools and other institutions, while pursuing her long-term goal of becoming a Professor of Sociology.