Current Scholar Biographies

Cohort 12 (2019-2021)

Advisors: Douglas Almond and Reka Juhasz

Olalekan Bello was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. He completed his undergraduate education in the United States and graduated summa cum laude from Howard University with a B.A. in economics and a minor in mathematics. Olalekan’s research interests lie in the areas of growth and development from both a macro and microeconomic perspective. He has previously conducted research on examining the spatial mismatch hypothesis and how minority communities suffer from the lack of employment opportunities because of commuting distances. As a Bridge scholar, he is working with Douglas Almond and Reka Juhasz in the Department of Economics where he is researching topics in health economics and international trade. After completing the Bridge to the Ph.D. Program, Olalekan plans to pursue his graduate studies in economics.

Advisor: Pierre Gentine

Jashvina Devados received her B.S. in conservation and resource studies from the University of California, Berkeley in 2018. She uses remote sensing methods to investigate ecosystem response to disturbances. Her past projects include investigating snow, soil moisture, and vegetation dynamics in the Rocky Mountains with high-resolution satellite imagery and machine learning methods at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, CA. She has worked with community partners to provide decision support for land management decision-making. Projects with community partners include performing a remote sensing analysis to inform regional planning for biodiversity conservation and fire risk in the San Francisco Bay Area with the Bay Area Open Space Council and leading a team at NASA Ames Research Center to analyze satellite imagery and surface water current models to inform management of a nuisance algae in Lake Michigan. Jashvina is currently studying the effects of wind extremes on carbon cycling in wet forests as part of the Gentine Lab in the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering. Upon completing the Bridge to the Ph.D. Program, she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in environmental science.

Advisor: Nim Tottenham

Syntia Hadis was born and raised in Palm Beach, Florida. In December 2017, Syntia graduated from Florida Atlantic University (FAU). During her time at FAU, Syntia collaborated with Lucina Uddin at the University of Miami where she became interested in brain connectivity and dynamic network interactions that underlie cognitive flexibility. Alongside her research interests, Syntia actively has worked on expanding research opportunities to undergraduates and facilitating STEM-related workshops, such as teaching coding classes to high school students. Upon graduation, Syntia joined the Fundamentals of the Adolescent Brain Lab with BJ Casey where she worked on the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, which provided a unique opportunity to oversee and coordinate one of the largest longitudinal studies on the developing brain. As a Bridge scholar, Syntia works with Nim Tottenham in the Developmental Affective Neuroscience Lab (Department of Psychology) where her research focuses on the impact of early life experiences on brain development. After the completion of the Bridge to the Ph.D. Program, Syntia aspires to continue her studies at Columbia University and receive a Ph.D. in psychology.

Advisors: Eric Verhoogen and Michael Best

Dafne Murillo López was born and raised in Lima, Perú, with Quechua roots in the Amazon region and the Andes. In 2019, Dafne graduated from Columbia University with a double major in economics and Latin American studies. As an undergraduate, Dafne worked as a research assistant for the Central Reserve Bank of Perú, where she investigated the role of state presence in reducing the size of the Peruvian informal sector. Under the advisement of Suresh Naidu, Dafne researched the effect of labor law on immigrant domestic workers’ wages for her senior honors thesis. As a Bridge scholar, Dafne is working on several projects under the mentorship of Eric Verhoogen and Michael Best in the Department of Economics. These projects include evaluating decision-making processes behind the allocation of seed-grants for microenterprises in Mexico, investigating the effect of minimum wage on industrial upgrading in Brazil, and assessing a pilot program for citizen-ran inspections of low-budget state development projects in Perú. After completing the Bridge to the Ph.D. Program, Dafne plans to pursue a Ph.D. in economics with a focus on the intersection of Latin America and development economics.

Advisor: Elizabeth M.C. Hillman

Chinwendu Nwokeabia graduated from Notre Dame of Maryland University with a B.A. in mathematics and minors in physics, psychology, and philosophy. As an undergraduate, they had a passion for combining their interests in various areas in STEM disciplines and exploring the interdisciplinary nature of these disciplines. They participated in the Sister Alma McNicholas Women Scientists Program, a research partnership with Notre Dame and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. There, they worked at the Zanvyl-Kreiger Mind-Brain Institute under the mentorship of Ernst Niebur on simulating and modeling previous hypotheses on proto-object visual saliency. In the Hillman Lab at the Zuckerman Institute of Columbia University, Chinwendu is investigating the neural connections between various areas of the brain in a resting state. Chinwendu plans to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering with a focus on biomechanics.

Advisor: Charles Hailey 

Maggie Reed was born in Tallahassee, Florida and raised in Grand Island, Nebraska. She received a B.S. in physics with a minor in mathematics from the University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO) in 2019. As an undergraduate, she conducted high-altitude balloon research to investigate jet stream conditions with Project HALON (High Altitude Learning Over Nebraska). She also established a satellite to ground radio communication station for future high-altitude ballooning projects. In addition to conducting research, she taught high school students coding, designing high-altitude research projects, building sensors, and analyzing data. In 2017, Maggie became a teaching assistant in the Department of Physics, where she taught several undergraduate physics laboratory courses. In the fall of 2018, Maggie began materials science research with Chris Moore in the Department of Physics at UNO. Under his mentorship, she established a materials science laboratory and studied the effects of silver-doped zinc oxide (Ag-doped ZnO) thin films on photocatalytic activity and band gap measurements. ZnO thin films have several research applications in improving solar cell production, microbe inhibition, ecological restoration, and energy production. At Columbia University, she is working with Chuck Hailey, in a collaboration between the Department of Physics, the General Antiparticle Spectrometer (GAPS) group, and Nevis Laboratories. Her research will focus on the search and detection of low energy cosmic-ray antinuclei, which could provide insights into the nature of dark matter. After completing the Bridge Program, Maggie plans to receive a Ph.D. in physics with a concentration on astrophysics.

Advisor: Laura Kaufman

Talha Rehman was born in Karachi, Pakistan and graduated from Berea College. At Berea College, Talha was actively involved in his academic community as a Bonner Scholar and University Innovation Fellow. In 2019, he graduated with a B.A. in physics and minors in chemistry and mathematics. His past research experiences include summer internships at MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, Carl E. Ravin Advanced Imaging Laboratories at Duke University, and the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, VA. These opportunities allowed him to explore different topics and interests in STEM. Following his junior year, he found himself in awe after learning about self-assembly and depletion force in the laboratory of Vinothan Manoharan at Harvard University. As an REU scholar at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Talha studied self-assembly mechanisms of spheres on a cone surface, which can further characterize self-assembly in many biological systems. After developing an interest in soft matter because of this project, he completed another research project in Jan Vermant's Laboratory of Soft Materials at ETH Zürich. There, he studied thin-film dynamics of mineral oils, which helped him develop useful technical skills related to rheology and fluid dynamics. As a Bridge scholar, Talha is working with Laura Kaufman in the Department of Chemistry. His project, which is based in applied physics, characterizes the properties of single-molecule dynamics associated with polymers. Following the Bridge to the Ph.D. Program, Talha plans to pursue graduate studies in soft matter and chemical physics.

Advisor: James Hone

Justin Samples was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. In May 2019, he graduated magna cum laude from Morehouse College with a B.S. in physics and a minor in mathematics. At Morehouse, Justin competed on the tennis team for all four years, earned multiple All-Conference awards in both singles and doubles, and captained the team during his final two years. During the summers of 2017 and 2018, Justin worked as an intern in the Systems Integration & Test Office at the Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, CA under the guidance of Julia White and John McVey. In the fall of 2018, Justin moved to Madrid, Spain to study engineering at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid for a semester. While studying in Madrid, he found a love for materials science and conducted research on the energy considerations for individual particles in granular materials. As a Bridge scholar, Justin is working with James Hone at Columbia University’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC). Justin’s research will focus on the synthesis and characterization of layered transition metal dichalcogenides (e.g. molybdenum diselenide, MoSe2 and tungsten diselenide, WSe2) with the goal of developing robust techniques for generating crystals. After completing the Bridge to the Ph.D. Program, Justin plans to pursue a Ph.D. in engineering with a concentration in materials science.

Cohort 11 (2018-2020)

Advisor: Cory Dean

Derick González-Acevedo was born and raised in Puerto Rico. He obtained a B.S. in physics with a minor in mathematics from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez in June 2018. After taking Introductory Quantum Mechanics, he quickly developed a passion for physics. This course furthered his interests in the fields of atomic, molecular and optical (AMO) physics and condensed matter physics. During the summer of 2016, Derick participated in the NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at the University of South Florida (USF) under the mentorship of Sarath Witanachchi. His project focused on using Glancing Angle Pulse Laser Deposition to grow Lead Zirconium Titanium Oxide (PZT) nanocolumns on Lanthanum Strontium Manganite Oxide (LSMO) islands and to study their morphological and structural properties. These nanocolumns offer a multitude of applications in electronics such as improving the efficiency of capacitors and sensors. In the summer of 2017, he participated in the REU program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) under the supervision of Gregory MacDougall. At UIUC, he characterized large, single crystals of lanthanum-based cuprates superconductors, which have the potential to improve how energy is produced and transmitted. Currently, he is working in Cory Dean’s laboratory in the Department of Physics where he is investigating the role of angular orientation and relative lattice constant on the friction of the interface between complimentary 2D materials.  Findings from this research would contribute to a better understanding of friction at the atomic scale, which can lead to the fabrication of novel devices. After completing the Bridge to the Ph.D. Program, Derick plans to pursue a Ph.D. in condensed matter physics.

Advisors: Geraldine Downey and Carl Hart

Jay Holder is a native New Yorker who was born and raised in the Harlem community. His unwavering interest in people, groups, and institutions impelled him to complete a B.S. in behavioral science at Mercy College. Jay’s main academic pursuits are to investigate, inform, and influence the culture and structure of cities through sound research. Currently, Jay is a program developer and research assistant for Columbia University’s Center for Justice, where he works with Community Based Organizations (CBOs) to create healthy environments for communal stakeholders across a spectrum that includes families, educational and recreational institutions, and incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals. With Geraldine Downey in the Department of Psychology, Jay’s research focuses on healthy human development. Also, Jay is working under the mentorship of Carl Hart in the Department of Psychology, where his work investigates how psychoactive substances affect human behavior. Based on these interests, Jay plans to pursue a Ph.D. in social psychology with a long-term goal of participating in making social policies based on updated data.

Advisor: Lars Dietrich

Julie Kiss was born and raised in New York City. She attended the Swedish Institute of Health Sciences where she received an A.S. in occupational therapy and became a licensed massage therapist. She simultaneously attended John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York (CUNY), graduating with a B.S. in cellular and molecular biology and a minor in health sciences. As an undergraduate, she participated in the Program for Research Initiatives in Science and Mathematics (PRISM) where she worked in Angelique Corthal’s laboratory on two individual projects. The first involved mapping the evolutionary divergence of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs), which are potential targets for drug therapy in patients with multiple sclerosis. The second tested the ability of diatoms (a group of micro-algae) to enter the pores of long bones and permeate the bone marrow of the wild boar (Sus scrofa). The results of this study have broad implications for the interpretation of the diatom test, which is used by forensic scientists to characterize cases of drowning. Currently, Julie is working in Lars Dietrich’s laboratory in the Department of Biological Sciences, where she studies the effect of oxygen availability on cellular arrangement in bacterial communities called biofilms. Specifically, she is elucidating the role of the sensor/regulator protein DipA in determining the formation of vertical, clonal lineages in biofilms of the pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Julie is developing a protocol for the application of scanning electron microscopy to biofilms and will apply this method in her characterization of mutants representing selected DipA residues and domains. A detailed understanding of the pathways that control biofilm organization could inform approaches to treating bacterial infections. Julie aspires to receive a Ph.D. in microbiology and to conduct research investigating the human microbiota’s role in the onset, progression, or remission of autoimmune diseases and central nervous system disorders.


Advisor: Kathryn Johnston

Shifra Mandel grew up in Monroe, New York. After obtaining a GED, she enrolled at Kingsborough Community College of the City University of New York (CUNY), intending to major in mechanical engineering. After taking an introductory physics course, she was inspired to study physics and transferred to Columbia University. As an undergraduate, she conducted research with Columbia University’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) group, under the leadership of Chuck Hailey and Kaya Mori. With the NuSTAR group, her research focused on the analysis of observational data from a number of exotic X-ray sources, including rare black holes in the Galactic Center. In the summer of 2018, Shifra received a B.A. in physics from Columbia University. Currently, she is working with Kathryn Johnston in the Department of Astronomy to determine the formation of tidal debris that occurs when satellite dwarf galaxies merge with their much larger host galaxies. Upon completing the Bridge Program, Shifra aspires to receive a Ph.D. in astronomy from Columbia University.

Advisor: Sidney Hemming

Originally from Binga, Zimbabwe, Chiza Mwinde moved to the United States to attend Smith College where she graduated with a B.A. in geosciences in 2018. At Smith College, her curiosity about earth history led her to join Sara Pruss’ laboratory. There, she conducted a year-long research project that investigated the depositional conditions of the Rainstorm Member of the Johnnie Formation in Death Valley (Eastern California). During the summer of her junior year, she participated in the Summer Undergraduate Research in Geoscience and Engineering (SURGE) Program at Stanford University, where she worked in Erik Sperling’s historical geobiology laboratory. In the SURGE Program, she studied siltstones from the Lower Triassic Montney Formation (Western Canada), which were deposited following the Permian mass extinction that occurred about 250 million years ago. She also investigated marine anoxia in the 5-10 million years following this mass extinction. Geochemical data from the Montney Formation demonstrated that anoxic marine conditions following the Permian mass extinction may have contributed to delays in biotic recovery. Fully understanding the causes of this delayed biotic recovery is critical for determining the extent to which persistent adverse conditions can affect life on earth. Currently, Chiza is working under the mentorship of Sidney Hemming at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Her research focuses on understanding past climate changes by using various geochemical analyses of ocean and river sediments from southern Africa. Chiza plans to pursue a Ph.D. in sedimentary geochemistry with a focus on paleoclimatology.

Advisors: Georgia Karagiorgi and Michael Shaevitz

Iris Ponce was born and raised in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. In 2018, Iris graduated from Oglethorpe University with a B.S. in computational physics. At Oglethorpe University, Iris was an active participant in several outreach activities and served as the president of the Society of Physics Students and of Alpha Phi Omega, a national service fraternity. With Mariel Meier, Iris’ undergraduate research focused on understanding the interactions between solar wind and Jupiter’s magnetosphere. Currently, Iris is working with The Columbia Neutrino Group at Nevis Laboratories and in the Department of Physics under the mentorship of Georgia Karagiorgi and Michael Shaevitz. Her research focuses on validating supernova data collection triggering for the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE). After completing the Bridge to the Ph.D. Program, Iris plans to continue her graduate studies in particle physics.

Advisor: Marcel Agüeros

Rayna Rampalli was born and raised in Sacramento, California. Inspired by astronomy research that she conducted in high school, Rayna chose to attend Wellesley College, home to a long line of women astrophysicists. At Wellesley, she conducted research in the Departments of Astronomy and Physics. At the Wellesley College Observatory, she observed Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope (KELT) exoplanets transits and Koronis asteroids. She helped build a muon detector, which collected and recorded the number of muon particles as a means of determining the particles’ lifetimes. Also, Rayna has participated in a number of astronomy research projects including detecting and tabulating extragalactic point sources of H alpha and calculating occurrence rates of the hot Jupiter class of exoplanets. For her senior thesis, she worked with Dave Lathan and Andrew Vanderburg at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. To address the planet signal determination issues from NASA’s recently launched Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission’s camera, she investigated methods of exoplanet candidate validation in star-crowded fields of NASA’s K2 mission as a useful proxy. Currently, Rayna works with Marcel Agüeros in the Department of Astronomy to determine rotation periods of stellar members of the Beehive cluster using K2 data. These rotation rates will be combined with pre-existing ground-based data on these cluster members as a means of tracing and characterizing stellar spot and magnetic evolution. After completing the Bridge to the Ph.D. Program, Rayna plans to pursue a Ph.D. in astronomy.