CNAS Awards 2024

Each year, the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (CNAS) honors students who have demonstrated outstanding achievements and accomplishments throughout their time at UC Riverside.

"Over the past few years, you've all navigated through these times with remarkable resilience, perseverance, and commitment—that is your legacy," said Peter W. Atkinson, CNAS Interim Dean, in his remarks at the 70th CNAS Commencement ceremony on June 17. "When history unfolds, future generations will look to you as beacons of resilience, a collective of young individuals who persevered and remained steadfast in their commitment to shaping their own futures… and the futures of those around them. You make us all proud."

Please join the CNAS community in recognizing the 2024 academic award winners on their phenomenal achievements:

Outstanding Achievement Award
Selected by the CNAS divisional deans, the Outstanding Achievement Award recognizes one student from all the Excellence Award nominees for their exemplary achievement in academics and research or creative activity, their breadth of involvement in the college, and for their commitment to service and citizenship.  

The 2024 Outstanding Achievement Award winner is...

Peter Carney, Physics
Peter Carney has worked in the research labs of Professor Jonathan Richardson, developing advanced optics for the LIGO gravitational wave observatory, and Professor Miguel Arratia, contributing to building, designing, and testing a nuclear physics calorimeter prototype, where he is a co-author on a published, peer-reviewed journal article describing that work. He has also participated in two selective summer research programs at Caltech and CERN. In 2023, Peter won the national-level Barry Goldwater Scholarship. Peter has accepted an offer of admission from the Physics Ph.D. program at Caltech.

Rosemary S.J. Schraer Award
In honor of Rosemary S.J. Schraer, who served as UCR Chancellor from 1987-1992, the Schraer Award recognizes the academic excellence of two outstanding graduating seniors in the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences.

The 2024 Rosemary S.J. Schraer Award winners are...

Peter Carney, Physics
Peter Carney has worked in the research labs of Professor Jonathan Richardson, developing advanced optics for the LIGO gravitational wave observatory, and Professor Miguel Arratia, contributing to building, designing, and testing a nuclear physics calorimeter prototype, where he is a co-author on a published, peer-reviewed journal article describing that work. He has also participated in two selective summer research programs at Caltech and CERN. In 2023, Peter won the national-level Barry Goldwater Scholarship. Peter has accepted an offer of admission from the Physics Ph.D. program at Caltech.

Alyssa Ashley Menor Fundal, Environmental Sciences and Psychology
A 2024-2025 CORO Fellow in Public Affairs, Alyssa has also served as a Chancellor's Research Fellow and peer mentor through the College of Natural & Agricultural Science's Transfer Connections program. Alyssa served as the vice president of the UCR Environmental Sciences Club and the co-project manager for the UCR Food Waste Reduction Program through UCR Dining Services. She presented a poster presentation on her food waste research at the UCR Undergraduate Research Symposium and served as copy editor for the UCR Undergraduate Research Journal. Alyssa served as air quality intern as part of the University Innovation Alliance's Bridging the Gap Between Education and Employment Program, researching community health and environmental injustice in the Salton Sea. She also served as an undergraduate research assistant in the Gray hydrology lab. After completing the CORO Fellowship, Alyssa plans to pursue a graduate degree and continue affecting positive environmental change on a community level.

Academic Excellence Award
The Academic Excellence Awards for the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences recognizes students who are selected by their faculty for achieving excellence in their academics and research or creative activity.

The 2024 Academic Excellence Award winners are...

Andrea Barajas, Environmental Sciences
Andrea Barajas, a first-generation graduate whose parents migrated from Mexico, has worked both as a Digital Agriculture Fellow, where she conducted research on spatial temporal differences between crops and weeds using drone-mounted sensors, and as an Undergraduate Research Assistant in Dr. Gan’s Environmental Science Lab at UCR. Andrea's dedication to environmental science and her commitment to research have earned her the Outstanding Senior Award from the American Society of Agronomy in March 2024. As an Undergraduate Research Assistant, Andrea has conducted extensive laboratory work and field experiments to monitor environmental contaminants. She was named a National Student Recognition award winner by the American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America and the Soil Science Society of America in June 2024. She plans to continue pursuing research to further contribute to the field of environmental science.

Emilia Lynn Marie Burnham, Entomology
Emilia is a senior Bachelor’s + Master’s student in the Entomology Department. She applies her scientific expertise to combat honeybee parasites. Since 2022, she's researched the honeybee fungal parasite Nosema ceranae with Dr. Boris Baer at the Center for Integrative Bee Research. She has orchestrated K-12 school and community events for two years as the Entomology Department Outreach Coordinator. Emilia showcased her work at the Entomological Society of America Conference 2023 through a department travel grant. She honed her leadership skills in various leadership roles, such as Co-President of the Botany & Entomology Undergraduate Student Association and Executive Board Member of the American Medical Women’s Association. Continuing her project on N. ceranae immunity, she'll pursue her Master’s degree, exploring novel treatments using heat-killed fungal spores.

Justin James Diab, Biology
Justin Diab enrolled as a Biology Major at UC Riverside in Fall 2020 and is a first-generation college student. He joined the Glassman lab as a researcher in 2022 and spent two years culturing bacteria and fungi and assessed the thermotolerance of various Aspergillus species cultured from wildfires. During his time at UCR, Justin was a supplemental instruction leader for Organic Chemistry and also volunteered at the Temecula Valley Hospital. Justin is a proud recipient of the Roger Hayes scholarship and has been on the deans and chancellors list for all years of his undergraduate biology degree. Justin will be graduating in June 2024 with a 3.98 cumulative GPA and is enrolled in Pharmacy School at Loma Linda University starting in Fall 2024.

Joseph Feldman-Peterson, Earth & Planetary Sciences
Joseph worked with Dr. Andrey Bekker's Bekker’s Stable Isotopes for Innovative Research Lab for almost 1 year on detrital zircon geochronology of the late Ediacaran sedimentary successions of the East European platform. Joseph spent two weeks at the University of Wyoming separating detrital zircons from sandstones and several days at UC Santa Barbara doing their U-Pb analyses. He received Winter 2024 Undergraduate Research Minigrant and Terracon Scholarship 2023-2024. Joseph participates as a Mentee in Geoscience Education & Mentorship Program and serves as a Secretary for Geology Student Association at UCR, both since 2023. He will present his research at the 2024 Undergraduate Research & Creative Activities

Riley Hunke, Mathematics for Secondary School Teachers
Riley has been a part of the CalTeach - Science Math Initiative program as a Peer Leader and Mentor where he served as the Office Team Lead. Along with this leadership role, he participated in two year-long field assignments at local secondary schools to prepare for his future career as a math teacher. Riley was also the Vice President of Tomorrow's Teachers of Science and Math for the 2023-2024 term. As they prepare to graduate, Riley has been accepted into UCR's dual Masters and Credential program starting this summer and plans to teach in the Inland Empire upon graduation.

Mitchel Howard Larsen, Plant Biology
Following a need to leave his career as a chef due to disability, Mitchel attended Mt. San Jacinto College to find a new path. There, he was inspired by his professors to emulate their mentorship and passion for teaching. His excellent academic performance earned him the Regents Transfer Scholarship. After earning five Associate degrees, he transferred to UC Riverside to study Plant Biology where he continued to excel as a student. He tutored local elementary school students in math and English as a CollegeCorps Education Fellow, earning him the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. He joined Dr. Amy Litt’s research lab studying plant diversity using phylogenetics, population genetics, and other methods in 2023. Following graduation, Mitchel will be pursuing a career in ecological field research before returning to UCR to earn a PhD. He hopes to teach biology and inspire the next generation of young scientists.

Linlin Liu, Statistics
Linlin transferred to UCR in Fall 2022 as a Statistics major from Riverside City College. She joined Dr. Kate Ostevik’s lab in the following summer through the RISE program to explore the impact of different seed dispersal methods on the gene flow of alpine plant species. Additionally, she was actively involved on campus as a CNAS Science Ambassador and a student assistant at the International Students and Scholars office. After graduation, she will continue her graduate studies at UCR in Applied Statistics starting in Fall 2024.

Ray Lopez-Amaya, Biology
Ray worked in Dr. Joel Sach's lab, where he took on a variety of complex tasks involved in two large greenhouse experiments that occurred during his tenure, including making important media for plant or bacterial culture, the dissection of plants, and gathering and recording data, and helping with work in the fields of the Agricultural Experiment Station. In addition to working in Dr. Sach's lab,  Ray works as a medical scribe and volunteers at a local emergency room and a donations center. His post-graduate plans include working on his application for the 2024-2025 medical school cycle.

Adelric Low, Data Science
Since youth, Adelric has always enjoyed the logical nature of math and sciences, leading to his passion in data science. This passion led Adelric to his paid internship last summer where he synthesized ideas for the possible implementations of data within an automated process. Adelric furthered his passion for data science this year as a research assistant in Dr. Lyubomirsky’s Positive Activities and Well-Being Lab where he assists with data extraction, cleaning, and analysis. Adelric also serves as the Internal Vice President of the Chinese Student Association while maintaining a cumulative GPA of 3.98. He wants to pursue a Master’s degree in Data Science and use his knowledge to provide data-driven answers to the extensive questions of the world.

Ibrahim Bassem Maaz, Biochemistry
Ibrahim has significantly contributed to the UCR community as an undergraduate, including serving as a Senior Chancellor’s Research Fellow, President of the Neuroscience Club, a RISE Summer Scholar, and an Undergraduate Researcher at the Murn Lab for three years. As a member of the Murn Lab he has focused primarily on understanding the molecular and behavioral importance of microexons to neural development and has utilized a wide breadth of biochemical to behavioral assays. Due to his rigorous academic and research pursuits he has been awarded the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Senior Chancellor’s Research Fellowship. As a Senior Fellow he leads the Chancellor’s Research Fellowship mentorship division, working to prioritize increasing equity, accessibility, and diversity in research across all disciplines. Following his graduation, Ibrahim will begin his Ph.D in Biochemistry at Stanford University, where he plans to begin his career towards becoming a professor.

Sudhir Gajanan Murthy, Mathematics
Mentored by Dr. Estela Gavasto and Dr. Michael Nelson, Sudhir has published in UCR’s Undergraduate Research Journal and presented at UTD’s Fourth Annual Undergraduate Philosophy Conference. He also attended a funded workshop at the Lorentz Center, in Leiden, on machine-verified mathematics. He then presented his experience to the 2024 Joint Mathematics Meetings, discussing the prospective future of computerized mathematics and AI. Currently, working under Dr. Patricio Gallardo, he leads a team of undergraduates to formalize Euclidean Geometry using computerized proof assistants. Having accepted UCR’s Ph.D. program in mathematics, Sudhir is eager to continue his interest in algebra, logic, and computer science.

Kelli Nguyen, Cell, Molecular & Developmental Biology
Kelli is a junior student majoring in CMDB, and she has worked on an undergraduate research project in Yinsheng Wang’s laboratory. During high school, Kelli demonstrated her leadership by guiding students on health profession-related resources and delivering educational presentations as an officer of the Medical Aspirants Club. Currently, she is a member of the Medical Scholars Program at UCR with an impressive 3.94 cumulative GPA. Over the past few years, she has accumulated substantial patient caring and administrative experience by working at Dr. Friedman's Family Practice and Barstow Community Hospital. With a strong passion for biology and healthcare, Kelli is committed to making significant contributions through research and academic excellence.

Joshua Roth, Physics
Joshua Roth has performed research with Professor Anson D'Aloisio for three years. He is the first author on a journal article describing his work on the interpretation of quasar spectra measurements and the reionization of the early universe, which has been accepted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. In addition to being a top physics student, with a 3.95 GPA, he is a Division-1 athlete on the UCR Tennis Team. Joshua has accepted an offer of admission from the Astrophysics Ph.D. program at Princeton University.

Maricela Toops, Microbiology
Marcie is a Microbiology major with a 3.90 GPA. She is conducting research in the lab of Dr. Caroline Roper as part of the California Alliance for Minority Participation program and has also worked at the USDA Salinity lab as a research assistant. In Dr. Roper’s lab she researches the molecular interactions that underlie the tritrophic interactions among the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa, it insect vector and its plant host. She has participated in the UCR RISE program, served as the MARC U Star Club president and recruitment coordinator as well as the UCR STEM Club president. Marcie is a current and rising star in microbiology with a bright career ahead of her.

Lena Xiaoyu Williams, Chemistry
Despite debuting as a new college student during the pandemic, Lena has excelled in her undergraduate studies, tutoring her peers in math and science and receiving Chancellor’s honors every year with a 3.99 cumulative GPA. Conducting research in two labs since her senior year, her recent focus has been expanding our knowledge of atmospheric pathways beginning with ozonolysis. In addition to research, Lena has been a member of the Women’s Club Soccer team since the winter quarter of her junior year and began coaching the team at the beginning of her senior year. After graduating from UCR, Lena will pursue a Ph.D. in organic chemistry at USC, where she intends to further her learning.

Patrick James Williamson, Neuroscience
Patrick Williamson worked on his Capstone Research Project in Dr. Martin Riccomagno's laboratory for almost two years. His work aimed to define the genetic programs that control the formation of the cerebellum, a region of the brain essential for motor coordination and learning. This research contributed to a peer-reviewed manuscript currently in preparation. For his achievements, he received the UCR Honors Excellence in Research Scholarship. Additionally, Patrick volunteered extensively on and off campus, including providing assistance during Highlander Day and Brain Awareness Day. He also held several leadership positions and mentored students in the Future Physician Leaders and Medical Leaders of Tomorrow programs. 

Congratulations to all of our 2024 academic award winners!

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