The STEM Team

Meet Our Team

STEM Connections Program Staff

Nhi Tran

 Marissa Carranza


2018-2019 CNAS STEM Peer Mentors

18-19 STEM Team


Andrew Encinas 

Biochemistry                                                                                                                                                                          Canyon Springs High School                                                                                                                      Email: andrew.encinas@email.ucr.edu

 Andrew EncinasAfter graduating from Canyon Springs High School in 2015, I chose to attend UC Riverside. I am currently a biochemistry major with a chemistry emphasis. I have always loved science and wanted to become involved in research at the university. During my first year, I joined Dr. Boniface Fokwa’s inorganic chemistry lab. I worked on the synthesis of molybdenum borides and tested them for electrocatalytic properties. The summer after my first year, I participated in the Summer RISE Research Program as a Learning Community Scholar where I was able to fully devote myself to the lab. In addition to presenting my work at the RISE symposium, I am an author of two papers the Fokwa Lab published. After working in the Fokwa Lab for a year, I joined Dr. Michael Pirrung’s organic chemistry lab. My current project is focused on synthesizing a lipopeptide that may have skin regenerative properties. Besides researching in the lab, I am an active member of the California Alliance for Minority Participation (CAMP) and a STEM Peer Mentor for the STEM Connections Program. I am very passionate about research, learning, space and technology. After I graduate from UCR, I plan to attend graduate school to obtain a Ph.D. in organic chemistry.

Hannah Navarrete 

Biochemistry                                                                                                                                                                          King High School                                                                                                                         Email: hannah.navarrete@email.ucr.edu

 Hannah Navarreteattended King High School here in Riverside and came to UCR as a Biochemistry major. I had been interested in research since high school and immediately began looking up research opportunities once I came to UCR. Since starting here I have been fortunate enough to be able to participate in many research opportunities around campus, primarily in life sciences. Because I am passionate about research, many of my experiences on campus reflect that. I have participated in the Dynamic genome and its associated summer program, which aims to provide students with training and experience to be able to participate in research on campus. I have participated in CAMP, an organization on campus which aims to increase the number of underrepresented students going on to get graduate degrees in STEM fields. I am also in the MARC U STAR program, which is funded by the NIH and pays for two years of school and aims to increase the number of underrepresented minorities which go on to do biomedical research. I’m a local student, so outside of class, I love spending time with my family and boyfriend. We all attend church, watch movies together, camp (more like glamp- glamorous camping), and hike. If you have any questions about getting involved in research or what research is, feel free to talk with me! Additionally, I’m interested in learning, so if you have a topic you’d love to talk about and want someone to talk to about it, let me know!

Heather Haro

Environmental Sciences                                                                                                                                            Transferred from: Santa Monica College                                                                                                                            Email: heather.haro@email.ucr.edu

 Heather HaroI began taking classes at Santa Monica College in 2013. I had an interest in STEM when finishing high school but it wasn’t until I joined the STEM program at SMC that I learned what a career in STEM could actually look like. I hadn’t known anyone with a PhD before meeting the SMC STEM program director who is also first-generation and Latina. Meeting her taught me that I could carve a space for myself in STEM too and inspired me to seek research opportunities and aim to go to graduate school. During my time at SMC I was a student garden manager at SMC’s Organic Learning Garden where I led workshops, planned sustainability events and planted a ton of food. During the summer of my second year, I was fortunate enough to have a research opportunity through the UCLA Summer Scholars Research Program where I worked with Professor Jennifer Jay doing research on antibiotic resistance genes in the air, soil, and water of local Southern California parks. While at SMC, I was also part of the Associated Students as the Director of Sustainability where I had the opportunity to collaborate with many students organizations and faculty to fund giveaways, events, and projects for students. Before transferring to UCR as an Environmental Science major in Fall of 2017, I also worked as a tutor for ELD (English language development) high school students and as a waitress in a Peruvian restaurant. So far at UCR I’ve been lucky to participate in research with the USDA Dynamic Genome program where we studied clock genes in Fairchild citrus. I am also part of a handful of clubs such as CAMP (California Alliance for Minority Participation) and Soil Science club where I will serve as treasurer, the Environmental Science club and S.A.L.S.A. club. In my spare time, I like to go to concerts, visit new places, go hiking, visit museums, eat breakfast and spend time with my family and friends. After graduation, I hope to work in an environmental science lab, a federal agency or a state/ national park while I apply for PhD programs in Environmental Science. I am very excited to be working as a Peer Mentor this year. I’m looking forward to being able to serve as a resource about UCR, STEM connections and answer any questions or ease any concerns you may have. I’m looking forward to meeting you all!

John Palacios

Mathematics                                                                                                                                                                      Transferred from: Riverside City College                                                                                                                            Email: john.palacios@email.ucr.edu

 John PalaciosI attended Mt. San Antonio College right out of high school to become an airplane mechanic. I worked at my family’s shop for a few years and then in retail for many more. In 2012 I enrolled in a computer programming certificate program at Riverside City College before discovering the pseudo numinous character of mathematics, which is my new life-long quest; I wish to attend graduate school and obtain a Ph.D. in Mathematics. In my first year at UCR, I have participated in a little research and studied abroad. My first research experience as a UCR student was with Dr. Burgess in Computational Cognitive Science. I examined Dr. Burgesses Hyper Analog to Language (HAL) language learning model, it’s relation to other Computational Cognitive Scientists’ learning models, and applications of HAL’s sister model, Latent Semantic Analysis (LSA) to Quantum Information Theory. I also conducted research in Mathematics. In Spring 2018 I considered an old probability problem, Buffon’s Needle, in the context of a needle being dropped on the surface of a sphere, and then derived an algorithm which uses Buffon’s original results to approximate the value of pi probabilistically. This last summer I participated in UCR’s first mathematics Education Abroad program: Random Walks. I was selected as the student speaker for Education Abroad Bon Voyage event and then spent the summer studying probability (Math 149 A, B) with Dr. Weisbart.

Nungari Gachoka

Biochemistry                                                                                                                                                                Transferred from: Santa Monica College                                                                                                                            Email: nungari.gachoka@email.ucr.edu

Nungari GachokaAfter graduating high school, I made the last-minute decision to attend community college because it was more affordable for my family with my sister attending a four-year university. I attended Santa Monica College for three years, during which I spent the last year and a half doing clinical research in cardiology at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. Although the lower-division courses taken in community college were geared towards the pre-med route, the time I spent at Harbor-UCLA was the turning point in which I decided that I was going to pursue a career in medicine. In Fall 2017, I transferred to UCR as a Biochemistry major and joined the STEM Pathways program the following quarter. In addition to being a STEM Peer Mentor, I am a Health Scholar at Riverside Community Hospital. After graduation, I plan on taking a gap year to prepare my application for medical school. In my spare time, I enjoy going on hikes, exploring new coffee/ food places to try, and working out- so, you will probably find me at the Student Recreation Center if not on campus. Don’t hesitate to say hello!

Olenka Graham Castaneda

Neuroscience                                                                                                                                                                  Transferred from: Chaffey College                                                                                                                                Email: olenka.grahamcastaneda@email.ucr.edu

Olenka Castaneda GrahamI transferred to UCR from Chaffey College for Winter quarter of 2018. I'm currently working towards a bachelor's degree in Neuroscience and hope to join a PhD program after graduation. I work in the UCR Cognitive and Neural Computation lab, run by Dr. Megan Peters. I'm also involved with sustainability efforts on campus. I'm currently working with Facilities as the Lead Recycling Assistant and I'm a member of the Green Campus Action Plan. I'm also very grateful to be a MARC U STAR scholar. If you have questions about any of these things (or just want to say hi) feel free to reach out! 


Sarah Estawani

Biology                                                                                                                                                                      Transferred from: Riverside City College                                                                      Email: sarah.estawani@email.ucr.edu

 Sarah EstawaniI started my undergraduate experience at Riverside City College and Norco College. During my time at community college I volunteered at the COPE Health Scholars program in Riverside Community Hospital. I learned valuable skills due to the hands-on experience in different departments such as Medical Surgery, Emergency, Labor and Delivery, and Radiology. I then transferred to UCR where I am currently pursuing a degree in Biology. I am involved in different clubs on campus such as Transfer Outreach and Beyond and Muslim Student Association. In addition, I am also involved in Prof. Martins-Green Lab in Molecular, Cells, and Systems Biology Department. Our lab developed a chronic wound model and also studies the molecular mechanisms and microbiome in chronic wounds. In addition, we are currently studying the effects of third hand smoke (THS) on mitochondrial DNA methylations. My current career goal is going into medical school, since it has been my passion for a very long time. Outside UCR, I private tutor in Math, Biology, and Arabic on the weekends. In my free time, I enjoy playing the piano, baking, and trying different food places around. I also love watching Turkish series and horror movies. If you see me around campus feel free to chat with me or we can go grab tea/coffee!

Shaniah Pereida

Microbiology                                                                                                                                                                  Transferred from: Crafton Hills College                                                                                  Email: shaniah.pereida@email.ucr.edu

 Shaniah PereidaIn 2014, I graduated from Redlands East Valley High School and began my college career. After two years at Crafton Hills College, I graduated with honors in my AS in Chemistry and Multiple Sciences while working as a receptionist at a hair salon and volunteering at a homeless shelter in Redlands, CA. When I transferred to UC Riverside, I was fortunate enough to be selected as a research scholar for UCR’s California Alliance Minority Participation (CAMP) summer program in 2016. Through this program I worked in Dr. Coffey’s lab in the Plant Pathology and Microbiology Department, where I produced the project known as the Molecular Characterization of Invasive Phytophthora Species. After the summer, I continued working in Dr. Coffey’s lab under a different project concerning the effects of powdered mildew on squash leaves. In addition I was able to present my research at a state-wide symposium in Irvine, and at the AAAS Pacific Division in Hawai’i. In Spring 2017- 2018 I worked under Dr. Manosalva in the Plant Pathology and Microbiology department, investigating the effect of salinity levels and P. cinnamomi species on Avocado trees. During this time, I was unsure of what specifically I wanted to do, so I began to explore outside of research in other programs on and off campus. I joined Medical Scholars Program (MSP), utilized the Health Profession Advising Center (HPAC), volunteered at Loma Linda University Hospital in the MICU and Philanthropy departments, volunteered at free health clinics, and joined a program known as UC Neüro. After utilizing my resources on campus, I realized that my interests heavily relied in the pre-med direction and became most active in MSP, UC Neüro, STEM Pathways, and free health clinics. I, then became a MSP Banquet Team Member, the President of UC Neüro, and a STEM Pathway Peer Mentor. Outside of academia, I enjoy to watch old TV shows like Leave it to Beaver, watch surgeries online, make playlists, and go to concerts! This is my third year here at UCR and I hope I can assist you to have a positive experience here at UCR. If you see me around campus, please say hello!

Victor Garcia

Biochemistry                                                                                                                                                    Transferred from: Riverside City College                                                                    Email: victor.garcia004@email.ucr.edu

 Victor GarciaAfter high school I didn’t know to pursue higher education was an option as the information was seldom presented in the remedial programs I was part throughout my K-12 education. Feeling like the world forgot about me as I watched others succeed while I grappled with trying to grasp basic concepts. As a result, I inadvertently fell victim to the stigma associated with having learning disabilities and needing extra help. My then limitations were something I grew to be ashamed of instead of embracing my unique way of perceiving the world, primarily because I stupidly and continuously kept measuring my successes to that of others a decision that I fully regret today but as they say hindsight is 20/20. After I graduated high school and through working labor-intensive jobs, I realized that the generations before me did not endure the hardships they did so that I could without effort gave up on pursuing an education. Wanting to do more with my life and actively try to ensure that future generations could flourish where I struggled. I decided to own my limitations and turn them into the fuel that drives me to this day. Thereafter, I enrolled at Riverside City College (RCC) where I overcame many barriers to successfully transfer to the University of California, Riverside (UCR). In summer of 2016 before transferring to UCR, I participated in the Summer Bridge to Research program where I was placed in the lab of Dr. Gregor Blaha where I was introduced to the intricate interactions that occur between the Ribosome and RNA Polymerase in bacteria. Having developed an interest in his work, I continued in Dr. Blaha’s lab for what now going on three years. Within those three years, I have grown not only as a researcher but also as an advocate for minorities in higher education. My involvement in and out of UCR includes but is not limited to MARC U* research fellow, S.T.E.M peer mentor, Recruitment coordinator for UCR CAMP, Chicano Youth Leadership Conference Facilitator, S.T.E.M Mentor to high school students, Caltech WAVE fellow and well the list goes on. Just as I turned a negative into a positive, I hope to serve as a catalyst in the fostering the next generation of scientific researchers.

Wajeha Mahmoud

Biology                                                                                                                                                                                  Transferred from: Chaffey College                                                                                                            Email: wajeha.mahmoud@email.ucr.edu

 Wajeha MahmoudAfter graduating high school, I went to Chaffey community college. I enrolled as biology major and received my A.S in Biological science and A.A in university studies math/science. When I was at Chaffey, I was the president of the Arab culture club, Vice president of the Muslim Student Association (MSA), and secretary of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). I worked part-time as a private tutor mainly tutoring math and general chemistry. As a sophomore at Chaffey College, I also got my very first exposure to research when I participated in the Sequence to Success DNA Barcoding Challenge; this was an outreach event that the Dynamic Genome program hosted for community college students. I also helped out a graduate student by collecting data for her graduate research project, which later on was published at John Hopkins University. When I transferred to UCR winter 2018, I knew I wanted to continue being involved in things I am passionate about, and serving my community in any way I possibly can. I am currently the vice president of the two action and awareness organizations: Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Students Organize for Syria (SOS). In the summer of 2018, I had the amazing opportunity to be a USDA summer intern in the Dynamic Genome program, where my love for research started and grew. We were studying clock genes in the Fairchild mandarin and other citrus varieties by using bioinformatics and molecular biology techniques. Another project we worked on was an agribusiness project where we were introduced to the biotechnology industry. We were required to come up with a scientific solution for our troubled crop, and then market that solution. After UCR, I hope to take a gap year then apply for dental school. However, because of the research exposure I’ve been getting, I’m also considering graduate school. Hopefully my gap year helps me decide and prepare for the career I end up choosing. Things I love to do on my free time are traveling, hanging out with friends, and enjoying the great outdoors.  If you see me around please say hello and if you have any questions at all, don’t hesitate to contact me because I will be more than happy to help! 

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College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences
Nhi Tran
S.T.E.M. Connections Coordinator
Pierce Hall 1104

Tel: (951) 827-1764