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2024 Biological Sciences Student Awards

Since 2021, the Biological Sciences Department has honored graduating seniors and Master’s students for exceptional achievements in the life sciences. Students are nominated by faculty in the Biological Sciences Department and winners are selected by anonymous vote of the Biology faculty. The names of award winners are engraved on plaques which are prominently displayed in Science Hall 1 and Science Hall 2.

  • Outstanding Ecology Student: Mason Laurin

    Faculty Nominator: Dr. Diego Sustaita

    "Mason has been an exemplary undergraduate student in ecology. He has consistently performed at the top of his classes in his coursework, and he has made tremendous strides in research over the past year and a half. His enthusiasm, dedication, and work ethic in the field and lab have precipitated in several presentations at local and national conferences, which have recently culminated in a co-authored peer-reviewed article currently in press in the Journal of Experimental Biology. He has been accepted into the Ph.D. program at UC Riverside, which will undoubtedly lead him to a productive and illustrious career in ecology."

  • Outstanding Molecular Cell Biology Student: Jerry Mendoza

    Faculty Nominator: Dr. Matt Escobar

    "Jerry is an outstanding student who worked in the Escobar research lab for three semesters, leading a project which has demonstrated that plants take up the bacterial "stress metabolite" ectoine from the soil via a previously uncharacterized root amino acid transporter. He has presented his research results at the West Coast Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research Conference (2023), and he will be an author on a future manuscript describing his research results. Jerry is a pre-medical student who has also worked as a pharmacy assistant, participated in the Palomar Pomerado medical internship, and helped lead the Flying Samaritans student club, which travels to Mexico monthly to provide free medical care in underserved areas. Jerry is planning to pursue a one-year postbaccalaureate biomedical research program in 2024/2025 before he applies to medical school."

  • Oustanding Physiology Student: Siaje Gideon

    Faculty Nominator: Dr. Dennis Kolosov

    "Siaje is an accomplished early-career scientist who has pioneered a study in the Kolosov lab of how voltage-gated ion channels regulate ion transport in the gill epithelium of fishes, mastering transcriptomics, molecular biology, pharmacology and electrophysiology, as well as immunohistochemistry in my lab. She has presented her work at numerous conferences, will be a first author on a manuscript arising from her undergraduate work, and has been accepted into several PhD programs nationwide. In addition to being extremely productive in the lab, Siaje has been serving the CSTEM community in several service capacities - as an ASI CSTEM rep, as an Intervarsity Black Campus Ministry Club president, and by putting together the Black Voices in STEM event together with Dr. Mallory Rice, which was pivotal for our college as a community, and life-changing for many Black scientists on campus! "

  • Oustanding General Biology Student: Hannah Loney

    Faculty Nominator: Dr. Sergio Nigenda Morales

    "Hannah Loney is an exceptional student, boasting a remarkable academic record. Her involvement in research has equipped her with skills in computer programming and bioinformatics, culminating in her role as the primary author of a poster showcased at the CSUBIOTECH symposium on phenotypic variation in opossum populations. Furthermore, as an ISA in BIOL 352 (Genetics) class, she has significantly contributed to enriching course material, showcasing her passion for both research and teaching. Despite facing many challenges, Hannah has shown resilience, as evidenced by her acceptance into our Biology Master’s program at CSUSM and her ambition to pursue a Ph.D. in human genetics in the future."

  • Outstanding Biotechnology Student: Jeremy Benjamin

    Faculty Nominator: Dr. Moorthy Palanki

    "We proudly nominate Mr. Jeremy Benjamin as an exemplary student in Biotechnology. Jeremy, currently a senior on track to graduate in May 2024, embarked on a remarkable journey after completing his schooling in Lexington, KY. He dedicated himself to serving the nation by joining the US Marine Corps, fulfilling his duties. Subsequently, Jeremy pursued higher education at Miramar College, where he completed the requirements for an associate degree before transitioning to the biotechnology program at CSUSM. Throughout his academic journey, Jeremy has exhibited a passion for research in molecular biology, evident from his active involvement in research alongside professors such as Jane Kim, Michael Oertel, and James Jancovich. His dedication has seen him present his findings at various conferences and symposiums, showcasing his commitment to advancing scientific knowledge. Jeremy's academic prowess has been recognized through prestigious scholarships such as the AJ Pack scholarship, RISE Scholarship, Summer Undergraduate Research Program, and U-Rise. His exceptional performance in classes, coupled with his consistent dedication, underscores his candidacy for the title of outstanding undergraduate student in Biotechnology. Jeremy's academic journey continues to ascend as he has received an offer from the University of Pittsburgh to join their Ph.D. program, with plans to commence in fall 2024. His stellar achievements and unwavering commitment to excellence make him a deserving nominee for this esteemed award."

  • Outstanding Biology Graduate Student: Riley Steel

    Faculty Nominator: Dr. James Jancovich

    "Riley Steel joined the Biology MS program in the Spring 2023 semester and will finish his degree in a year and a half before heading to the University of Rochester's Immunology, Microbiology and Virology program for his PhD in the Fall 2024. Throughout Riley’s graduate program he has worked on multiple research projects, including one that was published in Virology in October 2023 as first author, and his research efforts will eventually result in the submission of multiple additional manuscripts for publication. Riley’s research accomplishments include developing techniques to delete and insert full-length and truncated genes into a ranavirus, something that has not been done in the ranavirus world, and he has generated numerous recombinant viruses to study viral gene function, regulation of viral gene expression and viral replication mechanisms. Riley has mentored many students in the lab, including international students in the TUPLS program, and freely gives his time to help others with their project and train them on shared equipment."

  • Teaching Impact Award: Ashley Virabouth

    Faculty Nominator: Dr. Mallory Rice

    "In the over 30 undergraduate research students I have mentored, I have seen the most personal and professional growth in Ashley. Ashley has been in my lab for three years working on a project she co-developed with another student which we are submitting this summer with Ashley as a first author. She has presented this research at national and regional conferences and has been working as a CELS facilitator for BIOL 211 the last year to hone her public speaking skills. Ashley is a remarkable student who strives to keep growing and challenging herself, which I believe sets a wonderful example for our department."

  • Leadership and Advocacy Award: Angela Muradov

    Faculty Nominator: Dr. Carlos Luna Lopez

    "Angela is the President and Co-Clinic Coordinator of the Flying Samaritans of CSUSM. She coordinates a clinic in Tijuana, Mexico that provides a high standard of care for families who rely on free consultations and medications. Her example and passion to help our communities has motivated others to advocate for those who do not have a voice and create networks of support."

  • Outstanding Contributions to Biology: Shyane Masters

    Faculty Nominator: Dr. George Brusch

    "Shyane joined my lab in January of 2023, and she hit the ground running. Shyane established a solid plan for her final year at CSUSM and assembled a very diverse group of mentors that will challenge her to produce significant scientific achievement before even starting a Ph.D. program. Shyane then mastered multiple lab- and field-based techniques to assess various aspects of shark ecology during an REU and hydric physiology for a lab-based experiment here on campus. Shyane has since plowed through experiments, each with their own challenges, to have a data set that will already produce two first-authored publications. Shyane’s rapid and successful progress at each step reflects the intelligence, drive, and organization that Shyane brings to the lab every day. Despite Shyane’s high productivity, Shyane pays close attention to every detail and scrutinizes every option available. Shyane takes a forward-minded but cautious approach to tackling unfamiliar tasks. Rather than designing her research within the limits of the technical abilities present in my lab, Shyane reaches out to other faculty for guidance on unfamiliar techniques. Shyane is clearly the real deal when it comes to someone who strives without hesitation to be a difference maker in her field."


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