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Meet the 30 Dean's Honored Graduates for this Year

Meet the 30 Dean's Honored Graduates for this Year

Each year, the College of Natural Sciences bestows its highest honors for graduating seniors on a select group of students. These students, known as Dean's Honored Graduates demonstrate excellence across multiple domains, achieving not only academically but in scientific research, independent intellectual pursuits, leadership, service, entrepreneurship and community building. Below are biographies of the 30 outstanding students selected by a committee of College of Natural Sciences faculty for this distinction in 2020.


Keerthana Chakka

Graduating with Honors with a B.S. in Biochemistry, Dean's Scholars and a B.A. in Plan II Honors

Keerthan's research for the past four years has explored the genetic mechanisms for the recovery of motor function in Parkinson's Disease. She was a member of the Natural Sciences Council and the Undergraduate Research Journal since her freshman year. In her junior year, she co-founded the UT Student Foundation, an organization dedicated to improving philanthropy on campus and raising funds for services that benefit students in need. Keerthana is an active volunteer at the C.D. Doyle Clinic and the Adults with IDD program. She is a recipient of multiple merit awards, including the Eva Stevenson Woods Endowed Scholarship and the Joan F. Curry Endowed Scholarship. Over the summers, she has interned in the CPRIT Computational Biology Fellowship program and the Stanford Canary CREST program. After graduation, Keerthana will attend medical school at UT Southwestern.

Ezzeddine Elmir

Graduating with an Honors B.S.A in Biochemistry through the Health Science Scholars Honors Program

Ezzeddine's thesis, "Understanding How Mutations in the RNA Helicase Dhr1 Suppress Loss of the Methyltransferase Bud23 in Biogenesis of Small Ribosomal Subunits," was written under the supervision of Dr. Arlen Johnson. He will be publishing as a co-author on a research paper in collaboration with his mentors Joshua Black and Dr. Arlen Johnson. Ezzeddine also conducted research at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center through the CPRIT-CURE Summer Research Fellowship. This has led to a co-author publication with his mentors Dr. Alicia Blessing and Dr. Robert Bast Jr. He presented at multiple research conferences, of which he won the Molecular Biology Excellence Award at the Undergraduate Research Forum in spring of 2019 and the First Place Poster Presentation Award at the Longhorn Research Poster Session in spring of 2020. Ezzeddine served as a Freshman Research Initiative peer mentor, as financial director of the Health Careers Mentorship Program, and as fundraising director of the University of Texas branch of the American Medical Student Association, where he organized different fundraising and philanthropic events to raise funds for the organization itself and for the non-profit People's Community Clinic. Ezzeddine is the recipient of the Natural Sciences 21st Century Endowed Presidential Scholarship, the Charles Morton Share Trust Scholarship, the Ralph A. Steiner M.D. Scholarship, and the Texas Excellence in Jobs and Service Award. After graduation, he will attend the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Arinzechukwu Nwagbata

Graduating with an Honors B.S.A. in Biochemistry in the Health Science Scholars Program, and a certificate in Business of Healthcare from the McCombs School of Business

Arinze's research focused on examining psychological distress of manual labor on students from Southeastern Nigeria. He hails from Abagana, Anambra State, Nigeria. The project, which was overseen by Dr. Toyin Falola, was inspired by his experiences as a student in Nigeria and as a founder of a non-profit aimed at financially assisting Nigerian college students in need. The recipient of an Aspire Award for Staff and Faculty Choice, Arinze served as a Freshman Research Initiative Peer Mentor, Health Careers Mentorship Program co-chair, and Excellence Mentorship Club co-founder and president. He interned at the University of Florida Summer Health Professions Program, Seton Spine and Scoliosis Center, and Kind Clinic. He also served in the CNS Council for Diversity Engagement, Natural Sciences Council, and the Minority Association of Premedical Students. Throughout college, Arinze worked as a full-time night auditor at Super 8 Downtown Capitol and as a course assistant for the Texas Interdisciplinary Plan Scholars, who honored him in 2017 for his academic achievements and as the Most Ambitious Scholar. He also held summer jobs as a camp counselor at Dell Medical School and as a teaching assistant for the GeoFORCE program in the Jackson School of Geosciences. After graduation, Arinze will be attending Harvard Medical School to pursue an MD/MBA degree.

Samantha Refvik

Graduating with an Honors B.S. in Biochemistry in the Dean's Scholars Honors Program and a Certificate in Elements of Computing

Samantha worked in the lab of Dr. Tanya Paull for her thesis, "In Vitro Characterization of the Nucleolytic Processing of R-loops." Her research focused on understanding how certain transcription byproducts could be processed to contribute to genomic instability in cancer and neurodegenerative disease. For this work, she won awards for Excellence in Molecular Biology twice at the Undergraduate Research Forum. She also received a Freshmen Research Initiative Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship and the Livestrong Cancer Institute's Summer Research Fellowship, and she was a co-author of a publication from Dr. Kyle Miller's lab. Outside of the lab, Samantha tutored high school students at Gonzalo Garza Independence High School and helped coach an elementary school robotics team. Following graduation, she will be staying at UT Austin to pursue her Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Biology with Dr. Tanya Paull.

Xiaoman "Mary" Yu

Graduating with a B.S. in Biochemistry and a certificate in Business Foundations

Mary's research under the guidance of Dr. Lulu Cambronne focused on transforming yeast lacking their known mitochondrial NAD transporter with mammalian mitochondrial proteins and screening the transformants to identify potential transporters of NAD in mammalian mitochondria. She presented her work, at the CNS Fall Undergraduate Research Symposium and was a session winner. Her previous research experience includes participating in the Bioactive Molecules stream of the Freshman Research Initiative and interning in Dr. Jianhua Yang's lab at the Dan L. Duncan Cancer Center. Mary also served as a Peer Learning Assistant in the chemistry department, volunteered at the Mother's Milk Bank in Austin and Texas Children's Hospital, and founded the UT Austin chapter of the Kidney Disease Screening and Awareness Program. She is the recipient of the TIDES Advanced Summer Research Fellowship, Margaret Jane McKinney Lewis Fellowship, and Brian T. Muecke Endowed Presidential Scholarship. After graduation, Mary will pursue her M.D. at Baylor College of Medicine.


Matthew Duncan

Graduating with a B.S.A. in Biology with a Forensic Science Certificate

Matthew started doing research in the Ellington Lab during his junior year, with Stella Wang as his mentor. He focused his research on designing novel genetic circuits to produce non-linear outputs and on characterizing RNA Repressors used in genetic circuits. The goal of these genetic circuits would be to produce programmable genetic behaviors and responses in vivo. Outside of research, he was also a Cadet in UT's Army ROTC program, and he is in the Texas National Guard. Following graduation, he will be commissioning as a lieutenant into the Texas Army National Guard as an engineer officer. 

Vylan Nguyen

Graduating with an Honors B.S.A. in Biology in the Polymathic Scholars Honors program

Vylan's chosen field in Polymathic Scholars is "Epidemiology in Culture" and she incorporates her interests in health, disease, and art history in her thesis "In the Context of Societal Change: Trends in Disease Depiction in Visual Art." Vylan was an undergraduate research assistant in the Ellington Lab, where she optimized the production protocol of cost-effective cellular reagents. Her efforts aim to replace the use of standardized purified enzymes in molecular biology research and education, and this technology has been applied to the Ellington Lab's efforts at developing diagnostic tests for COVID-19. Prior to her work in the Ellington Lab, she was a research volunteer in the Bashor Lab at Rice University. She has also been a student and lead peer mentor in the DIY Diagnostics Freshman Research Initiative stream, teaching introductory laboratory techniques to first-year students and assisting them with developing independent research projects. She has volunteered with several organizations, including Ascension Seton and Dell Seton Medical Centers, Houston Methodist Hospital, Alpha Phi Omega Service Fraternity, and the Central Texas Food Bank. She is also an executive officer for UT Austin Chapter-Foundation of International Medical Relief for Children, with whom she volunteered in Costa Rica on a medical mission trip. After graduation, Vylan will be working as a clinical assistant and intends to pursue a career as a physician.

Briana Ortiz

Graduating with a BSA in Biology, a certificate in Social Inequality, Health, and Policy, and a concentration in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Throughout her time on campus, Briana served on the college's Council for Diversity Engagement, in the Women in Natural Sciences (WINS) program, where she was a mentor and program assistant, and as a student life assistant within the College of Natural Sciences. Briana served in the Freshman Research Initiative's Functional Genomics stream, in the Advanced Qualitative research lab within the School of Social Work, and in the Gender Health Equity Lab within the College of Education. Briana assisted in the creation of CNS's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Concentration and presented at the annual Association of American Colleges and Universities 2020 conference. She is an Admissions Ambassador, a member of the Health Advocacy Student Coalition and Women in Medicine, and an officer of Tribeta. Briana has spent her summers as a health policy intern for her local congressman, a WINS summer orientation advisor, a student fellow at the Fejér County Szent György Teaching Hospital in Hungary, and a volunteer in Argentina. She is a Texas Parents Association Outstanding Student Award Winner, a Staff and Faculty Choice Aspire Award Winner, a Service and Leadership Aspire Award Winner, and Dean's Choice Aspire Award winner. She will be attending The University of Texas Medical Branch in the fall to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor.

Jose Angel Torres

Graduating with a B.S. in Human Biology and a certificate in Elements of Computing

Jose is a graduate of the Biology Scholars Program and has conducted research in the lab of Dr. Andrew Ellington focusing on the development of low-cost, artificial intelligence systems for automated directed-evolution along with the creation of a 3D printed Loop-mediated isothermal amplification reaction visualization apparatus. Through the Ellington Lab, he was a member of two Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) projects where he developed a full-plant fluorescence time-lapse imaging system, a microcomputer-based volatile organic compound quantification system, and portable plant off-gas monitoring chambers. He was also lead peer mentor for the Freshman Research Initiative Makerspace-DIY Diagnostics research stream through which he assisted in the development of a SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) diagnostic. Jose is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Beta Phi honor societies, a member of the Texas Alpha PhiOmega service fraternity, and a founding member and officer for the UT Austin chapter-Foundation for the International Relief of Children. He has received The Longhorn Creators Foundation-Excellence in Creativity Award for game development and has been an active volunteer at Ascension hospitals across Austin and the Central Texas Food Bank. After graduation, Jose will be working as a clinical researcher and intends to pursue a medical degree. 

Shaochen "Tiger" You

Graduating with an Honors B.S. in Biology in the Dean's Scholars Honors Program

For his thesis research, Tiger worked with Dr. Adrian Keatinge-Clay to engineer biological protein assembly lines to produce new small molecules. He co-authored a paper from this work published in ACS Synthetic Biology, and he also spent a summer working at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where he worked under Dr. Daniel Bachovchin to develop new immunotherapies. Originally from Plano, Tiger has presented his research at multiple conferences and won Best Presentation in Biochemistry at the UT Austin Fall Undergraduate Research Symposium. A member of Phi Beta Kappa, Tiger has received the Freshman Research Initiative Summer Research Fellowship, the Natural Sciences 21st Century Endowed Presidential Scholarship, and a Research Internships in Science and Engineering (RISE) Germany Scholarship to perform research at the University of Marburg in Germany. Outside the lab, Tiger has served as a teaching assistant for Organic Chemistry I & II and Originality in the Arts and Sciences. He also was a member of the Dean's Scholars Council and played in the UT University Orchestra as a bassoonist. After graduation, he will pursue a Ph.D. in Chemical and Biological Sciences at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. 


Inki Lee

Graduating with an Honors B.S. in Chemistry in the Dean's Scholars Honors program

Inki worked in Dr. Sean Roberts' lab to improve energy transport and efficiency using semiconductor nanocrystals. His thesis focused on quantum dots to manipulate energy transfer. His work is currently being prepared for publication. In addition to his research, Inki participated in UT's University Orchestra as well as the Undergraduate Research Journal. He likes to tutor others in chemistry and has been an undergraduate teaching assistant in Physical Chemistry. He has received the Endowed Presidential Scholarship, the Undergraduate Research Fellowship, and multiple travel awards for presenting his research at various chemistry conferences. After graduation, Inki will pursue his Ph.D. in Chemistry at Columbia University. 

Kavya Rajesh

Graduating with an Honors B.S. in Chemistry in the Dean's Scholars Honors Program

Kavya has conducted research in Dr. Carlos Baiz's lab for the past four years. She studies protein denaturation in complex solvents using IR spectroscopy as simple models for organ systems, in an effort to stop ice formation and make long-term cryopreservation possible. She has worked with a team of scientists to study the problem of organ preservation under the guidance of Dr. Marc Lewis as part of the Plan II SAWIAGOS Foundation. Kavya won the FSTI Award for Excellence in Chemistry, the FURS Best Presenter award, and the Undergraduate Research Fellowship. She also presented her work at the 2018 American Chemical Society conference. She has received the John C. Gilbert Endowed Scholarship in Chemistry, the DOW Chemical Endowed Scholarship, and the Unrestricted Endowed Presidential Scholarship. Kavya has served as the education coordinator for C.D. Doyle (a free clinic), the managing editor of the Texas Undergraduate Research Journal, and the co-founder of The Triple Helix at UT Austin. In the fall, Kavya will pursue an M.D. at the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Computer Science

Michael Brenan

Graduating with an M.S. in Computer Science in a 5-year integrated program

Michael, a proud Turing Scholar, developed an early love for computers through scripting and modifying games as a child, followed by years of competitive programming and internships at companies like Lockheed Martin, Google, and Palantir. Originally from Katy, Texas, he is excited to see how technology will change the world while remaining an advocate for responsible tech development. 

Sheng Cao

Graduating with an Honors B.S. in Computer Science in the Turing Scholars Honors program

Sheng did his research on applying neural networks to image compression. Under the supervision of Dr. Philipp Krähenbühl, he developed a state-of-the-art image compression method that out-performs every other current method on compression rate. Sheng decided to make his neural network and compression method available to anyone with the hope that it can bring about a more efficient storage format for trillions of images on the internet. He served as an officer of the Turing Scholars Student Association for four years, including one year as co-president, and served as a mentor to first-year computer science students. After graduation he will work at Facebook as a software engineer. 

Shrey Desai

Graduating with a B.S. in Computer Science

Shrey's research under Dr. Greg Durrett and Dr. Jessy Li revolves around making natural language processing systems more robust when applied to different settings. His honors thesis explores how constraining summarization models with linguistic notions of syntax greatly increases their ability to summarize a wide variety of documents while still being fully flexible, interpretable, and controllable. Shrey's work has culminated in four first-author publications, two of which appeared at top-tier NLP conferences: Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing (EMNLP) and the Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL). Shrey has also received numerous awards, including a Lala Fay & Claude DeVan Watts Endowed Presidential Scholarship, EMNLP Student Scholarship, Computing Research Association Outstanding Research Award (Honorable Mention), and a College of Natural Sciences Undergraduate Research Fellowship. He was also an undergraduate teaching assistant for operating systems and natural language processing. Following graduation, Shrey will work as a software engineer at Facebook AI.

Mayuri Raja

Graduating with a B.S.A. in Computer Science in the Polymathic Scholars program

Mayuri is from Coppell, Texas, and she also was in the Turing Scholars Honors program. Mayuri's Polymathic Scholars thesis, titled "The Politicization of Second-Generation South Asian Immigrants," examines the ways that the South Asian immigrant experience and the politicization of first-generation immigrants impacts the formation of political opinions in their second-generation children. She has additionally worked in the Freshman Research Initiative Autonomous Robotics stream for two years, where she briefly contributed to the Robocup@Home team's efforts. In addition to her research work, Mayuri has taken part in many other passion projects during her time at UT. With her faculty mentor, Dr. Alison Norman, Mayuri led an outreach program to bring computer science classes to Bertha Sadler Means Middle School for a year and a half. Mayuri is an avid racial justice activist with AZAAD Austin, a South Asian leftist collective, and she is currently serving as tri-chair on the Steering Committee for the City of Austin Community Climate Plan. Mayuri has also been a producer, director, and actor for Foot in the Door Theatre, and she founded and served as co-president of embrACE, a student organization for asexual and aromantic students to meet and support each other. After graduation, Mayuri will work as a software engineer at Google, while continuing to push her racial justice and theater work forward.

Ariel Szekely

Graduating with an Honors B.S. in Computer Science in the Turing Scholars Honors program

Ariel's research at the intersection of computer security and operating systems has challenged the state-of-the-art in secure computation. His honors thesis, titled "Exploring GPU Timing Side-Channels," developed a novel technique to leak sensitive information from Trusted Execution Environments in modern cloud infrastructures. This work was featured in his first co-authored publication, "Telekine: Secure Computing with Cloud GPUs." A Turing Scholar, Ariel has had the privilege of being advised by Dr. Emmett Witchel and Dr. Christopher J Rossbach during his research career at UT. Outside of school Ariel is an avid soccer player, a jazz pianist, and a proud Mexican immigrant. He has also served as a UTCS Ambassador and is deeply involved in the Turing Scholars Student Association. During his time at UT, Ariel has received a number of awards, including an NSF REU, a UT Presidential Scholarship, a Computing Research Association Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Honorable Mention, and a Louis E. Rosier Memorial Scholarship. During his graduate studies, he will be supported by an MIT EECS Departmental Fellowship and an MIT Presidential Fellowship sponsored by the Lemelson Foundation. Upon graduation, Ariel will be attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to pursue a Ph.D. in Computer Science.

Environmental Science

Linda Cox

Graduating with a B.S. in Environmental Science in the Polymathic Scholars Honors program

Linda's research on climate change communications merged her interest in communications and political science with her study of environmental science. She also conducted research under Dr. Campitelli on native Texas grass. Linda completed internships with the Kirk Watson Campaign Academy and Keep Texas Beautiful. During her time at UT, she served as a peer mentor for the Freshman Research Initiative in the Biology of Biofuels stream. She has also served as a member of the Education & Outreach Team for the Campus Environmental Center. Following graduation, Linda will serve as an intern for the Student Conservation Association. After this internship, she plans to attend law school and pursue a career in environmental law.

Human Development and Family Sciences

Ashley Ikwuagwu

Graduating with a B.S.A. in Human Development and Family Sciences and a minor in African and African Diaspora Studies

Ashley's service experiences include creating the For Texas Endowment Scholarship, which will provide financial assistance for self-identified minority women to attend UT with Texas Orange Jackets. Ashley, a Houston native, also worked to amplify student voices and create inclusive environments with both the Multicultural Engagement Center and the College's Council for Diversity Engagement. Ashley also conducted research in the Daily Living Project lab, under the guidance of faculty member Dr. Marci Gleason, where she studied the changes in salivary cortisol in first-time parents across the transition to parenthood. Her immense contributions to all of these corners of campus culminated in her receiving the Heman Sweatt Student Legacy Award and the CNS Aspire Research Excellence Award.

Felicia Rosiji

Graduating with a B.S.A in Human Development and Family Sciences and a Bridging Disciplines Certificate in Child and Society with a concentration in Child and Health.

Felicia started her research journey in the Freshman Research Initiative program, under the supervision of Dr. Stan Roux and Dr. Greg Clark in the Discovering Signals stream. In this lab, she performed novel experiments that tested the effects of varying extracellular nucleotide treatments on Arabidopsis root hairs. Felicia expanded her research interests by joining the Project PISCES lab under the direction of Dr. Aprile Benner. She helped to investigate the positive and negative influences of school climate on youth development. Felicia conducted an independent study which examined adolescent physical and mental health outcomes in relation to perceived peer racial discrimination, and the moderating role of shift and persist coping strategies. She won the CNS Award for Excellence in Human Ecology and served as a STEM Study tutor and a College Readiness Mentor. Felicia has been a distinguished college scholar for two consecutive years. She will attend Baylor College of Medicine this fall.


Zachary Gardner

Graduating with a B.S. in Mathematics with Departmental Honors

Working under the guidance of Dr. Sam Raskin, Zachary completed his thesis, "The Mordell-Weil Theorem for Abelian Varieties Over Global Fields," giving an expository account of a result that has found wide application in cryptography and arithmetic statistics. This thesis grew out of earlier independent studies conducted with Dr. Raskin, covering algebraic geometry, local class field theory, and étale cohomology among other topics. Zachary is a co-founder and leader of the PMA Board for Student Advocacy, an organization committed to systemic change for students in PMA. He has served as videographer, secretary, and president of the UT Math Club, where he built bridges within the math department, founded and served as chief editor of the UT Austin Undergraduate Mathematics Journal, and organized a forum for undergraduate students to give weekly math talks. Zachary is a co-organizer of the Basic Algebraic Geometry Seminar and Summer Minicourses 2020 (SMC 2020), forums for undergraduate and graduate students to present and learn together. He has served as a course leader for SMC 2019 and a two-time counselor at the Ross USA Mathematics Program. Zachary is a recipient of a Barrett Fellowship and Carmelina Cutro Albino Memorial Endowed Presidential Scholarship. After graduation, Zachary will pursue his Ph.D. in Mathematics at Boston College.

Maike Morrison

Graduating with an Honors B.S. in Mathematics in the Dean's Scholars Honors Program

Maike worked in several research groups at UT. Her current work under Dr. Lauren Ancel Meyers models the demand for COVID-19 isolation beds for people experiencing homelessness. Her previous project resulted in a co-first-author publication, "Conscientious vaccination exemptions in kindergarten to eighth-grade children across Texas schools from 2012 to 2018: A regression analysis" in PLOS Medicine. Her research under Dr. Mark Kirkpatrick explores ecotype delimitation in a superabundant marine microbe and will be submitted as a co-first-author manuscript this summer. Her thesis project under Dr. Stephen Walker explores the mathematics of epidemic models and statistical regression methods. Maike served as the Council Chair for the Dean's Scholars (DS) Honors Program and chaired the DS Distinguished Lecture Series Committee. She was awarded the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, the Alan Kaylor Cline Dean's Scholars Scholarship, and a Freshman Research Initiative Summer Research Fellowship. She was also an Amgen Scholar, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and a Mitchell Award finalist. Her research has won awards at the UT Undergraduate Research Forum, the Capital of Texas Undergraduate Research Conference, the UCSF Summer Research Training Program, and the 2019 Evolution Meeting. In the fall, Maike will begin a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Stanford University. 

Wyatt Reeves

Graduating with an Honors B.S. in Mathematics in the Dean's Scholars Honors Program

Wyatt is primarily interested in geometric representation theory, which is a field of math that uses algebraic geometry to study symmetries. For his thesis, titled "The Kazhdan-Lusztig Conjectures," he worked with Dr. Sam Raskin. The Kazhdan-Lusztig conjectures concern Lie algebras, which are infinitesimal symmetries that arise in geometry and physics, and were proven in the '80s using sophisticated geometric techniques. Wyatt participated in two Research Experiences for Undergraduates funded by the National Science Foundation, one at the University of Michigan, where he studied Galois representations valued in reductive groups and their centralizers, and the other at the University of Chicago, where he studied D-modules. Wyatt also worked with Dr. Scott Aaronson on quantum time-space tradeoffs and with Dr. David Soloveichik on the theory of chemical reaction network computers. With Soloveichik and others, he coauthored a paper called "Composable Rate-Independent Computation in Continuous Chemical Reaction Networks." While at UT, Wyatt also founded and ran the UT Undergraduate Algebraic Geometry Seminar, tutored students at Gonzalo Garza Independence High School, and was an active member of the Dean's Scholars Honors Program. In the fall, Wyatt will begin a Ph.D. in Mathematics at Harvard University, supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and a Peirce Fellowship.


Alejandro Rey Hipolito

Graduating with a B.S.A. in Neuroscience and a B.A. in French

Alejandro began research at UT investigating MAPK inhibitors involved in cancer in the Freshman Research Initiative's Supramolecular Sensors stream. For his subsequent IE Pre-Grad Internship, he explored research in Phonetics under Dr. Barbara Bullock, comparing vowel perception between monolinguals and bilinguals. After a summer NeuroScholars internship at UCLA investigating the cerebellar contribution to autism in the Golshani lab, he resumed research at UT under Dr. Joey Dunsmoor aiming to translate the synaptic tagging hypothesis to humans by enhancing memory through novelty exposure in virtual reality. Throughout his time at UT, Alejandro has worked as a Senior Medical Scribe at Robin Healthcare and peer mentor for both the SIAD course under Dr. Stuart Reichler and the Urban Ecosystems Stream under Dr. Ruth Shear, optimizing extraction methods for sewage indicators in Waller Creek. He also served as Music Director and later President for the UT organization Healing with Harmonies, a music-service organization dedicated to performing music at hospitals, retirement homes, and other areas in need of the joy of music. Alejandro is a recipient of the Eve Stevenson Woods Endowed Presidential Scholarship, a diploma of honor in French Phonetics, and designations as Distinguished College Scholar and member of Pi Delta Phi French Honor Society. After graduation, Alejandro will pursue a Ph.D. in Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine. 

Sara Vargas

Graduating with a B.S.A. in Neuroscience and a minor in Philosophy

As an undergraduate in Dr. George Bittner's lab, Sara investigated how the nervous system adapts to changes in its original connectivity to produce behavior, by developing a PEG-fused sensory-to-motor and motor-to-sensory model, which also contributed to the study of nerve repair injuries. She was inspired to investigate neuroplasticity after taking Bittner's nerve regeneration for vertebrates and invertebrates course. Sara was awarded a S.U.P.E.R Scholarship from the Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology and Neuroscience. She was also awarded and a Lone Star Paralysis Foundation Scholarship. After graduation, she joined Bittner's lab as a research scientist to continue studying neuroplasticity and the role of PEG-fused chimeric connections. More recently, she has joined the Electrophysiology team at the Allen Institute in Seattle, Washington, to perform in vitro patch-clamp experiments to help characterize cell types for the mouse and human brain.

Nutritional Sciences

Amari Johnson

Graduating with Honors in Advanced Nutritional Sciences

Amari's research focused on metabolic biomarkers in Kawasaki Disease, and she worked in the lab of Dr. Stefano Tiziani. She also participated in a medical mission trip to Panama in 2018 and served as external vice president of UT Austin's Future Doctors of America pre-med organization. Amari volunteered with Communities in Schools of Central Texas. Because she enjoys working with children and families, she spent much of her time outside of the classroom babysitting. Amari, who is from Houston, plans to attend Baylor College of Medicine in the fall for medical school. She also will begin classes in May at UTHealth School of Public Health for the M.D.-M.P.H. degree program.


Sofia Helpert

Graduating with an Honors B.S. in Physics in the Dean's Scholars Honors Program

Sofia's thesis is titled "Investigating Methods of Image Segmentation for Automated Measurement of SEM Images in the Semiconductor Industry," and it details a project she worked on at SandBox Semiconductor, Inc. under the supervision of Dr. Roger Bonnecaze and Dr. Meghali Chopra. Sofia has published four papers in the 2018 and 2019 SPIE Advanced Lithography Conference Proceedings. Her research has been a wide range of projects aimed at modeling and improving etching processes in the semiconductor industry. These projects have included development and application of a combination of physical models, statistical inference, machine-learning techniques, and image-analysis techniques. She was a recipient of an Astronaut Scholarship in 2019 for her research and is a member of the Dean's Scholars Honors Program and Phi Beta Kappa. As a former double-major in chemical engineering, she was a peer advisor in that department and a member of the OXE Chemical Engineering Honor Society. These experiences influenced her work as an officer of the Physics, Math, and Astronomy Board for Student Advocacy. After graduation, she is planning on working in the tech industry for a year or two before pursuing a Ph.D. in computational science and engineering.

Emrys Peets

Graduating with an Honors B.S. in Physics and Honors B.S. in Mathematics in the Dean's Scholars Honors Program

Emrys's honors thesis discusses methods he developed in neutron detection at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and the Naval Research Laboratory. At LANL, he worked on website development and data analysis in disease spread for the World Health Organization, mineral classification using data from the NASA Mars Curiosity Rover, and neutron yield characterization of a dense plasma focus device. He is the first author on a manuscript to be submitted to Nuclear Instruments and Physics and was awarded a WAVE Fellowship to work at Caltech in research and development for the Light Dark Matter Experiment. His research at UT was conducted in the lab of Dr. Greg Sitz, where he led experiments on the construction and detection of an Inertial Electrostatic Confinement fusion device. A first-generation Longhorn and McNair Scholar, Emrys is a member of Dean's Scholars Leadership Council where he served as co-chair to the distinguished lecture series. He is a co-founder and executive committee member for the Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy Board for Student Advocacy. Emrys received the Dean's Scholar's Alan Kaylor Cline Scholarship, Donald L. Evans Endowed Scholarship, M.S. and Meek Lane Doss Endowed Scholarship, Ira Lon Morgan Presidential Scholarship in Physics, and an Undergraduate Research Fellowship. This fall, he will begin a Ph.D. program in physics at Stanford University.

Public Health

Paola Bojorquez-Ramirez

Graduating with a B.S. in Public Health with a concentration in Social and Behavioral Sciences

For her research, Paola carried out a study at the UT School of Public Health in Brownsville assessing the odds of cognitive impairment in diabetes patients. The Albuquerque native presented her findings at the 2019 Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) National Diversity Conference and UCLA National McNair Conference. With a deep commitment to serving underrepresented populations and addressing health disparities, Paola helped improve doctor-patient communication at the Volunteer Healthcare Clinic as a Spanish interpreter. During her time at UT, she also participated in the Freshman Research Initiative and Biology Scholars Program. She is a Gates Millennium Scholar, Ronald E. McNair Scholar and Hispanic Scholarship Fund Scholar. Following graduation, she will be attending the Yale School of Public Health to pursue a degree in the Department of Chronic Disease Epidemiology. 

Textiles and Apparel

Katherine Yip

Graduating with a B.S. in Textiles and Apparel with a focus in Apparel, Functional and Technical Design and with a BBA in Marketing

Katherine is interested in the intersection of business and design in the fashion industry, specifically in developing the right product for the right consumer. She developed case studies for the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund in merchandising and design, through which she conducted research on the global luxury market and developed a business strategy for an independent fashion designer's expansion to the Chinese market, as well as designed a sustainable apparel collection for a brand collaboration. Throughout her design studies, she investigated various textile treatment techniques and has developed custom pleat boards, transfer prints, and zero-waste patterns. She studied abroad at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, as well as gained experience from various internships in fashion technology, buying, product development, and design and production. Katherine is the recipient of a YMA Fashion Scholarship award and an Endowed Presidential Scholarship. After graduation, she will be starting a full-time Design Training Program at Abercrombie and Fitch to gain design experience in a multinational corporation. 

Where We Stand in Natural Sciences


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Monday, 30 January 2023

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