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    AAMC MOSAIC 2022 Cohort Scholars

    AAMC’s MOSAIC Program Scholars are select National Institute of Health (NIH)-K99/R00 awardees who hail from diverse backgrounds, for example from groups underrepresented in research, as they transition from postdoctoral appointments into academic research faculty positions.

    Kynon Jade Benjamin
    Kynon Jade Benjamin, PhD

    Kynon Jade Benjamin, PhD

    Project Title: Comprehensive Computational Analysis of Genetic and Regulatory Differences Between Individuals With African and European Ancestries Across Four Brain Regions

    Institution: Lieber Institute, Inc.

    Born and raised in a large extended family from Indianapolis, Indiana, Kynon Jade Benjamin is proud to be the first doctor in his family. Science has always been a passion for Dr. Benjamin, and he remembers his family encouraging his interest by giving him a microscope and lab coat for Christmas when he was 10. He earned his GED with the support of his family before moving on to Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). At IUPUI, Dr. Benjamin completed his work study at a neuroscience research laboratory. This started his neuroscience research journey, leading to several undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral research awards, as well as poster and oral presentation awards. His current research at the Lieber Institute for Brain Development and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine focuses on the improvement of therapeutics for underresearched communities (i.e., personalized medicine) via investigating ancestry genetic and epigenetic differences for neurological disorders in relevant tissues. Throughout his research path, Dr. Benjamin’s experiences have reinforced the critical need for diversity and creating inclusive spaces. As such, he has worked to provide mentorship and representation as well as advocate for opportunities for other underrepresented minorities.

    Grant ID: MD0169640

    Kyle A. Cottrell
    Kyle A. Cottrell, PhD

    Kyle A. Cottrell, PhD

    Project Title: Identifying Determinants of ADAR-Dependency in Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

    Institution: Washington University

    Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities

    Kyle A. Cottrell grew up in a small town in southwest Missouri. He began his undergraduate studies at Ozarks Technical Community College before transferring to Missouri State University. It was there while volunteering in a laboratory that he became interested in biomedical research. He earned his BS and MS at Missouri State and his PhD from Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL). His doctoral studies focused on posttranscriptional regulation by miRNAs and RNA-binding proteins. As a postdoctoral research associate at WUSTL, Dr. Cottrell studies the RNA editing enzyme ADAR and its role in breast cancer. As a first-generation student from a low-socioeconomic background, he is keenly aware of the challenges those from disadvantaged backgrounds face in academia. Dr. Cottrell has taken an active role in improving diversity, equity, and inclusion in biomedical research, both at the individual level through his mentorship of trainees from underrepresented backgrounds and at a larger scale through his work outside of the laboratory. As a member of the Washington University Postdoc Society, he has organized several events focused on career development. Dr. Cottrell founded First-Gen Scholars to provide mentorship, community, and other resources for trainees who are first-generation students or who are from low-socioeconomic backgrounds so that they will be better equipped to navigate careers in academia.

    Grant ID: MD016946

    Mateo P. Farina
    Mateo P. Farina, PhD

    Mateo P. Farina, PhD

    Project Title: Epigenetic Mechanisms Linking Lifetime Social and Environmental Exposures to Cognitive Aging

    Institution: University of Southern California

    Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute on Aging

    Mateo P. Farina attended high school in rural Oklahoma, where he became interested in health and aging after volunteering with a local hospice organization. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University, during which he became interested in the impact of social and policy contexts on health as well as how historical processes have shaped racial inequalities in the United States and Brazil. Dr. Farina completed his Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin, where he focused on demography and the social determinants of aging through a life course perspective. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Southern California’s school of gerontology. As a sociologist, demographer, and gerontologist, he seeks to understand how life course exposures impact physiological and cognitive aging with attention to differences in life course pathways across racial and ethnic groups. Dr. Farina is also excited about promoting and supporting diversity in the sciences; he currently mentors several graduate students from diverse and disadvantaged backgrounds.

    Grant ID: AG076964

    Leandra K. Figueroa-Hall
    Leandra K. Figueroa-Hall, PhD

    Leandra K. Figueroa-Hall, PhD

    Project Title: In Vivo Inflammatory Challenge to Elucidate the Role of the Toll-Like Receptor 4 Pathway in Depression

    Institution: Laureate Institute for Brain Research

    Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute on Mental Health

    Leandra K. Figueroa-Hall grew up on the island of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, with her Puerto Rican father and Trinidadian mother. It was a privilege to be the first person in her family to receive a Ph.D. Her interest in science began with her participation in an after-school program called Medical Explorers. She earned an M.Sc. from the University of Maryland School of Medicine with a focus on molecular mechanisms of toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) and a Ph.D. from the Oklahoma State University’s Center for Health Sciences focused on characterization of TLR4 neuroinflammatory signaling. After a 2-year postdoctoral fellowship at Yale University gaining experience in translational-based research and cutting-edge techniques, Dr. Figueroa-Hall is now a postdoctoral research associate at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research (LIBR). Her cumulative training in TLR4 has led to her current interest in defining the role of TLR4 signaling in major depressive disorder. During her graduate studies, she participated in STEM mentorship and outreach activities with elementary school children. Dr. Figueroa-Hall is currently a member of LIBR’s Diversity Committee and the Philanthropy and Community Engagement subcommittee, and she is committed to continuing her work mentoring underrepresented students and young scientists.

    Grant ID: MH126950

    Melissa Flores
    Melissa Flores, PhD

    Melissa Flores, PhD

    Project Title: Toward Accurate Cardiovascular Disease Prediction in Hispanics/Latinos: Modeling Risk and Resilience Factors

    Institution: University of Arizona

    Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

    Melissa Flores grew up in Midland, Texas, and has always been avidly curious about the natural and social world. Her undergraduate research experiences at the University of Texas at Austin and early community work in behavioral health spurred her interest in social dynamics and health. She continued her education at the University of Arizona, where she earned a PhD in family studies and human development and a minor in biostatistics. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the department of psychology at the University of Arizona, working with Dr. John M. Ruiz. As a developmental scientist, she aims to understand both social and structural factors associated with the persistence of health disparities in Latina/o/x populations using a resilience-focused lens. She is interested in novel and advanced quantitative methods to model complex social environments as they relate to cardiovascular disease. Dr. Flores is enthusiastic about and committed to strengthening the academic pipeline for diverse scholars. She is an active mentor across several academic domains spanning middle (6th to 10th grade) to graduate school.

    Grant ID: HL157611

    Erica L. O’Brien
    Erica L. O’Brien, PhD

    Erica L. O’Brien, PhD

    Project Title: Pathways Linking Negative Self-Views of Aging to Physical Activity in Daily Life: An Intensive Within-Person Approach

    Institution: Pennsylvania State University

    Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute on Aging

    Erica L. O’Brien has lived in various parts of the United States, as well as abroad. Her interest in science emerged from her undergraduate research experience, which focused on older adults and the experience of aging. She earned her BS in sociology from Virginia Tech and a PhD in psychology with an emphasis on lifespan development from North Carolina State University. In 2019, she began her postdoctoral training as a T32 fellow in the center for healthy aging at Pennsylvania State University. Her research interests are in understanding and promoting the everyday psychological and behavioral pathways that lead to healthy aging. Dr. O’Brien has consistently sought to integrate her scientific training with mentoring, education, and outreach activities aimed at engaging students from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds in STEM work. She looks forward to continuing initiatives designed to promote diversity in science and academia as an independent investigator.

    Grant ID: AG075259

    Maria Mora Pinzon
    Maria Mora Pinzon, MS, MD

    Maria Mora Pinzon, MS, MD

    Project Title: Improving Access to Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias Care Services for Latinx Individuals at Community Health Clinics. A Multiphase Mixed Methods Study.

    Institution: University of Wisconsin-Madison

    Funding NIH Institute/Center: National Institute on Aging

    Maria Mora Pinzon was born and raised in Venezuela, where she attended medical school at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, Escuela José María Vargas. After immigrating to the United States, she completed a master’s degree in clinical research from Rush University in Chicago, Illinois, and in 2017 she completed her residency in general preventive medicine and public health at the University of Wisconsin (UW)–Madison. She also completed a T32-funded primary care research fellowship at the UW–Madison department of family medicine and community health and is currently a scientist with the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute. Dr. Mora Pinzon has a leadership position in the American College of Preventive Medicine and is co-founder of the Twitter community #LatinasInMedicine, which serves to amplify the voices of Latinas in the health care field. Her work in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias seeks to improve access to care for Hispanic/Latino older adults, particularly those whose primary language is Spanish. To achieve this goal, she works with stakeholders and communities to improve services in ways that are culturally appropriate and sustainable.

    Grant ID: AG076966

    Meet our 2021 Cohort Scholars