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Sunday, December 10, 2023

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Left to right top: Alina Bilal, Blaire O'Neal, Briana Thrift, Hena Din, Janna Gordon. Left to right bottom: Lisa Mash, Luca Carmignani, Madeleine Werhane, Megan Monsanto, Tania Mejia-O'Donnell. Left to right top: Alina Bilal, Blaire O'Neal, Briana Thrift, Hena Din, Janna Gordon. Left to right bottom: Lisa Mash, Luca Carmignani, Madeleine Werhane, Megan Monsanto, Tania Mejia-O'Donnell.

SDSU Students Named Inamori Fellows

10 San Diego State students have been named 2018-2019 Inamori Fellows.
By Lainie Fraser

As part of the annual Kyoto Prize Symposium, the Inamori Foundation recognizes 10 SDSU graduate students and Ph.D. candidates during an all-campus event. The selected students, recommended for the fellowship by SDSU faculty advisors, are named Inamori Fellows and receive $5,000 scholarships. 

The following are the 2018-2019 Inamori Fellows:

Alina Bilal, Biology
Alina Bilal
Bilal is a master’s student in the cellular and molecular biology program. She works in Chris Glembotski’s lab at the SDSU Heart Institute. Born in California, Bilal moved to Damascus, Syria, at the age of 11. When she returned to the United States, she enrolled in Grossmont College and transferred to SDSU where she graduated with a B.A. in interdisciplinary studies with emphasis in anthropology, biology and statistics. 
Bilal’s research focuses on developing tools that selectively target gene expression in different cells of the heart using a viral
vector. She hopes this will help develop a better understanding of the mechanisms of heart disease. She is passionate about the work done in Glembotki’s lab because of its high impact and relevance to medicine.
Blaire O’Neal, Geography
Blaire O'Neal
Blaire O’Neal is a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the joint program in geography at SDSU and the University of California, Santa Barbara. She prides herself on research that challenges the status quo, gives voice to the disenfranchised and creates opportunities to improve society. 

O’Neal is pursuing research in environmental science, merging her interests in urban geography, conservation and social justice. Her dissertation focuses on the potential role of technologically advanced food production in achieving food justice in cities.

Briana Thrift, Public Health
Briana Thrift
Briana Thrift is a second-year Master of Public Health candidate, specializing in epidemiology. She aspires to raise awareness of the human rights violations and health disparities she has witnessed
within her own community, and disrupt systemic barriers faced by vulnerable communities. In 2016, Briana received her B.S. in public health with a minor in African American studies from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). 

As a black and queer activist, Thrift is invested in conducting HIV and sexual health research to promote healthy outcomes among medically underserved communities. As a graduate student, she has worked alongside faculty from both UCSD and SDSU, studying HIV and interconnected components through mixed methodologies. Since 2016, Thrift has been heavily involved in Jamila Stockman's and Laramie Smith’s EmPower Women project, investigating stigma-related factors, social support, and women’s engagement in HIV treatment. Ultimately, she aspires to serve as a faculty mentor and behavioral epidemiologist, focusing on Black LGBTQIA community health outcomes and improving sexual and gender minority access to preventative care.

Hena Din, Public Health
Hena Din
Hena Din completed her undergraduate degree in human biology at UCSD and her master’s in public health at SDSU. Her interests in public health include multicultural health evaluation and system level approaches to solving health issues.
Din has worked extensively with the refugee community in San Diego and with the American Muslim community nationally, researching topics from physical activity to mental health. She has also worked for many years with the Latino community through several projects at the Institute for Behavioral and Community Health (IBACH) including a childhood obesity demonstration project, a community wide physical activity intervention and as a project manager of a minority training program. Din currently serves as the surgical research coordinator conducting and supporting research at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego. Here she works on patient health outcomes and quality of life-based research across the surgical divisions.

Janna Gordon, Psychology
Janna Gordon
Janna Gordon is a fifth-year doctoral candidate in the SDSU-UCSD joint program in clinical psychology with a training emphasis in behavioral medicine. She has worked with SDSU researcher Kristen Wells in the Cancer Disparities and Cancer Communication Lab at SDSU since 2014.

Gordon’s research aims to identify and reduce health disparities among underserved populations, particularly in the context of HIV and cancer. She is particularly interested in targeting disparities and increasing quality of care for people living with HIV and sexual and gender minorities, especially with regard to cancer prevention, detection treatment and survivorship. 

Lisa Mash
Lisa Mash
Lisa Mash is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the joint program in clinical psychology at SDSU and UCSD.
She works with SDSU researcher Ralph-Axel Müller studying the neural basis of autism spectrum disorders.

Her research explores dynamic brain functioning in these individuals using novel, multimodal neuroimaging approaches. Mash has been awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to support this work. Her past research spans a range of topics including animal learning and cognition, neural correlates of a rare genetic disorder, and sensory processing in autism.

Luca Carmignani
Luca Carmignani
Luca Carmignani is in his fourth year of the joint doctoral program in mechanical and aerospace engineering at SDSU and UCSD. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering at the University of Pisa in his native Italy.

His research focuses on small-scale flames in normal and reduced gravity and is carried out under the supervision of Subrata Bhattacharjee at SDSU, and in collaboration with the NASA Glenn Research Center. Carmignani co-authored several journal papers and 
last year won the top prize at the UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering Research Expo. Future space missions have the potential to last several months, and he hopes his contributions will help with new spacecraft fire safety.

Madeleine Werhane, Psychology
Madeleine Werhane
Madeleine Werhane is a fifth-year doctoral student in neuropsychology in the clinical psychology joint doctoral program at SDSU and UCSD. In addition to her doctoral studies, she is also pursuing a concurrent master’s in public health with an emphasis in epidemiology through SDSU.

Her current research largely focuses on integrating critical findings from populations at increased risk for dementia, increased genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease, a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, or increased presence of vascular or medical risk factors in order to more effectively model pathological brain aging processes. Specifically, she is interested in elucidating the role of potentially modifiable risk factors for the initiation and promotion of neurocognitive decline in older adults, such as risk factors linked to cerebrovascular dysfunction.

Megan Monsanto, Cell and Molecular Biology
Megan Monsanto
Megan Monsanto is a doctoral candidate in the cell and molecular biology program. Monsanto was born in San Diego and moved to South Carolina when she was three. She completed her bachelor’s degree in genetics at Clemson University and worked for two years as a research associate at the Clemson University Genomics Institute.

Monsanto works with SDSU professor Mark Sussman whose cardiac stem cell research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health. Together they work to develop treatments for patients with heart disease. Her graduate project focuses on isolating novel stem cells from the human heart and combining these distinct stem cells into a three-dimensional structure termed a CardioCluster. She believes these CardioClusters may be the newest way of treating heart disease. She also enjoys sharing her research at conferences and symposiums such as the American Heart Association’s yearly scientific sessions, as well as SDSU’s annual Student Research Symposium. 

Tania Mejia-O’Donnell, Criminal Justice
Tania Mejia-O'Donnell
Tania Mejia-O’Donnell is finishing her master’s degree in criminal justice and criminology. She received her bachelor’s degree in communication with a minor in social advocacy from Humboldt State University before coming to SDSU. Mejia is passionate about prison reform and wholeheartedly believes in second chances. Upon completion of her degree, she plans to continue working in the field of prisoner reentry, and to pursue a doctoral degree to become an educator and researcher working in the criminal justice system.

Mejia’s research interests include corrections, prisoner reentry, and desistance. Her thesis is exploring inmates’ pen pal experiences through, a pen pal soliciting website. This research will contribute to policy regarding inmate personal ads and the implementation of befriending services.