Saturday, July 20, 2019

Meet the 2019 ASIH Student Diversity and Inclusion Award winners!


Gabriela Arango: I’m a new PhD student at UCB and my main research interest is physiological adaptations for breath-hold diving, specifically those of sea turtles. Currently, I study the aerobic dive capacity of sea turtles, a critical feature in determining plasticity of foraging behavior and the ability of individual turtles to respond to changes in prey distribution and ocean climate. With this information, scientists, conservationists, and policy-makers can improve ocean conservation efforts. Since a key difference between air-breathing diving animals is to whether or not they use their lungs for oxygen storage when diving, I want to explore the underlaying mechanisms of that difference. To investigate that, my research will merge physiology and genetics, as to disseminate the basal adaptations that drive sea turtle’s oxygen storages when diving, as compared to diving mammals. As a first-generation student, I was able to attend college, but I spent many years taking classes without much guidance on how to fulfill my academic requirements. Until I had a support team from different programs, aimed at underrepresented students, and mentorship guidance, which helped me to become a competent student, I was finally able to find and follow my passion.

Suzana Bandeira: In my journey through Sciences, I have realized that working with nature and biodiversity is one of the more pleasant fields. I came to Biological Sciences after having an incredible biology teacher when I was in High School, and I knew that I wanted to be able to achieve my goals as a future biologist. I went to Faculty of Sciences to get my bachelor’s degree in biology, and in my fourth year I started working with sea turtle conservation and automatically Herps became my interesting group. Since that I have worked with other reptiles such as lizards and snakes. I am  currently a graduate student in master’s Program at Villanova University and my focus is in systematics and the diversity of reptiles in Angola. As an aspiring scientist, I am considering first continuing on a PhD program to further develop more skills as a herpetologist. I consider myself representative of an underrepresented group in science because, issues of cultural education, economic development, education system, government policies have made it difficult for African women and people of color to have the opportunity to do scientific research.

Emily DeArmon: After receiving my B.S. Biology from Bowling Green State University (BGSU), I worked with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) as a fisheries observer in association with the National Marine Fisheries Services. These projects involving conservation and management of fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico and Southeast Atlantic consisted of collecting and analyzing catch and bycatch data. These experiences at sea encouraged me to complete my M.S. at St. Cloud State University with my research focusing on the evolutionary relationships of deep-sea fishes. The knowledge that I have acquired through these experiences has helped me overcome obstacles and to reach my goal to become a professional in the ichthyology community. I am proud to be a collections manager and continue to research fish at the Museum of Southwestern Biology at the University of New Mexico (UNM). Knowledge and experiences are transferable through different paths and each opportunity, big or small, will move the waves in the right direction.

Adania Flemming spent her formative years in Trinidad and Tobago, a twin island nation in the Caribbean. Fascinated by water and aquatic systems she earned a bachelor’s degree in marine biology at the University of Tampa, followed by a Master of Science in zoology. Adania is interested in exploring the ecology of fishes, their role and niche in the environment, their life history as well as understanding how form relates to function. Adania is also interested in using natural history collections as a resource to introduce students of diverse backgrounds to the field of Ichthyology and other scientific fields. For her PhD she will combine her interest in education with Ichthyology, through an interdisciplinary research project where she will evaluate the impact of experiential learning within collections on students understanding of science and less known scientific fields as Ichthyology. Her ultimate goal is to work as a researcher and educator in a science center (museum/aquarium) in Trinidad and Tobago. However upon graduation she would like to work as museum faculty, between the intersection of the research collections and the education department. As an underrepresented person in STEM she would tell her younger self to get as much experience as possible to help realize one to two main interest and focus on developing her understanding of those interest. She would also encourage herself to always put her best foot forward, stay positive and just keep swimming.

Nureen Ghuznavi: I was always interested in nature and biology growing up, but I came from a family and community where these interests were actively discouraged. I had to find my own way to connect with my passion but I was hindered by physical inability from a lifetime spent indoors. In the past few years I have made huge improvements to my physical fitness by strength training and swimming, eventually comfortably enough to explore lakes in Michigan. Getting to observe fish up close in their natural habitat was an eye-opening experience that focused my interests. I’m unusual in many ways from most of my peers, being an LGBT person of color. But my struggle to overcome doubts from myself and others is what gives me a unique perspective and strengthens my resolve to become a successful biologist. If I could give advice to my younger self, it would be to forge my own path and not let anyone make me feel like I’m not capable of overcoming obstacles.

Bryan Juarez is a 4th year PhD student in  the EEB program at Iowa State University. In Mexican-American culture, family is above all else, and we treat other communities as our own. This means that we both suffer and celebrate together. I treat science and my colleagues as I treat mi familia, and because of this, I would tell my younger self to have even more empathy for the struggles of others. In science, I’ve seen and heard of selfish researchers which, for example, foster toxic environments and/or take ownership of “their” science/taxon/data at the cost of secluding others and hindering scientific progress. Science is not something we should keep from each other, instead, we should be sharing its wonders with the world. One of my goals is to apply this simple principle to my future research, teaching, and volunteering endeavors to create inclusive traditions as I pursue a post-doc and eventually a faculty position. Going forward, I hope to achieve the level of passion and dedication for herpetology first shown to me by the faculty and students at UC Santa Barbara, fostered in Dean Adams’ Lab, and instill this culture of passion and empathy in future mentees and colleagues.

Marina Luccioni is an undergraduate researcher at Stanford University interested in understanding source and synthesis of biologically derived toxins, and subsequent effects on human brain function. Growing up around the ocean, she used to create “1-hour aquariums” for her family on the beach using empty jam jars. She has since continued to be fascinated by fish, reptiles and amphibians, particularly poison frogs, which sparked her ongoing interest in toxicity.  Her current project investigates the "Chief of Ghosts" hallucinatory fish from Hawaii: how the fish comes to contain and accumulate this marine toxin, and how the molecules interact with human neural function to produce hallucinations. She aims to continue this project or related research to a graduate level.As an underrepresented person in STEM, I would advise my younger self to look out for ways to make science and scientific projects feel personal and related to her background and culture(s). Incorporating local knowledge and asking questions that could relate to home made my work more meaningful.

Lindsey Nelson: Since my first introduction to fish biology nearly 13 years ago, my interests have diversified to include fish and marine conservation, ecology, and impacts of human activities. I owe a depth of gratitude to the professors at Bellevue Community College and the University of Washington, who shared their passions and challenged me to develop observation and explore novel solutions. My work as a North Pacific Fisheries Observer for five years fed my sense of wonder for the natural world and travel. I also gained deeper understanding of how interconnected the ecosystems, industry, fishermen, and management are. The issues facing fisheries are enormously complex, but I choose to see them as an opportunity for technology integration, increasing stakeholder communication, and promoting education. In order to reach these goals, I aim to build my foundation as a researcher and use my knowledge for bridging gaps and influencing policy decision making. As an undergraduate who worked my way through school, I was unaware of many research, networking, and conference opportunities. Or I often convinced myself that I wasn’t qualified to participate. I would encourage my younger self: Do not underestimate yourself. Be confident. And do not be afraid to open yourself to unfamiliar environments, because the growth from these experiences will pay off in so many ways.

Natasha Stepanova: I am a bi herpetologist from the San Francisco Bay Area. Although I always wanted to work with animals, including a brief time as a child when I wanted to discover new frogs in the Amazon, it was only when I started working at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology that I focused my interests. Topping off specimen jars, my first responsibility, inspired a deep appreciation for herp diversity. Further work with Dr. Molly Womack on frog limbs cemented an interest in morphology, function, and the processes that drive trait variation. I am now a Master’s student at Villanova University with Dr. Aaron Bauer working on African burrowing skink skulls. My dream goal would be to work at a museum as they’re the perfect nexus of my interests: biodiversity research, a vibrant community, and outreach. As a queer woman, I would tell my younger self to never let fear hold me back and to seek out a community of LGBTQ+ scientists earlier.

Emily Virgin is a PhD Candidate at Utah State University studying the effects of urbanization on the reproductive physiology and ecology of Side-blotched lizards. Her passion for studying reptiles was cultivated at her undergraduate institution, Northern Illinois University, where she studied snake behavior and diet for her honors thesis. With skills gained from her doctoral degree, she plans to pursue a career intersecting herpetology and conservation physiology at either a small academic institution or a zoo. Emily is a first-generation college student who received her Bachelor of Science at twenty years old and began her Ph.D. afterwards. If given the opportunity to advise her younger self, Emily would encourage self-confidence in her own natural strengths and abilities.


The 2019 Student Diversity and Inclusion Awards (SDIAs) were designed and proposed as a major initiative of the 2018-19 Diversity Committee of ASIH and funded through the generosity and support provided by the Executive Committee of ASIH. The Diversity Committee also thanks the efforts of the SDIA reviewers for their effort and thoughtfulness in selecting this year’s recipients. The awards go directly to students (undergraduate and graduate alike) from underrepresented backgrounds in an effort to bring the best scientists to the Joint Meeting and support their cost of attendance, with the ultimate goal being the retention of these scientists in the study of fishes, amphibians, and reptiles. These awards arose as a result of analyzing and reflecting on annual membership survey data collected by ASIH and after examining models used by other scientific societies to transform the exclusive nature of STEM.

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