Previous Undergraduate Spotlights


Cara Jones 

Cara Jones is a rising senior at Georgia State University. She is a Biology major, an Honor’s college member, Vice President of the Synthetic Biology club, and an iGEM student leader. After transferring from Lanier Tech in 2015, Cara joined the Honor’s College and made the President’s list for multiple semesters. Subsequently, a Genetic Engineering Ethics seminar taught by Dr. Eric Gilbert introduced her to the field of synthetic biology. Through that learning experience, she discovered the iGEM lab on campus. Thus, began the spark that lit the torch of passion she carries for synthetic/molecular biology research.

Since joining iGEM, Cara has developed both wet and dry lab skills. In addition to honing her abilities in a laboratory, she also learned to step out of her comfort zone. For example, she has always feared public speaking, especially in large classes. During her time in iGEM, Cara has delivered multiple presentations at two annual International Genetically Engineered Machine conferences in Boston and numerous campus events (including GSURC). However, she most treasures the time and experience of working with her team members to reach their project goals. Furthermore, Cara is a research obsessed, sometimes hyper-focused, and driven student who strives to raise the bar in undergraduate research. Without a doubt, her experience in iGEM under the guidance of Dr. Matthew Brewer has bolstered her confidence and helped her to realize her potential.  To learn more about what iGEM is doing, visit


Vaidehi Shah 

vaidehi shah

Vaidehi Shah is a senior majoring in Biology at Georgia State University. She is on the pre-dental track and currently applying to dental schools. At Georgia State University, she has been part of American Undergraduate Dental Association since sophomore year. She is also a team leader for Volunteers Around the World and planning a dental outreach trip to the Dominican Republic.

 Last Spring Vaidehi got an opportunity to earn internship credit with Dr. Therese Poole’s, in which she was responsible for running a lab at the Atlanta Science Festival. She worked with a team to run DNA forensics lab and give children of all ages and adults a hands-on experience in a Biology lab. Participants in the lab learned to use gel electrophoresis technique and its importance for DNA testing in a criminal case. From her experience at the Science festival, Vaidehi learned the importance of team-work, communication, and leadership. Since childhood, Vaidehi has been passionate about Biology and to be able to teach it to others was an experience that she would never forget and cherish it for the rest of her life.

 The GSU Biology Department is a proud contributor to the Atlanta Science Festival, and holds events on Discovery Day in the Petit Science Center building.  The Atlanta Science Festival will be held again in 2018, from March 9th to the 24th. 


Paula Andrea Garzon

Paula Garzon pic

Paula Andrea Garzon is a current second year biology student and is part of the Honors College at Georgia State University.  She loves to give back to the Georgia State community by being active in many different organizations such as the Honors Student Organization (HSO), Honors LEAD cohort, 1913 Society, Avanzando El Sueño (AVES), and many more. She has an ardent desire to go into healthcare and upon graduating will be attending medical school. Currently she has been inspired by her classes and motivated by her teachers every single step of her college career to continue pursuing her dream of becoming a pediatrician. She also hopes to be able to eventually go back to her home country, Colombia, to help bring better healthcare to the families there. One thing that she hopes to be able to do before graduating is have the chance to be able to do research at Georgia State University. She strives to do this to be able to learn many different techniques that are exclusively offered in a laboratory as well as at this prestigious research university.

Martine Policard

Martine Policard

Martine Policard, a senior Biology major with an interest in biomedical sciences and the molecular basis of disease, has been an Undergraduate Research Assistant in the Benson Lab for two years.  Her ultimate career aspirations are to use applied science for the benefit of patients with high risk for terminal illness.  She is applying to Master’s programs and plans to continue her education by pursuing either a Ph.D. or a combined Ph.D./M.D.

In Dr. Benson’s lab, she began as an Undergraduate Molecular Basis of Disease Summer Fellow in 2014.  Early in her academic career, Martine was unsure what to expect and nervous that she would not have enough background in science to be able to contribute much to the lab.  Despite her apprehension, she decided to give it her best effort and view it as a learning opportunity.  Very quickly, she found the work exciting and she became more enthusiastic about the project.  Dr. Charlese Benson states that:  “As an undergraduate research student working in my lab, Martine has demonstrated tremendous initiative, reliability, and growth as a scientist.  In addition, she exudes the type of passion and excitement for scientific inquiry that is so critical for the success of any research project.”

The overall objective of the project was to investigate the possibility that infections with Adenovirus could be connected to Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in some children.  Martine spent the summer finding patterns in gene expression between cell lines derived from Leukemic child patients and cells infected with Adenovirus.  This project not only taught Martine to think critically and ask thoughtful questions, but also about the general research experience, methodology and importance of precision and repetition in the lab.  She also discovered that she could draw parallels between what she was experiencing in the lab and what she was learning in her classes.  At the end of the summer, she requested to remain in the lab and has been able to continue her project while assisting other graduate students with their projects.  Even more exciting, is that Martine is now a published author.  Some or her work is included in this <a “” Limited but durable changes to cellular gene expression in a model of latent adenovirus infection are reflected in childhood leukemic cell lines.

Matine, a Haitian-American and first generation college student, hopes to inspire other first generation college students as well as young women pursuing a career in the STEM disciplines.  In her spare time, she enjoys volunteering at her church, reading and singing.


Ronald Shanderson


Ronald Shanderson is currently a Biology major in his senior year.  He is planning on pursuing a research career in the biomedical sciences. Currently, he is the president of the Undergraduate STEM Research Society (USRS) and won the Barry M Goldwater scholarship last year. More information about this very prestigious scholarship can be found here:

From August 2012 to May 2015, he worked with Dr. Susanna Greer examining the molecular basis of immune cell function. Ronald found that studying how proteins interacted with each other to be a fascinating puzzle that just had to be worked through.  He found it to be very rewarding and was  able to publish a second author paper with the Greer lab. Additionally, this summer he was an Amgen Scholar at UC San Francisco. It was a great opportunity to do more molecular biology, but while being surrounded by other young scientists. At the moment, he is applying for PhD programs. After that, the current plan is to end up at the National Institutes of Health studying the molecular biology of disease

Natural Environments of Georgia

undergrad spotlight_NEG

This month we are highlighting several students that particpated in the Natural Environments of Georgia class, offered by the Biology department during the Maymester.  This exciting class allows students to explore the various ecosystems of their home state while engaging in a Signature Experience.

Joseph Doyague, graduating in December, is a senior biology major interested in the mechanisms of life. He was a regular volunteer at Davidson-Arabia Mountain over the summer. Joseph also worked as an intern in an environmental molecular lab studying anaerobes in petroleum polluted sediment. He is currently a new reporter for the The Signal Newspaper at GSU where he enjoys exploring his journalistic abilities. After graduating, he plans to take a break and travel. Joseph would like to work promoting sustainability and intends to attend graduate school in the future. He hopes to follow a diverse curriculum, where he will be free to explore multi-disciplinary perspectives on and solutions to today’s pressing environmental issues.

Soraya Farivar is a senior biology student graduating in December. Her main interest is in ecological sciences. She is currently conducting research under the guidance of Bryan Stubblefield from Dr. Eric Gilbert’s lab. She considers this research one of her most valuable learning experiences while attending GSU. Soraya plans to take some time off after college to apply for an internship at the Student Conservation Association and travel. Soraya wants to learn as much as she can about the ecology and the natural environments around her; and to that end she plans to pursue her Master’s degree in Ecology, most likely with a focus in plant biology.

Angela Kendrick will be graduating with a B.S. in Biology this December and plans to use her degree to teach middle grade science. This summer Angela worked as an intern at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens where she gained valuable experience in education and conservation. From her undergrad career, Angela says, “Natural Environments of Georgia with Dr. Chapman is an amazing class that I can never forget. This field course taught me valuable information I can use in my classroom as well as in everyday living. I can’t wait to share my findings with others!”

 Christina Naranjo









Christina Naranjo is a Biology major hoping to pursue a career as a Physician’s Assistant.  She is an active member of the American Medical Students Association (AMSA) and the Chemistry Club as well as being a Scholarship Ambassador and a recipient of the Kathleen D. Crouch Memorial Scholarship.

Recently, Christina has been taking courses at GSU specifically designed to prepare students for a career in medicine, such as Pathophysiology and Surgical Anatomy.    She was exhilarated to hear that GSU had its own gross anatomy lab where students could dissect human cadavers!

Previous dissections of rats, mice, frogs and fetal pigs were no preparation for what she found in the Surgical Anatomy class but she was thrilled to start learning about human anatomy in this hands-on dissection format.  Each class, she had a list of anatomical features to study, dissect and present to the rest of the class.  This was followed by student presentations of cutting edge surgical procedures accompanied by videos.  This course, in tandem with these presentations, made it very tangible how vital it is for health care professionals to flawlessly understand human anatomy.

After completion of the Surgical Anatomy class, Christina was eligible for the coveted clinical internship at Atlanta Medical Center in General Surgery.  Her demanding yet rewarding courses at GSU have prepared her for this internship and the career path that lies ahead.

  Nadjean Sagesse


China nadjean








Nadjean Sagesse is a graduating senior in the Biology department who plans to continue her studies in the Masters program for Cell and Molecular Biology and Physiology.  Her ultimate career goal is to become an Obstetrician/Gynecologist.  To give back to her community, Nadjean volunteers extensively and participates in the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), the Minority Association of Premedical Students (MAPS), Black Student Alliance, Faces of Feminism, NAACP and the Feminist Women’s Health Center.  She strives to empower other people – mentally, physically and socially.

This summer, Nadjean participated in the Biology department’s study abroad program in Chengdu, China.  The course, Frontiers in Biotechnology, bridged the gap between academia and culture and provided cultural awareness and cross-cultural experiences for the students involved.  While in Chengdu, Nadjean had a Chinese “study buddy” who served as a personal tour guide through the campus of Southwest Jiaotong University and the city.  She faced language barriers and encountered philosophies very different than those in the United States.  These experiences taught her to never forget where she came from and not to be afraid to share her experiences with others as the people she met were very openhearted.

Studying biotechnology gave Nadjean many insights that she can take with her into the medical field.  She saw that advancements in biotechnology can change the biomedical world by personalizing therapy and diets based on epigenetic traits.  This is only the beginning, and Nadjean will continue to apply her appreciation of other cultures to her life and how she views the world.  This course was definitely the capstone to her undergraduate career.  Xièxiè!

  Summer Mashayekh

summer lizard

Summer is a senior in the Biology department on a pre-veterinary track, and preparing to graduate in December. She is the President and Co-founder of the Pre-Veterinary Medical Professional Society and Treasurer/Safety Officer of the Equestrian Club. Additionally, she volunteers at local animal hospitals and plans to go on to veterinary school after graduation.

Summer has been working with Dr. Chris Cornelison, in collaboration with the Crow Laboratory and Zoo Atlanta, on the Snake Fungal Disease Survey. There she has been sampling the reptile collection and working with a team of graduate students to extract DNA and use a diagnostic qPCR method to identify pathogen presence and quantify pathogen burden. Specifically, she has been studying the snake fungal disease caused by Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola which causes swelling of the face, ulcers, crusty scales and cloudiness of the eyes and is contributing to the endangerment and eradication of certain reptilian species.

At Zoo Atlanta, Summer has collected samples from different reptiles such as snakes, bearded lizards, tortoises, as well as their enclosures to identify the presence of this troubling fungus. She plans on continuing her work in the Crow lab as an undergraduate researcher. To learn more about this project, please visit their website at:


 iGEM Team

2014 team2

Front row: Derrica Burke, Viktoria Domashchenko, Julia Dave, Shivani Shah; 2nd row: Jasmine Padilla, Countiss-Breanna Miller, Annie Khowaja, Reza Alavi; Back row: Tyler Purvis, Dr. Matthew Brewer

The Biology department offers a variety of ways for undergraduates to get research experience.  One opportunity is participation in the iGEM (international Genetically Engineered Machine) program.  Students earn course credit (BIOL 4905) while working together in a small group to develop a novel synthetic biology project.  They then compete with other iGEM teams from around the world.  Last year, GSU’s iGEM team won the Bronze prize at the iGEM Jamboree in Boston with its project involving the expression of the Black Mamba snake venom Mambalgin in a Pichia Pastoris expression vector.  To learn more, visit their website at


Chandni Patel

chandni patel fullChandni Patel is a senior majoring in Biology at Georgia State University. Currently, she is on the Pre-medical track with hopes to go onto medical school. Throughout her years at Georgia State University, she has participated in several organizations such as AMSA, Tri-Beta, Hands on Atlanta and many more. As a pre-medical student, she always wanted to go on a medical missions trip, and it was not until last summer, that she was able to fulfill this desire.

Last summer, she went with a group of 20 students from the Atlanta area to Bocas del Toro in the Panama Canal. This experience was truly a life changing event: she was given the opportunity to see a new country in a way that she had never seen before.  In Panama, they were able to get hands on experience and work closely with the physicians and members of the organization, while contributing to the local community. Their team ran mobile clinics on the surrounding islands. During each clinic, they had four stations which included: survey and intake, triage, shadowing, and the pharmacy. In addition to this, they were even able to visit the local geriatric center on the island and spent time with the residents and really got to know them. They were able to play games and even sing and dance with them. Through this experience she was able to further her desire of becoming a physician.  She’s really excited to work with VAW again and can’t wait for this year’s trip!

Chandni has also been instrumental in getting Volunteers Around the World implemented as an official internship program in the Biology department.  Students who wish to take this amazing opportunity can now earn course credit as an internship, and even apply for scholarships through the Study Abroad office to help offset travel expenses.  For more information about Volunteers Around the World, please visit their website at: