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The G-RISE at New Mexico State University is a program that provides a high level of funding support for Ph.D. students conducting research in the areas of biomedical / biobehavioral / bioengineering sciences. The program purpose is to enhance the training of students who will not only enrich the diversity of thought, culture, and discovery within the biomedical workforce but who will also become leaders and innovators within the research workforce after the Ph.D. degree.  G-RISE at NMSU is supported by the National Institutes of Health grant: 1T32GM148394-01. The program (NIH PAR-21-026)  states that: “The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recognizes the need to diversify the scientific workforce by enhancing the participation of individuals from groups identified as underrepresented in the biomedical, clinical, behavioral and social sciences (collectively termed "biomedical") research workforce. Research shows that diverse teams working together and capitalizing on innovative ideas and distinct perspectives outperform homogenous teams. Scientists and trainees from diverse backgrounds and life experiences bring different perspectives, creativity, and individual interests to address complex scientific problems.” 


We will soon be accepting applications for the Fall 2024 Semester! 


RISE 5 Scholars 2022-23

Maria Alvarez Zavala


Mentor: Dr. Omar Holguin, Plant & Environmental Sciences

Co-Mentor: Dr. Jessica Houston, Chemical & Materials Engineering

Maria was born and raised between Zacatecas, Mexico and Oakley, Idaho. She received associate degrees in chemistry, geology, & physics from the College of Southern Idaho (2017). Later she completed her bachelor’s in chemistry at Westminster University (formerly known as Westminster College) in Salt Lake City, UT (2019). Maria also earned her Master’s in Horticulture from NMSU (2021) and is currently in the Plant & Environmental Science Ph.D. Program here at NMSU. Her research explores algal strains as a food source for humans under simulated space conditions. More specifically, Maria is ensuring a simulated environment through gravitational cancellation in a 2-D plane and evaluating algal growth under liquid and solid media for vitamin and macronutrient synthesis. This research seeks to close the gap in availability of specific nutrients for homeostatic human health under a micro-gravity environment. When she is not in her the lab or studies, Maria enjoys volunteering within the university and with community partners.   


Hillary Bourger


Mentor: Dr. Christopher Baker, Chemistry & Biochemistry

Co-Mentor: Dr. Jessica Houston, Chemical & Materials Engineering

Hillary was born and raised in Las Cruces, New Mexico. She obtained a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering in 2021 at New Mexico State University and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering. Her dissertation focuses on developing small volume (nL – uL) exosome assays, utilizing and refining an in-lab-designed 3D-printed instrument for Taylor dispersion analysis. The exosome assays will then be applied to understand the role of exosome secretion in neurodegenerative disorders, specifically Alzheimer’s disease. The ultimate goal of her research is to measure the release of exosomes that carry characteristic membrane proteins such as CD9, CD63, and/or CD81 from mouse hypothalamic tissue slices cultured ex vivo in a microfluidic perfusion device designed and developed by her lab. Following the completion of her Ph.D., Hillary wants to pursue a postdoc in medical research. In her free time, she enjoys riding her bike and spending time with her family.


Cory Cascalheira


Mentor: Dr. Michael Kalkbrenner, Counseling & Educational Psychology

My name is Cory J. Cascalheira (he/they) was born in Ft. Benning, Georgia, but moved around a lot as a kid. I received a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of Massachusetts Lowell. I am committed to researching, preventing, and dismantling interpersonal and structural stigma as mechanisms driving health disparities among sexual and gender minority (SGM; e.g., lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people. My program of research has two specific aims: 1) to examine stigma-based individual, interpersonal, and structural mechanisms conferring risk for SGM health disparities (e.g., substance misuse); and 2) to apply computational methods (i.e., artificial intelligence) to expand the scientific understanding of theory-driven constructs (e.g., minority stress) pertinent to SGM wellbeing. My long-term goal is to become an NIH-funded professor of psychology at an R1 or R2 institution; in the near term, I hope to obtain a postdoctoral position (e.g., T32). I spend my free time hiking, bodybuilding, reading, hanging with family, and caring for my plants and cats. 


Thomas Cisneros


Mentor: Dr. Borys Drach, Mechanical Engineering

My name is Thomas Cisneros, a first-generation college graduate, obtained my Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering in 2019 from NMSU. After graduation, I joined the master’s program at NMSU and then transitioned to the Ph.D. program in Engineering after being accepted to the RISE (Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement) program. My research interest is in micromechanics of hard tissue biomaterials with a focus on the elastic/viscoelastic properties of cortical bone. I have co-authored two publications, one of which I am the first author. The concentration of my doctoral dissertation is the evaluation of micromechanical properties of cortical bone at the nanoscale employing Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) and numerical mathematic technique by Finite Element Method (FEM). Research has elucidated information on the interaction between individual components of cortical bone, such as minerals, type I collagen, and non-collagenous proteins at the nanometer length scale. Through the opportunities available by this institution and the RISE program, I have learned a variety of techniques, such as Atomic Force Microscopy, Finite Element Methods, cantilever-based nanoindentation/analysis, high-resolution imaging/analysis, among others. My research is essential for understanding the effects of diseases on the structural integrity of bone, for the development of failure predictive models, and for the development of bone restorative techniques.


Anthony Cornwell


Mentor: Dr. Omar Holguin, Plant & Environmental Sciences

Co-Mentor: Dr. Yanyan Zhang, Civil Engineering

My name is Anthony Cornwell and I am a non-traditional student from Portland Oregon. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, which fed my love of the outdoors. I try to spend as much time as possible hiking and camping. This interest led to my eventual decision to research environmental issues. I moved to Las Cruces in 2016 and completed my bachelor's degree in 2019 at New Mexico State University. During my undergraduate time, I worked on studying the mutually beneficial associations between the sepiolid squid and V. fisheri. I transferred to the Ph.D. program in 2020. I am currently studying the remediation of pharmaceuticals from the environment utilizing microalgae as a bioremediation agent. This is an important issue because many hormones, endocrine disruptors, and other potentially harmful medications are being found at concerning levels in the environment. During my time as a student, I have learned many techniques that will aid my career as a scientist. I enjoy working with molecular biological tools such as gene modification, sequencing, and CRISPR/Cas9 technology. I have also learned many chemical analysis tools such as LC-MS and gas chromatography. After completion of my Ph.D., I plan on spending time at a postdoc position, before entering academia.



 Jorge Carlos Galarza Prieto


Mentor: Dr. Maria Castillo, Biology

My name is Jorge Galarza Prieto, and I am a first-generation college graduate from El Paso, Texas. I obtained my B.S. degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics Sciences in 2015 and my M.S. degree in Food Science and Technology in 2019, both from New Mexico State University. After completing my M.S., I transitioned to the Ph.D. program in Biology. My research interest is in microbiome analysis and diet composition impact in host microbiota. The concentration of my doctoral dissertation is analyzing the 16S rRNA gene from extracted microbial DNA while using the gut of the Litopenaeus vannamei shrimp as a model (shrimp were given different ingredient composition feeds, ranging from 100% animal-based ingredients, to 100% plant-based). During my graduate studies, I learned various programming languages to analyze data as well as molecular biology techniques. My work plays an important role in supplying food to an ever-growing human population. After my Ph.D., I plan to conduct a postdoctoral research fellowship in a government-funded organization.


Jeremy Jones


Mentor: Dr. Antonio Lara, Chemistry and Biochemistry

My name is Jeremy Jones; I am a first-generation graduate student, and I was born in Las Cruces, NM. In 2015 I received my bachelor’s degree from NMSU in Chemistry, and I am currently pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry under the mentorship of Dr. Antonio Lara. The overall goal of our research is to mitigate and reduce health-related issues associated with the consumption of uranium-contaminated water. We are designing a clay-based technology that produces potable water by sequestering uranium from contaminated sources. Moreover, we endeavor to fully understand the sequestration process (adsorption potential) between the clay-based material and the aqueous uranium. This technology is intended for small communities that lack the resources and infrastructure required by modern water-treatment technologies. To this aspect, the parameters we have set for this technology are that it be appropriate, attainable, and adaptable. Considering these parameters, we are attempting to optimize the fabrication process of the clay-based materials and the design components of a system that will be utilized in the field. Once I achieve my Ph.D. I hope to secure a postdoctoral position at a national laboratory that will allow me to apply and further my understanding of clay’s role in reducing or stopping the transport of toxic and radioactive materials into the environment.
My hobbies and interests outside of science are hiking, creating music, and working on guitars.


Francisco Lariz


Mentor: Dr. Kevin Houston, Chemistry and Biochemistry

Co-Mentor: Dr. Jessica Houston, Chemical & Materials Engineering

My name is Francisco (or Cisco) and I am originally from Chino, California.  I received my bachelor’s from the University of Colorado in 2014 where I majored in Biochemistry and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EBIO) with a minor in chemistry and math.  My research focuses on tamoxifen resistant breast cancer cells and their link to insulin like growth factor binding protein (IGFBP) family. Tamoxifen is a drug used to treat estrogen receptor positive cancers. My project focuses on insulin like growth factor binding protein 6 (IGFBP6) and its possible role in tamoxifen resistance. The hope is to get a better understanding of the functions of the IGFBP family and their roles in tamoxifen resistance.  My plans after a PhD are to find a postdoc and hopefully transition into being faculty at a university some day. My hobbies include working out, cooking, and, more recently painting.


Alex Moon


Mentor: Dr. Jiannong (John) Xu

My name is Alex Moon and I obtained my Bachelor of Science degree in Biology in 2014 from Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas, my hometown.  During my undergraduate studies, I worked as an Emergency Medical Technician for the county EMS system as a “street-medic” and in local hospital Emergency rooms.  This clinical experience drove my passion to help fix and care for patients.  I then obtained a master’s in biomedical sciences from a medical school, and learned medicine revolves around an answer.  With too many questions, I transitioned from a medical doctor to researcher.  New Mexico State University has an interest in prevention of mosquito-borne diseases, leading me to my current PI, Dr. Jiannong Xu, and my PhD dissertation topic of inhibiting the immunometabolism in malaria mosquitoes.  Currently, malaria accounts for nearly 500,000 deaths per year, with hundreds of millions being infected.  Inhibiting the immune system and metabolic system (immunometabolism) of the mosquito can help prevent malaria from spreading, reducing the mortality associated with this disease.  With this background, I hope to continue to peruse infectious disease research in my post-doctoral studies.  In my “free time,”  I am an avid snow skier in the winter, and like to take my dog, Zeke, out hiking in the summer.


Samantha Valentino    


Mentor: Dr. Jessica Houston, Chemical & Materials Engineering

My name is Samantha Valentino and I spent my early years in Temple City, CA but moved to Las Cruces, NM in 2011. I consider Las Cruces to be my true hometown. I made the decision to pursue a career in chemical engineering in the 7th grade with the goal to use my knowledge to pursue a research oriented medical profession. I obtained my Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical and Materials Engineering from NMSU in 2020, right at the beginning of the pandemic. I began as a master’s student that same year but developed a true passion for my project and decided to transition to the Ph.D. program in Fall of 2021. I work with applying time-resolved flow cytometry techniques to study the metabolism of NAD(P)H in breast cancer cells based upon the principles of fluorescence lifetime. Cells naturally contain NAD(P)H making it a relatively simplistic measurement as it does not require an additional labeling step to run on a flow cytometer. The goal of the project is to explore development of drug resistance to the hormone therapy Tamoxifen. Resistance is commonly developed in breast cancer patients treated with Tamoxifen and using fluorescence lifetime as a means of studying metabolism differences in responsive and resistant cancer cells could lead to resistance monitoring for guided treatment. Following completion of my PhD., I would like to continue pursuing a research based career in the medical field.


Alondra Villalba


Mentor: Dr. Timothy Wright, Biology

Co-Mentor: Dr. Jennifer Hernandez-Gifford, Animal & Range Sciences

Hi my name is Alondra and I am originally from Mexico and moved to Northern New Mexico at a young age. I obtained my Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and minor in Chemistry in 2018 from Northern New Mexico College. I then completed a post-baccalaureate program at the University of South Carolina before pursuing a Ph.D. program in the biological sciences here at NMSU. My goal is to better understand how chronic stress affects vocal learning at the behavioral, physiological, and neuronal levels using the budgerigar, a small parrot, as a model system. My research will aid in improving our understanding of how chronic stress affects adult language learning in humans. When not in the lab, I enjoy spending time in the outdoors with my dog, Dozer.


RISE to the Postdoctorate

The NMSU RISE (Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement) to the Postdoctorate Program aspires to augment the interest, skills, and competitiveness of graduate students in pursuit of biomedical and biobehavioral research careers. Our RISE community is committed to scientific research that will increase human health and reduce illness and disabilities. The long term goal of our program is to increase the number of underrepresented students who achieve a doctoral (PhD) degree in a biomedical or biobehavioral discipline.

NMSU RISE Scholars are prepared for the next step of their career through:

  • Mentored research experiences in four NMSU colleges
  • Scientific workshops that develop cutting edge quantitative and technical skills
  • Guided expansion of their professional network, career planning, and training for the professoriate
  • Biomedical research seminars
  • Formal courses
  • Research internships at STARTUP partner institutions
  • Tuition
  • Health care
  • Budget for research supplies and travel to present at scientific conferences

Three primary components of RISE provide core skills to prepare students for success in different scientific fields and careers:

Research Leadership in the 21st Century

Develops the professional skills that maximize research productivity and funding success, ensure degree completion in 5 years, and help secure a competitive postdoctoral appointment at a research intensive institution.

Preparing for the Professoriate

Provides core teaching and mentorship skills essential for academic success in faculty positions. Click here for more about this component.

STARTUP (Student Training & Research through United Partnerships)

Provides scientific and technical workshops and enhanced student off-site research training by establishing a formal network with RU/VH (research universities with very high research activity) university department heads, program directors, and center leaders. Students also participate in formal education in Responsible Conduct in Research that is reinforced by faculty mentor practices and educational activities developed in partnership with colleagues in the START-UP network. Click here for more about this component.

Many RISE activities are open to the NMSU and local community through courses or through university-wide workshops organized by the Program, the Graduate School, and the NMSU Teaching Academy.

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