Student Training

SF BUILD logoSF BUILD (Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity) is a one to two year program in partnership with San Francisco State University (SFSU). SF BUILD allows SFSU students to receive one-on-one mentoring and training to discover their biomedical research interests and motivate them to pursue a career in the NIH-funded workforce. SF BUILD scholars develop the research skills through supportive mentorship to achieve their academic and career goals. Learn more>>

2018 Cohort 4


Azuka Atum

Azuka Atum has had the opportunity to explore the different ways research can improve underserved communities while a Microbiology undergraduate at SFSU. Born in San Francisco, CA, Azuka spent most of her life in the East Bay. By volunteering in her local community, she gained exposure to different careers, such as nursing, medicine, and research, that she could pursue to help alleviate health disparities that disproportionately affect communities of color. One area of research Azuka is interested in exploring is whether usage of certain hair products is associated with fibroid formation in black women. By becoming part of the SF BUILD family, Azuka hopes to obtain the necessary skills required to carry out clinical trials as a biostatistician.


Derrick ChatadDerrick Chatad is a Biology major with a concentration in physiology. Originally from Cameroon, a cross-cultural country, Derrick is fluent in French and English and became interested in science at a very young age. He observed the lack of scientific reasoning in day-to-day interactions in his community, and this prompted him to actively pursue science and its effects on communal life. Derrick’s research interests include the genetic and environmental predisposition to urologic cancers in ethnic minorities as well as how the propagation of these diseases varies in specific races. Derrick hopes to bring personalized pharmacogenetic treatments and therapies to different diseases, including neurodegenerative diseases. The SF BUILD program will provide Derrick with resources, knowledge, and opportunities to explore his interests while maintaining his scientific and personal values. He envisions going to medical school and providing healthcare while continuing with clinical research.


Brittany ContrerasBrittany Contreras is a Health Education major with an emphasis in Community-Based Public Health. She is double minoring in Women’s Health Issues and Latina/o Studies. Born and raised in Southern California, she has found a new home in the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area. One of her greatest research interests is examining the epigenetic effects of transgenerational trauma among Central American migrants in the U.S. Additionally, she is interested in investigating reproductive justice measures to improve maternal and child health outcomes among incarcerated women. Through the dynamic opportunities offered by SF BUILD, Brittany hopes to gain the technical skills necessary to succeed in research. She is excited to use her passion for community organizing and public health research to create a more equitable society. She aspires to pursue a doctorate in public health and to utilize her education to transform global health policy.


Maria CruzMaria Cruz is an undergraduate working on her BS in Biology with an emphasis in Physiology and a minor in Chemistry. Maria grew up in Alabama before moving to the eastside of San Jose, CA, at age fifteen. Her research passions include studying health disparities within vulnerable communities and how the health in these communities can be improved. Her educational goal is to attain a dual doctoral degree, MD-PhD. Within the SF BUILD program, Maria is looking to immerse herself in research and gain confidence as a woman of color in science through the resources and mentorship SF BUILD offers.


Clarissa FergusonClarissa Ferguson is a Biology major with an emphasis in Physiology. Clarissa grew up in a Guatemalan household in Los Angeles, CA. Living in a disenfranchised community, Clarissa developed compassion for those around her, regardless of social class, color, or ability. Her research interests include discovering how she can help disenfranchised communities, and specifically how to help them understand the physiological processes occurring in their bodies. With SF BUILD, Clarissa hopes to break down scientific terminology into everyday language so that people in different communities can better understand science. Clarissa also hopes to explore scientific research and gain more skills as a scientist. In the future, Clarissa aims to become an MD with a lab of her own in which to research health disparities in her community and worldwide.


Leeza GaitanLeeza Gaitan was born and raised in the Mission District of San Francisco, CA. Her major is Psychology, and her research interest is in neuroscience, specifically the role of the aging brain in Alzheimer’s and dementia. Leeza’s career goal is to be a Psychiatrist. Through SF BUILD, Leeza is looking forward to the opportunity to grow and learn. She's anticipating gaining valuable experience through labs and mentorship that will solidify her confidence as a scientist.


Jake GibsonJake Gibson is a Psychology major focused on clinical research. Raised in rural environments, Jake is familiar with the psychological repercussions of living in low-income communities. In addition to his queer identity, his upbringing motivates Jake to further his field’s knowledge regarding the prevention and treatment of psychopathology in marginalized communities. Jake’s research interests include investigating accessible mental health interventions, mood and compulsive disorders, and trauma. Through SF BUILD, Jake aims to develop the skills necessary to work alongside minority communities in promoting psychological resilience and well-being.


Thai HillThai Hill is a Mechanical Engineering major. Born and raised in the Bay Area, his exposure to a wide variety of cultural, social, and economic backgrounds made him aware of the lack of resources provided to various ethnic and low-income communities. His upbringing impressed upon him the importance of ethical and community-focused progression. He is interested in a career at the intersection of engineering and biology to improve the quality of life for individuals typically overlooked by the dominant culture of STEM. Thai is excited to use the opportunities provided by SF BUILD to develop his skills as a scientist as well as to explore the bioengineering field.


Eric JacksonEric Jackson is a Biology major with an emphasis in Physiology. Eric was raised in Bay Point, CA, a small community dependent on the cohesiveness of its residents. At a young age, Eric became interested in science and dreamed of bringing his love of science back to his community. As an undergraduate at SFSU, Eric plans to focus his research on elucidating the causes of debilitating neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Furthermore, Eric plans to decrease the knowledge gap created by the unequal distribution of information by making scientific information more accessible. With the help of the SF BUILD program, Eric hopes to acquire the tools needed to educate himself and bring his dreams to fruition, reshape our current informational landscape, and make a positive impact on society.


Steven LomeliSteven Lomeli is a Kinesiology and Biology major at SFSU. His interests include teaching and competing in martial arts, reading, cooking, running, yoga, and being outdoors. Born and raised in Southern California, Steven’s passion for research stems from devastating family circumstances that caused much suffering amongst his relatives due to both physical and biological factors. Steven hopes to integrate his research interests in atherosclerosis, diabetes, nutrition, and HIV to inform preventative practices. Steven will utilize his SF BUILD training to enter a PhD program as he helps bridge the gap in health disparities in the Hispanic community.


Andrea Muñoz Andrea Muñoz is a Biology major with an emphasis in Physiology. Born and raised in the Bay Area, Andrea was exposed to a diversity of cultures and people; this engendered her interest in public health-related research. Raised in a Mexican immigrant family, Andrea incorporates family ethics into her work. Her research interests include the epidemiology of obesity and diabetes-related health issues in Latinos as well as the underlying causes in this community. Andrea anticipates tremendous growth as a lab scientist, thanks to the opportunities provided by SF BUILD. Andrea hopes to bring her experiences from the public health field into the world of biomedical science.


Alexandra ShifferAlexandra Shiffer is a Physics major. She was born in San Francisco, CA, and raised in South San Francisco. Growing up in a mostly Hispanic community where many residents lacked access to healthcare contributed to her desire to become a medical scientist. Her primary research interest is in radiation oncology; this stems from her goal of developing more effective radiological treatments for cancer. Participating in SF BUILD provides Alexandra with a better understanding of the research process and allows her to grow as a scientist. In the future, Alexandra hopes to improve the health of her community by discovering safer and more effective radiological treatments for cancer.


Natalie Torres CachoNatalie Torres Cacho is a Biology major with a Special Education minor. She was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, CA. Natalie is from a very traditional Hispanic family and feels empowered by her upbringing to strive for success in the field of science. Her research interest is in pediatrics; she loves children and knows she can positively impact their lives. As part of the SF BUILD program, she hopes to conduct meaningful research and pursue her dual doctoral degree, MD-PhD.


Thricia ZabalaThricia Zabala was born and raised in Quezon City, Philippines, and immigrated with her mother to the U.S. in her pre-teens. She spent the rest of her teen years San Francisco, CA, where she was exposed to social justice activism that inspired her to study science and public health. Thricia is an undergraduate majoring in Microbiology with a minor in Health Education at SFSU. She is interested in researching diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, which disproportionately affect low-income communities. She hopes to go on to earn her PhD after obtaining her bachelor’s. She is looking forward to gaining research experience, exploring different routes in biomedical research, and learning how to use her research to benefit her community through SF BUILD.

2017 Cohort 3

Martha Arriaga is a Biochemistry major. She is from Pittsburg, California, and has lived in California her entire life. She is currently in a neonatal brain disorders laboratory at UCSF specifically focused on hypoxic-ischemia affecting premature babies. She is interested in neuroscience research and plans to pursue a PhD in neurobiology after she attains a Master’s in public health. SF BUILD has helped provide her with a supportive cohort of students, staff, and mentors that has influenced her growth these past few months and continues to provide her with resources and support.

Kayla Lam Little is majoring in Cell and Molecular Biology with a minor in Health Education. She spent her childhood in South Florida then moved to San Diego, California, during her teenage years. Kayla has a passion for reproductive sciences and women’s health. She aims to provide more resources within reproductive care and enhance reproductive freedom. Kayla looks forward to gaining more confidence as a scientist through the help of SF BUILD and becoming a role model for others, especially multiracial women in science, like herself.

Luis Chumpitaz is an undergraduate Computer Engineering major and Physics minor. He was born and raised in Peru and moved to Los Angeles, California, at the age of 15. Luis came to San Francisco, as he was always interested in science and technology. With the recent growth of technology and data science usage in the biomedical sciences, he is interested in applying his skills and doing research in a bioinformatics laboratory while in SF BUILD.

Brianna Huerta is a Physiology major who grew up in San Francisco. Her research interests include the physiological effects of frequent and prolonged sympathetic discharge in individuals with anxiety disorders. She hopes her future in academia allows her to explore the roots of mental health disparities among vulnerable populations and work toward eventual change. She looks forward to enhancing her technical skills in the lab and appreciates SF BUILD’s continued guidance on her journey.

Imani Robinson is a Biology major with an emphasis in Physiology. Hailing from Oakland, California, Imani was raised in a diverse community that allowed her to explore possibilities, including that of becoming a scientist. Her research interests consist of establishing a biomarker for Alzheimer’s Dementia and expanding the knowledge surrounding increasingly resistant forms of common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and infections (STIs). With SF BUILD, she hopes to gain a more thorough knowledge of research practices and sharpen her skills as a scientist. In the future, Imani aims to connect her biomedical and clinical research interests to increase the health of her community.

Andrea Morales is an undergraduate studying Cell and Molecular Biology and Chemistry at SFSU. Andrea and her family lived in San Diego, California, near the border of the United States and Mexico; this experience shaped her into the passionate researcher she is today. Her primary research interests include cell biology and oral health. Andrea hopes to utilize the many resources and mentors offered by SF BUILD to conduct research in a community setting.

Marsha Calvert is a Biology/Physiology major with a minor in Race & Resistance Studies. She was born and raised in San Francisco, California. Marsha looks forward to researching cures for human diseases. She hopes to gain trusted connections, mentorship, and guidance through the SF BUILD program. 

Alma Barrios is a Biology major with a concentration in Zoology. She is interested in conducting research in the ecology of emerging infectious disease in amphibians. Her long-term goal is to pursue a PhD and conduct meaningful research in conservation biology. 

Imani Davis is a Cell and Molecular Biology major from Oakland, CA. Her interests are in health disparities, cell biology and cancer research. She is interested in learning more about how to engage our communities in research. She is captivated by the comprehensiveness of biomedical research and looks forward to learning how others have combined their interests to do personally meaningful research.

Jennifer Sanchez is a Cell and Molecular Biology major at SFSU. She grew up in Santa Ana, California. Jennifer feels grateful and blessed to be a part of SF BUILD. She is looking forward to making lasting connections and expanding her network in the sciences. She enjoys learning and is open to many fields but is especially interested in neuro-oncology.

Nikee Salamaca is majoring in Biology (Physiology) and minoring in Chemistry. She was born on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. As an undergraduate student, she became fascinated with cell signaling and molecular mechanisms and how a malfunction within these processes can debilitate health; this sparked her interest in exploring research. As part of the SF BUILD program, Nikee looks forward to experiencing the research culture, gaining a better understanding of her career aspirations, and developing relationships with the people who will share this journey with her.

Louis Contreras is majoring in Biology with a concentration in Cell and Molecular Biology. He is originally from Orange County, California. His research interests are wide, but he is focusing on living organisms in extreme conditions. He is very grateful to be part of SF BUILD. He hopes to gain experience and skills that SF BUILD offers in order to build a strong research foundation.

Elizabeth Urrutia is a Biology-Physiology major with a minor in Chemistry and Health Education. She was born in San Francisco and grew up in the Excelsior and Mission Districts. She is interested in the public health aspect of research and hopes to one day get a PhD in Epidemiology. She loves working on clinical trials and being able to see how research directly benefits her community. She hopes that through SF BUILD she will be able to learn new skills and prepare for graduate school.

Jacob Gomez - bio coming soon.

2015 Cohort 1

Ghilamichael Andemeskel is a Cellular/Molecular Biology major. He lived in Ethiopia for 7 years before moving to Oakland, CA. Ghilamichael is looking forward to having the opportunity to work in the field of his interest in a diverse community addressing social disparities. Ghilamichael dedicates a large part of his life to working with oppressed groups within our communities. He regards himself as an activist; he attends government meetings in addition to working with grassroots movements to make policy changes. Ghilamichael’s research lab is at the SFSU Cognition and Social Equity (CaSE) Lab with Dr. Avi Ben-Zeev.

Juan Castillo is a Chemistry major who grew up in San Rafael, CA. Juan is looking forward to getting exposure to different types of research, working with others, and learning new things in a research environment. His passion to give back through science and help others directly aligns with the goals of SF BUILD. Juan has two research labs: (1) at the SFSU Department of Biology with Dr. Leticia Márquez-Magaña and (2) at the SFSU Department of Chemistry with Dr. Pete Palmer.

Patricia Castruita is a Biology major with a concentration in Physiology. She has a strong interest in the Cellular/Molecular field. She is looking forward to her experience in the SF BUILD program. Patricia’s research lab is at the UCSF Memory and Aging Center with Dr. Lea Grinberg.

Shane Diego Ernesto Colombo is a Psychology major with a minor in Dance. He is also working towards a certificate in Holistic Health Studies. Shane grew up in San Clemente, CA. Shane can't wait to learn how to create a robust research protocol, including developing a better understanding of how to analyze research data. He looks forward to developing a relationship with his mentor, someone who can provide guidance on how to make the most out of his time in the program and at SFSU. In the future, Shane hopes to teach psychology and work as a cognitive behavioral therapist. Shane’s research lab is at the UCSF School of Medicine’s BAND LAB with Dr. Joshua Woolley.

**In Memorium: Shane Colombo**>>

Maria Guadalupe Contreras is a Biology major with a concentration in Physiology. She spent most of her childhood in Mexico until she moved to San Francisco, CA, at age nine. Maria looks forward to learning and expanding her understanding in science based in epidemiology, psychology, and physiology. She is also looking forward to understanding how to build a fundamental basis that can allow her to connect social justice, science, and communities. In the future, Maria wants to be a role model for those who are in disbelief of their own power to strive for success. Maria’s research lab is at the UCSF School of Medicine’s Asthma Collaboratory with Drs. Esteban Burchard and Marquitta White.

Destinee Lanns is a Biology major with a concentration in Physiology. She grew up in Southern California and most recently lived in Eastvale, CA, before coming to SFSU. Destinee is grateful to be in the SF BUILD program, which she describes as a program that has faith in her and her success. Destinee’s research lab is at SFSU’s Department of Biology with Dr. Laura W. Burrus.

Joi Lee is a Physiology major. She grew up in southern Orange County, CA. Joi is happy to be joining a community that shares the same enthusiasm as she does regarding scientific growth and exploration. She is enthusiastic about the variety of research opportunities and looks forward to identifying which field of research she connects with best. Joi’s research lab is at the UCSF School of Medicine with Drs. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo and Valy Fontil.

Alejandra Lopez-Macha is a Cell and Molecular Biology major who grew up in San Francisco, CA. She is excited to join a community of peers who share her passion for engaging in research to help our communities. She is looking forward to working in the different research labs and building a strong relationship with her mentor. Alejandra describes herself as a social butterfly who is passionate about science. Alejandra’s research lab is at the UCSF School of Medicine Fejerman Lab with Dr. Laura Fejerman.

Daniel Mota is a Cell and Molecular Biology major and grew up in Montebello, CA. Daniel looks forward to working with a diverse group of students and faculty and engaging in different types of research. Daniel’s research lab is at the UCSF School of Medicine with Drs. Phil Rosenthal and Grant Dorsey.

Cynthia Perez is a Cell and Molecular Biology who grew up in Salinas, CA. She is excited to spend a month learning about research at UCSF and SFSU. Cynthia’s research lab is at the SFSU Department of Biology with Dr. Leticia Márquez-Magaña.

Natalie Warren is a Biology major with a concentration in Physiology. She grew up in Sacramento, CA, and it was always her dream to one day live in San Francisco. Natalie is looking forward to gaining a deeper understanding of the biomedical research field and learning more about the ways we can influence underrepresented groups in science to enter STEM majors in college. While in the SF BUILD program, she would like to gain lab skills, network with colleagues, and discover what field of biology sparks her interest most. Natalie’s research lab is at the UCSF School of Medicine’s Center for Tobacco Control Research & Education with Drs. Pamela Ling and Louisa Holmes.