INSTITUTE NEUROSCIENCE Graduate PROGRAM SCHOLARS

(Transitioning to the Neuroscience Graduate Program, effective January 2022)

GNTP Scholars 2018
GNTP Scholars 2019
GNTP Scholars 2021
Institute Neuorscience Graduate Trainees 2018
standing: Yosun Yoon, Rachel St. Clair, Asal Nouri, Basak Kocaoglu, Alexandra Paz & Brian Escobar; Kneeling FAU Brain Institute - Dr. Randy Blakely, Executive Director, Dr. Kate Guthrie, Assistant Director for Educational Programs, and Linda Petersen, GNTP Graduate Education Coordinator
Institute Neuorscience Graduate Trainees 2019
standing, Kori Citrin, Goksu Oz, Amanda Rojas, Amanda Rainey, Ryan Gallagher & Donald Holder; Kneeling FAU Brain Institute - Dr. Randy Blakely, Executive Director, Dr. Kate Guthrie, Assistant Director for Educational Programs & Linda Petersen, GNTP Graduate Education Coordinator
Institute Neuorscience Graduate Trainees 2021
right to left: Kylie Foster, Jennifer Giordano, Claudia Alvarez, Linda Petersen, Dr. Kate Guthrie, Dr. Randy Blakely, Gianna Cannestro, Bethany O’Donnellr

 

INSTITUTE NEUROSCIENCE GRADUATE PROGRAM TRAINEES

Alexandra Paz headshot
Alexandra Paz

Entered: Graduate Neuroscience Training Program 2018
GNTP Affiliate Program: Integrative Biology/Neuroscience
Mentors: Erik Duboue, Ph.D.
Thesis topic: The characterization of a simple startle circuit in Astyanax mexicanus
paza2018@fau.edu
BS Biology, St. Bonaventure University, Allegany, New York 

Alexandra Paz in lab

“I have always been interested in both ecology and neuroscience. Working with my mentors, Dr. Johanna Kowalko and Dr. Alex Keene, I have been able to combine my two passions! I am currently utilizing the Mexican cavefish to investigate how environmental differences shape the evolution of behavior. Specifically, I study a highly conserved predator evasion response and the circuit that underlies it. Dr’s. Keene and Kowalko left FAU the summer of 2021, so I am continuing my research with Dr. Erik Duboue. I chose the GNTP because of the chance to work in an environment that values collaboration and brings together professionals from a variety of disciplines. I hope you’ll consider joining us!”

 

“In my lab photo, I am using spinal microinjections to label and image the Mauthner neurons in 6-day old fish larvae. These neurons may look simple, but they perform the complex tasks of integrating sensory information and decision making! In our lab we utilize multiple cave and river populations of the Mexican tetra, Astyanax mexicanus, to investigate how environment shapes the evolution of behavior. In order to do this, we need a complete understanding of how exactly their habitats differ. We are working to characterize the microbial community living with the fish, the geochemistry of their host environment, and any biogeochemical linkages between these systems.”

 “We traveled to caves in the Sierra del Abra region of Mexico as part of an investigation into the various habitats of the Mexican cavefish. On this trip I traveled with a group of researchers from Oxford University and la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) to the Pachón and Tinaja caves where we were able to observe the fish in their natural environments. In collaboration with the lab of Dr. Magdalena Osburn at Northwestern University, we are working to characterize the microbial community living with the fish, as well as the geochemistry of their environment. By gaining a more complete understanding of the fish’s environments we are better able to contextualize the behavioral differences we study in the lab.”

Alexandra Paz in Mexico as part of an investigation into habitats of the Mexican cavefish “We traveled to caves in the Sierra del Abra region of Mexico as part of an investigation into the various habitats of the Mexican cavefish. On this trip I traveled with a group of researchers from Oxford University and la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) to the Pachón and Tinaja caves where we were able to observe the fish in their natural environments. In collaboration with the lab of Dr. Magdalena Osburn at Northwestern University, we are working to characterize the microbial community living with the fish, as well as the geochemistry of their environment. By gaining a more complete understanding of the fish’s environments we are better able to contextualize the behavioral differences we study in the lab.”

Allison Walsh
Allison Walsh

Entered: Graduate Neuroscience Training Program 2020
GNTP Affiliate Program: Integrative Biology/Neuroscience 
Mentor: Randy D. Blakely, Ph.D.
Thesis Topic: TBD
awalsh2020@fau.edu
Masters in Public Health MPH Environmental Health & Toxicology, University of Alabama at Birmingham
BS Animal Science & Marine Biology, Auburn University, AL

“My research interests in neuroscience are broadly-speaking, the interaction between our environment and health. My three GNTP lab rotations were in the labs of Drs. Erik Duboue, Randy Blakely, and Sarah Stern. I worked under Dr. Stern at MPFI for two semesters, investigating integrative circuits and complex behavior. The focus of our work was on the circuitry underlying feeding and its ability to be altered by environmental stimuli and stress. I moved to Dr. Blakely’s lab in the spring 2022 semester to continue to pursue my research. As a neuroscience graduate student, I was attracted to the GNTP Ph.D. program at FAU for the many opportunities it offers, such as the close working relationship to the first German Max Planck Institute in the US. The available resources have allowed me the chance to study neuroscience in multiple animal models with cutting-edge technologies, in a diverse and collaborative environment, while enjoying South Florida living.”

Amanda Rojas
Amanda Rojas

Entered: Graduate Neuroscience Training Program 2019
GNTP Affiliate Program: Complex Systems and Brain Sciences
Mentor: Robert Vertes Ph.D.
Thesis topic: Involvement of the nucleus reuniens of the ventral midline thalamus in cognitive tasks involving the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. 
arojas2016@fau.edu
Secretary Neuroscience Student Organization
BS Neuroscience & Behavior/Psychology, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL

Amanda Rojas in her lab

“I am particularly interested in the nucleus reuniens, which is a midline thalamic nuclei that is strongly connected to the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Currently under the tutelage of Dr. Robert Vertes, I am investigating the role of the nucleus reuniens in cognitive tasks that are implicated in frontal lobe disorders, such as ADHD, schizophrenia, and addiction. This preclinical research could point to this nuclei as a possible area of treatment in patients suffering from those disorders. I was attracted to the GNTP because of the ability to rotate in labs with Drs. Henriette van Pragg, Carmen Varela and my mentor Dr. Robert Vertes where I was able to gain new experiences, as well as the neuroscience community that FAU has created with Max Plank and Scripps. I hope you will consider joining our program!"

"In my lab photo, I'm conducting a chromogen reaction on brain tissue to visualize the spread of a DREADD (designer receptor exclusively activated by designer drugs) injection. This allows for the amplification of the fluorophore, and histology that is able to be appreciated by the naked eye." 

Amanda Rojas attending SfN2018

“I attended and presented my research at the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) Conference that was held in San Diego, California in 2018; The highlight of my trip was meeting Dr. Trevor Robbins, University of Cambridge, when he came to my poster, and talked to me about my research!”

Poster Title: "Chemogenetic inactivation of nucleus reuniens impairs behavioral flexibility in an odor texture attentional set shifting task."

Asal Nouri
Asal Nouri

Entered: Graduate Neuroscience Training Program 2018
GNTP Affiliate Program: Complex Systems & Brain Sciences
Mentor: William Hahn, Ph.D.
Thesis topic: Translating mnemonic representations into motor plans. 
President Neuroscience Student Organization
anouri2015@fau.edu
BA Psychology, University of Texas-Arlington, Arlington, TX

Asal Nouri in lab“I am a 3rd year student in the Complex Systems & Brain Sciences Ph.D. program, entering through the GNTP in the Fall of 2018. As an undergraduate, I majored in Psychology at the University of Texas-Arlington, and am particularly interested in the neural mechanisms of visual attention and working memory. Currently under the tutelage of Dr. Edward Ester, I use EEG and fMRI to investigate how people translate mental representations into specific action plans. I was attracted to the GNTP because it provides the opportunity to get hands on experience with a wide variety of different neuroscience disciplines through lab rotations during the first year with Drs.  Elan Barenholtz, Ed Ester, and on the Jupiter campus at Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience with Dr. McLean Bolton. The GNTP provided ready access to investigators, labs, and resources at not only FAU, but also MPFI, and Scripps Florida. If you are looking for high level training and research in neuroscience, I can’t imagine any better place!”
"We used EEG to reconstruct and quantify visual working memory representations over time, and track the fidelity of location information during the memory tasks."

Basak Kocaoglu
Basak Kocaoglu

Entered: Graduate Neuroscience Training Program 2018
GNTP Affiliate Program: Complex Systems & Brain Sciences
Mentor: William Alexander, Ph.D.
Thesis topic: TBD
bkocaoglu2018(at)fau.edu
MA Philosophy, Middle East Technical University (METU), Ankara, Turkey
BA Philosophy, Akdeniz University, Antalya, Turkey

Basak Kocaoglu in lab“I got my master’s degree at METU (Informatics Institute and Department of Philosophy) where I worked on the intersection of mathematical logic and cognitive algorithms. In my thesis, I questioned the trade-off between the model assumptions in causal models (how causality is represented and implemented in models) and the complexity of the phenomenon that is to be modeled. Currently, I am working on computational models of brain function under the supervision of Dr. William Alexander at the Center for Complex Systems and Brain Sciences. I entered the program through GNTP after working in lab rotations with Drs. Emmanuelle Tognoli, Eric Engeberg, and William Alexander. Nationally competitive stipends and the interdisciplinarity were the attractions of GNTP. Pictured here I am discussing the ways to improve the runtime of my algorithm at a lab meeting.”

Bethany O’donnell
Bethany O’donnell

Entered: Graduate Neuroscience Training Program 2021
GNTP Affiliate Program: Integrative Biology/Neuroscience
Mentor: Erik Duboue, Ph.D.

bodonnell2021@fau.edu
BS Neuroscience/Environmental Biology Christopher Newport University, VA

“I am very excited to begin my PhD at FAU through the GNTP! I obtained a dual Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience and Environmental Biology and have worked in multiple research settings in both fields. I worked in a neuroscience lab at CNU conducting research on learning and choice behavior in fish, have interned and volunteered with The MERR Institute in Delaware participating in marine life stranding and conservation research, rescue, and rehabilitation, and have even executed independent experiments in neuroeconomics and island biology. Having such a diverse background in research interests, I was drawn to the GNTP at FAU for the unique ability to complete studies and research in similarly cross-sectional areas of neuroscience and ecology. Especially considering the strong partnerships FAU has with Scripps and Max Planck Institutes, the breadth of resources and opportunities to collaborate across fields far outweigh those of a typical graduate neuroscience program. I hope to focus my research in an area of animal behavior, with my first lab rotation with Dr. Erik Duboue’s cavefish lab, and I also had lab rotations with Dr. Rod Murphey, and Dr. Salil Bidaye at MPFI. I will continue my research in Dr. Erik Duboue’s lab."

brain escobar
Brian Escobar

Entered: Graduate Neuroscience Training Program 2018
GNTP Affiliate Program: Experimental Psychology
Mentor: Sang Wook Hong, Ph.D.
Thesis topic: Decoding of Face Stimuli in Basic Facial Expression and Anti-Expression Conditions
bescobar2018@fau.edu
BS Psychology, Pennsylvania State University

Brain Escobar in lab“I am particularly interested in Cognitive Neuroscience. Currently under the tutelage of Dr. Sang Wook Hong, I am investigating the neurological responses surrounding the processing of basic emotional faces and anti-expression stimuli and decoding such patterns. Currently, I am in the phase of collecting the behavioral data of my research, which will allow us to see how people classify basic expressions and their anti-expression counterparts. Soon we'll be collecting EEG data, that when combined with decoding techniques will allow us to examine if there is a nature and emotional value of anti-expressions in the brain. Work such as this will provide us insights into how robust the brain is regarding the processing and coding of faces. I was attracted to the GNTP because of the chance to gain guidance and support from multiple professors through GNTP lab rotations with Drs. Gizelle Anzures, Ed Ester and Sang Hong. The GNTP provides ready access to investigators, labs, and resources at not only FAU, but also MPFI, and Scripps Florida. If you are looking for high level training and research in neuroscience, I can’t imagine any better place! I desperately needed to leave behind the frigid winters up north. I hope you will consider joining our program!”

Claudia Alvarez
Claudia Alvarez

Entered: Graduate Neuroscience Training Program 2021
GNTP Affiliate Program: Neuroscience Graduate Program (NGP)
Mentor: Henriette van Praag, Ph.D.

claudiaalvar2021@fau.edu
BS Behavioral Neuroscience & Psychology, Randolph-Macon College

“My particular interests include understanding the cellular mechanisms of oxidative stress that increase inflammatory markers in the brain and the potential mechanisms to reverse this damage and promote resiliency. In my undergraduate program, I worked in a research lab which used various mice models of stress to measure the effects on molecular markers of inflammation and resiliency, in the Hippocampus. I then found employment at Radius TBI of South Florida, where I was the Clinical Research Coordinator for an ongoing study on oculo-motor function as a non-invasive biomarker of mild cognitive impairment.

In my first year with the GNTP I rotated in labs with Dr. Randy Blakely, and Dr. Henriette van Praag. I will be working in Dr. van Pragg’s lab investigating the role of diet and exercise in modulation of adult neurogenesis, neuroinflammation and amyloid-beta pathology in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s Disease

I was attracted to the GNTP program because of its multidisciplinary approach to the field of neuroscience. The structure of the program was very appealing, as it provides students with the opportunity to have a rotation within each of these approaches when making the decision of which PhD to further pursue."

Claudius Osei
Claudius Osei

Entered: Graduate Neuroscience Training Program 2020
Experimental Psychology
Mentor: Elan Barenholtz, Ph.D.
Thesis Topic: TBD
posei2020@fau.edu
BS Business Management & Real Estate, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL

"I spent the past 15 years as an athletic trainer and metabolic specialist, which inspired my passion for decision-making in complex environments such as athletic team competitions. During my first year I rotated in three labs with Drs. Elan Barenholtz, Carmen Varela, and Summer Sheremata. Under the guidance of Dr. Elan Barenholtz, I am investigating the body's influence on cognitive processes such as learning, memory, and action planning. I use reinforcement learning techniques to model an artificial human brain embedded in an AI agent that interacts within a simulated environment. By having the agent perform cognitive tasks in a complex environment, I hope to gain insight into the neural dynamics of natural human brains.
I was attracted to the GNTP because of the interdisciplinary approach to solving today's most pressing issues by consolidating psychology, neuroscience, and artificial intelligence. I am sure that the GNTP will foster your aspirations and provide you with the tools to impact your field of study.”

Donald Holder
Donald Holder

Entered: Graduate Neuroscience Training Program 2019
GNTP Affiliate Program: Integrative Biology/Neuroscience @ Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (MPFI)
Mentor: Ryohei Yasuda, Ph.D.
Thesis topic: TBD
dholder2019@fau.edu
MBA, Columbia University, New York, NY
BS Mechanical Engineering, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL

Donald Holder in lab“I am in the Integrative Biology Neuroscience Ph.D. program in my 2nd year, entering through the GNTP in the Fall of 2019. As an undergraduate, I majored in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, and as a masters graduate I majored in Business Administration at Columbia University in New York City. I'm particularly interested in the molecular signaling cascades that are associated with memory, focus, and attention. Currently under the tutelage of Dr. Ryohei Yasuda at Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, I am developing a multi-photon mini-microscope. The flexibility that the GNTP program provided me was instrumental in finding my passion as I was also able to rotate in labs with Drs. David Fitzpatrick, and Yingxue Wang also at MPFI. I hope you will consider joining our program!”

 

"In my lab photo, am carefully inserting an aspheric lens into the laser path for a multi-photon mini-microscope. This head mounted microscope will allow for the investigation of molecular signaling dynamics in freely-behaving mice using fluorescence-lifetime imaging of forster resonance energy transfer.”

Gianna Cannestro
Gianna Cannestro

Entered: Graduate Neuroscience Training Program 2021
GNTP Affiliate Program: Complex Systems and Brain Sciences
Mentor: Emmanuelle Tognoli, Ph.D.

gcannestro2015@fau.edu
BS Biological Sciences, Florida Atlantic University
BA Health Sciences, Florida Atlantic University

“I am interested in studying haptic perception and pain and how they may alter and be altered by other brain activity. I have been working with FAU faculty to present and publish work on somatosensation and it’s confounds. In my first year with the GNTP I rotated in labs with Dr. Jenny Wei, Dr. Larry Toll, and Dr. Summer Sheremata, and will pursue my research in Dr. Emmanuelle Tognoli’s lab. I am investigating how the sense of touch alters or is altered by other activities in the brain. By understanding the relationship between human touch perceptions and chronic pain. My goal is to further advance dynamic approaches to pain management. I chose the GNTP because of the Brain Institute's glowing reputation. Getting the chance to work alongside researchers from FAU as well as Scripps and Max Planck is a hard to pass up opportunity!"

Diversity in Science ~ Claudia earned the McKnight Doctoral Fellowship. This fellowship was created for students pursing doctorate degrees at Florida universities to build equity, diversity and inclusion for under representation of African American and Hispanic populations for those in pursuit of a career in research and teaching at a college or university level. This fellowship provides tuition up to $5,000 per year, and a $12,000 annual stipend."

Goksu Oz
Goksu Oz

Entered: Graduate Neuroscience Training Program 2019
GNTP Affiliate Program: Integrative Biology/Neuroscience @ Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (MPFI)
Mentor: Ryohei Yasuda, Ph.D.
Thesis topic: The Roles of PKMζ and the other PKC Isoforms in the Maintenance of Long Term Memory
goz2017@fau.edu
BA Psychology, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL 

Goksu Oz in MPFI lab"I am interested in molecular basis of learning and memory. Currently under the tutelage of Dr. Ryohei Yasuda at Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, I am investigating the compensatory role of PKC isoforms in the maintenance of long-term memory. I was attracted to the GNTP because of the unique training opportunity that it provides to the first year Ph.D. students not only at FAU, but also in globally known institutions like Max Planck and Scripps. Florida Atlantic University is a rapidly progressing public university, especially in the field of life sciences, and we have already started to see the impact of FAU students and the alumni worldwide. I hope you will consider joining our GNTP team and contribute to this professional and supportive academic environment that the FAU Brain Institute has created."

 

“In this lab photo, I am filling the tiny pores on the agarose gel to conduct gel electrophoresis, which is technique that is used to sort the molecules based on their size differences.”

Jennifer Giordano
Jennifer Giordano

Entered: Graduate Neuroscience Training Program 2021
GNTP Affiliate Program: Complex Systems and Brain Sciences
Mentor: William Hahn, Ph.D.

jgiordano2021@fau.edu
MA Psychology/Psychological Science, University of North Carolina at Wilmington
BA Psychology, University of North Carolina at Wilmington

"I received my BA in Psychology and MA in Psychological Science from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. During this time, I worked on a variety of research projects relating to traumatic brain injury and brain development using neuroimaging techniques, like EEG and fMRI. Recently, I have been interested in learning more about the aging process and the factors that influence neurodegenerative disease. I rotated in labs with Dr. Jenny Wei, Dr. Chad Forbes, and Dr. William Hahn, and will pursue my research in Dr. Hahn’s lab. I was initially attracted to the GNTP because of its interdisciplinary approach and the opportunity to explore my research interests through lab rotations. The exceptional resources at FAU combined with beautiful South Florida weather made the GNTP an easy choice!"  

Jennifer in front of posterIn this photo, I was presenting my lab’s research during a poster session in 2019 at the Annual Conference for the Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) that was held in Atlanta, Georgia.

Kori Citrin
Kori Citrin

Entered: Graduate Neuroscience Training Program 2019
GNTP Affiliate Program: Integrative Biology/Neuroscience @ Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (MPFI)
Mentor: Yingxue Wang, Ph.D.
Thesis topic: Hippocampal Neuromodulatory Circuits
kcitrin2019@fau.edu
BS Psychology/Neuroscience, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT

Kori Citrin lab“I'm particularly interested in how and why the brain remembers certain events but not others. Under the guidance of Dr. Yingxue Wang at Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (MPFI), I am investigating the role of hippocampal neuromodulatory circuits in working memory. I was attracted to the GNTP because of the wealth of resources shared between FAU, MPFI, and Scripps. This gave me the ability to work in three GNTP lab rotations on the Jupiter campus with Dr. Carmen Varela, Dr. Sathya Puthanveettil at Scripps Research, and with my mentor Dr. Yingxue Wang at MPFI. While neuroscience is just one of many programs at other universities, at FAU Jupiter campus, brain research is the focal point.”

Kylie Kealoha Foster
Kylie Kealoha Foster

Entered: Graduate Neuroscience Training Program 2021
GNTP Affiliate Program: Integrative Biology/Neuroscience
Mentor: Larry Tolll, Ph.D.


kyliefoster2021@fau.edu

BA Psychology, California State University, Long Beach, CA

 

“As an undergraduate, I majored in Psychology and conducted research in Community Psychology and Neuropsychology at California State University, Long Beach. I am particularly interested in the epigenetics of families who experience generational cycles of substance abuse, specifically alcoholism. Although my research focus at FAU will be the underlying biomechanisms of alcoholism, I believe in holistic solutions to issues which include both quantitative and qualitative investigation. My overall goal is to contribute to substance abuse prevention, intervention, and recovery. I rotated in labs with Dr. Lucia Carvelli, Dr. Robert Vertes, and Dr. Larry Toll, and will pursue my research in Dr. Toll’s lab.

I was drawn to GTNP because there are a multitude of labs that emphasize interdisciplinary and collaborative research. I am looking forward to working with the faculty at the Brain Institute, along with the researchers at Scripps and Max Planck. I was also impressed by the level of involvement the Brain Institute has with the communities surrounding FAU. I came from an underserved area and I am thankful that with GNTP, I will be in a position to help young students from similar communities."