Meet the Scholars

The SF BUILD scholars spend one to two academic years in the program and receive one-on-one mentoring and training to discover their research interests and motivate them to pursue a career in the NIH-funded workforce. Learn more about the training program.

SF BUILD 2018 Scholars

Azuka Atum

As a Microbiology undergrad at SFSU, Azuka Atum has had the opportunity to explore different ways that you can use research to improve underserved communities. Born in San Francisco, Azuka spent most of her life in the East Bay where she was able to have exposure to the different kinds of careers that she could pursue to help alleviate health disparities that disproportionately affect communities of color such as nursing, medicine, and research, through volunteering in her local community. One area of research she’s interested in explores how hair products may lead to 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 Chatad

Derrick Chatad is a biology major with concentration in physiology. Originally from Cameroon, Derrick was  interested in science at a very young age. Living in a cross-cultural country, Derrick is fluent in French and English. He was  able to observe the lack of scientific reasoning  in the day to day interactions in his community, 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 understanding how the propagation of these diseases vary among specific races. Derrick hopes to bring personalized pharmacogenetic treatment therapies to different diseases, including neurodegenerative diseases. The SF BUILD program will provide Derrick with resources, knowledge and opportunities to feed his curiosity while maintaining his scientific and personal values. He envisions going to medical school and providing healthcare while continuing with clinical research.

Brittany Contreras

Brittany Contreras is a Health Education major with an emphasis in Community-Based Public Health, and 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, she hopes to gain greater insight on the technical skills necessary to become successful in the field of research. She is excited at the prospect of investing her passion for community organizing and public health research into creating a more equitable society. Her career aspirations are to pursue a doctorate in public health, and utilize her education to transform health policy on a global scale.

Maria Cruz

Maria Cruz is an undergraduate student working on her B.S. in Biology with an emphasis in Physiology and a minor in chemistry. During her childhood, she grew up in Alabama and moved to the Eastside of San Jose, CA at age fifteen. Maria’s research passions consist of health disparities within vulnerable communities and how the health in her communities can be increased. Her career goal is to get a dual doctoral degree, MD-PhD. Within the program, she is looking forward to emerging herself in the research culture and gaining the confidence as a woman of color in science by utilizing resources and mentorship that SF BUILD offers.

Clarissa Ferguson

Clarissa Ferguson is a Biology major with an emphasis in Physiology. Clarissa grew up in a Guatemalan household in Los Angeles, California. Being raised in a disenfranchised community, Clarissa was able to recognize and have compassion toward the people around her, no matter what social class, color, or ability. Her research interests consist of ways she can help disenfranchised communities and have them understand what occurs in their bodies. With the help of SF BUILD, she hopes to break down scientific terminology into everyday language to help people in different communities have a better understanding of science. Clarissa also hopes to become more knowledgeable in scientific research and gain more skills as a scientist. In the future, Clarissa aims to become a Medical Doctor with a lab of her own to conduct research on health disparities in her community and around the world.

Leeza Gaitan

Leeza was born and raised in San Francisco, California in the Mission District. Her major is Psychology and has a research interest in neuroscience specifically on how the brain with age can be a cause of Alzheimer’s as well as Dementia. Leeza’s goal is to be a Psychiatrist and help patients who need guidance by helping them with their mental health. Leeza wants to gain out of SF BUILD training the opportunity to grow and learn. This will bring her out of her comfort zone with being able to gain experiences in labs and mentorship and believe that she does belong in Science.

Jake Gibson

Jake Gibson is a psychology major focused on clinical research. Raised in several 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 wellbeing.

Thai Hill

Thai 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 imparted upon him the importance of ethical and community focused progression. He is interested in creating a career focused on the intersection of engineering and biology in order to better the quality of living for individuals typically overlooked by the dominant culture of STEM. He is extremely excited to use the opportunities provided by SFBUILD to develop his skills as a scientist as well as introduce him to the bioengineering field. 

Eric Jackson

Eric is a Biology major with an emphasis in physiology. Eric was raised in Bay Point California, a small community dependent on the cohesiveness of those who comprise it. At a young age Eric became interested in science and dreamed of a world in which he could bring his love for science back to his community. As an undergraduate at San Francisco State University, Eric plans to focus his research on elucidating the causes of debilitating neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Furthermore, Eric plans on shortening the knowledge gap created by the unequal distribution of information in the world, making scientific knowledge accessible to all. With the help of the SF BUILD program, Eric seeks to gain the tools needed to educate himself and bring his dreams to fruition, reshaping our current landscape and making an overall positive impact on the world. 

Steven Lomeli

Steven Lomeli is a Kinesiology and Biology major at San Francisco State University. His interest include teaching and competing in martial arts, reading, cooking, running, yoga and being outdoors. Born and raised in Southern California, the passion that fuels Steven’s desire for research stems from devastating family circumstances, a reccuring component that each relative suffered from, encompassing both physical and biological factors. Steven hopes to integrate his interest in Atherosclerosis, diabetes, nutrition, and HIV to contribute to prevention practices with research that incorporates the respected disciplines. Steven aspires to utilize the training from the SF BUILD program to enter a PhD program, at the same time give back bridge the gap in health disparities amongst 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 which resulted in her interests in Public Health related research. Stemming from a Mexican immigrant family, Andrea incorporates family ethics into her work heavily. Her research interests consist of epidemiology related work such as obesity and diabetes related health issues in Latinos and the underlying causes in this community. Andrea anticipates her growth as a scientist in a lab setting, thanks to the opportunities brought by SF BUILD. Andrea hopes to bring her experiences from the Public Health field into the world of Biomedical Science.

Alexandra Shiffer

Alexandra Shiffer is a Physics major. She was born in San Francisco, California and raised in South San Francisco for the majority of her life. Growing up in a Hispanic dominant community where a large portion of the residents do not have access to healthcare has led her to wanting to become a scientist in the medical field. Her research interest is primarily in radiation oncology, which stems from her desire to study and develop more effective treatment of cancer using radiation. Participating in SF BUILD provides Alexandra with hopes to gain a better understanding of how research is conducted and also grow as a scientist. In the future, Alexandra strives to improve the health of her community by discovering safer and better radiation treatment of cancer.

Natalie Torres Cacho

Natalie Torres is a Biology major and a Special Education minor. She was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. Natalie comes from a very traditional Hispanic family which empowers her to strive for success in the science field. Her research interest is in Pediatrics because she loves children and knows she can make a positive impact in their lives. As part of the SF BUILD program, she hopes to utilize this great resource and experience to do meaningful research and pursue her dual doctoral degree, MD-PhD. 


Thricia Zabala

Thricia Zabala was born and raised in Quezon City, Philippines, and immigrated with her mother to the United States in her early pre-teens. She spent the rest of her teens San Francisco, California where she was exposed to a lot of social justice activism that inspired her to find a way to incorporate science with public health. Thricia is a current undergraduate majoring in Microbiology with a minor in Health Education at San Francisco State University. She is interested in researching diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, which affect low-income communities the most. She is hoping to earn her Ph.D. after she obtains a bachelor’s degree. She is looking forward to gaining research experience, exploring different routes in biomedical research, and learning how to use her research to give back to her community through SF BUILD. 

SF BUILD 2017 Scholars

Martha Arriaga

My name is Martha Arriaga and I am a Biochemistry major. I am from Pittsburg, California and have lived in California my whole life. I am currently in a neonatal brain disorders laboratory at UCSF which is specifically focused on hypoxic-ischemia affecting premature babies. I am interested in neuroscience research and plan to pursue a PhD in neurobiology after I get a Master’s in public health. SF BUILD has helped me so much by providing me with a supportive cohort of students, staff, and mentors that have influenced my growth these past few months and continue to provide me with resources and support.

Kayla Lam Little

Kayla is a Cell and Molecular Biology major with a minor in Health Education. She grew up in South Florida for her childhood and then moved to San Diego during her teenage years. Kayla has a specific passion for Reproductive Sciences and Women’s Health. She aims to fight to provide more resources within reproductive care and enhance reproductive freedom. Kayla looks forward to gain more confidence as a scientist through the help of SF BUILD to become a role model for others, especially mixed-raced women in science, like herself.


Luis Chumpitaz

Luis is an undergraduate Computer Engineering major with a minor in Physics. He was born and raised in Peru, moved to Los Angeles, California at the age of 15, and was always interested in science and technology being that the main reason why he moved to San Francisco. With the recent growth of technology and data science usage in the biomedical sciences, he is interested in applying his skills and learn more about such areas by doing research in a bioinformatics laboratory while in SF BUILD.

Brianna Huerta

Brianna is a Physiology major who despite growing up in San Francisco, never learned how to successfully parallel park. 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 BUILD’s continued guidance on her journey.

Marsha Calvert

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

Alma Barrios

Alma is a Biology major with a concentration in Zoology. She is an SF BUILD scholar and 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

Imani Davis is a Cell and Molecular Biology from Oakland, CA. Her interests lie with 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 how comprehensive biomedical research is and looks forward to learning how others have combined their interests to do research meaningful to them. 

Jennifer Sanchez

Jennifer Sanchez is a cell and molecular biology major at San Francisco State University. She grew up in Santa Ana, California. Jennifer feels very grateful and blessed to be a part of SF Build. She is looking forward to make great connections and expand her networking in the sciences. She enjoys to learn and is open to many fields but has an interest in neuro-oncology. 

Nikee Salamanca

Nikee is majoring in Biology(Physiology) and minoring in Chemistry. She was born in 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. The topics that she was exposed to in class sparked her interest in exploring research. As part of the SF BUILD program, Nikee looks forward to experiencing the research culture and to gaining a better understanding of her career aspirations as well as developing relationships with the people that will share this journey with her.

Louis Contreras

Bios coming soon!

Elizabeth Urrutia

Bios coming soon!

Jacob Gomez

Bio coming soon!


SF BUILD 2016 Scholars

Natasha Crawford

Bios coming soon!

Bethany Morin

Bios coming soon!

YingCong Yan

Bios coming soon!