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UW McNair

2012-2013 McNair Scholars

Selamawit Ainalem (Selam)

Selam Ainalem is a sophomore majoring in Material Science & Engineering (MSE) with a minor in mathematics. She is interested in specializing in composites, polymers, and nanotechnology. Her first research project at the UW was entitled “Peptide Mediated Formation and Assembly of SiO2 Photonic Crystals.” She interned on this project for 10 months and through her diligence and hard work was listed as a third author on a manuscript pending publishing. She continued her interest in peptide mediated research by working on a short project that focused on their application in the medical field entitled “Peptide Mediated Formation of Calcium Phosphate Minerals on Titanium Implants.”

This summer, she interned at Boeing where she was exposed to the industry side of the MSE field and began her interest in material engineering research as it applies to electronics. She will begin a new research project this year under the mentorship of Dr. Tamerler-Behar and Dr. Gungurmous to allow her to pursue this interest. In her free time, Selam loves to be involved in on-campus activities, play the piano, learn new languages/cultures, and cook. She is excited to be a McNair scholar and is thankful for all the amazing UW McNair staff.

Misghana Andemichael

Misghana Andemichael is a junior currently working on a B.S. in Biochemistry. Her research interests are drug therapy and gene regulation. Her past research involves African Sleeping Sickness, anti-sense RNA, cheesecloth reducing the risk of cholera and the relation between vaccinations given to infants and HIV susceptibility.  Misghana plans to pursue a MD as well as a PhD through an institution that provides a MD/PhD program. On campus, she is involved in the Minority Association for Pre-Health Students (MAPS), African Student Association (ASA) and HIV Awareness in Research EXPOSED. With the education she receives, she plans to practice in underserved communities, travel abroad to third-world countries and use knowledge gained through her research to provide aid to those areas targeted by infectious diseases.


Sylvana Bendaña

Sylvana Bendaña is starting her senior year at the University of Washington. She is pursuing a geology degree as an Honors student in the Earth and Space Sciences department. Her area of research is on methods of transport and deposition of pyroclastic density currents which are still poorly understood and are the primary hazard associated to volcanic eruptions. Through programs such as the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) and Washington NASA Space Consortium: Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP), she has been able to go out to the Mt. St. Helens National Monument to collect samples and do research out in the field. This December, she will present her work at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco, CA. She plans to pursue a PhD in volcanology studying poorly understood hazards that affect human populations especially in third world countries. Aside from research and attending classes, Sylvana is an active member of the Women in Science and Engineering board (WISE), helping women in high school and middle school get interested in science and engineering. She also volunteers at events such as family day in Johnson Hall as well as Earth and Space Science: Rocket Showcase that promote the earth and space sciences to young students from elementary school through high school.


Merzamie Sison Cagaitan (Mimi)

Mimi is a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and an EIP Presidential Scholar. She was born and raised in the Philippines before immigrating to and becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States. Her immigrant background largely informs her research as an Honors student in the departments of English and Comparative History of Ideas. Her profound interest in the study of forced and unforced migrations of vulnerable bodies is reflected in her past research exploring the metaphoric “wounding” of the corporeal geography of racialized, sexualized, and commodified female bodies as they cross borderlands, and collide with the forces of migration and diaspora. Her current research, which conceptualizes the “mail-order” bride’s body as another body displaced on the massive global shifts taking place today, expands upon her previous work and focuses on the commercialization of sex, the political economy of intimacy, and the global marriage market. In addition to her double majors, Mimi is also pursuing a double minor in Diversity, and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies. These highly interdisciplinary concentrations, coupled with her innovative approach as a critical thinker, allow her to see what most of her peer scholars do not, and enable her to delicately weave a wide range of seemingly disparate sources and discrete material into very cohesive, deeply complex, yet still accessible scholarly work. She wishes to understand the position certain bodies occupy within particular sociocultural and geopolitical networks not only through her scholarship but also in her community engagements.

Since last year, Mimi has worked as a Resident Advisor on campus, helping enhance student life by facilitating academic, social, and cultural activities for 50 residents. She has served as a mentor/tutor for UW’s Student Academic Programs, assisting international students as they transition to the UW, and has also mentored through the UW’s Dream Project, helping first-generation and low-income high school students gain access to higher education. Mimi has also tutored English and Math at Casa de Los Amigos, a part of YouthCare which houses and educates youths detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and recently worked as a language-based community outreach intern with Seattle Against Slavery, a grassroots coalition working to end human trafficking. In these capacities, she was able to communicate with culturally diverse groups through her language skills in Spanish, Cebuano, and Tagalog. This year will mark Mimi’s third year working for First Year Programs as an Undergraduate Peer Instructor, facilitating a10-week course during Autumn Quarter with 25 incoming UW freshmen, and helping them take active steps toward maximizing their educational experiences.

Always, Mimi strives to ignite her scholarship and community engagements with an approach that is alive, innovative, and impactful. Following graduation, Mimi will pursue a Ph.D. in English, and a position as an English professor at a university. There she hopes to research and teach, honing her ability to recognize power inequalities on a local and global scale, and sharing her work on the intersections between race, gender, sexuality, and national identity in the lives of immigrants.


Alex Catchings

Alex Catchings is an Afro-Filipino in the English department. His research interests include Postmodern African American Literature and Black Cinema. Some of his past research projects have included: explorations of how African American authors utilize pastiche as a tool for political mobility in text; the use of derogatory racial epithets in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness; and the interaction of Spike Lee’s cinematography with Stew’s stage musical, Passing Strange. Alex is working to familiarize himself with the broad African American literary canon in order to identify and explore the salient issues of biracial African American art. He is interested in how the aforementioned art affects the development of personhood and the formation of culture among economic sectors. When he is not involved in academic pursuits, Alex enjoys creative writing, composing music, and digital audio recording. He plans to earn his Ph.D. in English and pay forward the dedication his mentors at the University of Washington have devoted to him for future students pursuing academia.

Bryan Dosono

Born and raised on the Yakama Indian Reservation, Bryan Dosono moved to Seattle in 2008 to pursue his undergraduate studies at the University of Washington. Striving towards an Honors Bachelor of Science Degree in Informatics: Human-Computer Interaction, Dosono enjoys exploring, addressing, and solving the difficult challenges relevant to information and communication technologies for development. As a McNair and Presidential Scholar, his current research project examines modern digital inclusion efforts of migrant youth on the Yakama Indian Reservation. Dosono plans to pursue a PhD in Information Science where he can make meaningful research contributions by further exploring issues of technology policy and information access within underserved communities around the world.

Aside from his studies, Dosono is committed to serving his local community and university. He has refurbished secondhand computers at InterConnection, a nonprofit organization that makes technology accessible to underserved communities around the world. He also served as Chair of the Associated Students of the University of Washington Senate, where he defended the official standing opinion of over 40,000 students to faculty, staff, and administrators. As Chapter President of Lambda Phi Epsilon, Dosono developed qualities of leadership and excellence within the members of his fraternity. At present, he works to strengthen the university's adoption of Google Apps for Education as a Google Ambassador. The first person in his family to graduate from college, Dosono mentors his younger siblings and cousins to pursue opportunities in higher education. His close friends know him as a haiku aficionado and sushi connoisseur.

Alma Emadi

Alma comes from a very diverse background. She has lived in many cities ranging from Tehran, Iran to Orange County, California, and of course Seattle. Alma is a senior double majoring in Industrial Engineering and Mathematics. Although she has senior standing, she will be starting her third year of college in Autumn 2011 since she finished the first two years of community college in one year. She is planning to spend her third year exploring her interests in regard to her graduate studies through conducting research and independent studies. She is passionate about human-centered design and hopes to pursuit a PhD in Engineering Design, but is still deciding between small-scale design such as product design or large-scale design such as Systems Design. While taking a full coarse load, Alma spent her first three quarters at the University of Washington conducting research at the Boeing Company first in route optimization for delivery employees and then in decision analysis. The result of her later work, labeled “A Decision Analysis Matrix for Trade Studies”, was published and presented in the POMS 2011 annual Conference in Reno. She is also starting a new research assignment this summer (2011) at University of Washington Medical Center in regard to utilization of industrial engineering techniques for increasing efficiency in the Health Care Systems. In addition to her plans for working in the Industry after attaining a PhD, she has aspirations for teaching part-time at a community college to inspire more students in realizing the value of a higher education.

Elizabeth Emau

Elizabeth Emau is a junior at the University of Washington pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Cell, Molecular, and Development Biology. She is interested in researching topics involving physiological and neurological aspects of biology. Currently Elizabeth researches in the Raible Lab in the Department of Biological Sciences studying neural crest cell differentiation and migration. Through research and her studies, she has been inspired to reach out to the student community. Elizabeth participates in several associations involved directly in the research community and with underrepresented minority members of the community. Elizabeth is very interested in learning about different cultures and her own heritage. Over the past several years she has been travelling to the northern province of Uganda, working with the people of a small village to support and uplift the community’s health and education. She hopes that the knowledge and experience she gains in research will not only help her to answer her scientific questions, but also to improve the lives of the Ugandan community. Elizabeth aspires to attain a graduate degree in a program that combines biological science research with outreach and education.

Jennifer Gile

Jennifer Gile is a junior majoring in biology.  She transferred from the Johns Hopkins University after her freshman year and is currently attending UW majoring in biology.  She works in the de la Iglesia laboratory, which focuses on the pathways by which the central nervous system controls the timing of behavior and physiology.  Her area of research is in circadian biology, with a current research focus on the circadian modulation of neuromotor control.  Jennifer is also a Gates Millennium Scholar who makes several trips back to her old high school in Idaho to educate diverse populations of students about the scholarship and inspire them to realize the value of a college education.

Jessica Gonzalez

Seeking to challenge and disrupt standard narratives that often deny many populations their voice and power, Jessica Gonzalez has just begun her senior year at UW double-majoring in Latin American & Caribbean Studies and History (with an emphasis on Latin America). She is ethnically Puerto Rican, Polish, and Ukrainian and is very proud of both her heritage and multi-ethnic culture. Born and raised in New York City, she has moved around the country with her parents and three brothers and has lived in Barceloneta, Puerto Rico, Las Vegas, Nevada, Oxnard, California, and in numerous locations in and around the greater Seattle area. Through her encounters in these locations, she has become: a voracious reader, an avid consumer of culture, a family-focused global-minded citizen, passionate about learning and living, engaged in a life-long pursuit to try to understand and experience our world in whatever capacity she can.  In her little free time, she mentors undocumented latino youth and volunteers to help with the social organizing, advocacy, and education efforts of organizations such as MECHA de UW, CISPES, El Centro de la Raza, and El Comité.

During the Summer Quarter 2012, she received funding from the Mary Gates Endowment and had the great pleasure of conducting research in concert with the UW Summer Institute in the Arts and Humanities. Her research efforts focused on exploring the impacts of popular representation on Dominican Immigrants and their journey to and establishment in Puerto Rico.   This year she hopes to continue her research in the Caribbean, examining the connection between the popular portrayals of Puerto Rico as the “new border” for US enforcement/protection and the increase of criminal activity on the Island.

Research Interests: Colonial and ‘Post Colonial’ Latin America, Spanish & Portuguese Colonial Borderland Spaces (especially Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, Cuba, the Canary Islands, Madeira, São Tomé, and Principe), Borderlands Theory, Dominican & Puerto Rican Diaspora, Racial/Ethnic Identity Formation, Historical Memory/Amnesia, and the Impacts of Popular Culture, Media, and Censorship.

Alejandro Guardado (Alex)

During the 2012-13 academic year, Alex will take part in the Ronald E. McNair Scholar Program and the English Honors cohort. His primary research interests include cultural studies, with a primary focus on the intersection between literature and film, and cinema studies. His background as a Mexican immigrant largely informs his work. As a young immigrant, he quickly absorbed the culture around him and discovered the medium of filmmaking, paying close attention to the ability of films to represent the world and culture around him. Now, as a student and scholar, Alex hopes to study and analyze the portrayals of cultural systems (gender, economy, crime, class, etc.) and the far-reaching implications of those representations. One particular research project Alex would like to undertake is examining the portrayal of the Western nuclear family unit in both film and literature. His experiences as an immigrant piqued his curiosity of the effects a family has in using notions of tradition and allegiance to shape the identity of members in its unit.

Alex previously volunteered at the Lutheran Community Services ESL program in Vancouver, WA, tutoring Burmese refugees and Eastern European immigrants in English grammar and vocabulary exercises. He is currently interning with TheFilmSchool at the SIFF center in downtown Seattle and with Professor David Shields in the English Department. Alex also writes film reviews for the English section of the Seattle Chinese Times. After graduating this year, Alex hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in English and Cinema Studies and teach at a university with the intent to mentor students who share the same passion for literary theory and film criticism.


 Amir Hassen

Amir Hassen is a junior in the department of biochemistry. He does research on phosphorus NMR analysis of muscle and brain. He uses magnetic resonance spectroscopy to analyze the dynamics of metabolism. Part of his research is focused on mitochondrial Pi and trying to explain why there is a decline in mitochondrial Pi in elderly humans. Through his research he hopes to develop a short protocol that can be used by hospitals to acquire a phosphorous spectrum that gives them useful information about the health of their patients. Amir plans to pursue a doctoral degree in biochemistry using methods of spectroscopy. He is involved with the UW Muslim Student Association and is a Costco scholar. In the future he hopes to start a program in this community to help students pursue a field in science.

Jacinta Heath

Jacinta Heath is a senior in the Anthropology Department, specializing in Medical Anthropology and Global Health. She is interested in issues of Environmental Justice on the Hanford Nuclear Waste Site in eastern Washington, especially issues of disproportionate impact to marginalized stakeholders. By engaging in Community-Based Participatory Qualitative Research and familiarizing herself with risk science and management, she hopes her research can contribute to the revision of the Hanford Public Involvement Plan. She believes that we can strengthen Environmental Justice at Hanford by increasing Primary Stakeholder Involvement within clean-up decision making processes.

After earning her B.A. and completing the McNair Program, she aspires to continue her education in a concurrent Ph.D./J.D. program so she can pursue a career in Intra-National Environmental Law. While she is interested in research at this point, she hopes to become a professor someday and help train the next generation of leaders. When she isn’t in the academic arena she enjoys spending time with her huge, diverse, fabulous family in Bellingham, Washington, where she herself was born and raised.

Vicky Herrera

Vicky is a senior majoring in Biochemistry with a minor In Chemistry. For almost a year, she has been thrilled every day to be contributing to scientific discovery. She works in the Horacio de la Iglesia Laboratory, which focuses on the pathways, molecular and neural, by which the central nervous system uses to control the timing of behavior and physiology. She started in the laboratory through the Amgen Scholars Program, and continued working in the lab as a Mary Gates Research Scholar. She is working on establishing how desynchronization of SCN neurons and the associated disruption of sleep stages affect memory consolidation. Her experiments will provide mechanistic insight into how disrupted sleep architecture interferes with memory consolidation. This research is significant for people with abnormal sleeping behavior, such as, truck drivers, and people who work night shifts. She loves sharing her work at local and national conferences throughout the year. This summer she has been selected to conduct research in the Cavanilles Institute in Spain as part of the Minority Health Disparities International Research Program (MHIRT) program. She is eager to start her research that will involve neuronal stem cell nuerogenesis. Apart from her studies, her interests include hiking, reading and being outdoors. She is very thankful for the support she has received from the Undergraduate Research Program and McNair Program.

Rahma Jama

My name is Rahma Jama, and I am currently a senior in Social Welfare. My goal is to pursue a PhD in social work. I am lucky to be one of the McNair scholars because this program will prepare me for doctoral programs through involvement in research and other activities. I am new to the program, but I can already see how important this program is for my success. It will help me negotiate the application process, and it will also lead me to where I can find resources. I am so happy to have been accepted into the McNair Program. I appreciate the McNair staff for giving me this golden opportunity

Ashley Johnson

I am currently a senior majoring in Early Childhood and family studies. Along with being a Costco diversity scholar I also have the privilege of being first generation college student. My research interest include but  aren’t limited to: The value judgments amongst practitioners, educators, and school administrators that lead to increased rate of preschool aged African American males to be over diagnosed with behavioral issues, and as a result placed in Special education and or EBD classrooms. Through my work with children diagnosed with developmental, behavioral disorder in home, recreational, educational settings. I have come to realize that all children are capable of thriving academically, socially, and emotionally when provided with caring, nurturing support from culturally competent, educators, practitioners that use scientifically based practices. It is my career and educational goal to widen the body of research on children of color, particularly phenotypically black children that are diagnosed with special needs. I am interested in the implications this has for students and families’ lives in terms of incarceration rates, and college enrollment. I will pursue a Ph.D. in School Psychology, where I hope to gain a deeper understanding of these issues, and how they impact my community. My career goal is to be a school based Psychological practitioner that specializes in working with children exhibiting challenging behaviors in both educational and home settings.


Austin Montgomery

Austin L. Montgomery is currently a senior mechanical engineering major and proud Husky.  He is a veteran of the United States Navy where he was an engineering laboratory technician and nuclear propulsion plant mechanic aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. His research interests mainly reside in the area of energy, fluids and biomass conversion. As well as being a father, Austin volunteers on campus to mentor first year students and instructs the Engineering Transfer Interest Group. After graduation he plans on earning a graduate degree in bioresource science and engineering and conduct research on biomass conversion. When not at school, he enjoys spending time with his son, Austin II, and girlfriend Chelsea. Eventually, he would like to speak to children and open their eyes to the possibilities that can come from a college education.

Sandy Nguyen 

Sandy Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American student with aspirations of becoming an oral health researcher. Currently, she is majoring in Microbiology with a minor in Bioethics and Humanities. In conjunction with her academics, she has conducted research under the guidance of Dr. Norma Martinez-Gomez and Dr. Mary Lidstrom. Her project concentrates on the regulation and circuitry of Methylobacterium extorquens AM1’s metabolic network in response to substrate availability. The relevancy of this research lies in better understanding how single carbon metabolism, a process essential to all living organisms, functions and response to changes. Due to the encouragement and support of her mentors, Sandy is a Mary Gates Research Scholar, has presented at the annual Undergraduate Research Symposium twice, and has published work in the last year.

Another highlight of Sandy’s undergraduate career has been her involvement with the Vietnam Health Clinic, a student-led health organization advised by Scott Fung. Her experience as a general member and dental leader solidified her interest in developing and refining techniques in oral health care for people living in low-resource areas. Her participation in the Summer Medical Dental Education Program and volunteer work at the Union Gospel Mission have continued to fuel her passion in combating these socioeconomic disparities.

She is incredibly thankful to be a member of the Ronald E. McNair Program and hopes to make the McNair team very proud.


Sandy Cathy Nguyen

Sandy Nguyen is a senior in the honors program majoring in Law, Societies and Justice with a minor in Classical Studies. At a young age, she and her sister were met with the challenge of raising the two young daughters of an older cousin who passed away unexpectedly. Despite the challenges of juggling school and her responsibilities as a guardian, Sandy maintains a high level of academic success and commitment to giving back.

When she attended Franklin High School in Seattle, Sandy was a member of the wrestling team. During her first two years at UW she remained with the team as a coach and became a mentor to many students. Sandy also worked with students as an intern for the UW Upward Bound program, helping freshmen from first-generation and low-income backgrounds navigate through their first year of college. She currently tutors at the King County Correctional Facility helping inmates obtain their GED through educational enrichment. 

As a Husky Promise student and Leadership 1000 Scholar, Sandy works part-time to help pay for school expenses. Her career goals have been inspired by her parents’ experience with the cultural and language barriers they experienced in the United States after fleeing from the Vietnam War. Due to their difficulty understanding employment rights and work place resources, Sandy herself is interested in becoming an advocate for immigrant worker rights. She works as a student assistant in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, a position that has allowed her to understand the relationship between workers’ rights and their working conditions. She hopes to learn more about non-profit leadership to ultimately create a program that educates migrant workers and serves as a liaison for underrepresented groups merging into society.


Chinonso Opara

Chinonso Opara is a junior in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Washington. During the summer after graduating from high school, Chinonso gained his first lab experience under Dr. David Lindsey in the Department of Biology in Walla Walla University. There he aided their work in elucidating the signaling pathway of the ubiquitin protease ubpA. Since then, Chinonso has been blessed with the opportunity to continue his research activities. In the lab of Dr. Patrick Stayton in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Washington, Chinonso worked on a project aimed at enhancing antitumor immune response, where he focused on characterizing the level of gene knockdown using smart polymers as delivery vehicles for siRNA.  Also, Chinonso had the opportunity to participate in the University of Washington Summer 2012 Amgen Scholars Program. As an Amgen Scholar under Dr. William Atkins in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry, Chinonso played a major role in creating a new method for measuring the concentration of quantum dots in solution using surface plasmon resonance and analytical ultracentrifugation. Being an aspiring physician, Chinonso plans to be a conduit between patients and science as he combines clinical work with research. Outside of academics and research, Chinonso enjoys exercising and spending time with family and friends. Also, Chinonso takes great pleasure in playing trombone and piano, and is an avid composer of music. He started writing music at the age of 11, and since then has written several musical numbers for a wide array of instrumentation.


Geoff Phillips

Geoff Phillips is a junior majoring in Physics and Applied Mathematics but has myriad interests including Electrical Engineering, Philosophy, Human Cognition, Programming, and Education. Geoff is a first generation, non-traditional student who also conjures financial resources and repose working part-time as a Marine Electrician. He transferred to the University of Washington in 2010 after receiving an extraordinary education and experience from Everett Community College. In his free time, he enjoys tutoring, spending time with family, and learning. Geoff plans on pursuing a PhD in Experimental Physics while gaining a strong background in Mathematics. He hopes to conduct research in Condensed Matter and Nonlinear Dynamics. Although Geoff’s initial aims are toward research and development, he plans to eventually teach. He hopes to one day enlighten and inspire students as well as Professor Mark Kot (University of Washington) and Heidi Weiss-Green (Everett Community College) have inspired him.

Jennifer B. Rubio

Jennifer is a senior in the BASW program and the Community Service Chair for the OSSW at the University Of Washington School Of Social Work.  She is a fellow with YP4 and is working at the UW Women’s Center on the NEW Leadership Institute of 2013.  For her senior practicum, Jennifer has been placed with the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition to work with residents towards improving conditions in the Duwamish Valley based on the needs of the community. 

Her interests include social justice, marriage equality, reproductive rights, political science, community service, health disparities, and governmental administration with a focus on public policy and advocacy.  In her free time, she loves to travel, try new foods, and ride her motorcycle.  Jennifer is also a CourtWatch Monitor for the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center and a volunteer at the Seattle Animal Shelter.


Cynthia Irene Simekha (Princess)

Cynthia Simekha is a senior in the Public Health and Global health Departments. Currently, her intended area of research is health disparities in Africa; mainly her focus is on the social determinants of health and inequality among youth (especially males). This is because most of the people and programs launched in Africa focus on women and girls thus forgetting about men and boys. Cynthia, who likes to be addresses as “African Princess” or “Princess Adanma” (which means the first beautiful, intelligent, and kind daughter), was born and raised in Kenya. Additionally, she speaks more than 8 languages and has visited many countries in Africa. She is also active in academic and non-academic organizations such as LSAMP, USPHA, MAPS, Trio-SSS, Global Health Group, and ASA (African Student Association). She plans to pursue a doctoral degree in Public Health with a specialty in community health and health policy and management. In the future, she hopes to start an organization that will empower and guide children from low-income households who have passion in Social Sciences and Arts to expand their understanding of these fields and guide them to achieve their dreams both academically and socially. Her hobbies include sculpting, drawing, painting, graphic design, photography, travelling, cooking, nature walks, and dancing. Lastly, Princess would like to pass her regards to Mr. & Mrs. Carlos Simekha, Ismael, Tracy, Luda, Mama Josephine A., Sambula M., Andrea Griggs, Trio at Bellevue College and UW, McNair scholar advisors, family and friends for the endless support.


Lisa Stuart

Lisa Stuart is a senior at the University of Washington pursuing a Bachelors degree in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and an Honors student in the Department of Biology.  Her current research is focused on genomic DNA replication timing with the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

After earning her Bachelors degree, she plans to attend graduate school pursuing a PhD in Genetic Research where she hopes to contribute to cutting edge discoveries in Genome Sciences for the better health of humanity.


Henedina Tavares

My name is Henedina Tavares and I’m a junior at the University of Washington majoring in American Ethnic Studies with a minor in Education, Learning, and Society. I was born on the Eastside of Washington State in Toppenish but grew up in Sunnyside; a small town about 20 minutes away from Toppenish. I come from an agricultural migrant family from parents who were both born in Mexico. Growing up in an agricultural family, I always saw the exhaustion of long hours of physical labor. My parents would always tell me to get an education unless I wanted to be working long hours for very little pay. My parents’ scarred hands from working in agriculture labor are a reminder that only through an education can I have a better life. I can’t stress enough what my amazing parents mean to me. They are the reason why I never give up on anything and always give my best. My parents inspire me to succeed in life and work hard and I would like to thank them: Gracias por todo su apoyo y amor incondicional.

During my high school career I had the opportunity to be an intern for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in the summer, twice under the public affairs division where I focused my research on diabetes among Hispanics. My first study was on the evaluation of home health parties in improving diabetes knowledge and management practices among Hispanics. My second research project was to provide blood glucose screening, with the help of the Sunnyside Community Hospital, for Hispanics living in the Lower Yakima Valley and assess their understanding about diabetes and their perceptions about the disease. I received a certificate from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center for my 360 hours of research for each project. I enjoyed doing research where I had interaction with my community and also educating the public about health precautions. I have also been a tutor to high school students, through the TRIO program, that were struggling with their school work. I would meet daily with students after school to help them with class material that they struggled with by showing an alternative approach of thinking about their homework. For my ESL students I employed special educational strategies and techniques during instruction to improve the development of the English language. My greatest reward working with students was their success in understanding class material after I had explained different methods of approaching their homework. I also gained valuable skills in teaching such as communication skills and the importance of being in tune with students. I was also involved in my high school’s Honor Society, Future Business Leaders of America, and the Latino Culture Club. I’ve been a volunteer at my church’s food banks every year since I started 6 years ago.

In 2009 I graduated from Sunnyside High School as salutatorian of my class and was the first one from my family to graduate from high school. I entered the University of Washington as a Costco Diversity scholar. My freshman year in college I became a member of the Latino Student Union where we organized events that highlighted our culture and held several fundraisers to provide necessary finances for marginalized Latino high school students. My sophomore year I had the opportunity to work in Professor Parker and Professor Barreto research project by gathering data for their research by conducting questionnaires via telephone. I was also invited to become a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and participate in the National Name Exchange. Currently, I am an intern for the State of Washington Children and Family in Toppenish.

My short-term goals are to graduate from the University of Washington with honors and make investigations about the detrimental health farmworkers experience from working in the fields and implementing a plan to prevent the hazards. I would also like to continue tutoring high school students and elementary students who struggle with their homework to help them thrive in school. My long-term career goal is to become a professor in American Ethnic and Chicano Studies department at the university level. I am interested in doing research in higher education, particularly in the health issues surrounding the Latino community in agriculture labor as well as the educational gap among the Latino youth. Coming from a working-class family and being a woman of color it has been a difficult journey to where I’m at now, pursuing a higher education at a university. I did not have a role model to follow or to ask for help from or guidance in academic measures. I want to be a professor because I want to be an inspiration to many students who have a similar story to mine. I want to guide them and reassure them that dreams can be achieved by providing them with the social and cultural capital to maneuver the university system.

Iris Viveros Avendaño

Iris Viveros Avendaño was born and raised in Mexico and moved to the United States in 2005. She is the youngest of five children and the first in her family to pursue college education.  Even though her parents did not have the same educational opportunities, they worked hard and taught Iris and her siblings the life skills and values necessary to achieve their goals. Ever since Iris was a child, her parents taught her that whatever she decided to do in life she had to find ways to give back to her community. This life lesson developed into a sense of responsibility and gratitude toward others. 

 Iris is currently studying her B.A in Social Sciences in the Evening Degree Program at the University of Washington. She is interested in learning about the various power mechanisms that subjugate people of color, particularly indigenous women. Her interest in the different forms of violence that affect women of color and their freedom of choice has motivated her to think and learn about strategies to end systems that perpetuate violence. Iris’s undergraduate research seeks to explore the impact that communal expressions of dance and music can have on individuals and communities who are survivors of violence.

The inspiration for her project comes from her involvement and participation in The Seattle Fandango Project. In Iris’s words: “The Seattle Fandango Project has helped me realize the importance of community-building for justice and equality. We have to work together to build communities that do not tolerate violence. In The Seattle Fandango Project we do this through music and dance. We are always redefining and rediscovering ourselves in the process. We are always learning to work as a community in the context of a society that values individual success. The greatest strength of The Seattle Fandango Project comes from each one of its members and the different things each of us offers.”

Iris plans to further her education in graduate school and to keep working within academia as well as in her community. Her goal is to utilize activist scholarship to draw on the unique strengths that both community and academia have to offer.



Janelle White

Aspiring to change the world through redefining how the mainstream considers those of mixed-race identity, Janelle White is a History and American Ethnic Studies double major in her junior year at UW. She feels that the future of Race Studies, specifically for those who exist within a grey area of mixed identity, needs to be an equal balance of consideration for the past and integration of contemporary theory. This past year, she interned at the Northwest African American Museum in the Central District with a focus on community outreach. The work she did at the museum, interacting with both youth and the elderly, expanded her critical scope and how she thought about who is affected by the search for identity. It allowed her to realize that at any age, the idea of who you are is not something concrete.

In regards to research, she’d like to focus her work on mixed race youth age 5 to 18; how they negotiate their self-image and concepts of identity, how those around them (family and friends) influence and discuss their racial make-up, and what aspects of their cultures they choose to identify with and what aspects they choose to disregard. Ultimately, she would like to pursue a PH D in American Ethnic Studies as well as initiate a program that offers up a space for mixed-race youth to discuss and navigate their identities in a friendly, understanding, and fun environment.

Outside of her academic studies, she has a deep interest in 20th Century presidential history, pie baking, fashion, The Twilight Zone, and old furniture. She is a UW Honors Program Student, an active member of the UW’s Mixed Club (Multiracial Student Association), as well as a 2011 Killam Fellow who will travel to Toronto in fall of 2011 to learn more about Canadian concepts of identity.

Janelle is very grateful for the opportunity to be a McNair Scholar, as well as the great mentorship and assistance she’s received from all of her Professors and T.A.s within the AES program.

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The University of Washington McNair Scholars Program is a TRIO Program funded by the United States Department of Education, and the University of Washington, and the UW Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity(OMAD).