FARMERS Scholars

USDA Scholars

2021 Undergraduate Students

Suzzy Emily Campero

Research Interests: My research interests are in brown adipose tissue abundance in CBD-treated OLETF rats. OLETF rats are a model for human diabetes and obesity and this research is studying the effects that CBD has on these conditions, as well as other metabolic syndrome conditions. 

What I like most about research: I love having this opportunity to work on research that directly affects my ethnic community. It is a pleasure to be able to work in such a close team of students and mentors alike.

Steven Gonzalez

Research Interests: My research interests include looking at the manifestation and attenuation of metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes in the OLETF rat model.

What I like most about research: Research provides me a great opportunity to express my curiosity and make some meaningful contributions to important scientific questions.

Brianna Lopez

Research Interests: My current research interest includes the study of almonds and nutrition with Professor Rudy Ortiz and agroecology with Professor James Sarria.

What I like most about research: It allows me to investigate and collect data on topics of my interest. It opens eyes to things I’ve never seen before. I learn something new each day with research.

Brianna will be studying at UCDC in 2022. 

Brian Martin 

Research Interests: My research interests include component design and how different materials and lubricants affect friction of non-traditional systems. In practice, this ranges from designing a testing system for refrigerant and lubricant mixtures to creating a human tongue replica to establish a correlation between friction and wine astringency. 

What I like most about research: What I find most rewarding is establishing links between physical phenomena and the underlying surface/material interactions that cause them.

Jennifer Mendez

Research Interests: My research interest includes materials science in the biological field and the attenuation of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Specifically, the use of efficient and affordable materials in the development of prosthetics for materials science in the biological field. Additionally, understanding ways in which the effects of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes can be reversed and lessen the impact on a person’s daily life.

What I like most about research: The opportunity to always learn more and push myself out of my comfort zone in the lab. Additionally, being able to present what I’ve learned to others and see it spark their interest.

Melisa Quintana

Research Interests: My research interests include soil health in agroecological systems, nutrient cycling in natural ecosystems, conservation and regeneration of biodiversity, land defense, food sovereignty, social justice, and climate resiliency. I’m currently researching how soil health amendments, specifically the addition of biochar and compost, can improve soil quality and increase carbon sequestration in conventional systems.

What I like most about research: I’ve always been curious about the world around me. My favorite part about research is being able to further my understanding about the natural world by asking questions and testing theories. 

Rene Rodriguez

Research Interest: My research interests are still evolving based on the many topics and concepts that are introduced to me. At the moment I am working on metabolism and its effects on the body.

What I like most about research: Research provides me with an opportunity to grow my scientific skills while also being able to make an impact in the scientific world by participating in these projects that could influence the next set of researchers.

Sammy Villa

Research Interests: I am interested in how cells regulate protein homeostasis during development and in response to changes in the environment. My project seeks to characterize the role of a deubiquitinase in regulating  protein translation during development and in response to cellular stressors.

What I like most about research: I like to figure out how things work at a molecular level. I also enjoy using research as a way to interact with and mentor students that are underrepresented in the sciences.

USDA Scholars Graduate Student Alumni

Jennifer Alvarez

Research Interests: My research interest includes sustainable and resilient food systems through investigating the impacts of conventional and conservation soil management practices of agricultural lands. Specifically understanding the influence these practices have on soil water properties and soil structure.

What I like most about research: The opportunity it provides to travel to diverse environments as well as the opportunity to better understand and manage these environments.

Candace Cole

Research Interests: My research interests include microbiology, genomics, and microbial evolution. The focus of my PhD research is the evolution of antibiotic resistance in bacteria. I am working to determine the prevalence of antibiotic resistance genes found in clinical and agricultural bacterial isolates to identify and assess trends in the evolution and dissemination of antibiotic resistance.

What I like most about research: Doing research allows me to collectively use the knowledge, techniques, and passion for microbiology I have acquired throughout school to contribute to the advancement of science and our understanding of the world around us.

Manuel Cornejo

Research Interests: I am interested in diabetes and metabolic syndrome, specifically in the effects of body mass reduction interventions –caloric restriction and lipectomy- in the improvement of metabolic syndrome and changes in substrate metabolism  in an obese, insulin resistant rat model.

What I like most about research: The possibility to collaborate with undergraduate students in our lab and professors from other institutions; the opportunity to make our own contribution to a problem that had an increasing concern over the last decades.

Janna Emery 

Research interests: Diabetes and glucose homeostasis. My project focuses on caloric restriction (30%) impacts on glucose uptake and metabolism in liver. I am specifically interested in Hexokinase IV (glucokinase) activity and its possible relation to caloric restriction and insulin resistance. 

What I like most about research:  I love contributing to science and working with others who share the same passion towards furthering our knowledge about the unknowns of our world. 

Vicky Espinoza

Research Interests: My research addresses sustainable water management for global food, energy, and water security. I am analyzing how California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act could impact the retirement of more than 10% of San Joaquin Valley’s irrigated lands, and how those land use changes could affect already socioeconomically vulnerable communities within the region. Overall, my research will offer a blueprint for strategizing how and where to retire large blocks of land and suggest alternative land uses that will maximize benefits to the economy, environment, and our agricultural communities.

What I like most about research: Conducting research allows me to explore environmental issues from a creative standpoint and allows me to diversify my skill set and knowledge at every stage of my project. I appreciate that research allows my work to translate into broader insights that can inform water management and policy, while resulting in more equitable solutions for disadvantaged communities in the San Joaquin Valley, California and beyond.

Jose Godoy

Research Interests: Diabetes and metabolism alterations. My PhD work examines diabetic alterations in metabolism, mainly focused on lipid handling through the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). I am interested in lipid droplets (small fat-containing organelles inside the cell) and their dynamics changes in morphology and composition during various stress conditions (e.g. fasting, disease, exercise). Given that in our lab we work with rat models of type II diabetes I will be able to study the liver’s lipid droplets and be able to elucidate  mechanisms pertinent to the NAFLD pathology.

What I like most about research: What I like the most about my research is the fact that our publications can have such impact on the development of future treatments of disease. Elucidating mechanisms and exploring different pathways during the development of a disease is key to understand what are the changes that contribute to the derangement of our health so they can be targeted.


Paola Saldierna Guzman

Research Interests: My prime interest is bacterial adaptations to diverse habitats. My research focuses on understanding the interactions between endophytic bacteria and almond trees and helping to improve agriculture sustainability.

What I like most about research: I really enjoy collaborating with diverse research groups to develop biotechnological and sustainable approaches to minimize impacts on environmental health. Additionally, I would like to design educational programs and be an educator for children to promote science and the idea of sustainability.

Arjun Kohli








Dora Alicia Mendez

Research Interests: My name is Dora Mendez and I am currently interested in the insulin signaling pathway specifically if mild caloric restriction (30%) can increase insulin receptor phosphorylation activation or have any downstream effect in insulin signaling pathway

What I like most about research: Science is persistently morphing and there’s so much that has yet to be discovered. What I like most about research is the hands on experience of working in a wet lab and the ability to contribute to new discoveries.

Ruben Rodriguez

Graduated in 2018 with a PhD in Quantitative Systems Biology, and conducted a post-doctoral researcher experience at UCSF, Dr. Rodriguez now works as a post-doctoral associate at Carmot Therapeutics, Inc.




Salvador Rojas

Research Interests: My research interest includes molecular biology, cancer, and the nervous system. DNA damage is a prominent feature of aging and cancer cells, often observed in renewing tissues. Nonetheless, it remains elusive how cellular crosstalk may affect the behavior of cells with DNA damage during tissue renewal. My research focuses on identifying neural determinants regulating the behavior of cells with DNA damage during tissue renewal using the planarian flatworm.

What I like most about research: Having the opportunity to design, and work on new technique to answer a question is what I find fascinating about research. I have had the opportunity to collaborate with other colleagues on a variety of projects. Working with undergraduate students has allowed me to teach them techniques, and give them an insight as to what research consist of.

Ruben Rodriguez

Graduated in 2018 with a PhD in Quantitative Systems Biology, and conducted a post-doctoral researcher experience at UCSF, Dr. Rodriguez now works as a post-doctoral associate at Carmot Therapeutics, Inc.



Yocelyn Villa

Research Interests: I am interested in sustainable management practices  on farms and ranches, soil quality and health, and carbon sequestration.

My research focuses on biosolids and how soils can store carbon for a long time. She shared her experiences as a first-generation PhD student on the “Live to Sustain” podcast about environmental sustainability in the Central Valley, where she discussed the issues of environmental justice in the Central Valley.

USDA Scholars Undergraduate Students Alumni

Kaitlyn Aldaz

Marilyn Barron

In a PhD program at Vanderbilt University Fall 2019




Susana Canela

Alessandra Fontana

Diego Gonzalez

Research Interests: Approaches to analyzing satellite imagery and NDVI to detect areas of fallowed land.

What I like most about research: It’s one of the key steps in increasing our knowledge about the world around us. It provides us with a lot of insight into what we study while also opening the door towards more things to explore.

Marco Haro-Crespo

Research Interests: I am interested in how a change in proteins and their glycoform variations can have effects on blood pressure.

What I like most about research: I enjoy that research is often trying to solve a puzzle that has no guiding picture just an idea of what should be the end result should be, being able to fit the pieces together and discover something that was previously unknown makes it all the more exciting.

Samantha P. Navarro

Research Interests: I am interested in how genetics has a role in health and how certain genotypes are predisposed to specific types of diseases and disorders.

What I like most about research: I find research interesting because there is always something new to add to our current understanding and the overall process of investigation is exciting.

Fidel Machado-Perez

Sigry Ortiz Flores