2018 Alumni

After a successful first year in 2017, SPARK participation grew to 16 students in the second year. Two of those 16 students were also part of the 2017 cohort, and four went on to be selected again for 2019. Meet the 2018 alumni and learn more about their achievements during their SPARK term.

  • SPARK Research Mentorship Program scholar Afreen Ashraf

    Afreen Ashraf

    Term: 2018 (senior)

    School: Stanton College Preparatory School

    Research: Afreen's research with Aneel Paulus, M.D., Ph.D. on Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia earned third place at the Northeast Florida Regional Science and Engineering Fair. She planned to study neuroscience and global health at Duke University.

  • SPARK Research Mentorship Program scholar Ahmet Bilgili

    Ahmet Bilgili

    Term: 2018 (senior)

    School: Atlantic Coast High School

    Research: Ahmet worked with Abba C. Zubair, M.D., Ph.D. and Mayo Clinic research fellow Nisha C. Durand, Ph.D., on the effects of 25-hydroxyvitamin D₃ on mesenchymal stem cell properties. Ahmet presented his project at the Mayo Clinic SPARK Mini Science Fair. He went on to the University of Florida's Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering to study biomedical engineering.

  • SPARK Research Mentorship Program scholar Ashton Body

    Ashton Body

    Term: 2018 (junior), 2019 (senior)

    School: Episcopal School of Jacksonville

    Research: Ashton's research with Debabrata (Dev) Mukhopadhyay, Ph.D. focused on designing a targeted nanoparticle formulation for drug-resistant breast cancer stem cells. Ashton presented her project at the Mayo Clinic SPARK Mini Science Fair and at the Northeast Florida Regional Science and Engineering Fair, 2019 State Science and Engineering Fair of Florida, and the 2019 International Science and Engineering Fair, where she earned the third place grand award in biochemistry. During her second year of SPARK in 2019, Ashton's work focused on drug delivery and metastatic cancer, furthering her drug delivery system research from the previous year. Ashton was named a top 300 scholar in the Regeneron Science Talent Search for 2020. She received first place at the Episcopal School of Jacksonville Science Fair in biological science. Ashton planned to attend Harvard University and major in biochemistry or anthropology.

  • SPARK Research Mentorship Program scholar Isha Chekuri

    Isha Chekuri

    Term: 2018 (senior)

    School: Allen D. Nease High School

    Research: Isha worked in the Translational Cardiovascular Disease Research Laboratory of DeLisa Fairweather, Ph.D., researching the regeneration of the heart using exosomes. She presented her project at the Mayo Clinic SPARK Mini Science Fair.

  • SPARK Research Mentorship Program scholar Zoe Fields

    Zoe Fields

    Term: 2018 (senior)

    School: Ponte Vedra High School

    Research: Zoe's research with Verline Justilien, Ph.D. on the characterization of biomarkers of PKCi-directed therapy for treatment of lung cancer earned second place in the St. Johns County Science Fair. She went on to study biomedical engineering at the University of Florida.

  • SPARK Research Mentorship Program scholar Courtney Krider

    Courtney Krider

    Term: 2017 (junior), 2018 (senior)

    School: Ponte Vedra High School

    Research: Courtney's research with Debabrata (Dev) Mukhopadhyay, Ph.D., on non-small cell lung cancer cells earned third place at the Northeast Florida Regional Science and Engineering Fair and recognition at the State Science and Engineering Fair of Florida in 2018. Courtney was also awarded third place in the Florida Regional Junior Science, Engineering, and Humanities Symposium. During her second year in SPARK, she worked with Abba C. Zubair, M.D., Ph.D. Courtney went on to study biomedical sciences and astronomy at the University of Central Florida.

  • SPARK Research Mentorship Program scholar Sophia Kurian

    Sophia Kurian

    Term: 2018 (senior)

    School: Allen D. Nease High School

    Research: Sophia's research with Keith L. Knutson, Ph.D. and Mayo Clinic research fellow Geraldine Vidhy (Geraldine) Raja, Ph.D., focused on the role of adrenomedullin in breast cancer stem cells. Sophia presented her project at the annual research presentation event for SPARK students, at her high school and county science fairs, and at the Mayo Clinic SPARK Mini Science Fair. She went on to Seton Hall University to study biology on the premedical track.

  • SPARK Research Mentorship Program scholar Elizabeth (Lilly) McCabe

    Elizabeth (Lilly) McCabe

    Term: 2018 (senior)

    School: Bartram Trail High School

    Research: Lilly's research with Evette S. Radisky, Ph.D., focused on the role of serine protease inhibitors in increasing attachment-free survival of ovarian clear cell carcinoma. She presented her project at the Mayo Clinic SPARK Mini Science Fair and the Northeast Florida Regional Science and Engineering Fair. Lilly went on to study microbiology at the University of Alabama and was accepted into the Emerging Scholars Program for undergraduate research.

  • SPARK Research Mentorship Program scholar Rishi Misra

    Rishi Misra

    Term: 2018 (junior), 2019 (senior)

    School: The Bolles School

    Research: Rishi worked in the Cell Adhesion and Metastasis Lab of Panagiotis (Panos) Z. Anastasiadis, Ph.D. studying the role of adhesion molecule PLEKHA7 in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. Rishi presented his project at the Mayo Clinic SPARK Mini Science Fair, The Bolles School Science and Engineering Fair, and the Northeast Florida Regional Science and Engineering Fair (NEFRSEF) in 2019 and 2020. He received a special award for best senior medicine and health project from the University of Florida College of Medicine at NEFRSEF 2020 and was invited as a finalist to the 2020 State Science and Engineering Fair of Florida. Rishi planned to study history of science, medicine and public health at Yale University.

  • SPARK Research Mentorship Program scholar Marc Pappas

    Marc Pappas

    Term: 2018 (senior)

    School: Mandarin High School

    Research: Marc's research with John A. Copland III, Ph.D. on prostate cancer allowed him to place second at the Northeast Florida Regional Science and Engineering Fair and at the State Science and Engineering Fair of Florida. Marc planned to major in biological engineering at the University of Florida.

  • SPARK Research Mentorship Program scholar Priyanka Perisetla

    Priyanka Perisetla

    Term: 2018 (senior)

    School: Stanton College Preparatory School

    Research: Priyanka's research with Pamela J. McLean, Ph.D., investigated the use of the novel compound honokiol to attenuate alpha synuclein protein in a cellular model of Parkinson's disease. Priyanka presented her work at the annual research presentation event for SPARK students, at the Mayo Clinic SPARK Mini Science Fair and at the Northeast Florida Regional Science and Engineering Fair. She went on to study biochemistry at the University of Florida.

  • SPARK Research Mentorship Program scholar Victoria Pham

    Victoria Pham

    Term: 2018 (junior), 2019 (senior)

    School: Ponte Vedra High School

    Research: Victoria worked in the Tumor Angiogenesis and Vascular Biology Lab of Debabrata (Dev) Mukhopadhyay, Ph.D. and with Mayo Clinic molecular biology researcher Ying Wang, M.D., Ph.D., on screening novel anti-inflammatory small molecules in endothelial cells. She presented at the Mayo Clinic SPARK Mini Science Fair; the Academy of Biotechnology and Medical Research at Ponte Vedra High School; the 8th Mayo Clinic Symposium on Tumor Microenvironment and Cancer Therapeutics: Role of Precision Medicine and Targeted Therapy in Clinical Practice; and the St. Johns County Science Fair, where she won the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Award. Victoria participated in many outreach events, including at MOSH, the Museum of Science and History in Jacksonville, where she taught children how nanoparticles work with the lab of Joy Emelie (Joy) V. Wolfram, Ph.D. In her second year in the program, Victoria continued her research on novel small molecules and their role in inflammatory diseases. She placed third in senior biomedical/cellular/microbiology at the 2020 St. Johns County Science Fair and was invited as a finalist to the 2020 State Science and Engineering Fair of Florida. Victoria went on to attend George Washington University.

  • SPARK Research Mentorship Program scholar Raha Riazati

    Raha Riazati

    Term: 2018 (junior), 2019 (senior)

    School: Stanton College Preparatory School

    Research: During both of her SPARK terms, Raha worked in the Neurogenesis and Brain Tumors Laboratory of Hugo Guerrero Cazares, M.D., Ph.D. where she studied the role of neural progenitor cells on the malignancy of glioblastoma cells in vitro. Raha presented her project at the Mayo Clinic SPARK Mini Science Fair, the Northeast Florida Regional Science and Engineering Fair in 2019 and 2020, the State Science and Engineering Fair of Florida in 2019 and 2020, and the 2019 International Science and Engineering Fair. She planned to study chemistry at California Institute of Technology.

  • SPARK Research Mentorship Program scholar Katherine Rodriguez

    Katherine Rodriguez

    Term: 2018 (senior)

    School: Allen D. Nease High School

    Research: Katherine's research with Rachel Sarabia Estrada, D.V.M., Ph.D., and Mayo Clinic research fellow Beatriz I. Fernandez Gil, Ph.D., focused on melatonin as an anti-proliferative agent in brain metastasis from breast cancer. Katherine presented her research at the Mayo Clinic SPARK Mini Science Fair and many other science competitions. Her research earned an honorable mention at the Junior Science, Engineering, and Humanities Symposium. She was awarded first place in 2019 at the St. Johns County Science Fair and at the State Science and Engineering Fair (SSEF) of Florida in the biomedical and health science division. She was also awarded the J.T. Malesky Award for outstanding presentation of scientific research at SSEF. Katherine continued her passion for scientific research at the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York, studying biology and neuroscience with a premedical concentration.

  • SPARK Research Mentorship Program scholar Alexander Tun

    Alexander Tun

    Term: 2018 (senior)

    School: The Bolles School

    Research: Alex's research with Keith L. Knutson, Ph.D., was titled "Anti-PD-1 Blockade Therapy to Stimulate T-Cell Activating Properties of Dendritic Cells." Their work examined PD-1 signaling in vitro through the NF-kB pathway in murine bone marrow-derived dendritic cells and whether anti-PD-1 checkpoint blockade therapy stimulated the release of cytokines by dendritic cells, thereby enhancing T-cell activity for maximum immune response. Alex presented his work at the annual research presentation event for SPARK students and at the Mayo Clinic SPARK Mini Science Fair. He won first place in the microbiology category at his school science fair and at the Northeast Florida Regional Science and Engineering Fair, and fourth place at the State Science and Engineering Fair of Florida. Alex planned to pursue a premedical track at Northwestern University.

  • SPARK Research Mentorship Program scholar Kavitha Vudatha

    Kavitha Vudatha

    Term: 2017 (junior), 2018 (senior)

    School: Stanton College Preparatory School

    Research: Kavitha's pancreatic cancer research alongside Baoan Ji, M.D., Ph.D. earned first place at the Northeast Florida Regional Science and Engineering Fair, a special award from the University of Florida College of Medicine, and second place at the State Science and Engineering Fair of Florida in 2018. During her second term in SPARK in 2018, Kavitha continued her research with Dr. Ji using a CRISPR-Cas9 method to knock out Aurora kinase A gene expression in pancreatic cancer cells. She planned to study computer science and premedicine at the University of Florida.