Congratulations to the Outstanding Neuroscience Senior Award Winners
Every May, as the spring semester comes to a close, the neuroscience faculty honor the program’s exceptional graduating seniors in the Outstanding Neuroscience Student Awards ceremony with friends and family. Unfortunately, our graduating students cannot be celebrated in person this year and so we will recognize the hard work and academic accomplishments of these new college graduates below.
Message from Dr. Saleet Jafri, Director of Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience
Dear Honored Graduates, families, colleagues and friends,
It is my honor to congratulate the Neuroscience graduates on their outstanding achievements. I know you all have worked hard through your time here at Mason and made many fond memories. Those of you receiving awards – you have proven yourself to be cream of the crop of very talented and dedicated neuroscience students. I appreciate the flexibility and resilience all of you have shown in our rapid migration to online education. I want to thank all of you for making this transition possible. Finally, I once more would like to congratulate all you on your achievements and graduation. I am sure all of you have bright futures ahead. Good luck and I hope you will let us know of your future successes.
Outstanding Neuroscience Senior Award
Given to majors with a cumulative 3.5 GPA with at least 60 credits at Mason
Sreehari Girish Kumar
Rafael Hoyos Justiniano
Syeda Zaneb Meerza
Outstanding Academic Achievement in Neuroscience Award Given to the student(s) with the highest GPA, both earned a 4.0!
Outstanding Neuroscience Researcher Award
Awarded to students who have excelled at research, either through development of his/her own project or through contribution to laboratories on campus or in the community.
Sibghatullah Saeed for research in Molecular Neuroscience
Nominated by Dr. Greta Ann Herin and Dr. Avrama Blackwell
Sib began working as a research assistant in my laboratory in May 2019. During this time, he contributed to two projects in the lab. In the first project, he worked with a graduate student to train rats on a novel nose-poke task that was designed to measure short term adaptation to a force field. His work involved all aspects of the behavior, including tickling the rats and working with them in the training apparatus. In the second project, he assisted Valerie in preparing for electrophysiology experiments, including making solutions and setting up instruments for use. Sib was a reliable, cooperative and enthusiastic helper.
Esprit Blatchford-Rodriguez for research in Molecular Neuroscience
Nominated by Dr. Avrama Blackwell
I have known Esprit since July of 2018, when she began working as a research assistant in my laboratory. During this time, she made significant contributions two projects in the lab. In Esprit’s first project, she wrote python code to create a chirp signal, analyze the neuron’s membrane potential response to the chirp signal, and then implemented the chirp signal in our electrophysiology software. This will allow us to quickly evaluate membrane properties of neurons using the patch clamp approach. In Esprit’s second project, she learned the electrophysiology technique of field recording, and started testing a molecular mechanism underlying striatal synaptic plasticity. If COVID-19 had not intervened, she would have collected a set of data that would be included in a published manuscript. Esprit’s success in the lab is attributable to her intelligence, passion about science, independence, and resourcefulness.
Paresha Khan for research in Molecular Neuroscience
Nominated by Dr. Greta Ann Herin
Paresha distinguished herself in NEUR 327 with her curiosity and drive to know more about the molecular mechanisms of neuroscience. She was enthusiastic and engaged in class, and I was delighted when she asked to work on an independent research project in my laboratory. Paresha, together with her colleagues Ali Ahmed and Syed Abbas worked to help build the lab from scratch. Paresha and her teammates built an electronics rack, tuned a pipette puller, created a perfusion system, and made all the proper connections for the electronic equipment in our electrophysiology lab. She also learned to inject oocytes, becoming proficient at using micromanipulators in a short time.
Daniel Plaxe for research in Neurodevelopment
Nominated by Dr. Wendy Lewis
Dan was a student in my research course and continued to do research with me on an independent project the following semester. He is one of the most motivated and sharp students I have ever had. He produced stellar quality of work every step of the way. After completing the research class, he volunteered to help with experimental set up and instruction of the class in the next semester. He was a huge help and did an excellent job. I have rarely seen an undergraduate be able to work so independently. I trusted him in the lab as I would any graduate student or colleague. During this past semester, Dan began working on a research project of significant impact. He showed great dedication and leadership on the project. Dan is an excellent student, has good instincts, works hard, and has a bright future ahead of him in science.
Massiel Raya for research in Molecular Neuroscience
Nominated by Dr. Greta Ann Herin
Massi enrolled in my NEUR 405 Electrophysiology lab course and demonstrated outstanding motivation and initiative. When her classmates were coming in at their prescribed time, Massi came in additionally when the independent research students were working, staying late on Friday evenings. Because of her outsized effort, she learned the techniques in the lab twice as fast as her classmates. She became proficient in a short time at using a micromanipulator. She started a project on the third day in the lab to compare the morphology of electrodes with their resistances. Of everyone in her class, she collected the most data primarily because she was very careful in her work and documented everything she was doing.
Faculty Choice Awards
This award is designed to reward the senior neuroscience major who demonstrates an exceptionally high degree of interest, maturity, motivation, and effort in his/her neuroscience classes. The primary focus of this award is the attitude of the nominated student. In determining the recipient of this award, personal challenges or circumstances that the student has had to overcome can be considered.
Nominated by Dr. Greta Ann Herin
Jalynn is a fierce ray of sunshine, tackling her challenges with aplomb. She is very tenacious, not letting anything get in the way of her goals. For example, Jalynn’s relationship with Organic Chemistry seemed to follow the plot line of a rom-com in which the two parties have a serious disagreement the moment they meet each other. Add to the plot a famously tough professor that seemed to be a barrier between Jalynn and her goal of doing well in Organic. Jalynn bounded into my office one day and when I asked about Organic, she declared with a laugh, “I broke the professor down. They are actually a nice person inside. I just put up my shields and went to office hours every week until I was doing well”. And like that rom-com, this story ends well.
Nominated by Dr. Theodore Dumas
Lucas has a sincere passion for science and has demonstrated this in the classroom and in the laboratory. I served as classroom instructor for Lucas in 2017 and as his laboratory research mentor for the last two plus years. In the classroom learning about cellular neuroscience, his performance was admirable given the personal issues he was dealing with at the time. What I witnessed next in the lab was a rare degree of personal and intellectual growth. Lucas joined our research team with minimal laboratory experience. He developed practical bench skills immediately and his grasp of the theory followed in suit. I appointed him team leader after one year of training due to his dedication and peaceful and patient demeanor. He did not let me down. During his time in the lab, Lucas and his team were able to alter a genetically encoded voltage indicator (GEVI) to have it expressed only in the neuronal soma, restricted from processes, to enable optical analysis of neural circuit activity in awake and behaving mice. The team moved on to attempt similar changes in another state-of-the-art GEVI and also to modify an optogenetic actuator so that it would pass through synapses to connected neurons that were not directly transformed. These are molecular strategies that are in demand by the neuroscience community at large and Lucas has made important contributions. During the fall semester of 2019, his skill level and inspiration were noticed by Karel Svoboda at the Howard Hughes Janelia Research Campus and he was hired shortly after his interview. Lucas has continued along his steep scientific growth curve at Janelia working diligently to build a system to manipulate neurons in the motor cortex during a manual dexterity task in mice. I smile every time Lucas tells me about his advances at Janelia because his excitement is unbridled and I know he is happy and fulfilled. I foresee even more meaningful scientific accomplishments for Lucas as he matures into an independent investigator and mentor for subsequent generations of STEM students. The next step is graduate education and Lucas has already been accepted into the Biology Master’s Program at Mason. He is very well deserving of entry into that graduate program and of this Faculty Choice Award and I am honored to have been his research mentor.
Nominated by Dr. Nadine Kabbani
Karen is graduating from Mason this spring after four years of an exceptional performance on all fronts. In my mind she is a model of success for an undergraduate student based on her deep commitment to learning and passion in the subject. Her track record here demonstrates her qualities both in the classroom and in the lab. With a strong academic performance, she also devoted major time to undergraduate research through participation in Honor's Thesis and OSCAR. Karen has presented her work at several scientific conferences and is a first author on a major scientific paper that examine genetic mechanisms of epilepsy. Of the many things I find impressive about Karen, top is her ability to ask good questions! We will miss her and wish her the best of luck as she starts her scientific journey as a doctoral student at Mount Sinai.