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American Heart Association HSI Scholars Share Research Findings

Six Montclair students participating in the national AHA program honored at HSI research symposium

Posted in: Health, Hispanic Initiatives, Science and Technology, University

Seven students smile and gesture at the camera.
Six Montclair students completed the American Heart Association’s Hispanic Serving Institutions Scholars Program, including Melissa Spigelman, Jeffrey Yumbla, Kenneth Mosquera-Reinoso, Yaire Hernandez, Lizet Negrete and Wendy E. Islas, left to right. Also pictured is Tyler Sanchez of William Paterson University, second from right.

Six Montclair State University students, along with two dozen others from across the country, recently presented their research findings and were honored with medals as part of the American Heart Association’s Hispanic Serving Institutions Scholars Program’s Spring Research Symposium at University Hall’s Conference Center.

Students heard from a number of speakers, including Montclair’s Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Junius Gonzales, who served as the keynote speaker. He shared his circuitous route from “a vermin-infested tenement” in Hartford, Conn., to medical school and now higher education.

“I’ve been incredibly fortunate. I’ve taken leaps into some big unknowns,” he said in his keynote. “Scholars, never forget who you are and where you came from because it sets the stage for who you will become.” He urged students to “take leaps, take chances and take risks.”

Junius Gonzales stands at a lectern, smiling.
Once a practicing medical doctor and now Montclair’s Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, Junius Gonzales was the keynote speaker. He urged students to “take leaps, take chances and take risks.”

Cardiologist Dr. Carlos Rodriguez, a physician researcher at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, urged students to continue to pursue their dreams of careers in medicine, health care and more.

“We’re not really well represented in medicine and in science, and these young Latino students need to know that because I did it and others have done it, it is possible,” he said. “It was a long, hard road, but it is possible. And the AHA was a big part of it, especially when I started my cardiology career.”

Many students stand in front of posters in a large conference room.
Dozens of students, including Yaire Hernandez, bottom right, presented posters as part of the American Heart Association’s Hispanic Serving Institutions Scholars Program’s Spring Research Symposium.

The AHA HSI Scholars Program is in its second year. Funded by Secaucus-based Quest Diagnostics®, the program works with 18 Hispanic-serving colleges and universities in Los Angeles, Puerto Rico, Miami, Houston, Chicago, New York and now New Jersey to increase representation in health care. Montclair had the most student scholars at the symposium with six: Yaire Hernandez, Lizet Negrete and Melissa Spigelman, all juniors, senior Kenneth Mosquera-Reinoso, and sophomores Wendy E. Islas and Jeffrey Yumbla.

Mitzi Cardona, AHA’s portfolio advisor for Collegiate Diversity Partnerships – Hispanic-Serving Institutions, said the scholars were paired with their mentors at the beginning of the academic year with the goal of developing the posters presented at the symposium in April. “It’s given some students the opportunity to further develop their research experience and those that don’t have that experience to obtain it,” she said. “Montclair specifically had a diversity of student majors, and that’s what their research represented.”

Students presented their poster boards to attendees and answered questions:

  • Hernandez, a Public Health major who was mentored by Public Health Professor Stephanie Silvera, presented on “Exploring Food Choices of Childcare Workers in Northern New Jersey: Perceptions of Shopping at a ‘high-end’ Grocery Store.”
  • Islas, a Molecular Biology major mentored by Biology Professor Carlos Molina, presented “Investigating the Link Between Elevating levels of the ICER protein and its Effects on Ovulation.”
  • Negrete, a Public Health major under the mentorship of Public Health Associate Professor Mireya Vilar-Compte, presented on the “Post-pandemic Adaptations to the Ventanillas de Salud, Culturally Sensitive and Binational Health Outreach Model for Mexicans in the U.S.”
  • Mosquera-Reinoso, a Biochemistry major under the mentorship of Chemistry and Biochemistry Associate Professor Jaclyn Catalano, investigated “The role of specific acidic residue (M305) of Mammalian Cytochrome P450.” He also submitted his poster to the American Chemical Society and was invited to present at its annual conference in Indiana.
  • Spigelman, a Molecular Biology major also under the mentorship of Molina, presented “Is ICER, a protein with antitumor functions, paradoxically eliciting refractory tumors?”
  • Yumbla, a Biochemistry major who also was mentored by Catalano, presented “A Comparison of the Effects of Substrate Activity on Cytochrome P450 Enzymes.”
A student stands in front of a poster as two people look on.
Biochemistry major Jeffrey Yumbla, center, presents his research findings.

Many students will continue their research as they further their studies. In addition to the research opportunity, the AHA HSI scholars attended the American Heart Association’s national conference in Chicago, where they received professional mentoring and participated in leadership skills workshops and cultural competency training. Additionally, the program awarded each student a $7,000 scholarship.

The program bonded the students, each of whom was presented with an AHA HSI bronze medal inscribed with their names, during a medallion ceremony.

“I’m sure that in a few years, we’re going to have many doctors and scientists and people in public health,” said Mosquera-Reinoso. “I’m likely going to be seeing them, so it’s really nice to know that I know them and that we went through this together.”

Photo Gallery

A woman hugs a student after presenting her with a medallion.
Katia Paz Goldfarb, associate provost for Hispanic Initiatives and International Programs, presents Yaire Hernandez with her medallion, as the AHA’s Dr. Eduardo Sanchez looks on.
A band with bongos, brass and string instruments performs in front of a large audience at a luncheon
The audience at the American Heart Association’s Hispanic Serving Institutions Scholars Program’s Spring Research Symposium were treated to a performance by the John J. Cali School of Music’s Afro-Caribbean Ensemble.
People seated at round tables eating lunch listen to a speaker during a symposium.
Dozens of students, faculty and American Heart Association representatives were on hand for the AHA’s Spring Research Symposium.
A female student speaks from a lectern.
Melissa Spigelman expressed gratitude for the Scholars Program, noting “The greatest gift the American Heart Association gave me was the confidence to be a voice for my community.”
Professor gestures as he speaks to an audience.
Biology Professor Carlos Molina, who served as mentor to Melissa Spigelman and Wendy E. Islas for their research projects involving zebrafish, addresses the audience.
A student talks to two attendees about his research.
Kenneth Mosquera-Reinoso’s research involved studying a cytochrome that metabolizes drugs, such as antibiotics, and other compounds that enter the body.
A student gestures as she speaks to two onlookers in front of a poster.
Lizet Negrete, a Public Health major, discusses her research.
A man and a woman stand on either side of a student.
Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, chief medical officer for prevention with the American Heart Association, left, and Montclair’s Associate Provost for Hispanic Initiatives and International Program Katia Paz Goldfarb, right, presented Wendy E. Islas with a medallion.

Story by Staff Writer Sylvia A. Martinez. Photos by John J. LaRosa and Brent Szklaruk-Salazár.

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