The Johnson Scholars Program

The Johnson Leadership Fellows

The 2013 Johnson Leadership Fellows

Denise Castillo Chavez '14    

Denise Castillo Chavez '14

Hometown: Windsor, Calif. 
Double Major/Minor: sociology and ethnic studies/urban education
Project: Starfish International—Gambia, Africa

Denise Castillo Chavez values service learning, advocacy for and accompaniment with marginalized communities, empowerment of women, and improvement of access to education. She will spend six weeks in Gambia, Africa, working with Starfish International to share these values and empower girls and women through education. As part of a summer institute, Denise will lead classes for girls and young women from local villages—ranging from English and mathematics to goal-setting and photography—all with the intention of providing a safe learning space where these young women will be able to give back to their home communities. Because of her passion for education and advocacy, Denise plans to pursue a career in education advocacy and eventually teach at the university level.

Denise's 2013 Summer Project Update:

"Words cannot express how grateful I am for having spent six weeks with Starfish International. There wasn't a single day that I went to sleep without my heart and soul feeling full and happy—whether it was because of a connection that I made with somebody or a class lesson that went well or learning more about Starfish as an organization—there truly is inspiration and awe to be drawn everywhere you look. Perhaps the biggest thing that I have taken away is knowing that I am now a part of a movement—a movement grounded in everyday accomplishments along with tremendous plans for the future."


Ramsey Fisher '15

Hometown: Fremont, Calif. 
Triple Major: political science, economics, and history
Project: Northern California Innocence Project

One of Ramsey Fisher's life goals is to become a leader who motivates himself and others to make positive changes in society and assist those in need. This is what attracted him to SCU, and to becoming a research assistant for the Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP), whose commitment is to exonerate the falsely convicted and rectify some of the shortcomings of the legal system. For his summer research project, Ramsey will assist attorneys, students, and other staff as they examine the innocence claims of inmates and conduct interviews with witnesses, law enforcement, and attorneys to gather information on cases under consideration. Ramsey believes that being a leader calls one to become an active proponent of change in our community—this is what compelled him to pursue an internship with the NCIP and apply.

Ramsey's 2013 Summer Project Update:

"Research has identified six main causes of false conviction: eyewitness misidentification, flawed forensics, prosecutorial misconduct, ineffective assistance of counsel, informants, and false confessions. As part of my experience with NCIP, I wrote a paper that examines the first four of these six causes of false convictions through the stories of two recent Northern California exonerees—one of which was exonerated during my time at NCIP. I am now in Washington, D.C., interning at the American Bar Association and taking classes at American University, but upon my return to SCU in the winter, I plan to continue volunteering at NCIP."


Lauren Germany '14

Hometown: Scotts Valley, Calif. 
Major/Minor: biology/public health
Project: Genetic Analysis of MAP65-6 and 7 in Microtubule Organization and Cell Growth

Lauren Germany's research focuses on a fundamental biological question: "How do organisms grow?" Together with her mentor, Lauren tailored the project based on her interest in genetics and to better prepare for medical school. She will lead a team of other student researchers in examining how microtubule arrays in plant cells organize and function in morphogenesis, which is universally important for understanding cell growth. Working on this project will enhance Lauren's understanding of the relationships between genetics and physiology and greatly help her as a medical doctor, as genomics is increasingly being applied to medicine. Lauren also views this research as a new channel through which she can continue to serve underprivileged communities, as it has the potential to be applied to crops to develop food security for our ever-expanding population. This project will be the basis of Lauren's honors thesis, which she hopes to present at the annual meeting of The American Society of Plant Biology in Oregon next summer.

Lauren's 2013 Summer Project Update:

"This past summer I learned a lot—and not just about plant genetics and microtubule binding proteins. Through conducting my research, I learned many useful lab skills, but I also learned useful time management techniques that I could apply to the rest of my life as well. Additionally, I learned the value of perseverance and optimism when my experiments produced unexpected results. Rather than viewing results as good or bad, I came to view them simply as results, as important bits of information whether they showed me what I was looking for or not. These unexpected results also helped me to develop my critical thinking capabilities as I worked to reason what could have caused the outcomes of my experiments. Furthermore, I now realize that in research, trying to answer one question often leads you to raise dozens more. However, this is a good thing, because oftentimes these new questions lead you to solve problems that you didn’t even know existed, and they fuel the minds of scientists striving to understand the natural world."


Jared Hara '14

Hometown: Waipahu, Hawaii 
Double Major: bioengineering and economics
Project: Chemical Induction and microPET Screening of Brown Adipose Tissue (BAT) Activation

Jared Hara believes that it's important to give back, and that leadership experience is one of the many skills he'll need in his future career as a physician. His research will focus on potential applications for obesity, diabetes, and stroke treatment. Obesity is marked by an expansion of adipose tissue mass. Brown adipose tissue (BAT) is inversely correlated with body mass index in humans. BAT has "leaky" membranes, which burn fat energy in the form of heat, making BAT a possible therapy for obesity and Type-2 diabetes. Through chemical induction, Jared hopes to increase the metabolic rate of living BAT cells to promote weight loss. While a great deal of testing has been done on BAT, the current research on chemical induction is limited. The Johnson Scholars Program permits Jared to serve as a liaison between international laboratories in conducting this research and provides him with experiential learning in leadership and ethics. Jared plans to concurrently apply for a Fulbright Fellowship, Whitaker Foundation Grants, and other fellowships that permit him to pursue his research interests, with a goal of becoming a research physician.

Jared's 2013 Summer Project Update:

"As a fourth generation Chinese American from Hawaii, I had not been exposed to the rich culture of China and all it has to offer. This summer, I enjoyed the diverse people, breathtaking scenery, and scientific discovery in and around Shanghai and studied at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. At the renowned Ruijin Hospital, which is affiliated with the university's School of Medicine, we ran some of our project tests on the microPET/CT machine to measure the metabolic activity of the brown adipose tissue in the rats. It's considered the gold standard method of measuring activity."


Erik McAdams '14

Hometown: Lake Oswego, Ore.
Major/Minor: civil engineering/Spanish
Project: Analyzing Rural Houses in Ecuador

Erik McAdams has a passion for using his skills to improve the quality of life of others. His study of civil engineering and Spanish at SCU has sparked an insatiable curiosity, which he plans to explore as a Johnson Leadership Fellow, and further develop as a Fulbright fellow after graduation. The focus of his research is to better understand a key root of poverty from an engineer's perspective, related to rural housing in Ecuador and offer potential design improvements to help rural residents with inadequate housing. A crucial component of this research will be the ability to lead in an international setting. After completing a Fulbright, Erik intends to pursue a master's degree in civil engineering and work in sustainable development.

Erik's 2013 Summer Project Update:

"The goal of my research was to analyze rural houses with respect to their structural integrity and pinpoint errors in construction and weaknesses in materials. Houses generally in rural Ecuador are self-built, which has unfortunately opened the floodgates to unstable and unsafe houses. This is especially daunting, since Ecuador lies on the ridge of two tectonic plates, making earthquakes inevitable. I spent five weeks in Ecuador, mostly exploring towns and cities within the central Sierras, but was also able to travel to the coast and Amazon. While in the Sierras, I met with the dean of civil engineering at Universidad Tecnica de Ambato. Under his guidance, and with the help of many local students, I explored surrounding villages and observed rural houses. With these visits I gained a qualitative perspective of the composition of the houses. I determined that the main problems with rural structures are generally lack of steel, poor concrete mixes, and structurally deficient roofs. I obtained samples of steel rebar, cement, and concrete, which I plan to test at Santa Clara University to determine the strengths of these different materials."


Allison McNamara '15

Hometown: Laguna Niguel, Calif. 
Double Major/Minor: anthropology and environmental studies/classical studies
Project: A Comparative Analysis of Positional Behavior and Tail Use in Juvenile and Adult Cebus Capucinus

Allison McNamara is committed to the conservation of rainforests and nonhuman primates, as well as to contributing to research about evolution. She aspires to become a field primatologist and to teach biological anthropology at a university while continuing field research. For her summer research project, Allison will travel to La Suerte Biological Research Station in northeastern Costa Rica to compare positional behavior, specifically tail use and the function of other limbs while the tail is being used, of adult and juvenile Capuchin monkeys. She'll focus her research on details of how forelimb/hindlimb and tail use differs in adults and juveniles in varying behavioral and ecological contexts, unknown in the current literature. These details are important as they allow anthropologists to better interpret fossils and understand primate evolution, examine convergent evolution and the types of forest ecologies that may have led to these adaptive features, and understand behavioral mediations between anatomy and the environment. After collecting 200 to 300 hours of behavioral data, Allison plans to publish and present her research at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. She plans to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship to study different capuchin species in Brazil for one year post-graduation and publish a comparative analysis of positional behavior and tail use in every species within the genus.

Allison's 2013 Summer Project Update:

"It was an amazing summer and experience! Definitely the most exciting two months of my life. I had crazy experiences from up-close snake encounters to seeing a baby capuchin just hours after its birth. My reasearch team and I ran stats, analyzed data, and prepared to present our research at the American Association of Physical Anthropology conference in Calgary, Canada, taking place in April."


Emily Robinson '14

Hometown: Sammamish, Wash. 
Major/Double Minor: biochemistry/public health and biotechnology
Project: Genetic Basis of Stress Tolerance in Natural Populations of Yeast

Science, and specifically biochemistry, is Emily Robinson's passion. She engages in the sciences both inside and outside the classroom and plans to attend medical school and combine her interest in the fields of pediatrics, endocrinology, and molecular biology with a public health, preventive approach to medicine. For 12 months, Emily will research genetically simple traits to leverage potentially important variations in genes of natural yeast populations. Her research will advance our understanding of the genetic rules found in simple yeast and apply this understanding to the genetic basis of human disease such as cancer, Alzheimer's, and heart disease. Specifically, she'll be examining the genetic basis and evolution of ammonia toxicity resistance in certain strains like sake yeast, which has evolved a resistance to high concentrations of ammonia unlike most other strains. Understanding the genetic basis for this variability among yeast strains, and which DNA changes cause these differences, helps us better understand the natural variation of any trait. Emily's findings will allow us to draw connections between the yeast model and the causation of disease risk in humans. After graduation, Emily plans to take a year off to devote time to the molecular biology and research that she's engaged in as an undergraduate before attending medical school and building a career to help those who are less fortunate and have less access to health care for themselves and their families.

Emily's 2013 Summer Project Update:

"This summer proved to be very productive, as my lab partners and I made significant progress on Dr. Hess's long-term project. We completed the first portion of the much larger project, engineering a DNA plasmid as well as identifying, testing, and archiving mutant yeast strains. On the second portion of the project, we will be using the engineered DNA plasmid to isolate and extract a specific allele—one of a number of alternative forms of the same gene—from the confirmed mutant yeast strains. With the extracted alleles, we will build an allele library. Not only did I look forward to going to the lab every day, but I also had the opportunity to collaborate and bond with very supportive lab partners and my research professor."

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