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Engineering Graduate Students Named Siebel Scholars

UC San Diego

November 7th 2014


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L-R: 2015 Siebel Scholars Ronnie Fang, Begoña Álvarez-González, Sophia Suarez and Todd Johnson with Professor Shu Chien (center).

San Diego, Calif., Nov. 7, 2014 -- Five engineering graduate students from the University of California, San Diego who are working to improve human health and better understand the biological world through engineering have been named 2015 Siebel Scholars.

“I’d like to offer my hearty congratulations to these outstanding and highly accomplished graduate students. Through their research and service activities, our Siebel Scholars are great examples of people who are pursuing engineering for the global good, which is one of our guiding principles here at the Jacobs School of Engineering,” said Albert P. Pisano, Dean of the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

These students are part of a growing group of faculty, students and researchers within the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering who are working with interdisciplinary partners to advance medicine and improve human health. Six of the 19 new professors to the Jacobs School of Engineering are addressing health and medicine through their engineering research. One of these new professors, bioengineering professor Stephanie Fraley, was named a Siebel Scholar as a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University.

Four of the five Siebel Scholars are affiliated with the Department of Bioengineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, which is ranked the No. 1 ranked bioengineering doctoral program according to the most recent National Research Council study released in 2010.

“Congratulations to the Siebel Scholars Class of 2015. Representing the best and brightest from around the globe, these distinguished students join entrepreneurs, researchers, and philanthropists from past Siebel Scholars classes to form an unmatched professional and personal network – bringing together diverse insights and perspectives from business and engineering disciplines at the forefront of solutions to global challenges,” said Thomas M. Siebel, Chairman of the Siebel Scholars Foundation.

Siebel Scholars 2015

Begoña Álvarez-González:

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Begoña Álvarez-González

After working in the aeronautical industry and eager to apply engineering methods to biological systems, Begoña Álvarez-González decided to pursue a Ph.D. at UC San Diego in the field of bioengineering. She works with Professors Juan Carlos del Álamo and Juan C. Lasheras in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department at the Jacobs School of Engineering and Professor and Associate Dean Rick Firtel in the Division of Biological Sciences. Her research is focused on the relationship between the mechanics and biochemistry involved in cell migration, characterizing the interaction of cells and their extracellular environment. Álvarez-González received her BS and MSc in Aeronautical Engineering from the Polytechnic University of Madrid, Spain.

Outside the lab, she nurtures scientific interest in young children from different socio-economic backgrounds by participating in the Nifty Fifty Program, the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth, and the Salk Mobile Lab. In addition, she is a co-founder and principal member of UC San Diego’s MAE Graduate Women’s Group. Begoña’s future goal is to establish a Bioengineering Research Center in her home country, Spain, and to become a university professor, thereby continuing her dedication to research and to training new generations of scientists.

Ronnie Fang:

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Ronnie Fang

As a member of nanoengineering professor Liangfang Zhang’s nanomedicine laboratory, Ronnie Fang is doing research on novel biomimetic nanoparticles for the treatment of diseases including cancer and bacterial infections. Fang has authored nearly 20 papers in peer-reviewed journals, including Nature Nanotechnology, Advanced Materials, and Nano Letters; and his work has received awards at international scientific meetings. Fang is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of NanoEngineering, and he plans to stay in academia after he graduates. Ultimately, he aims to become a professor at a research institution where he can continue work on leveraging nanomaterials to address pressing health issues. Fang was a Jacobs Scholar as undergraduate at UC San Diego, double majoring in electrical engineering and biochemistry. He was previously awarded a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Research Fellowship by the Department of Defense.

Todd Johnson:

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Todd D. Johnson

Todd D. Johnson is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of Bioengineering at UC San Diego. He is a member of bioengineering professor Karen Christman’s Lab at the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine. His research has focused on developing and testing naturally derived injectable biomaterials for treating cardiovascular diseases. Johnson has developed two new biomaterials derived from human tissues. The first material was designed as a potential treatment for heart failure after a heart attack and the second was for treating peripheral artery disease. Funding for his research has come from the Charles Lee Powell foundation as a Powell Fellow, from the NHLBI as a training grant recipient, and the NSF as a Pre-doctoral Fellow. At UC San Diego, Johnson has been involved with the Bioengineering Graduate Society as VP. He is also a violist in the Greater San Diego Chamber Orchestra and is a founding member of the Stella Quartet of San Diego. 

Sophia Suarez:

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Sophia Suarez

Sophia Suarez is designing and testing versatile and safe biomaterial therapies for cardiac repair. Her work includes the development of a microparticle delivery system that responds to the microenvironment in the injured heart to precisely tune the delivery of therapeutics. She is also informing the design of safe biomaterial therapies by determining how biomaterial properties influence cardiac electrophysiology. She is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Bioengineering at UC San Diego, co-advised by professor Adah Almutairi from the UC San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy (with departmental affiliations in NanoEngineering and Radiology) and bioengineering professor Karen Christman. Suarez was a co-chair of professional development of the bioengineering graduate society, selecting and arranging visits for panelists of a dozen meetings designed to connect bioengineering students to local biotech companies. Suarez received her B.S. from MIT in Materials Science and Engineering and helped design a tissue engineering therapy for treating anterior cruciate ligament injuries at the Children’s Hospital of Boston under the direction of Dr. Martha Murray.

Hermes Taylor-Weiner:

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Hermes Taylor-Weiner

Hermes Taylor-Weiner studies how extracellular matrix properties can be engineered to direct embryonic stem cell differentiation toward definitive endoderm, the embryonic precursor to the adult pancreas. Taylor-Weiner is a doctoral candidate in the department of Bioengineering at UC San Diego under the supervision of bioengineering professor Adam Engler.

Taylor-Weiner’s graduate studies have been supported by the UC San Diego Competitive Edge Fellowship Program and by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program. While at UC San Diego, Taylor-Weiner has co-led the Department of Bioengineering’s NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. The REU program provides research opportunities to students from backgrounds that have been traditionally underrepresented in engineering and encourages these students to pursue an advanced degree. As a program coordinator, Taylor-Weiner has helped participants win competitive research fellowships and gain admission to top graduate programs. His long-term career goals include broadening the participation of students in STEM related fields through mentoring and public policy.




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Jacobs School of Engineering

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Jacobs School of Engineering

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