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blazing the trail group of students

Blazing the Trail – Our Scholars

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Daniel Almonte

“It’s been transformative, and it’s been a dream. To be part of the first group is very special because we will always be the first; there will never be another first.”


— Daniel Almonte

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DANIEL ALMONTE

With his strong interest in physics, Daniel Almonte was already in the process of applying to Stony Brook University because of its highly ranked physics and astronomy department when he saw a mention of the Simons STEM program in the admissions portal. “I read about it and I loved what I saw, and I just had to apply,” he said.
Daniel Almonte

Now that he is here and already doing research in his field, Almonte is planning ahead. “For my PhD I’m open to what I will specialize in, but as of now I see myself doing high-energy physics research, which very closely relates to particle physics research. And I’m also very interested in cosmology. And a main intersection of those two fields is the research of dark matter and dark energy, which is another one of my big interests. So, I see myself exploring the realms of particle physics, cosmology, hopefully dark matter and dark energy.”

Almonte is also looking to help others pursue their interests in physics. He’s a member of the National Society of Black Physicists on campus. “We have weekly meetings, which range from just having fun activities to activities like building a résumé or practicing your elevator pitch. The main goal of the club is to keep the retention rate of Black physics majors high and also to increase the percentage of Black physics majors.”

 

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Aviya Boyce

“The staff is incredibly supportive. It’s great having  someone outside of my head telling me that I’m capable of being able to go to these heights and go forward when I don’t always believe in myself. Having that someone who believes in me and pushes me helps a lot.”


— Aviya Boyce

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AVIYA BOYCE


Aviya Boyce has years of research under her belt. She attended Benjamin N. Cardozo High School in Bayside, New York, and was in the Da Vinci Program where she learned about medical research. Projects she worked on included testing the particulate matter levels in different zip codes to see if they correlated with the level of COVID-19 in those areas. Another project took place at City College, studying the effects of skin-to-skin contact or lack thereof between parent and child.
Aviya Boyce

These experiences fueled her desire to pursue an MD and PhD, with plans to do research, though she’s not sure in what specific areas. “Right now, I’m looking into cancer research, a field that always needs development because there’s always going to be cancers, and I would love to be able to contribute,” she said. “And also psychological research because I love developmental work, anything having to do with kids, learning to help them overcome trauma and how those experiences can affect them later down the line. I absolutely love working with kids, so I may go into pediatric oncology or pediatric psychiatry, or even become an OB-GYN to focus on women’s health.”Boyce’s aunt, an OB-GYN, initially piqued her niece’s interest in becoming a doctor. “I went to work with her and I was able to see what she did, and it was quite interesting. Seeing her interact with her patients in the hospital, how she helped them, and to see her enjoy what she does — that made me want to become a doctor,” she recalled. “At first, I thought I would definitely become an OB-GYN. But then I found out about psychiatry and all the other branches of medicines. It’s going to be a hard time choosing.”

 

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Nic Beckles

“What I have enjoyed most about being a Simons Scholar is developing connections with people who are interested in the same things I am, and being able to speak scientifically with other people and learn new terms that will be helpful in my field.”


— Nic Beckles

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NIC BECKLES


When Nic Beckles first applied to become a Simons STEM Scholar, he did so as a computer science major but soon made the transition to marine vertebrate biology. “I had a talk with my advisor, Ms. McCombs, Nic Becklesand we talked about what I’m actually interested in. I told her I was very interested in animals; specifically, helping sea turtles and frogs. And basically, my goal is to save them from becoming endangered in the future. And she helped guide me to find the right major and path for me.”

Beckles is now doing research in the lab of Alice Powers, a research professor in the Department of Psychology, who studies the behavior of turtles to understand the evolution of the brain. He’s been assisting with experiments on stimulus generalization, “which is basically finding out if turtles can recognize a line, which is either horizontal or vertical, and determine if that is the correct line that leads to food.” He now plans to pursue a PhD most likely in zoology so he can focus on studying frogs, reptiles and other amphibians.

 

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Japrika Rodriquez

“If I could describe my experience here in three words, it would be challenging, uplifting and inspiring.”


— Jeprika Rodriguez

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JEPRIKA RODRIGUEZ

As a student at Diana C. Lobosco STEM Academy in New Jersey, Jeprika Rodriguez was exposed to research at a young age. But she was so determined to do more experimental, hands-on research that she cold-called local colleges until she found a lab that had an opening. “I became a research assistant at Montclair State University in a psychology lab. There I was able to study the cognitive development of typically developing children and children with autism and Down syndrome.”
Japrika Rodriquez

She initially became interested in neuroscience and endocrinology because of a relationship with someone with Alzheimer’s disease when she was younger. That interest led her to the academy, where she worked on several research projects, which resulted in her receiving the Hispanic Heritage Youth Award Gold Medal in Healthcare and Science.

Rodriguez said she sees herself in four years being in an MD/PhD program or a medical scientist training program, though she’s not decided on an area of focus yet as she explores different research areas as an undergraduate.

For now, she’s doing research in neurobiology and behavior. “I really loved the dynamic of the lab. It was something that I was looking for in a research environment — to have a welcoming, supportive environment and be in a place where I can ask questions and truly grow, and not be limited or embarrassed to speak up if I had a question. I knew that I wanted to go into a lab that had a supportive dynamic.”

 

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Sean Andrade

“Having academic advisors and research advisors who actually know who I am is great. You’ve also got Mr. Brick, who sends us an encouraging email at the start of every week. It’s great having a place of familiar people who know a lot and can help you out.”


— Sean Andrade

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SEAN ANDRADE

Sean Andrade has had a love of math as long as he can remember, and now he is pursuing it full time at Stony Brook. “Pretty much as long as I had internet access, I was doing math. I remember as a kid going on coolmath.com and just looking at the lessons there. And then when I got to high school, I watched YouTube channels, mostly about calculus. I actually learned so much calculus over YouTube that I was able to pass both AP Calc exams without studying.”

Sean AndradeAndrade is already taking a graduate math course with PhD and master’s students. While he knows he will eventually earn his PhD in mathematics, he doesn’t have an area of interest yet because “there’s too much math to learn. This year I’ve pretty much specialized in abstract algebra, and next year I plan to focus on a different subject, and the year after that another subject, because specialization can really wait until the PhD phase.”

In the meantime, Andrade is enjoying being a resident student at Stony Brook, often hanging out with other S1s in their residence hall (they all live in the same building) or the lounge area of the STEM Scholars office in Heavy Engineering.

The office is a welcoming second home for the cohort to meet with each other, speak to their advisors or just relax between classes.