Posted By


Yuba Bhandari, Ph.D., Physics (Spring)
Alt text
Yuba Bhandari has always been fascinated by the way the human body works. He was specifically intrigued by protein structure and function. His research studies the use of computer models in understanding the dynamics of the proteins in our bodies. Using these models, Yuba can manipulate a protein on the computer screen, simulate how it might interact with other molecules and study how defects in its structure could cause disease. These investigations also provide insight for designing de novo proteins.

As part of FIU’s Theoretical and Computational Biophysics Research group, Yuba was able to participate in many national level conferences under the guidance of physics professors Prem Chapagain and Bernard Gerstman. He has already published four peer-reviewed articles in well-respected journals, one of them as a first author.

Upon graduation, Yuba will be joining the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health as a postdoctoral fellow.

Didley Delpeche, Bachelor’s, Psychology (Spring)
Alt text
Didley Delpeche has served for more than eight years in the U.S. Army. He has had to make many sacrifices for the military. His daughter was born in 2009 and Didley was deployed to Iraq a few months after her birth. He missed her first words, steps, birthday and many other milestones. His pursuit of a degree in psychology was delayed due to training and deployment.

Upon his return from Iraq in 2011, he made school a priority and set a goal to achieve a 4.0 GPA, which he accomplished. He used the discipline, leadership and teamwork skills he gained in the Army to help him stay on course with his academic career while remaining a productive leader in his unit.

He was awarded the Iraqi Campaign Medal, Army Commendation Medal and a professional development ribbon for the successful completion of the Warrior Leadership Course. He also earned the Army Achievement Medal for exceptional leadership during his annual training in 2012.

A first generation university student, Didley always knew he wanted to be a counselor. He was interested in human behavior. Under the mentorship of Professor Maria Reid, Didley led study groups for statistics.

After graduation, Didley plans to join the Air Force and pursue a master’s degree in social work. His ultimate goal is to open his own private practice as a counselor.


Vanessa Quiroz, Bachelor’s, Psychology (Fall)
Alt text
Vanessa Quiroz arrived in Miami from Colombia to pursue a higher education degree. However, in a single year, she was diagnosed with cancer and became the primary custodian of her 11-year-old brother. So at the age of 21, she had to put her plans on hold.

Not one to be easily discouraged, Vanessa eventually returned to her education. Ten years after putting it all on hold, she is graduating this fall with honors and earning a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology.

A first generation college student, Vanessa took full advantage of FIU’s opportunities for undergraduates, participating in several research projects. She is a co-author on three professional conference presentations and is currently collaborating with Professor Steven Charman on a research project focused on witness performance. Under the mentorship of Professor Asia Eaton, Vanessa’s honors thesis focused on interpersonal conflict, emotions and gender stereotypes for at-risk youths. She is a Ronald E. McNair scholar and recipient of the College of Arts & Sciences Academic Excellence Award. She is also the first place winner of the 2012 Scholarships Awarding Global Excellence award from FIU’s Office of Multicultural Programs.

After graduation, Vanessa hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in Social Psychology. Her goal is to work in academia, advocating for social justice, and to continue to educate others.

Adeel Jamal, Ph.D., Chemistry (Fall)

Adeel Jamal had always shown an affinity for science and planned on pursuing a related degree. But he did not choose the easiest path: studying theoretic quantum chemistry while working full-time was far more difficult than Adeel had anticipated.

Quantum theory is defined as “the theoretical basis of modern physics…which explains the nature and behavior of matter and energy on the atomic and subatomic level.” In chemical systems, this can be applied to anything that has a chemical bond, from biology to nanotechnology. A theoretical chemist, like Adeel, uses quantum theory to explain chemical phenomena.

It is a field of study that is by definition abstract. And at times Adeel found his undergraduate classes challenging and had to repeat some courses. But then it all clicked and he went into his graduate studies “with a vengeance.”

During graduate school, Adeel focused on researching the astrochemistry of extraterrestrial planetary systems and the combustion reactions and by-products used in industry and the military. He has published several articles in peer-reviewed international scientific journals, including the prestigious multi-disciplinary journal of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Adeel has received job offers from top academia and government institutions, but plans to “develop methods of quantum chemical theories and push the boundary of quantum reality.”

Even the sky is not the limit for Adeel Jamal.

Luci Motoca, Ph.D. in Psychology (Summer)
Alt text
As a high school student in Romania, Luci Motoca chose to study psychology before many students in her native country decide if they’ll even be going to college. She participated in Romania’s National Olympics in Psychology and decided to pursue an academic research career in the United States. During summer commencement she will receive her Ph.D. in psychology.

Under the mentorship of Wendy Silverman, Luci’s research examines why or how some children and adolescents develop anxiety disorders over time while others do not. A recipient of the FIU Dissertation Year Fellowship, Luci has made several national and international presentations of her work.

Her motivation is to make a difference in the lives of children and families affected by anxiety disorders. After graduation, Luci will be a postdoctoral research associate at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Jay Jefferson, Bachelor in Psychology (with a minor in Biology), Bachelor in Sociology (Spring)
Alt text
Research and scholarship opened up new worlds for Jay Phillip Jefferson.

The first time Jay got on a plane to travel outside his native Miami was last year, as a fellow in the highly competitive Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program. The trip was to Michigan State University, where the first-generation university student spent three months working in the Breedlove Jordan Laboratory, under the guidance of Principal Investigator Cynthia Jordan. He went on to travel to five other states following the completion of his McNair project, presenting his neuroscience research on Spinal and Bulbar Muscular Atrophy at various conferences.

Under the mentorship of Professor Robert Lickliter, Jay has been actively involved in research since May 2010 in the Department of Psychology’s Developmental Psychobiology Laboratory, where he has completed his undergraduate honors thesis on the effects of enrichment on learning and memory in bobwhite quail. He is also a research assistant at the DuMond Conservancy for Primates and Tropical Forests. Under the guidance of Professor Sian Evans, Jay has completed a manuscript that he plans to submit for publication on his ongoing work with owl monkeys and will be presenting a poster on his research project in June at the American Society of Primatologists Conference in Sacramento, Calif.

Jay, who was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, also has organized several professional and academic development workshops to help and motivate fellow students as president of Psi Chi. After graduation, he will pursue his Ph.D. in animal behavior at the University of California, Davis, on a full scholarship.


Juan Morales, Master of Psychology (Fall)
Alt text
What is routine and ordinary to Juan Morales is extraordinary to others as he conquers everyday life in a wheelchair. Juan was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at the age of 2 and has been in a wheelchair ever since.

Through his work with the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Juan has made it his goal to be an advocate for the association’s cause of raising awareness about the disorder, supporting others who live with it and eventually finding a cure. The passion that drives his dedication is what drives his work in Counseling Psychology. Under the guidance of Professor William Kurtines, Juan became a counselor for FIU’s Youth Development Project where he mentors and inspires troubled youth in South Florida high schools. Through his career, Juan hopes to make a difference in the world around him. He plans to write a book about his approach to life and give lectures to global audiences.

The Counseling Psychology Masters Program faculty, including Director Lisa Arango, have taught Juan much more beyond theory and academic literature. Juan says all of his FIU experiences have taught him how to break down the walls of worldly limits, showing him that anything is possible. He hopes to one day be an FIU professor and inaugurate his own mental health rehabilitation center.

Vashti Sawtelle, Ph.D. in Physics (Fall)
Alt text
Vashti Sawtelle is a first-generation college student who is also FIU’s first Ph.D. graduate in Physics Education Research. She is a nationally-recognized scholar who was invited to contribute to a session at the American Association of Physics Teachers meeting along with three other leaders in the field. She was also invited to present her work at the Foundations and Frontiers in Physics Education Conference, limited to only 60 participants.

At FIU, she won the Physics Department Graduate Student Research award in 2009. This year, she received the FIU Graduate Student Association Scholarly Forum Award.

After receiving her B.A. in Physics from Grinnell College in Iowa, Vashti returned to her home state of Ohio where she volunteered at a local high school, tutoring students in math and physics. She spent a lot of time preparing for the sessions, creating tailor-made materials that presented ideas in different ways and focused on the concept of structuring the classes. She enjoyed it so much that she decided to explore Physics Education Research further – specifically addressing the underrepresentation of women in science and physics. FIU offered an excellent opportunity since it serves a large number of women, Hispanic students and first-generation college students.

As she continues to her post-doctoral research position at the University of Maryland, Vashti says she will remember what she learned from her advisor, Eric Brewe, assistant professor of science education: there is an important work-life balance in academia; one can do good work, but also take vacations.

Yelen Nuñez, Bachelor of Science in Mathematics (Summer)
Alt text
Early in her academic career, Yelen Nuñez found her creative voice in numbers. The mathematics major began exploring her passion for teaching under the tutelage of professor Tillie Fox. Yelen started by helping to design and teach FIU’s only lecture hall business calculus course. Her experiences led her to enter the Future Business Leaders of America – Phi Beta Lambda competition in Florida, where she developed a lesson plan based on different options that banks offer for investment, taught the course to students at her high school alma mater and presented the results to the judges. Yelen took home the top prize in the Future Business Teacher category, an experience she refers to as simply amazing.

Yelen went on to compete in the National Leadership Conference for FBLA-PBL in June, where she earned first place in the Future Business Teacher category. This fall, Yelen will participate in the Disney College Program before returning to FIU to begin working on a master’s degree in statistics. She hopes to someday teach at the high school or university level.

Kristian Herrera, Bachelor of Arts in Physics (Spring)
Alt text
Kristian Herrera first came to FIU when he was 14 years old. Home schooled since the third grade, Kristian’s parents told school officials that their son was a voracious learner and was in desperate need of the kind of academic environment found at a research university.

While many 14-year-olds are struggling through their first year of high school, Kristian was a freshman at FIU working in a genetics laboratory, rubbing shoulders with graduate and doctoral students. A few months later, Kristian co-wrote and published “To what extent did Neanderthals and modern humans interact?” in the prestigious British journal Biological Reviews.

Kristian has been accepted into Harvard’s graduate school, where he plans to pursue a Ph.D.

Kristian credits his mentor Rene Herrera (no relation), whose genetics laboratory exposed the young scholar to several new fields of interest.

David Jaramillo, Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, Bachelor of Science in Human Resource Management (Spring)
Alt text
The workplace is becoming increasingly competitive and challenging for both employees and employers. With degrees in Psychology and Human Resource Management, David Jaramillo is already on the leading edge of best industry practices. He plans to jump straight into the workforce, putting his human resources management knowledge and skills to use in the financial services industry.

David’s research has already shown that the old models of keeping workers in the dark and limiting creativity lead to poor performance and job satisfaction. For his senior research project, David studied teams in the workplace and found that groups which shared information about individual workers’ strengths outperformed other groups which didn’t. He also co-authored a study published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior which matched certain personality characteristics to work-family conflict.

While at FIU, David served as president for Psi Chi Honor Society and participated multiple times in Relay for Life as a Psi Chi team member and co-team captain. He credits Psi Chi for getting him involved in the community and paving the way for his professional success, and credits his mentor, Dr. Bennett Schwartz, of the Department of Psychology, for helping him navigate his way through his college experience.


Xi Chen, Doctor of Philosophy in Chemistry (Fall)
Alt text
An avid badminton player, Xi Chen excels in most endeavors he pursues. As a chemistry PhD candidate, Xi’s research has focused on developing new forms of stable compounds for optical applications. He has been published in four academic journals in organic chemistry and photochemical fields, has submitted a manusript for

a fifth publication, and has presented at multiple national conferences, including the American Chemical Society annual conference. He also was awarded a Dissertation Year Fellowship for 2010.

As a teacher, Xi was a teaching assistant for three years in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and in 2008 received the teaching assistant of the year award for Organic Chemistry. A well-liked instructor, at the end of one of his recent undergraduate lecture classes his students burst into appreciative applause.

Xi balances his intensive research with a little fun, co-founding the first FIU Badminton Club tournament in 2008, and serving as the FIU Badminton Club’s treasurer. He met his wife, Chengtao Wang, a PhD candidate in Chemistry, in 2006 and got married in 2009. He is grateful to her, his family, and his mentor, Dr. Watson Lees, for their support.

Patricia Diaz, Ph.D., Chemistry (Spring)
Alt textPatricia Diaz was an undergraduate chemistry student at FIU when, under the guidance of Professor José Almirall, she began researching how to improve the testing of ignitable liquid residues found at fire scenes, to determine whether a fire was intentionally set. That sparked a passion that she pursued as a graduate student, with Dr. Almirall as her mentor.

Today, Patricia is the co-inventor, along with Dr. Almirall and FIU alumna Dr. Jeannette Perr, on a device that could improve how detectors commonly used at airports find hidden explosives and drugs. A patent is pending for the device.

Patricia has had six publications, two of them as first author, in peer-reviewed journals such as Analytical Chemistry and Journal of Separation Science. She also has presented her research at several international, national and regional scientific meetings.

Among her many achievements, she received the Dissertation Year Fellowship from FIU’s University Graduate School; the Kauffman Doctoral Fellowship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the Eugenio Pino and Family Global Entrepreneurship Center at FIU; and she was inducted into Sigma Xi (the Scientific Research Society).

After receiving her PhD in Chemistry, Patricia will conduct research as a postdoctoral fellow.