USC doubles the number of scholarships for stem cell master’s students

(Photo by William Vasta)
(Photo by William Vasta)

This year, ten students earned scholarships that enabled them to attend USC’s master’s program in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine, one of the only programs of its kind in the United States. Compared to the previous year, this represents a doubling in the number of scholarships available for stem cell master’s students at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

“We strive to provide access to our educational programs to as many students as possible,” said Francesca Mariani, faculty director of the master’s program. “By funding these scholarships, the Keck School Dean’s Office, the Hearst Foundations, and our generous donors have made a transformative impact in the lives of more students than ever before.”

Dean’s Fellowship

Michelle Perez-Arreola (Photo courtesy of Michelle Perez-Arreola)
Michelle Perez-Arreola (Photo courtesy of Michelle Perez-Arreola)

Michelle Perez-Arreola has been awarded the Dean’s Fellowship, which supports students that have given back to their communities to promote diversity and to help others. Perez-Arreola grew up in on the border of California and Mexico, and earned her bachelor’s degree in molecular biology from the University of California, Merced. She mentored incoming students and worked in the biology lab of Xuecai Ge. After graduation, she worked at Arima Genomics and Viscient Bio before enrolling in the master’s program at USC. She will continue pursuing her passion for research by applying to PhD programs.

Cardinal Fellowship

Maria Perez
Maria Perez (Photo courtesy of Maria Perez)

The recipient of this year’s Cardinal Fellowship, Maria Perez, double majored in molecular and cell biology (with an emphasis in genetics, genomics and development) and Chicano Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. As an undergraduate, Perez earned several prestigious scholarships, including a Gates Millennium Scholarship. She also participated in the Biology Scholars Program and the Chicanos in Health and Education Organization. As a master’s student at USC, she is a member of Albert Almada’s lab, where she is conducting her second-year master’s thesis research, investigating the stem cell activation during skeletal muscle repair.

Choi Fellowship

Dina Mousavi
Dina Mousavi (Photo courtesy of Dina Mousavi)

Dina Mousavi is the recipient of this year’s Choi Fellowship. Mousavi earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of California, San Diego, where she studied Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease in the lab of Fred Gage at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. She also led workshops encouraging COVID-19 testing and vaccination to protect people experiencing homelessness in San Diego, and delivered essential supplies to vulnerable individuals during the pandemic. As a master’s student at USC, she is continuing to explore her interest in studying neurological diseases in Giorgia Quadrato’s lab.

Dhablania-Kim Fellowships

Jessica Anderson and Radhika Joshi are the recipients of the two Dhablania-Kim Fellowships.

Jessica Anderson
Jessica Anderson (Photo courtesy of Jessica Anderson)

Anderson majored in biology and minored in psychology at California Lutheran University. She worked as a Resident Assistant for the STEM Living and Learning Community, and volunteered as a Cope Health Scholar in a hospital. After graduating from the master’s program at USC, she aspires to continue her educational journey as a PhD student.

Radhika Joshi
Radhika Joshi (Photo by Cristy Lytal)

Joshi graduated from Y.M.T Dental College and Hospital, with a bachelor’s degree in dental surgery. After graduation, she spent her first two years working as a dentist and as a clinical assistant in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at the Y.M.T Dental College and Hospital. Then she pursued her postgraduate diploma in clinical research and pharmacovigilance at Apollo Hospitals in India. In 2018, she joined the company Cipla in the cardiometabolic division as a medical advisor, and had the opportunity to help manage the first stem cell product to be approved globally for Chronic Limb Ischemia (CLI) treatment. She was later promoted to manager for the neuropsychiatry division.  She then joined Pfizer Ltd. as a medical advisor, handling anti-infective therapy and leading one of their focused initiatives. After graduating from USC’s master’s program, she eventually intends to pursue a PhD focused on developing genetic or stem cell technologies to help cure developmental disorders.

Hearst Foundations Scholars

The Hearst Foundations generously supported fellowships for five USC master’s students: David Caidor, Austin Farrar, Alexis Oviedo, Joscany (Joe) Perez, and Rakaihya (Kaihya) Thomas.

David Caidor
David Caidor (Photo courtesy of David Caidor)

Caidor completed his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of California, Riverside (UCR), while working as a Housing Services Ambassador, an intramural sports referee, and a volunteer for an organization serving at-risk youth. He is now a master’s student at USC, and his research interests include epidemiology, autoimmune disorders, stem cells and regenerative medicine.

Austin Farrar
Austin Farrar (Photo courtesy of Austin Farrar)

A native of Barstow, Farrar earned his bachelor’s degree in television, film and new media communications at San Diego State University, and has worked in public relations and political consulting. He has also served as activist, protecting the water supply of his hometown. After family members were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and brain cancers, he decided to pursue his master’s degree in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. In the future, he aims to help patients with degenerative disease gain access to quality medical care and to ease the emotional, physical and financial burdens on their loved ones.

Alexis Oviedo
Alexis Oviedo (Photo courtesy of Alexis Oviedo)

Oviedo attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in biology. She has spent time volunteering as a Blood Donor Ambassador for the American Red Cross, and working as a Medical Scribe and as an Assistant in Pediatric Dermatology and Orthopedic Surgery. She has also volunteered with Sacramento Street Medicine to support patient-led medical care for people experiencing homelessness in Sacramento County. As a master’s student at USC, she is continuing to explore her interest in studying skeletal development and repair in Francesca Mariani’s lab. After earning her master’s degree from USC, she will apply to medical schools with an intent to focus on pediatrics, orthopedics and sports medicine.

Joscany (Joe) Perez
Joscany (Joe) Perez (Photo courtesy of Joscany Perez)

Perez earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from California State University, Los Angeles, and completed the Keck Biotechnology Program at Pasadena City College. He first came to USC as a CIRM Bridges Intern, working in the lab of Justin Ichida, and co-authoring two papers on ALS studies. After completing the one-year master’s program at USC, he plans to either enter the optional second-year master’s research thesis program or apply to PhD programs.

Rakaihya (Kaihya)Thomas
Rakaihya (Kaihya) Thomas (Photo courtesy of Rakaihya Thomas)

Originally from Atlanta, Thomas moved to California to live with her aunt and attend high school in Calabasas. She earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from California Lutheran University, where she gained experience working in cancer and microbiology research labs. She also interned for GLO Preemies, which supports Black families with children in the neonatal intensive care unit, and volunteered with several organizations that promote inclusion, empower Black women, and create a safe space for Black students. After graduating from USC’s master’s program, she plans to apply to medical school, and potentially specialize in Obstetrics and gynecology because of her interest in Black maternal health care and fetal development.