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Semillas I, Cohort

Dr. Heidy L Contreras

Dr. Heidy L. Contreras was born in Guatemala City, Guatemala.  She received her Ph.D. in Comparative Physiology from the University of California Irvine, worked as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Arizona and is currently an Associate Professor at the University of La Verne in Southern California. As an immigrant and first-generation college student, Dr. Contreras has a deep commitment to provide access to STEM education for underrepresented students and others in her community. From very early on in her career she has looked for opportunities to engage students at all levels, from different backgrounds and abilities, in scientific discovery.

University of La Verne – Coach: Jones

Dr. Juchao Yan

Dr. Juchao Yan is a Professor and the Graduate Coordinator of Chemistry and the Chair of Department of Physical Sciences at Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU). He teaches Analytical Chemistry courses at both undergraduate and graduate levels and Forensic Chemistry at the undergraduate level. He received the 2014 Faculty Presidential Award for Excellence in Research/Scholarly/Creative Activity at ENMU and the 2018 New Mexico EPSCoR Mentoring Award. He earned his Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry at Chinese Academy of Sciences in 1997 and his B.S. in Physical Chemistry at Jilin University in 1992.

Eastern New Mexico University – Webpage – Coach: Vishwanatha

Dr. Jennifer Miller serves as an assistant professor in education and coordinates the educational instructional technology program. Dr. Miller has earned a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies and Cognitive Systems with an expertise in STEM education and literacy teacher training programs. Dr. Miller has served as a PI and/or Co-PI for multiple NASA, state, and community grants to fund STEM research programs. Dr. Miller has authored article and chapters on STEM Education teacher preparation programs, middle school STEM literacy approaches, and best practices of integrating technology and online learning approaches.

Sul Ross State University – Webpage – Coach: Krug

Dr. Nancy Livingston is Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science, and Chair of Online Teaching and Learning, at Western New Mexico University. She is active advisor for W.N.M.U. Math & Honors Society G.E.K  and mentor for NMAMP student research projects in STEM, current newsletter editor and past chair for the Math Association of America Southwestern section, and past W.N.M.U. She holds a Ph. D in Mathematics from University of Oregon and is the author of “21st Century Statistics with R”, the “Gila Study” database, and multiple scholarly journal articles in applied statistics for the environment. Her interests include fusing math with computing for red-listed species conservation, modeling natural disasters and aerial robotics simulation.

Western New Mexico University – Webpage –   Coach: Vishwanatha

Dr. Oyanader earned his B.S. in Civil and Chemical Engineering from Northern Catholic University in Antofagasta-Chile in 1989; his M.S. in Information Systems from Hawaii Pacific University in 1994; and his Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from Florida State University in 2004. Dr. Oyanader joined the College of Engineering at California Baptist University in the fall of 2014 where he is currently a Professor of Chemical Engineering. In the three years prior, he was an Associate Professor of the Department of Engineering and Computer Science at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA.

California Baptist University – Webpage – Coach: Jones

Dr. Robyn Moncrief

Dr. Robyn Moncrief believes that computer science should be an option for everyone, and that we must work to increase the number of underrepresented students participating in the field. Robyn has presented at several international conferences including Human-Computer Interaction International, the Language Resources and Evaluation Conference, SIGGRAPH, and Gordon. Robyn has a very interdisciplinary background having studied and taught in the fields of computer science, engineering, computational biology, mathematics, and design, all while enjoying the interconnectedness of subjects. Robyn’s primary research areas include: computer science education and avatar systems.

National Louis University – Webpage Not provided – Coach: Jones

Dr. Laci Alexander is an Associate Professor of Chemistry at South Plains College. Dr. Alexander received her Doctorate in Chemistry from Texas Tech University and immediately started her career at South Plains. She is the Co-Direction for the joint grant with Texas Tech University ‘Bridges to Baccalaureate Program’. She has a passion for helping community college students succeed in STEM degrees. Dr. Alexander looks forward helping improve the STEM transfer rates at South Plains College. She enjoys teaching her students and getting to know them to relate to them. She believes passion will push a student from good to great and beyond their initial goals.

South Plains College – Webpage – Coach: Chetty

Dr. Azhar is an Associate Professor of Computer Information Systems at CUNY BMCC. Dr. Azhar has been involved in organizing and teaching numerous teacher training workshops for Educational Robotics programs, after-school robotics clubs, and robotics competitions for students over a decade. He is passionate about getting undergraduate as well as K-12 students involved in solving robotics problems, taking part in robotics research, and competitions that help them realize where they could go with robotics in the real world.

Borough of Manhattan Community College – Webpage – Coach: Krug

Dr. Merlis Alvarez-Berrios received a B.S. degree in chemical engineering from the University of the Atlantic in 2008 and her Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez in 2014. After completing her graduate studies, she became a postdoctoral research associate at the University of North Carolina, at Charlotte. Currently, she is an Associate Professor of Chemistry at the Inter American University of Puerto Rico, Ponce Campus. Her research interests include target-specific drug delivery systems.

Interamerican University of Puerto Rico – Webpage – Coach: Chetty

Dr. Robin L. Avant possesses 7 plus years’ teaching experience in higher education in Biology and Forensic Science. In addition, she has six years’ experience in the biotechnology and manufacturing industry. She also has a strong passion for servicing community educators, families, and the youth through programs in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math). Currently, she is the Academic Dean at Housatonic Community College since 2017. Prior to the deanship role, her primary responsibilities was Assistant Professor of Biology and Bio-Molecular Science and the campus lead STEAM Coordinator. Recently, in April 2020, she became a published author in April of The Spirit of Gardening- Gardening for New Bees.

Housatonic Community College – Webpage – Coach: Krug

Dr. Refugio (Ray) Martinez III is an Associate Professor in the School of Business at Hallmark University (San Antonio, TX) where he has served since 2019.  Ray holds a PhD in Leadership Studies and a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership from Our Lady of the Lake University.  His research interests lie in the areas of virtuous leadership in individuals and organizational ethics. Ray has over 25 years of experience in information technology as an administrator and project manager and is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Hallmark University – Webpage – Coach: Vishwanatha

Dr. Samantha Kaj Blair is an Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Dalton State College.

Dalton State College – No Webpage Provided – Coach: Chetty


Dr. Vishwanatha is a Regents Professor and Vice President and Founding Director of the Texas Center for Health Disparities at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth. He is a principal investigator of the National Research Mentoring Network and the NIH Specialized Center of Excellence in Health Disparities. Dr. Vishwanatha received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM) from US White House in October 2019. Dr. Vishwanatha’s research is in cancer molecular biology, experimental therapeutics and nanotechnology.

University of North Texas Health Science Center Webpage

Dr. Jones is currently Associate Professor of Microbiology, Immunology and Genetics at the University of North Texas (UNT) Health Science Center. Dr. Jones also serves as Director of the Center for Diversity and International Programs at the UNT Health Science Center. Dr. Jones believes strongly in promoting continuing education and professional development for postdoctoral fellows and early-stage faculty. As such, he has taken a keen interest in developing mentoring and professional development skills through active training within the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN). As a certified master facilitator, Dr. Jones provides training in best mentoring and professional development practices across the country.

University of North Texas Health Science Center Webpage

Dr. Krug is currently Professor Emeritus of Regenerative Medicine and Cell Biology at the Medical University of South Carolina. His research focused on the molecular characterization of early heart development.  He also served as Associate Dean for Postdoctoral Affairs with administrative oversight of over 200 postdoctoral scholars and staff scientists. He is currently a professional development coach in several NIH- and NSF-funded mentoring programs that provides workshops on a variety of grant writing and career development essentials for postdocs and junior-to-mid career faculty. Krug was the 2019 recipient of the National Postdoctoral Association Garnett-Powers & Associates Mentor Award.

Medical University of South Carolina Webpage

Dr. Chellu S. Chetty is the Associate VP for Research and Regents Distinguished Professor of Biology at Savannah State University. He served on NSF and NIH review panels and also received >$18 M to conduct research and support faculty and students in the STEM disciplines. He has guided ten Doctoral students and has written or co-authored more than  two hundred and fifty professional research articles for publications. He has received several national honors and awards including 2003 US Presidential Award for Excellence in Mentoring.

Savannah State University-  Webpage