Spring 2015 Recipients

Thalida ArpawongThalida Arpawong, PhD, MPH. Arpawong’s research focuses on combining psychometric and molecular genetic approaches to identifying the behavioral, environmental, and genetic influences on mental resilience across the life course. Resilience is defined by positive mental health and cognitive functioning following acutely stressful life experiences. For the past decade, Arpawong has examined resilience factors with respect to a broad range of stressors and during multiple developmental stages of life. Funded by a Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program Dissertation (TRDRP) Award, Arpawong was able to conduct the first large-scale, prospective examination of predictors of resilience, referred to as post-traumatic growth (PTG), among ethnically diverse, high-risk young adults, and how PTG impacts changes in substance use and other health-related behaviors. Currently, as a recipient of a F32 National Research Service Award funded by the National Institute on Aging, Arpawong continues to examine the multifactorial etiology of resilience in what has been referred to as another developmental stage, older adulthood. As genetic and environmental factors interact to impact the exposure, adaptation, and response to acute stress earlier in life and throughout development, my overall goal is to apply a social ecological approach to elucidate pathways to improved mental and cognitive resilience into older ages. Dr. Arpawong presented at the 2015 Behavior Genetics Association Meeting in San Diego, CA.

Jean AlupayJean Alupay, PhD. Alupay received her PhD in Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. She is a marine biologist and animal behaviorist with a unique opportunity to work in the Linguistics department at USC with Dr. Iskarous and in the Marine and Environmental Biology department with Dr. Gracey. She also collaborates extensively with Dr. Mather at the University of Lethbridge. Their NSF funded project is interested in understanding the dynamical principles that underlie movement in a structure called the muscular hydrostat. The muscular hydrostat is the structural basis of many animals including the nematode C. elegans, the human tongue, and the octopus arm. Alupay is interested in understanding octopus arm movement and locomotion, working both in the lab and in the field to study the natural behaviors of these animals. She will be presenting her recent findings at the Cephalopod International Advisory Council (CIAC) Conference in November in Hakodate, Japan.

Zhenhua ChenZhenhua Chen, PhD. Chen received his PhD in Public Policy at George Mason University and is currently a postdoctoral scholar research associate at the Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE) at USC Price School of Public Policy. His research interest includes economic geography, regional science, transportation planning and policy, and public finance. Chen’s dissertation develops, demonstrates and applies a new extension to computable general equilibrium analysis with an integration of spatial econometrics to assist policy makers in assessing the impact of infrastructure investments on economic output at different geographic scales (national, state and metropolitan) with an emphasis on the U.S. northeast megaregion. His dissertation received a series of awards, including the Benjamin H. Stevens Graduate Fellowship in Regional Science awarded by the North American Regional Science Council, the Vernon E. Jordan, Jr. Fellowship Award awarded by Economic Club of Washington, D.C., and the Best Dissertation Award from the Regional Science Association International (RSAI). Chen’s recent research has been published on Journal of Transport Geography, Transportation, Annals of Regional Science, Papers in Regional Science, Economic Development Quarterly, Public Works Management and Policy, Applied Economic Letters, Case Studies on Transport Policy, Journal of Transportation Research Forum and Transportation Law Journal. His recent book “Chinese Railways in the Era of High Speed” co-authored with Kingsley Haynes is published by Emerald. Chen presented at the 9th International Association for China Planning Conference in Chongqing, China.

Kevin DotyKevin Doty, PhD. Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia and is pathologically characterized by extracellular deposition of amyloid-β (Aβ) peptides into β-amyloid plaques, neurofibrillary tangles and neuroinflammation. The inflammatory environment surrounding amyloid plaques is populated by activated resident innate immune cells called microglia. These cells have both the capacity to resolve the amyloid deposition through phagocytic activity and the capacity to promote neurotoxic conditions through the production of damaging cytokines and reactive oxygen species (ROS). He is particularly interested in the roll of specific cytokines in influencing microglia phenotype and neuronal survival in AD animal models. Several transcription factor families that are central to transcription of inflammatory genes, such as NF-κB, AP-1, C/EBP, IRF, and STAT, have been identified as mediators of inflammation in microglia. However, it is not clear how these factors, singly and in combination, regulate specific inflammatory mediators and microglial phenotype. Doty uses next-generation global approaches (i.e. RNAseq and ChIPseq) and animal models to establish a mechanistic and logical model of microglial phenotype and response to amyloid. This foundation could lead to the identification of immune modulatory targets and pathways that could be utilized in the treatment of AD in patients. Doty will present his work this July at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Washington, D.C.

Kate FortmuellerKate Fortmueller, PhD. is a Postdoctoral Scholar – Teaching Fellow in the Bryan Singer Division of Critical Studies in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. Her dissertation, “Part-Time Work, Full-Time Dreams: Extras, Actors, and Hollywood’s On-Screen Labor,” traces the history and political economy of actors and extras from the 1910s through 2012. She has contributed to the British Film Institute’s Colonial Film Archive and her work has been published in Television & New Media, Discourse, The Moving Image, Media Fields, and In Media Res. She recently edited an issue of Spectator on labor. Fortmueller presented her work at the Cultural Studies Association Conference in Riverside, California.

Megan GomezMegan Gomez, PhD. Gomez completed her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from USC in 2007. She completed two master’s degrees (Psychology and Theology) and her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA. She completed predoctoral training at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, and the Long Beach Veteran’s Affairs Healthcare System where she obtained specialization in geriatric neuropsychology. Dr. Gomez is currently a postdoctoral fellow working with Dr. Giselle Petzinger, a movement disorders specialist at USC. They are currently investigating non pharmacological treatments, including socialization and physical exercise, for mild cognitive impairment in Parkinson’s disease. She has been working with individuals with Parkinson’s disease for more than a decade and is passionate about improving the quality of life for PD patients and loved ones. Gomez presented her work at the 19th International Congress of Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders in San Diego, California.

Casey GuillotCasey Guillot, PhD. Guillot is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Southern California. He received his B.S. in Psychology and M.S. in General/Experimental Psychology at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and his Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology at The University of Southern Mississippi. During his early graduate studies, Guillot examined the relationship between Ecstasy/MDMA use and psychopathological symptoms (e.g., depression, anxiety, and impulsivity). As a doctoral student, he worked in a lab dedicated to investigating the effects of alcohol on human self-aggressive behavior, and he examined the effects of alcohol on executive functioning (EF) and contributed to research reports related to individual differences (i.e., psychopathy traits and social anhedonia) and aggression. After completing a dissertation on genetic associations with borderline personality disorder and related traits and behaviors (e.g., impulsivity and self-harm), he examined the molecular genetics of impulse control and disordered gambling and drinking. His current research interests include psychopharmacology, the influence of genes and neurotransmitter systems on addictive and aggressive behaviors, and relationships between individual differences and addictive and aggressive behaviors. He is particularly interested in understanding the roles of anxiety sensitivity (i.e., fearfulness of anxiety symptoms and their consequences) and negative urgency (i.e., the tendency to act impulsively during negative affective states) in the etiology of tobacco dependence. In his spare time, he enjoys chatting and spending time with friends and family, reading, collecting comic books, watching movies and New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Cavalier games, hiking, going to the beach, traveling, and eating food from different restaurants and regions. Guillot presented his work at the 77th Annual Meeting of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence.

Shanping HeShanping He, PhD. He received his Ph.D. in Biotechnology from Peking University in China. He is currently a research associate in Dr. Pinghui Feng’s lab at the USC Keck School of Medicine. His research focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms of host-microbe interaction. He attended the 18th International Workshop on KSHV and Related Agents in Miami, Florida.



Marta KubalaMarta Kubala, PhD. Kubala received her PhD from the University of Queensland, Australia, where she was investigating structures of proteins by x-ray crystallography. She was also involved in developing an in vitro method enabling rapid validation of potential protein-protein interactions identified in proteomic screens using techniques like Leishmaniae tarentolae cell free system and two color coincidence spectroscopy. Currently she is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. She studies tumor microenvironment, specifically tumor associated macrophages and the role of plasminogen activation system in their migration and polarization. Kubala will be participating in an intensive course in Immunology (sponsored by the American Association of Immunologists) taught by world-renowned immunologists this July in Long Beach, California.

Iacopo MasiIacopo Masi, PhD. Masi received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Florence, Italy. He is currently a postdoctoral scholar research associate at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, working on the next-generation face recognition algorithms with Prof. Gérard Medioni and Prof. Ram Nevatia. His research interests include computer vision, pattern recognition and machine learning: his background covers specifically the subjects of multi-target tracking with moving cameras, person re-identification, 2D/3D face recognition and modeling. Dr. Masi will present a tutorial about his research and state-of-the-art methods on person re-identification at the 7th IEEE International Conference on Biometrics: Theory, Applications and System in Arlington, Virginia.

Melissa Joy MillerMelissa Joy Miller, JD. Miller is a Postdoctoral Scholar with the Saks Institute for Mental Health Law, Policy, and Ethics at the USC Gould School of Law. Her faculty mentor is Dr. Elyn Saks, Orrin B. Evans Professor of Law, Psychology, and Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences and recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant. Miller’s current research addresses the problems associated with untreated mental illnesses and criminal justice system involvement, including the disproportionate incarceration of people with serious mental illness, fragmented service delivery systems, outdated civil commitment laws, limitations on federal financing of mental health services, and constitutional violations. Her work involves developing empirically supported, problem-solving initiatives at the interface of therapeutic jurisprudence and the mental health arena. Currently, she is working on a project focused on the diversion of people with mental illness and co-occurring disorders out of Los Angeles’ jails and into cost-saving, community-based treatment with far more effective criminal justice and health outcomes. Miller is a member of the California State Bar and is also admitted to practice in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, as well as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. She received her A.B., summa cum laude, in English from Duke University, where she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and her J.D. from the UCLA School of Law, where she was a Senior Editor of the UCLA Law Review and a scholar in the UCLA-RAND Empirical Legal Scholars Program. Miller will attend the 10th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies in St. Louis, Missouri.

Andrew PetkusAndrew Petkus, PhD. Petkus received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the San Diego State University/University of California, San Diego Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology. Petkus is currently conducting clinical geropsychology research with Dr. Margaret Gatz in the USC Dornsife Psychology Department. His specific research interests include examining the interplay between emotional well-being, particularly symptoms of anxiety and depression. Including how anxiety and depression in later life are associated with cognitive decline and the role genetic factors and environment play in explaining this association. Petkus presented his work at the Annual Meeting of the Behavior Genetics Association in San Diego, California.

Kristin RandKristin Rand, PhD. Rand received her Ph.D. in Epidemiology from the University of Southern California and is currently a postdoctoral research scholar in the Keck School of Medicine. Her research focuses on the genetic basis of prostate cancer and multiple myeloma in African American populations. She is leading large‐scale genome‐wide efforts to further explore both common and rare genetic variants associated with cancer risk, as well as to provide insight into the genetic basis for the observed racial/ethnic disparity in disease incidence. Dr. Rand presented at the International Multiple Myeloma Consortium (IMMC) in Groningen, The Netherlands.

Daijang ZhuDaijang Zhu, PhD. Zhu is a postdoctoral Research Associate at the USC Keck School of Medicine. Dr. Zhu received his Ph.D. degree from the University of Georgia. He works with Dr. Paul Thompson to study brain structural/functional connectivity and its applications on different brain diseases. Dr. Zhu presented his study “Genetic Analysis of Brain Structural Connectivity via DICCCOL Models in 522 Twins” at the Organization for Human Brain Mapping (OHBM) conference in Hawaii. Zhu Presented his work at the Organization for Human Brain Mapping Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii.