Five UW–Madison graduate students join the Bouchet Graduate Honor Society

Six people dressed in business attire pose in front of a festively decorated tree for a group photo.
Five UW–Madison graduate students joined the Bouchet Graduate Honor Society on December 4, 2023 at an induction ceremony attended by Graduate School staff, faculty advisors, family, and friends. Pictured from left to right are Dr. Catherine Chan, assistant vice provost for high-impact practices in the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Educational Achievement; doctoral candidates CJ Greer, Mayra Betancourt Ponce, Jimena González, Ashley Scott, and Jairo Villalona; and Dr. William J. Karpus, dean of the Graduate School. Photo by Todd Brown/UW–Madison Media Solutions for the Graduate School.

Five outstanding scholars are joining the UW–Madison chapter of the national Edward Alexander Bouchet Graduate Honor Society this academic year.

The Bouchet Society commemorates the first person of African heritage to earn a PhD in the United States. Edward A. Bouchet earned a PhD in Physics from Yale University in 1876. Since then, the Bouchet Society has continued to uphold Dr. Bouchet’s legacy.

“The 2024 Bouchet inductees are making key contributions in their disciplines, as well as to the research, education, and outreach missions of our campus. They truly embody the Wisconsin Idea and are exemplary in every way,” said Abbey Thompson, assistant dean for diversity, inclusion, and funding in the Graduate School.

The 2023 UW–Madison inductees to the Bouchet Graduate Honor Society are:

  • Jimena González, PhD candidate, Physics
  • CJ Greer, PhD candidate, Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis
  • Mayra Betancourt Ponce, MD-PhD candidate, Cellular and Molecular Pathology
  • Ashley Scott, MD-PhD candidate, Cellular and Molecular Biology
  • Jairo Villalona, PhD candidate, Chemistry

The Bouchet Society serves as a network for scholars that uphold the same personal and academic excellence that Dr. Bouchet demonstrated. Inductees to the UW–Madison Chapter of the Bouchet Society also join a national network with 20 chapters across the U.S. and are invited to present their work at the Bouchet Annual Conference at Yale University, where the scholars further create connections and community within the national Bouchet Society.

The UW–Madison Division of Diversity, Equity, and Educational Achievement supports each inductee with a professional development grant.

Read more about each inductee below.

Jimena González

Jimena Gonzalez
Jimena Gonzalez

PhD, Physics

Jimena González is a physics PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin–Madison specializing in observational cosmology. Her research centers on searching and characterizing strong gravitational lenses in the Dark Energy Survey. These rare astronomical systems can appear as long curved arcs of light surrounding a galaxy. Strong gravitational lenses offer a unique probe for studying dark energy, the driving force behind the universe’s accelerating expansion and, consequently, a pivotal factor in determining its ultimate fate. During her graduate program, Jimena has received the Albert R. Erwin, Jr. & Casey Durandet Award and the Firminhac Fellowship from the Department of Physics. Additionally, she was honored with the 2023 Open Science Grid David Swanson Award for her outstanding implementation of High-Throughput Computing to advance her research. Jimena has contributed as a co-author to multiple publications within the field of strong gravitational lensing and has presented her work at various conferences. In addition to her academic achievements, Jimena has actively engaged in outreach programs. Notably, she was selected as a finalist at the 2021 UW–Madison Three Minute Thesis Competition and secured a winning entry in the 2023 Cool Science Image Contest. Her commitment to science communication extends to a contribution in a Cosmology chapter in the book AI for Physics. Jimena has also led a citizen science project that invites individuals from all around the world to inspect astronomical images to identify strong gravitational lenses. Jimena obtained her bachelor’s degree in physics at the Universidad de los Andes, where she was awarded the “Quiero Estudiar” scholarship.

CJ Greer

CJ Greer
CJ Greer

PhD, Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis

Carl “CJ” Greer is a PhD candidate in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis with a doctoral minor in Qualitative Research Methodology in Education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Leveraging critical qualitative approaches, Greer’s research explores three areas: (1) the relationship between community-based educational spaces and PreK-12 schooling institutions, (2) how youth display leadership and activism in and outside the classroom, and (3) Critical Race Theory in education. Greer is a University Council for Educational Administration Barbara L. Jackson Scholar, Institute for Research on Poverty Fellow, and Morgridge Center for Public Service Fellow. Through a year-long critical ethnographic case study approach that takes up his and Welton’s (forthcoming) extension of Critical Race Theory, coined Youth-Centric Critical Race Theory, his dissertation offers insights into the limited exploration of the greater Milwaukee area PreK-12 education landscape and Midwestern youth education activism. Recent publications include “Conjuring the Devil: Historicizing Attacks on Critical Race Theory and white saviorism,” which explores white supremacy’s perpetual attacks on Critical Race Theory and other equity-centered discourses, and “We in this thang together?: Black first-year doctoral students transitioning COVID and recreating community virtually”, which captures how Greer and two colleagues transitioned into graduate studies virtually during COVID-19 and publicized anti-Black racism. Originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Greer earned his bachelor of arts degree in Psychology from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee and a dual master’s of Educational Leadership and Policy and Social Work at the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor. Greer’s youth worker background inspired him to pursue becoming a community-focused tenure track professor.

Mayra Betancourt Ponce

Mayra Ponce
Mayra Betancourt Ponce

MD-PhD, Cellular and Molecular Pathology

Mayra Betancourt Ponce is a sixth-year MD-PhD student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison who aims to become an academic physician-scientist bridging the fields of dermatology and cancer immunology. She received her bachelor’s degree in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus. As an undergraduate student, she participated in the National Institutes of Health-funded Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) training program, through which she developed an interest in deciphering how biological pathways are disturbed during pathological processes. She explored this interest by successfully completing two summer research programs in laboratories studying cancer biology and presenting her work at various conferences, which motivated her to pursue cancer research. For her thesis project, she studies the effects of oxidative phosphorylation inhibition in solid tumor immunogenicity in Drs. Lisa Barroilhet and Manish Patankar’s laboratory. She obtained an R01 Diversity Supplement to support this research. She has presented her work at local, national, and international conferences, including the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting and the Stress Proteins in Growth, Development, and Disease Gordon Research Conference, and has two first-author manuscripts in preparation. She aims to contribute to the growing body of knowledge regarding combination strategies to improve the efficacy of cancer immunotherapies to provide better options for her patients as a dermatologist. She is committed to making academia more welcoming and inclusive to underrepresented populations, which she has begun doing as the president of the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center Trainee Network.

Ashley Scott

Ashley Scott
Ashley Scott

MD-PhD, Cellular and Molecular Biology

Ashley Scott is a MD-PhD trainee and a PhD candidate in Cellular and Molecular Biology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Ashley strives to understand key processes of cardiovascular disease to improve the health of patients who suffer from cardiovascular-related morbidities. She earned a bachelor of science in Biology from University of Maryland, Baltimore County, graduating cum laude in 2016. As an undergraduate researcher Ashley worked at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health on estrogen receptor mediated sex differences in myocarditis. This work resulted in two co-author publications. In her current dissertation work, Ashley works under the direction of Kristyn Masters to use tissue engineering techniques to model aortic valve disease. Ashley uses these systems that closely recapitulate aortic valve disease conditions to investigate key underpinnings of aortic valve disease progression, including the sexual dimorphic nature of this disease, wherein males have more calcification and females have more fibrosis. Her dissertation work has resulted in two publications thus far. Ashley is also passionate about facilitating inclusive scientific training environments and reducing bias mediated health disparities through curricula changes. In recognition of these efforts Ashley has received UW–Madison’s Outstanding Women of Color Award (2022), the Cellular and Molecular Biology Graduate Program’s inaugural Diversity and Equity Impact Award (2022), UW–Madison’s Bucky Award for Graduate Student Commitment to Engagement and Activism (2022), and the UW–Madison Medical Scientist Training Program Diversity and Equity Champion Award (2022, 2023).

Jairo Villalona

Jairo Villalona
Jairo Villalona. Photo credit: Kolin Goldschmidt/University of Wisconsin-Madison

PhD, Chemistry

Jairo Villalona is a PhD candidate in Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His research focuses on engineering enzymes through an iterative process called directed evolution for synthesizing non-canonical amino acids (ncAAs). The synthesis of ncAAs is a common challenge for producing new medicines, materials, and probes for bioactivity. Jairo received his bachelor of science in chemistry from Westfield State University. As an undergraduate student, he participated in the investigation of Lyme disease in western Massachusetts by monitoring the prevalence of B. burgdorferi, the causative bacteria found in deer tick populations. Jairo is a recipient of the American Chemical Society Bridge to the Doctorate Fellowship. This fellowship prepares students from underrepresented groups for a doctoral program through advanced coursework, mentoring, and research. A published case study involving the fellowship can be found in the Journal of Chemical Education, where Jairo is a co-author. His thesis research has resulted in the publication of his first-author work pertaining to the biocatalytic synthesis of α,β-diamino acids, an underexplored class of amino acids that can serve as unique building blocks for chemical biology and medicinal chemistry. In addition to his research, Jairo is committed to scientific outreach with the long-term goal of addressing societal problems as a scientific advisor in the public sector, such as the federal government.

Learn more about the Edward A. Bouchet Graduate Honor Society.