2014–2015 Bouchet Scholars

Saili Kulkarni

Saili Kulkarni is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Special Education at UW–Madison. Her research examines teacher beliefs and intersections of race and ability. Before graduate school, she was a special education teacher in Oakland, California working towards the inclusion of elementary-aged students with disabilities in general education classes. As a special education teacher, Saili helped create the district’s first Inclusive Teacher Network which enabled special education teachers to share resources and build partnerships with universities to increase inclusive opportunities for students with disabilities.

For her dissertation, Saili is looking at how beliefs about disability, race and culture inform special education teachers’ retention in urban school districts. She is finishing her dissertation with the support of the Arvil S. Barr Teacher Education Fellowship through the School of Education and expects to graduate in May of 2015.

In her spare time, Saili loves to cook, play indoor and outdoor soccer, travel, and sing jazzy show tunes. Those close to her know her as “Smilee Saili” because of her positivity and optimism.

Alexandra Law

Alexandra is a doctoral candidate in Cancer Biology at UW–Madison pursuing research on the Human Papillomavirus and HPV-associated cancers. She completed her bachelor’s degree at Harvard in 2011 where she majored in Evolutionary Biology and began pursuing biomedical research. She came to UW–Madison to pursue her graduate training at the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research. As a member of Dr. Paul Lambert’s lab she is investigating the role of a specific cellular oncogene, EGFR, that has been implicated in causing HPV-associated cancers. She hopes to discover novel ways to target this protein to reduce cancer cell growth. Her career goal is to become a professor and run her own lab at a research university. Her greatest desire is to improve cancer treatment and survival so cancer will no longer be such a life-altering disease for individuals.

While at UW–Madison Alex has been involved in the Science and Medicine Graduate Research Scholars, a community for underrepresented graduate students in the sciences, as well as in the Ford Foundation Fellowships, an advocacy organization for underrepresented graduate students across the country. Alex is Mexican-American and also suffers from moderate-to-severe hearing loss. Alex hopes to continue to advocate for underrepresented and disabled students and encourage them to pursue scientific research careers. She believes that encouraging underrepresented individuals to pursue cancer research will not only benefit these groups, but will advance cancer research as a whole by attracting the most talented individuals who may have been reluctant to pursue science and higher education based on their background.

Patrice Leverett

Patrice Leverett is a doctoral candidate in the School Psychology Program in the Department of Educational Psychology. Her dissertation, Redirecting the Pipeline: Behavior interventions and treatment acceptability with African American middle school males, explores the cultural relevance of Positive Behavior Supports (PBS) in school settings. Additionally, Patrice works at the Center for Women’s Health Research (CWHR) on a National Institutes of Health grant examining the impact of mentoring relationships on the outcomes of underrepresented students in STEM fields. Currently, Patrice is participating in the Faculty Internship Program at Madison Area Technical College (MATC) where she teaches psychology and mentors for the honors program.

Prior to coming to Madison, Patrice was a member of the New York City Teaching Fellows and worked as an elementary school, special education teacher in New York City public schools. As a teacher her interest in closing opportunity gaps for students grew. The disparities she observed in student outcomes were glaring. As a result of this experience, she became committed to finding ways to uplift students in her school, her community, and society at large.

Patrice owes her progress to her faith, her supportive family and friends, particularly her loving parents and her brothers, William and Anthony; they are primary motivators for the work she does with African American males. She is also thankful for her acquired family at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church.

gerardo mancilla

Most of Gerardo’s research has revolved around the area of the “leaky-education pipeline”, which is based on the fact that only 46% of Latinos will graduate from high school.  Therefore, his work has focused on what can we do to support Latino students, through a focus on how to build school connectedness for Latino youth at the middle school where he teaches and helping to develop the Latino Youth Summit to encourage Latino middle school students to explore college and careers.  He additionally has served as a GED instructor at his local community college.

Gerardo does not lack in leadership activities!  In fact, he considers it to be a key aspect of his personality and experiences since middle school.  More recently, he has served as a mentor for the Posse Program, the lead coordinator for the College Access Program, and founder of the Latino Men’s Group.  In the Madison area, he also serves as the Post-Secondary Chair of the Latino Education Council, Secretary of Nuestro Mundo Incorporated Board, and Secretary of the Vera Court Neighborhood Center Board.  Personally, he exemplifies the Bouchet qualities by being the first person in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree and hopes to inspire his cousins to believe in themselves so that they will also graduate from college.

Prof. Erica Halverson, Gerardo’s advisor, highlighted that she is constantly impressed with Gerardo’s dedication to improving the lives of disenfranchised Latin@ youth and equally impressed by his connections between research and practice.

Membership in the Bouchet Society is something that excites Gerardo due to the network of scholars he is now part of, which he sees as a venue for support and motivation.  The Bouchet Society also feels fortunate that Gerardo is now part of the organization to provide support for other students.

Debraj Mukherjee

Dr. Debraj “Raj” Mukherjee received his medical degree from Dartmouth Medical School, where he was named a C. Everett Koop Scholar, Rhodes Scholar finalist, Gold Humanism in Medicine Honor Society member. He served as a health policy fellow under Surgeon General Richard Carmona while at Dartmouth. Following medical school, Dr. Mukherjee was recruited to Johns Hopkins where he studied epidemiology, biostatistics, and clinical design at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, While at John Hopkins, he was named a Sommer Scholar and an Albert Schweitzer Fellow. He was a member of Delta Omega Honor Society, received awards for clinical excellence, and the Resident Golden Apple Teaching Award. He was a Halsted surgical intern, and served as Co-Director of the Neuro-Oncology Surgical Outcomes Laboratory.

Dr. Mukherjee is also leading burgeoning efforts in comparative genomics within neurosurgery, with a focus on more personalized and targeted neuro-oncological care. His research honors including the Cedars-Sinai Physician-Scientist Award, Leo G. Rigler Award for Academic Achievement, Snythes Skull Base Research Award, Congress of Neurological Surgeons’ Resident Research Award, and the American Medical Association Foundation’s Leadership Award. He has published more than 50 peer-reviewed manuscripts and has received research funding from the Center for Innovative Medicine, American Medical Association, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, California Medical Association Foundation, National Cancer Institute, and the National Institutes of Health.

Kelli Brianna Pointer

Kelli Pointer is a doctoral candidate in Cellular and Molecular Biology and a medical student in the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Kelli’s ultimate career goal is to become a radiation oncologist physician-scientist with an academic research program focusing on understanding the mechanism of cancer invasion and progression.

Kelli’s passion for science and inspiration to pursue training as a physician-scientist was ignited while she was an undergraduate at MIT working in Dr. Leonard Guarente’s lab, working on analyzing the role of SirT1 in anxiety and exploratory drive and a longevity study to determine how circadian rhyme effects survival. Kelli joined Dr. John Kuo’s lab at SMPH and her project currently focuses on studying the tumor microenvironment in glioblastoma. She hopes that combining a clinical practice with research will provide her the ability to recognize unanswered questions that arise in clinical medicine and use those questions to develop research aims that are translatable.

Kelli’s goal is also to get children involved in science and medicine from a young age, which is why she started a math and science summer camp for the Girls and Boys club in Arkansas. She also helps mentor middle schools students in the science fair and is a big sister to a 9 year old through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. She hopes that getting youth involved in science and medicine early will spark their interest in pursuing a career in these areas.

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