EXPLORE Mentors - Institute for Educational Advancement

EXPLORE 2019 Mentors


Dr. Aaron Blaisdell, Ph. D

Dr. Aaron Blaisdell received a B.A. in Anthropology from SUNY Stony Brook; an M.A. in Anthropology from Kent State University; and his Ph.D. in Psychology (Behavioral Neuroscience focus) from SUNY Binghamton. He then spent two years as a Postdoctoral fellow in Psychology at Tufts University and became a professor of Psychology at UCLA in 2001. Dr. Blaisdell’s lab is interested in animal cognition and behavior, namely describing how animals build and use representations of their world. For this, his laboratory uses Pavlovian and instrumental conditioning procedures to investigate questions at the interface between associative and cognitive processes, related to how animals reason, integrate information and approach problem solving.


Dr. Alex Brummer, Ph. D

Dr. Alex Brummer is a postdoc in the Savage Group through the Depts. of Biomathematics and of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Alex is working to develop new models for asymmetric branching in vascular networks and how the degree or pattern of asymmetry could affect values of allometric scaling exponents that encapsulate, for instance, how metabolic rate, heart rate, lifespan, and sleep change with body size across species. These models involve both detailed modeling of the fluid dynamics of blood or water through these networks as well as models for how these networks fill space and branch in a fractal-like manner to satisfy both these spatial and fluid-mechanical constraints. Concurrent with this, Alex is using our group’s software to analyze images of vasculature from various tissue and taxa that range from plants to animals, from lung to brain, and from roots to leaves. This helps both to identify patterns of vascular branching that are prevalent in nature and to test models. Current work is trying to classify networks based on their branching, including applications to tumor growth and stroke recovery.


Dr. Amy Catlin-Jairazbhoy, Ph.D

Dr. Amy Catlin-Jairazbhoy’s research, writing, teaching, curatorial activities, and multi-media publications often have an applied focus, aimed at community development of minority traditions, especially in diasporic settings. She served as curator and presented the first concert and lecture tour outside India with a group of African-Indian Sidi performers from Gujarat, in September 2002, traveling with them in England and Wales. Her recent publications include Sidi Sufis: African Indian Mystics of Gujarat (Apsara Media 2002: 79-minute CD), the volume co-edited with Indian Ocean historian Edward Alpers, Sidis and Scholars: Essays on African Indians (New Delhi: Rainbow Publications and New Jersey: Africa World Press, 2003), the DVD The Sidi Malunga Project (2004), and the DVD From Africa to India: Sidi Music in the Indian Ocean Diaspora (with Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy) (2003). Funding for her research has come from such agencies as NEA, NEH, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the American Philosophical Society, Fulbright, the Indo-US Subcommission, and the American Institute of Indian Studies.

Dr. Catlin-Jairazbhoy studied piano, voice, and musicianship at the Peabody Conservatory from 1961-1966, teaching there and at the Junior Composers Camp (now the Walden School) from 1964-1966 as a protege of its founder, Grace Cushman, who fostered creative explorations of non-Western musical systems. Sensing the need for intercultural understanding as evidenced by America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, she left the Conservatory for a liberal arts education at Vassar College, where she continued her keyboard improvisations for modern dance classes, attending Wesleyan University classes in India’s music. Concluding that music was her best tool for promoting interculturalism, she enrolled at Yale University School of Music, intensifying her Indian music studies at Wesleyan, as part of her doctoral coursework at Brown University, with concentrations in Ethnomusicology, South and Southeast Asia (Bali) and Anthropology. For over 30 years Dr. Catlin-Jairazbhoy has studied classical and folk music in India, where she continues to perform Western classical and Indian-influenced contemporary music in concerts, oratorios, schools and orphanages, and on All India Radio. Her career is dedicated full-time to music scholarship, field research and documentation, community advocacy, and performance, integrating her Western classical vocal training with non-classical, non-Western music.


Natou Fall

Natou Fall is a third year graduate student of the Master of Architecture I program at the Southern California Institute of Architecture. She is currently working as an Architectural Design Intern at Zago Architecture here in Los Angeles. Before beginning her studies at SCI-Arc, she graduated from the Interior Architecture and Design program at the George Washington University where she received the 2016 Studio Award for her capstone project. During her time in the IAD program at GW she participated in a youth outreach program known as Design In Schools. She has worked for interior design firms Millar+Associates and JD Ireland in Washington DC focusing on residential and corporate office design. At SCI-Arc, Natou works as the Development Assistant, and aids in international outreach research and organizes fundraising events. During the breaks she has worked as a teaching assistant for study abroad courses with GWIAD in Copenhagen and Berlin.


Monica Fernandez

Monica started at Red Hen as a Marketing/Publicity intern in September 2017, and moved into the position of Media Manager in February 2018, overseeing the Media and Publicity for Red Hen and its titles. She graduated from the University of California, Irvine cum laude with a Bachelor’s of Arts in English in 2013, and most recently graduated from City University London with a Masters of Arts in Creative Writing and Publishing in 2015. She has also had several short fiction and creative nonfiction pieces published in places such as The Chaffey Review, Rind Literary Magazine, Scribendi, The Left Coast Review, Creepy Gnome, and Slush Pile Magazine’s Envy anthology.


Tobi Harper

Tobi Harper is Deputy Director of Red Hen Press, Founder and Editor of Quill (a queer publishing series), Publisher of The Los Angeles Review, and Instructor for the UCLA Extension Publishing and Editing program.

While completing an M.A. in English Literature, Tobi served as Editor-in-Chief of San Francisco State University’s graduate student journal Interpretations and as Chair of the graduate literature conference Explications. Tobi completed a masters with a thesis titled “‘What is it?’: Examining Narrative Shifts in Twentieth-Century Genderqueer Novels.” This thesis was presented in an abbreviated form in 2014 at Queer Yo Mind Conference in San Francisco, CA and in 2013 at Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association Conference in San Diego, CA.

As an undergraduate at the University of California Santa Barbara, Tobi studied English literature with a minor in LGBTQ Studies while serving as the “Queerstorian” Officer of the Queer Student Union. These duties included co-founding and co-organizing the First Annual Isla Vista Pride Festival in 2010 as well as co-founding and participating in the “Big Queer, Little Queer” mentor program in 2009. As a queer speaker, event curator, literary warrior, tech wiz, and jello wrestler, Tobi works to enjoy the diversity of experiences that life has to offer.


Betty Kassis

Betty Kassis is co-principal of I/O, a Los Angeles based practice focusing on the development of dynamic architectural methodologies integrating design, technology and advanced fabrication techniques. Prior to joining I/O, Kassis gained experience working on numerous award-winning projects for the office of world renowned architect Frank Gehry, where she was project designer on multiple projects of various scales in different cities. She has also worked for the firm of Neil Denari, NMDA, on the award- winning Endeavor Talent Agency in Beverly Hills. Kassis was born in Beirut, Lebanon. She studied at the Southern California Institute of Architecture in Los Angeles, the Ecole Speciale d’Architecture in Paris and the Lebanese American University in Beirut. Her work was exhibited in multiple venues such as the Rotterdam Biennale, Beyond Media in Florence and StudentWorks in Istanbul.


Stan Kong

A renowned design educator, consultant and design advocate, Stan has inspired and influenced generations of individuals to pursue an education in design that have gone on to become successful leaders in companies throughout the world. Stan is Grad ID Faculty Director, a core member of the faculty and teaches in Art Center’s Public Programs. He was formerly Head of the Product Design Program at Pasadena City College. A founding Co-Chair of the alumni scholarship fundraising group, Legacy Circle, he also serves on the Executive Board of Directors for the Armory Center for the Arts and the Rowe and Gayle Giesen Trust Board of Trustees. Stan’s many honors include Art Center’s “Outstanding Service Alumni Award”, the NAACP Ruby McKight Williams Arts Award, the Institute of Education Service Award, the Risser “Outstanding Teacher of the Year” Award, and the Los Angeles County Cherry Blossom Festival “Teachers Making a Difference” Award. Stan Kong has a B.S. in Product Design from Art Center College of Design (83-02).


Michael Mendoza

Michael is an Operations Manager at SIMA Studios which celebrates, curates and distributes documentaries & creative media projects that advance positive social change. He studied at Pepperdine University and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Television Production, cum laude. Prior to joining SIMA Studios Michael gained experience working with a screenplay mentor analyzing scripts in Sherman Oaks. He also worked as an assistant at Revolution Studios, an award-winning film and television studio best known for Black Hawk Down and Hellboy in Santa Monica. He loves to partake in projects that allow vibrant forms of creativity, whether behind a lens, a computer screen, a pen and paper or simply helping others in their creative endeavors. He has a deep interest in impact documentaries and is passionate about today’s social issues.


Virginia Pittaro

Virginia works at the intersection of sustainable global development and entrepreneurship. Born in Argentina, she started her career at the Endeavor Foundation where she developed a pioneer Corporate Social Responsibility Program to leverage the social impact of business entrepreneurs. Later, she worked at the United Nations Development Program Growing Inclusive Markets Initiative in New York. In 2012, she was the founding Executive Director of Sistema B Argentina, an organization created to promote a purpose-driven economy and a new type of companies, B Corps, which uses businesses as a force for good. She also led the expansion of the global community of B Corps in Latin America. In 2015 she accepted an offer to join the Ministry of Social Development in Argentina. There, she served as the National Director of Innovation and Capabilities Development of the largest conditional cash transfer welfare program in the country. Virginia holds a B.A in International Affairs, magna cum laude, at San Andres University in Argentina, and, sponsored by the Fulbright Commission, earned a Master Degree in Public Policy and International Development at University of Maryland, USA.


Dr. Van Savage, Ph.D

Dr. Van Savage is a graduate of Rhodes College, where he received his Bachelor’s in Physics. Dr. Savage later earned his Doctorate in theoretical particle physics from Washington University, where his training emphasized applied math approaches to problem solving. He is currently a Professor in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Biomathematics departments. A major goal of his research is to quantify and understand the possible functions, forms, and interactions of biological systems that result in the extraordinary diversity in nature. He has studied a wide range of areas such as metabolic scaling, consumer-resource interactions, rates of evolution, effects of global warming on ecosystems, tumor growth, and sleep. Complementary to this, he aims to understand how much variation around optima or averages is considered healthy or adaptive versus diseased or disturbed states, which are essentially deviations from normal or sustainable functioning. As he attempts to make progress on these questions, he joins together ecology, evolutionary theory, physiology, mathematical modeling, image-analysis software, informatics, and biomedical sciences. Many theories, including some of his work, focus on optimal or average properties, but more recently, he has been working to obtain the large amounts of data necessary to characterize variation in key properties. His new findings about the diversity and variation in form and function are revealing flaws in current models, and he is working to develop new theories that incorporate realistic amounts of natural variation.


Benjamin Seitz

As of summer 2019, Ben will be a 3rd year graduate student in thes learning and behavior area of the psychology department. He graduated from Binghamton university in 2017 where he became interested in evolutionary and learning theory having been advised by both David Sloan Wilson and Ralph Miller. At UCLA, Ben works with Dr. Aaron Blaisdell and Dr. Janet Tomiyama in exploring how learning and memory processes affect eating and how eating is learned and remembered. In his spare time, he enjoys going to the beach or hiking in Malibu.


Dr. David Van Valen, Ph.D

David Van Valen is an Assistant Professor in Biology and Bioengineering at the California Institute of Technology. He received undergraduate degrees in mathematics and physics from MIT in 2003. In 2011, he earned a doctorate in applied physics from Caltech, where he was also a teaching assistant. His graduate work has demonstrated how signaling proteins can use flexible chains of amino acids to modulate how they respond to chemical stimuli. He also applied single-molecule techniques to the study of bacterial viruses. In particular, he developed a single-molecule Hershey-Chase experiment, enabling the first visualization of single viruses infecting single bacterial cells in real time. He earned a medical degree from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA in 2013. From 2014 to 2018, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, where he worked on using machine learning and genomics to empower a new generation of live-cell imaging experiments.

Dr. Van Valen joined Caltech as a visiting associate in 2017 and became an assistant professor of biology and biological engineering in 2018. His group at Caltech studies how living systems and their respective viruses encode and decode information about their internal state and their environment by combining ideas from cell biology and physics with recent advances in imaging, machine learning, and genomics to make novel measurements.


Dr. Alexandra (Sasha) Wright, Ph.D

Dr. Wright is a Plant Biologist and Theoretical Ecologist.  She is committed to addressing ecological problems through research and education and is currently working on several projects involving how plants interact in extreme environments.  She has published more than a dozen research papers on plant biodiversity and ecological responses to climate change. She is originally from Whidbey Island, Washington. She received a Ph.D from the University of Wisconsin and did post-doctoral research at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research in Leipzig, Germany. She has taught at Bard College, Sarah Lawrence College, and now at California State University Los Angeles.


Dr. Pamela Yeh, Ph.D

Dr. Pamela Yeh is an evolutionary biologist and studies how human activities affect the evolution of species, focusing on the evolution of birds in urban environments and the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria in urban and agricultural areas. She is also interested in the role biology plays in public health, and how biological data and insights can both inform public health research as well as public health policy. She received her BA in Biology from Harvard-Radcliffe Colleges, her Ph.D in Evolutionary Biology from University of California at San Diego, and conducted post-doctoral work in the Center for Genomics Research at Harvard University and the Systems Biology Department at Harvard Medical School. She is currently the Principal Investigator for the Yeh lab and an Assistant Professor in the Ecology, Evolutionary Biology and Biomathematics departments. She has been at UCLA since 2013.


Vincent Yung

Vincent Yung is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Architecture from SCI-Arc. He currently works at Los Angeles based architecture and design studio Testa & Weiser as a model maker and architectural designer. His personal work focuses on analog and digital drawing, and contemporary model fabrication. He has organized events for local non-profit, Materials & Applications. Previously, Vincent has designed at Spinagu and Wong Ouyang Architects and worked on housing and institutional projects in Argentina and Hong Kong. His photography has also been featured in many publications including Shift Magazine, enRoute Magazine, and exhibited at the Photoville photography exhibition in Brooklyn, New York.

Vincent studied Medieval architecture at Oxford University and received his B.A in Architectural Design and Environmental Geography at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design from the University of Toronto. While at the University of Toronto, Vincent co-founded the Architecture and Visual Studies Student Union Mentorship Program. He currently is the student elected academic counselor for the M.Arch I program at SCI-Arc.


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