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Tufts University has been a member of the Leadership Alliance since 2008. Each summer Leadership Alliance students from across the United States and Puerto Rico are hosted by research  laboratories across the university. Here are some of the current students in the Leadership Alliance summer program this June and July.


Jose Carrillo is a senior at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obisp, majoring in Electrical Engineering. In the summer of 2012, he interned at San Francisco State University through a program called the Curriculum Improvement Partnership Award for the Integration of Research (CIPAIR).  He worked on a project that consisted of charging a biomedical device wirelessly. With the help of a graduate student he implemented a circuit design, generated a circuit board using computer aided design software, and soldered the components to the printed circuit board. His research interests are in biomedical devices and integrated circuits.

This summer Jose is working with Dr. Sonkusale and several other PhD students. He is going to create a LabVIEW interface for paper based chemical sensing. LabVIEW is a system-design software used typically for any measurement or control system. The LabVIEW interface will also be used for other projects in the lab.

*Poster Presentation Title at the 2014 Leadership Alliance National Symposium: “Low Cost Instrumentation for Electrochemical Senor Arrays.”


Irena Cich is a senior at University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. She is studying biomedical engineering with an emphasis on tissue engineering. She has worked in labs at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, MIT, and the NIH along with two labs at her home school, UMN. She has been exposed to a broad range of research topics, ranging from the development of targeted protein therapeutics to prototyping trans-catheter devices. Irena hopes to enter an MD/PhD program upon graduation to pursue a career in bridging the gap between clinical practice and biomedical research.

Irena was accepted as a summer student into Dr. Lauren Black’s lab. The Black lab applies tissue engineering principles to develop treatments to restore cardiac function. One focus of the lab is on cardiac progenitor cells. These cells have the potential to differentiate into new cardiomyocytes, which opens up the exciting possibility to use a patient’s own heart cells to regrow and repair damaged regions of the heart. Irena will be investigating the effects of substrate stiffness and composition as well as hyperpolarizing conditions on cardiac progenitor cell differentiation.

*Poster Presentation Title at the 2014 Leadership Alliance National Symposium: “Differentiation of C-kit-positive Cells.”


Teddie Chambers is from Los Lunas, New Mexico and is a rising senior at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio where she is pursuing her MA in psychology. She plans to pursue a Ph.D in educational psychology. Teddie hopes to remain in academia to conduct research and become a professor in the growing field of educational psychology. Her specific interests include academic motivation and the promotion of educational attainment in high-risk and underrepresented populations. Teddie’s previous research at Kenyon College examined correlates of grade-school children’s media interests, including physical appearance satisfaction, perceived gender role pressure, empathy, and occupational interests. The findings were presented at the Ohio Undergraduate Psychology Research Conference in 2013.

At Tufts, Teddie is working with Dr. Ann Easterbrooks and Dr. Jana Chaudhuri on the Massachusetts Healthy Family Evaluation II Early Childhood follow up (MHFE-II-EC) in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development. The MHFE-II-EC is an interdisciplinary evaluation of a home visiting program for teen mothers. Teddie will be examining educational attainment in young mothers as a predictor for child outcomes, specifically executive functioning and school readiness.

*Poster Presentation Title at the 2014 Leadership Alliance National Symposium: “Young Mothers’ Educational Attainment as a Predictor of Children’s Executive Functioning and School Readiness.”


Vierelina Fernández is a Ronald E. McNair Research Scholar and rising senior at DePaul University in Chicago, double majoring in International Studies and Latin American Studies with a double minor in French and Economics.  Her research interests focus on the political economy of development in Latin America.  She is particularly interested in the current political divide between “Pink-Tide” and “Non Pink-Tide” countries, and in the implications of these differing political environments for the democracy and living standards of Latin American countries.  Much of her previous research has focused on the political economy of oil and development: she has conducted extensive comparative investigations of Ecuador, Mexico and Venezuela particularly. Vierelina has also conducted research in the area of gender politics.  She was recently awarded the 2014 DePaul Summer Undergraduate Research Grant (SURG), under which she will travel to Mexico to delve deeper into the question: “In what ways is the ‘maid culture’, so particular to Latin America, a perpetuation of colonial trajectory?”  Vierelina will be undertaking the entirety of her upcoming senior year abroad in Guadalajara’s Universidad Panamericana in order to conduct research and to supplement her background in economics.

This summer, Vierelina is working through the Fletcher School at Tufts University under the mentorship of Professor Kim Wilson.  Her research will focus on the way in which Latin American civic resistance movements are financed.  Last summer she was funded to travel to Argentina through the University of Illinois at Chicago and DePaul McNair SRSE.  There she collected data with a research team on the intersection between racial and classist discrimination practices in Argentinean society.  This upcoming fall she will be applying to graduate programs both in the United States and Europe.

*Oral Presentation Title at the 2014 Leadership Alliance National Symposium: “Financing Civic Resistance: Comparing Venezuela’s Chavista Collectives to Mexico’s Zapatista ‘Caracoles’.”


Rodney Kazibwe is a senior at the University of Georgia. He is an International Affairs major and is also pursuing a minor in Spanish. Rodney is a member of Tau Sigma, an honor society that recognizes academic achievement. Because of his familial background with Uganda, Rodney has always been interested in studying Africa, especially with regard to its political development and the different developing political systems encountered in African Nation States. Previously, Rodney has completed various projects researching political development in Africa, as well as a comparative paper on Uganda and South Africa political systems. He also has an interest in security, specifically studying conventional weapons proliferation as well as weapons of mass destruction.

After completion of his Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs, Rodney’s goal is to pursue a Masters in International Policy (MIP).  While in graduate school, he plans to continue his study of African countries, directing his focus to the relationship between different political systems in various African nations and security policy in the United States of America. Once he has completed his graduate study he wants to pursue a career with the State Department in the area of International Security. His dream is to work as a strategic intelligence agent. Strategic intelligence agents are responsible for keeping track of world events, monitoring foreign policy, and studying foreign nations’ politics, economy and military status.

Conducting research through Leadership Alliance at Tufts University this summer is Rodney’s first experience with a REU. Rodney is working at the Fletcher School with Professor Kim Wilson, who teaches two courses: Microfinance: Issues and Breakthroughs, and Development Aid in Practice. While his interests lie more in African political development and weapon proliferation, Rodney looks forward this summer to be working with Professor Wilson on a project researching how civic resistance movements are financed at the local level and internationally. He will explore which aspects of local civic resistance movements need financing or funds and how they are obtained, and he will look at the question of how actions of resistance not part of a larger movement at the individual level are financed. Because, the research will be examining civic movements at the international level, this will certainly draw from his knowledge of international affairs. So far, Rodney has really enjoyed his time at Tufts. Professor Wilson has been excellent in introducing him to the subject matter and answering any and all questions. Also, the grad students working alongside Rodney have been absolutely essential in finding the right literature for the research, as well as taking the time to meet in the library and other places for any additional assistance. The opportunity to work with Professor Wilson and the grad students on the summer project has been such a valuable learning experience and will certainly build on Rodney’s research skills.

*Poster Presentation Title at the 2014 Leadership Alliance National Symposium: “The Coupling of Church and State.”


Ayanna Spencer is a rising senior Philosophy Major and Political Science Minor at Spelman College, from Tamarac, Florida. She cherishes the Spelman motto, “a choice to change the world”, as seen through her engagements in social and political movements. As an associate for the Social Justice Fellows Program, comrade of the Toni Cade Bambara Scholar Writers Activist Collective, and member of United Students Against Sweatshops, Ms. Spencer is actively pursuing change within the Atlanta University Center and in Georgia at large. She is one of the founding members of the AUC Alliance for Fair Labor. The group’s efforts, along with those of workers and students across Georgia, recently won the release of $8 million in denied unemployment benefits for school workers. Ms. Spencer’s participation in the 2013 United Students Against Sweatshops Delegation to Dhaka, Bangladesh highlighted the need for Spelman College to join the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC). The hardworking women of the AUC Alliance for Fair Labor made history in the fall of 2013 by winning its campaign to make Spelman the first Historically Black College to join the WRC. These experiences, amongst others, have prompted her desire to be a lifelong community organizer and philosophy professor. A 2013 UNCF Mellon Mays Fellow, Ayanna aspires to obtain a Ph.D. in Philosophy and wed her activism and scholarship to transform the discipline. Ayanna Spencer was named a 2013 Most Outstanding Mellon Mays Fellow at the 2013 Summer Institute at Emory University. Ms. Spencer sees her scholarship and activism as uniquely intertwined and hopes to produce new theories for combating, understanding, and disrupting various forms of oppression. Ayanna is currently working on her senior honors thesis, titled: “The Morality of Language: A Challenge to Rape Discourse”, with Dr. Erin Kelly at Tufts University through the Leadership Alliance Summer Program.

*Oral Presentation Title at the 2014 Leadership Alliance National Symposium: “Linguistic Violence and Rape Culture.”


Claire Tilton is a rising senior admitted into the Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University. She is taking an interdisciplinary approach to her education by majoring in Civil (Environmental) Engineering and minoring in Biological Sciences. At her home university, Claire has stayed involved through a variety of organizations such as the Society of Women Engineers, the Arizona Outdoors Club, and Club Ultimate Frisbee. She has worked as both a residential assistant and a teacher’s aide in her engineering courses. Her research interests fall under the vast umbrella of sustainable solutions, ranging from renewable energies to infrastructure remodeling to large-scale recycling efforts.

At Arizona State, she conducts research on the energy performance of buildings in relation to their LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) energy performance rating. By looking at longitudinal heating, cooling, and electricity data, she is deciphering whether the LEED rating system is an accurate portrayal of a building’s energy savings through statistical analyses.

Through the Leadership Alliance program, she has been matched to Dr. Chris Swan’s laboratory at Tufts where she is currently testing Synthetic Light Aggregate (SLA) as a substitute for traditional materials in concrete. SLA is comprised of coal fly ash and plastic–two waste products. By testing the ductility and strength of SLA in the lab, it may prove to be a viable option as a raw material, both decreasing material costs and mitigating waste accumulation.

*Poster Presentation Title at the 2014 Leadership Alliance National Symposium: “The Behavior of Synthetic Lightweight Aggregate Subjected to Direct Shear Loading.”