Rising Stars

Are you:

  • Considering a career in academia?
  • A first-generation college student?
  • A member of an ethnic or racial group historically underrepresented in the biomedical sciences in academia (Black/African American, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Native Hawaiian or other Native Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latinx)?
  • Experienced overcoming significant challenges in your career path?
    • Managing a disability
    • Being of a gender or orientation identity historically underrepresented in your field of study
    • Veteran
    • Single Parent
    • Holding DACA status

The Cornell Rising Star Program is looking for exceptional postdoctoral scientists from backgrounds that are historically underrepresented in the biomedical sciences.  We are focused on advancing diversity, equity and inclusion within the professoriate.

The Cornell Rising Star program provides individuals with the opportunity to polish their skills in preparation for seeking faculty positions.  Individuals selected from this competitive pool of researchers will be sponsored to:

  • Give a scientific seminar at Cornell, and a practice chalk talk if appropriate to your stage of training
  • Networking opportunities with current faculty
  • Early alerts of open and/or upcoming faculty searches at Cornell
  • Guidance on strengthening your application and interview skills
  • Guidance on transitioning to a faculty position


To apply to be a Rising Star send a PDF with the following to: pace@cornell.edu

  • CV
  • One-page research statement
  • Contact information for 3 professional references



Current Rising Stars

Dr. Armand Brown

Dr. Armand Brown graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology in 2009. Shortly after, he attended Baylor College of Medicine for one year as a post-baccalaureate student prior to entering graduate school in the Fall of 2010 at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. In the Fall of 2011, he joined the Department of Microbiology & Immunology where he obtained his Ph.D. in Microbiology & Immunology in December of 2014. Dr. Brown’s dissertation was focused on investigating the interactions of the Gram-positive bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae with the heart during severe pneumonia. As a result, Dr. Brown discovered the new pathology of cardiac microlesion formation during severe pneumococcal infection, identified the mechanism, and developed a therapy to prevent its formation. Cardiac microlesions are currently thought to contribute to heart failure during severe pneumonia. Dr. Brown subsequently entered a Postdoctoral Fellowship at Columbia University where he investigated the mechanisms of persistent bone and soft tissue infections caused by antimicrobial resistant strains of the Gram-positive bacterium Staphylococcus aureus such as Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). After completing his fellowship, Dr. Brown returned to Texas where he began a second fellowship at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston investigating the interkingdom interactions between the Gram-positive bacterium Enterococcus faecalis and fungus Candida albicans. This work led to the discovery of a previously uncharacterized E. faecalis thioredoxin known as DsbA that was determined to be required for the E. faecalis mediated suppression of C. albicans pathogenicity. Dr. Brown also discovered that E. faecalis is capable of forming cardiac microlesions through an alternative mechanism than was previously shown for S. pneumoniae. Moreover, he determined that DsbA is not only required for microlesion formation but contributes to the modulation of the host immune response to E. faecalis. Dr. Brown is currently investigating DsbA as a potential target for future therapeutic development against antimicrobial resistant pathogens, such as Vancomycin Resistance Enterococcus (VRE). In addition, he is investigating the mechanism of cardiac microlesion formation during severe E. faecalis infection. Dr. Brown is currently applying for tenure-track assistant professorships.


Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett

Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett is the scientific lead for the Coronavirus Vaccines & Immunopathogenesis Team at the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Vaccine Research Center (VRC). Appointed to the VRC in 2014, her work focuses on developing novel coronavirus vaccines, including mRNA-1273, a candidate vaccine against the virus that causes COVID-19. In response to the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, the vaccine concept incorporated in mRNA-1273 was designed by Dr. Corbett’s team from viral sequence and rapidly deployed to industry partner, Moderna, Inc., for FDA-approved phase 1 clinical trial. The clinical trial, including 45 participants, started only 66 days from the release date of the virus sequence. Following promising results in animal models and humans, mRNA-1273 is currently in Phase 3 clinical trial. Alongside mRNA-1273, Dr. Corbett’s team boasts a portfolio which also includes universal coronavirus vaccine candidates and novel therapeutic antibodies. Additionally, Dr. Corbett spent several years working on a universal influenza vaccine, which is slated for phase 1 clinical trial in the upcoming year. She has fifteen years of expertise with dengue virus, respiratory syncytial virus, influenza virus, and coronaviruses. Her scientific career began at University of Maryland – Baltimore County (UMBC), where she was a Meyerhoff Scholar and a NIH undergraduate scholar. She received a BS in Biological Sciences, with a secondary major in Sociology, in 2008. She then enrolled at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), from where she obtained her PhD in Microbiology and Immunology in 2014.

Dr. Galo Garcia

Dr. Galo Garcia is a cell biologist studying how structures are modified to produce new functions in evolution. The wings of a penguin and an eagle are varieties of a common form with different functions, swimming versus flight. Similarly but at the microscopic level, cilia on the surface of the cell can mediate fluid flow or serve as antennas for cell-to-cell communication depending on their structures. Galo’s postdoctoral research at the University of California, San Francisco, has been focused on understanding how the structure of the primary cilium enables signals to accumulate for its function as an antenna. By studying the arrangement of proteins in the cilium with advanced microscopy Galo has identified a cause for the rare genetic disorder Joubert syndrome. Currently, Galo is examining a novel model to understand how signals accumulate in the cilium and how signals are lost in ciliary disease. Galo’s graduate research at the University of California, Berkeley, discerned how molecular structures are altered to modify the compartmentalization of cells. Just as actin can form filaments and branches to reshape cells, the septin cytoskeleton is structurally altered to reshape membrane compartments on the cell. Galo discovered how septins are able to transform between filaments and rings to remodel the surface of the cell. In future research Galo will explore diverse subcellular contexts, such as primary cilia of fibroblasts and T-tubules of cardiomyocytes, to decipher how molecular structures are altered to modify the function of signaling compartments. Galo will be on the job market for tenure track faculty positions beginning Fall 2021.


Dr. Leonor Garcia-Bayona

Dr. Leonor Garcia-Bayona is a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Professor Laurie Comstock at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. She grew up in Bogota, Colombia and completed her Chemical Engineering and Microbiology undergraduate studies at the University of the Andes in Colombia. Her doctoral work was performed under the supervision of Professor Michael Laub at MIT, where she acquired a strong background in bacterial genetics, physiology, genomics and interbacterial antagonism. During this time, she discovered and characterized a new type of contact-dependent interbacterial toxin produced by Caulobacter crescentus. Her current research focuses on one of the most abundant genera of human gut symbionts, the Bacteroides. During her early postdoctoral work, Dr. Garcia-Bayona created genetic tools to facilitate molecular work in these bacteria and allow visualization of dynamic cellular processes. She is now using these tools, in combination with genomic analyses, to dissect how Bacteroides balance antagonism and cooperation in healthy gut consortia. Dr. Garcia- Bayona is also an enthusiast of diversity and inclusion in science, in particular through her work as a strategic partnership coordinator for Cientifico Latino and its Graduate Student Mentorship Initiative. Dr. Garcia-Bayona will be applying for faculty positions in 2022.

Dr. Bruno Lima

Dr. Bruno Lima Bruno Lima, DDS, PhD, is a research associate at the University of Minnesota, School of Dentistry in the Department of Diagnostic and Biological Sciences. Dr. Lima received his dental degree from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil and his PhD from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Loyola University Chicago. His research focuses on understanding how bacteria interact with their environment and the consequence of these interactions on their physiology. As a dentist, Dr. Lima is particularly interested in studying how different environmental interactions affect dental plaque development and whether these interactions can be manipulated to promote oral health. Dr. Lima has authored several peer-reviewed articles that have been well-received by the scientific community. He is currently the recipient of a career development award (K08) from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) and was recently selected as the recipient of the 2020 American Association of Dental Research (AADR)/Procter & Gamble Underrepresented Faculty Research Fellowship. He is currently applying for tenure track faculty positions.

Dr. Aaron Moye

Aaron is a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Dr. Carla Kim in the Stem Cell Program at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School. Using a combination of single-cell RNA-seq, computational analysis, mouse models, and lung organoid cultures he studies the role of cell-to-cell signaling during lung cancer initiation and progression. Aaron aims to understand the biology of early-stage cancer, discover secreted factors that can be used in early-stage diagnostics, and to identify new targets for drug development that interfere with the lung cancer microenvironment. His research is supported by the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation and Burroughs Wellcome Fund. He will be on the job market over the next few years and always open to discussing faculty opportunities.

Dr. Diane Nelson

Dr. Diane Nelson

Dr. Mirna Perusina-Lanfranca

Dr. Mirna Perusina-Lanfranca

Dr. Jesus Romo

Dr. Jesus Romo is originally from Mexico, but moved to Texas at an early age. He received is PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology (Microbiology and Immunology Track) from The University of Texas at San Antonio where his research focused on developing anti-virulence therapies for the treatment of fungal infections caused by the opportunistic pathogenic fungi such as Candida species. More specifically, he focused on inhibiting biofilm formation and preventing the development of drug resistance. Currently, he is an NIH IRACDA postdoctoral scholar at Tufts University School of Medicine in the department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology studying the role of fungal colonizers of the gastrointestinal tract during infection by the bacterial pathogen Clostridioides difficile. Jesus is pursuing a career in academia because of his passion for research and love for teaching and mentoring the next generation of underrepresented scientists. He expects to be on the job market in the Fall of 2020.

Dr. Chelsey Spriggs

Dr. Chelsey Spriggs completed her BS in Microbiology at Michigan State University and earned a PhD in Microbiology from Northwestern University. Her research interests are in studying host-pathogen interactions and more specifically how viruses utilize cellular machinery to complete various steps of their life cycles. Her thesis research focused on understanding the role of the DNA damage response in human papillomavirus replication and transformation. Now, as a postdoctoral fellow, Chelsey studies how polyomavirus exploits host motor proteins for transport and entry into the nucleus. She plans to spend a few more years training in the biochemical and high-resolution microscopy techniques necessary to answer all of  her research questions and will be entering the job market in 2022.

Dr. Mabel Taracena

Dr. Mabel Taracena is a biochemist and molecular biologist, originally from Guatemala. She is passionate about studying vector biology with the aim of creating efficient and sustainable vector control strategies to stop the transmission of arboviruses and malaria. She will be on the job market beginning Fall 2021.

Dr. Kishana Y. Taylor

Dr. Kishana Y. Taylor completed her Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Biomedical Sciences at The University of Georgia with a focus on disease ecology. She received a B.S. in animal science from the University of Delaware and an M.S. in public health microbiology and emerging infectious disease (PHMEID). Kishana seeks to combine her knowledge from all areas of her education by taking an interdisciplinary approach to investigating zoonotic disease and arboviruses. Kishana’s doctoral project focused on creating an experimental laboratory animal transmission model for epizootic hemorrhagic disease virus, a vector borne virus that infects ruminants. Her current research focuses on the rate of reassortment between influenza viruses during co-infection and how this influences influenza evolution and she will soon be moving on to investigating the role of macrophages in the development of COVID-19 upon SARS-CoV2 infection. Her overall interests include viral evolution, ecology and molecular epidemiology, especially arboviruses, as well as interactions between both the virus and the host and the virus and the vector. Zoonotic disease and viral discovery are other topics of interest. Kishana will be on the job market in 2021.

Dr. Michael F. Wells

Dr. Michael F. Wells, PhD is a K99/R00 Postdoctoral Fellow in the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute and the Department of Stem Cell & Regenerative Biology at Harvard University. He earned a B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of Notre Dame in 2008, and a PhD in Neurobiology from Duke University in 2015. Dr. Wells’ research focuses on the impact of genetic variation on human brain development and susceptibility to viral infection, and his work has been published in such high-impact journals as Nature, Cell, Neuron, and Cell Stem Cell. Dr. Wells is also the creator and co-director of the COVID-19 National Scientist Volunteer Database (covid19sci.org), which is a resource for health officials and decision-makers around the country looking to build COVID-19 testing capacity. The growing database consists of over 9,000 scientists in the United States who have signed up to volunteer their time and expertise towards the fight against COVID-19 in their local communities. Dr. Wells will be on the market for tenure-track assistant professorships in the Fall of 2020. For more information, please visit MichaelFWellsPhD.com.

Dr. Yvon Woappi

Dr. Yvon Woappi is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Harvard Dermatology Research Training Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School. He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh, majoring in Biology. He then went to pursue a PhD in Biomedical Sciences at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine. There, he developed a 3D cell culture system to study the relationship between epithelial regeneration and virus-induced neoplasia. Currently, his postdoctoral work utilizes in vivo gene editing systems to understand the contribution of epithelial cell lineages in tissue regeneration and cancer. In the future, he hopes to lead an independent research program exploring the genomic modulators of epithelial tissue renewal and carcinomas. Toward this aim, he will be applying for tenured-track faculty positions in the spring/summer of 2021.


Former Rising Stars

Dr. Américo López-Yglesias

Dr. Américo López-Ygelsias recently joined Indiana University School of Medicine as a tenure-track Assistant Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. Currently, he is working on characterizing how the transcription factor T-bet regulates the innate myeloid cell response against intracellular pathogens (Toxoplasma gondii & Salmonella) during acute infection. Additionally, he and his team are using transgenic mouse models to better understand how the complex interactions of the host-pathogen-microbiota impact innate immune cell effector function, intestinal tissue injury and immunity following oral infection with T. gondii or Salmonella, two leading causes of foodborne-related deaths in the United State. Américo is the son of two Mexican immigrants who arrived to Southern California as children. His parents quickly realized that a college education for their own children would enable them to have a better life for themselves and their own families. With the loving support and encouragement of his parents, Américo attended the University of Washington in Seattle where he obtained both a BS in Microbiology and PhD in Pathology. It was during graduate school when he began to participate in outreach programs that supported the recruitment of underrepresented groups (URGs) in the STEM fields. As a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Rochester Medical Center, he continued to participate in the recruitment, development, and mentorship of URGs in the biomedical research field. Mentoring is meaningful to Américo because as an underrepresented minority in the STEM field, it is important to him that the next generation of URG scientists are encouraged by seeing other successful URGs in their field. For this reason, he was excited to apply for the Program for Achieving Career Excellence (PACE), which is focused on advancing diversity, equity and inclusion within the professoriate. His experiences as a Rising Star continue to be extremely rewarding as he has been, and continues to be, provided opportunities to not only present his research to new audiences, but also to discuss new ideas with leaders in the field of biomedical research. Additionally, having open discussions with professors about their own paths through academia puts into perspective that there are many avenues to success and none are identical. The most beneficial part about being selected as a Rising Star is that it established a brand new network of supportive colleagues which is an invaluable resource as Américo moves forward in his career.