Melissa Palma, MD MPH, Research Committee Mentor
Melissa Palma, MD, MPH is an Iowa-raised daughter of Filipino immigrants. She graduated with degrees in biochemistry and medicine from the University of Iowa and began her career dedicated to the health of underserved populations. Her medical school capstone project for the Service and Global Health Distinction Tracks focused on health education programs for rural migrant farmworkers and a needs assessment of refugee social services in her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa.
Dr. Palma was a Family Medicine resident at the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center in Lawrence, Massachusetts prior to training in Preventive Medicine at Cook County Health in Chicago, IL, one of the oldest and largest safety-net health systems in the US. She graduated with a Masters of Public Health from Northwestern University in June 2020 and serves on the Organization of Resident Representatives for the American Association of Medical Colleges. Dr. Palma also serves as a board member of FYLPRO, a leadership program affiliated with the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC and the Ayala Foundation, Inc. Her academic interests include immigrant and refugee health, advocacy for health equity and addressing health disparities, and mentorship of underrepresented students in medicine.
Dr. Palma also advocates for the Filipino community as an inaugural member of the Bicultural Iowa Writers’ Fellowship anthology, We the Interwoven, for emerging Iowan writers from immigrant backgrounds. Exploring themes of migration, belonging, and home in the Filipino diaspora, her writing has been featured in the Des Moines Art Festival, the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature Book Festival, and the non-circulating Pilipinx American Library exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Asian Art.
Mericien Venzon, MD/PhD Trainee (GS2),
Head of Research Committee
A Bay Area native, Ms. Venzon graduated as Moreau Catholic High School’s Valedictorian and Associated Student Body President. Figure skating competitively since she was four years old, she also won the 2009 Philippine National Championships, earning her a spot to represent the Philippines at the 2010 Olympic Trials and 2011 World Championships in Moscow, Russia.
At UCLA, Mericien continued to compete internationally while also founding UCLA’s first national figure skating club team. In addition, she was an active member of Pilipinos for Community Health, running senior citizen health screening sites on the weekends. She first got interested in research as an undergraduate and was awarded UCLA's HHMI Undergraduate Research Scholarship. In the ER as part of UCLA’s elite Stroke Team, she assisted in enrolling patients in clinical research trials testing intra-ambulance therapy to more rapidly identify and treat cerebral ischemia. In the Alfaro lab, she pursued her interests in bioinformatics and was the first to apply mathematical models conventionally used in studies of vertebrates to viruses, including flu and HIV, to investigate differential evolutionary dynamics in nonpathogenic vs. pathogenic human viruses. She graduated with highest departmental honors from UCLA in 2014, majoring in Biology with a minor in Evolutionary Medicine. She was chosen as one of five recipients of the 2014 True Bruin Distinguished Senior Award, was honored as a Bruinlife Senior of the Year, and is featured in UCLA’s Optimist Campaign among other prestigious alumni.
She matriculated in New York University School of Medicine’s MD-PhD/Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) in 2016 and joined the Cadwell Lab in March 2018. Currently in her second year of her PhD under the NIH Pre-doctoral Training Fellowship, her thesis project is looking at the interrelationships between the gut microbiome, host immune system, and intestinal parasites to identify new targets for treatment of human parasitic worm infections. She founded NYUSoM’s Women in MSTP group which helps foster community, mentorship, and allyship in a male-dominated field. Most recently, she was one of the founders of ppe2nyc.com, a centralized grassroots solution to NYC’s PPE shortage at the peak of COVID-19 that enabled PPE to be efficiently collected and distributed to hospitals, nursing homes, and homeless shelters where NYC needed it most via a text-in hotline. Her career aspirations include running her own translational research lab and specializing in neonatology. She prioritizes practicing wellness regularly through hip hop yoga, boxing, and trying to find NYC’s best pizza slice.
Sheena Faye Garcia, Research Committee Member
Currently, Ms. Garcia is a third-year PhD candidate in the Molecular Oncology and Tumor Immunology Track at New York University School of Medicine. Her thesis project in the Pagano lab focuses on E3 ubiquitin ligases and their role in oxidative stress and lung cancer progression. She is also involved in the NYU Student Diversity Initiative and the NYC Minority Graduate Student Network, where she helps organize events to celebrate diversity in science. In her spare time, Ms. Garcia fosters her love for running, and has either volunteered or participated at various local road races during her stay in NYC. Her goal before finishing her PhD is to both publish first-author in a top-tier journal and run a half-marathon in NYC.
Ms. Garcia graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Toronto, where she completed a Specialist in Biochemistry and a Major in Human Biology. During her three years at the University of Toronto, she was heavily involved in advocacy work for cancer patients. She volunteered for 2 years as a patient care assistant at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto and helped organize various fundraising events for the Canadian Cancer Society. She was also a public speaker for both the Terry Fox Foundation and the Canadian Cancer Society and, in 2018, was even presented the “Celebrating Impact in Community Prevention, Outreach, and Advocacy” award for her volunteer efforts. In between her volunteer work and her studies, she was also a dedicated undergraduate researcher whose efforts contributed to a publication in Cell. Outside of the lab, Ms. Garcia would often share her love for science through her role as Vice President of the Biochemistry Undergraduate Student Society and as a Science Demonstrator for SciHigh.
Angela C. Arata, MS1, Research Committee Member
Resident of Napa, California, Angela Arata graduated from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Human Biology. At UCSD, Angela served as an ambassador for Sixth College, tutor at Gompers Preparatory Academy, volunteer at UCSD Medical Center, and student supervisor at Foodworx.
Following her undergraduate studies, Angela worked as a clinical laboratory technician while completing the Pre-Professional Health Academic Program at California State University, East Bay (CSUEB). At CSUEB, Angela served as Co-President of Global Medical and Dental Brigades, leading two medical mission trips to Nicaragua and Panama. Additionally, she volunteered as events coordinator for AFS-USA’s San Francisco Bay Area chapter, organizing community events for foreign exchange students as well as taking on responsibilities as a student-family liaison.
Angela is interested in preventative medicine, social justice, caring for underserved communities, mentorship, and research. Angela currently serves as Quality Director of the Mabuhay Health Center, a student-run free clinic in San Francisco, and was on the inaugural steering committee of the Filipinx Mental Health Initiative-Solano County. Angela is a Certified Lifestyle Coach for the National Diabetes Prevention Program and previously served as a health coach at Highland Hospital in Oakland, California, and as a life coach for Girls on the Run.
Angela currently works as a research assistant in a biochemistry lab led by Dr. Jean-Marc Schwarz at Touro University California. Angela will begin medical school this Fall.
Edgar Geronimo Yap Junior, MS2, Research Committee Member
Edgar is a second year MD-MA in Bioethics student at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine (SSOM). At the SSOM, Edgar is the President of the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association as well as the Vice President of the Family Medicine Interest Group. Furthermore, he is involved in primary care research. He has a passion for working with under-resourced communities and students, mentoring nearby high school students in Westside Chicago through the Health Professions Recruitment and Exposure Program and the Health Career Collaborative. Additionally, Edgar volunteers remotely with the Coalition of Concerned Medical Professionals in Oakland, California, helping under-served patients with their insurances and healthcare needs. In the future, Edgar plans to pursue a Family Medicine residency. His dream is to work in a Federally Qualified Health Center that serves a large Filipinx population, as well as teach in an academic medical center and a local community college.
At UC Berkeley, Edgar majored in Integrative Biology and Anthropology. He was very involved in the Filipinx community, holding leadership positions in the Pilipinx Academic Student Services (PASS) for three years. During his second and third years, Edgar hosted dozens of recruitment and cultural events for under-represented K-12 and community college students through PASS. In his fourth year, Edgar was the Director of Internal Affairs for PASS and facilitated a course on Filipinx Identity and Leadership through the Asian American Studies Department. At the same time, Edgar conducted research on biofuels at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and human paleontology at the Human Evolution Research Center. Following graduation, Edgar worked as the surgery coordinator and co-office manager at a large scale private Ophthalmology practice in the East Bay Area.
Edgar calls three places home, being born in Los Angeles, living in Kuwait for eight years, and growing up in the Bay Area. Filipinx advocacy has been in his family since they arrived in the United States, with his parents being active in the development of Historic Filipinotown in Los Angeles during the 1970s and 1980s. During his free time, Edgar enjoys playing basketball and watching the Golden State Warriors, cooking with his partner, and learning about nature. He is very excited to be part of CYFAM and the inaugural conference.
Isa Rosenzweig, Research Committee Member
Isa is a third-year pre-medical student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), majoring in Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology and minoring in Global Health. She is an active member of Pilipinos for Community Health (PCH), an organization that aims to address health disparities in the Filipino community by organizing health fairs, and promoting preventive health education in the Los Angeles community. In PCH, she is part of the Health Fair Logistics Team, working to develop a virtual health fair to disseminate health resources to underserved communities. In her second year, she joined Alpha Epsilon Delta (AED), a pre-health honor society that values scholarship, service and camaraderie. Through AED, she has become a Basic Life Support (BLS) Lead Instructor to teach hospital setting students life-saving strategies. Additionally, she is a member of the Seidlits Research Lab, currently investigating the use of hydrogels as a biomimetic extracellular matrix for neurons with the goal of studying opioid addiction. Isa also works as a Contact Tracer for the New York State Department of Health, a public health position committed to stopping the spread of COVID-19 by monitoring exposures.
In high school, Isa served as student body vice president, and led community service initiatives through Interact Club, and Environmental Club. She played varsity soccer, serving as team captain for her junior and senior year. She also played varsity lacrosse and was named an Academic All-American player. Isa graduated salutatorian of Millbrook High School, and received the Millbrook Rotary Scholarship in 2018.