Current Scholars

2020/2021 ARCS Foundation Phoenix Scholars


ARCS® Foundation Phoenix is honored to present the 2020-2021 Scholar Awards to these outstanding Ph.D. candidates from Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, and University of Arizona. The ARCS Foundation Scholar Award is $8,500 per year. All scholars must apply through their universities on an annual basis.

Arizona State University
Ana Barrios - Douglas Scholar
  • PhD Program - Civil, Environmental and Sustainable Engineering
  • B.S. in Biochemistry with honors and M.S. in Chemistry at the University of Texas in El Paso.
  • Research involves the study of the structure and function relationships of Graphene Oxide and its use in nanomaterials for safe, sustainable environmental engineering 
  • François Perreault Laboratory in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Tanessa Call - Burton Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Neuroscience
  • Tanessa received a B.S. in Psychology from Arizona State University.
  • Her research aims to elucidate morphological and electrophysiological changes that occur following manipulation of SIRT1, a histone deacetylase that has been shown to play a role in anxiety and depressive-like symptoms.
  • Applications of her research will lead to the development of new, highly efficacious antidepressants. 
Joshua Daymude - Johnston Endowment Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Computer Science
  • Joshua received a B.S. in Computer Science and Mathematics from Arizona State University.
  • He is investigating the theoretical and algorithmic foundations of programmable matter systems.
  • His research interests include distributed computing, randomized algorithms, collective and emergent behavior, bio- inspired robotics, and machine learning.
Julie Bethany Rakes - Mr. and Mrs. Charles Sands Scholar
  • PhD program - Biological Sciences
  • BS  Biology - Indiana University; BA English - Indiana University
  • Research on the characteristics of organisms - cyonobacteria - of the Biological Soil Crusts of arid lands in the Garcia-Pichel"s Lab
Kassondra Hickey - Ben and Catherine Ivy Foundation Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Biomedical Engineering
  • B.S. in Biomedical Engineering - Worcester Polytechnic Institute
  • Research is on regenerative strategies in the Stabenfeldt lab, focusing on traumatic brain injury repair through biomaterial drug delivery and cell recruitment.
Jennapher Lingo VanGilder - Spetzler Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Biomedical Engineering
  • Jennapher received a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and an M.S. in Biomedical Engineering from Arizona State University.
  • Her work at Phoenix Children’s Hospital as a motion analysis engineer sparked her interest in neurorehabilitation research.
  • She is using neuroimaging (MRI) techniques to investigate how visual and motor learning processes are integrated within the brain.
Logan Mathesen - Mary Ann White Memorial Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Industrial Engineering
  • Logan received a B.S. in Industrial engineering from Arizona State University.
  • He aims to develop predictive models capable of adjusting to real-time data to quickly estimate system performance for the immediate future and the development of computationally efficient algorithms for effective and robust optimization of such predictive models. 
Kimberly Olney - Spetzler Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program -Evolutionary Biology
  • Kimberly received a B.S. in Biological Sciences from Arizona State University.
  • She is developing bioinformatics tools that accurately infer genetic variation and is applying these tools to characterize patterns of gene expression across human tissue types, which is crucial to understanding sex-bias in human development and sex-bias in diseases.
Stephen Schaefer - Douglas Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Electrical Engineering
  • Stephen received a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Arizona and a M.S. in Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering from Arizona State University. 
  • The goal of his research is to develop materials which function effectively as light emitters and detectors.
  • This has applications in numerous fields including telecommunications, national defense, medical devices, pollution detection, thermal photovoltaics and applied sciences.
Mark Blei - Wilhoit Foundation
  • Ph.D. Program - Material Science and Engineering 
  • Research aims to understand how to engineer defects of select type and concentration in quantum materials and begin to establish the relation between defects and desired properties. It is of paramount importance to understand how we can engineer these defects-on-demand to reliably manufacture these materials for the new wave of quantum electronics.
  • Tongay Laboratory - Advanced Materials in the Quantum Age
Kirstie Swingle - VanDenburgh Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Chemistry
  • Kirstie received a B.S. in Biology from the University of New Mexico.
  • She is currently working on the design of complex genetic circuits responsive to protein signals for paper-based diagnostics, especially useful in diagnosing COVID-19
  • With the incorporation of protein communication, a more dynamic and complex system can be created for monitoring the immune system.
Wendy Lin - The Ellie and Michael Ziegler Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Chemical Engineering
  • BS - Chemical Engineering - National Taiwan University; MS - Chemical Engineering - ASU
  • Research focuses on development of molecular electronic transducer (MET) seismometers for the moon, Europa, and Venus. Via understanding and design of intermolecular interactions, we can obtain tailored properties of the materials that are suitable for operations under harsh environmental conditions.
Jon Weller - Wilhoit Foundation Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Materials Science and Engineering
  • Jon received a B.S. in Materials Science and Engineering and Applied Mathematics with a minor in Mathematics from the University of Washington.
  • His research focuses on developing new materials and technologies to categorically improve electrochemical energy storage and battery technology, specifically relating to solid-state lithium-ion batteries.  
  • Such technologies will lower the cost of energy storage and increase energy production. 
Rodrigo Martinez - Sonntag Scholar
  • PhD - Microbiology School of Life Sciences
  • Research focuses on engineering and “re-wiring” the metabolism of the bacterium Escherichia coli with the goal of developing strains capable of overproducing renewable short-chain dicarboxylic acids from lignocellulose-derived sugars. Development of these strains will contribute to global efforts that seek to reduce our unsustainable dependency on fossil fuels.
Angela Oill - Helen Jacobsen Pierson Scholar
  • PhD - Evolutionary Biology
  • BS - Biology and Anthropology - Stony Brooke University
  • My research broadly aims to understand how genetic variation influences human health and disease, by studying ancient human populations in Kenya. Through my research, I hope to improve human health by contributing knowledge about genetic variation in underrepresented populations, and by enhancing our understanding of how ancestry may impact cancer susceptibility.
Mark Namba - J. Kenneth Seward Scholar
  • PhD - Neuroscience
  • BS - Psychology - University of Florida; MA - Psychology - ASU
  • Research focuses on understanding whether immune signaling mechanisms within the brain’s reward circuits regulate cocaine-seeking behavior, and if HIV proteins exacerbate drug-seeking behavior and cognitive deficits through these mechanisms; additionally exploring whether the dopamine D3 receptor, which can promote neuroinflammation, is an effective therapeutic target for co-morbid HIV and cocaine use disorders. 
Sydney Parrish - The Kemper and Ethel Marley Foundation Scholar
  • PhD program - Chemistry
  • BS - Chemical Engineering with an Emphasis in Nanotechnology - University of Southern California
  • Research is aimed at increasing the rate at which cyanobacteria can import bicarbonate. By introducing various genetic modifications, the goal is to identify and isolate mutants that exhibit enhanced growth phenotypes and improved carbon capture and utilization. Ultimately, this project will further the development of robust cyanobacterial photosynthetic bioproduction platforms.
Northern Arizona University
Molly Bechtel - Marley Foundation Scholar in Memory of Milton "Bud" Webb
  • Ph.D. Program - Biology
  • Molly received a B.S. and M.S. in Animal Science from the University of Nevada, Reno.
  • Her research focuses on ticks and tick-borne pathogens in Mojave Desert Tortoises and how desert tortoises could possibly help mitigate the spread of zoonotic infectious disease across the landscape, thus improving public health.
Kyle Doherty - ARCS Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Forestry
  • Kyle received a B.S. in Evolution, Ecology and Biodiversity with a minor in Native American Studies from the University of California Davis and a M.S. in Biology from Northern Arizona University.
  • He spent five years working as a botanist and restoration technician for numerous agencies throughout the inter-mountain West. 
  • His research focuses on inventing new technologies to imporve ecological restoration outcomes to restore desert soils.
John "Henry" Grover - Ponce Scholar
  • Henry received his B.S. in Biology from the University of Utah. 
  • His research explores the potential for actively restoring fire mosses – species of moss that naturally colonize burned areas – to control erosion, preserve soil fertility, and promote ecosystem recovery after a wildfire. 
  • He is developing a Burned Area Emergency Response treatment for propagating mosses in the greenhouse and delivering them to burned sites. 


Heather Mead - Lawson Scholar
  • Ph.D. Candidate in Biology
  • Heather received a B.S. in Microbiology from Northern Arizona University.
  • She studies a fungal pathogen called Coccidiodes, the causitive agent of the disease commonly referred to as, "Valley Fever." 
  • Her research is important to the health of the community because Arizona has the highest case rates in the nation. 
Christine Mott - Kucera Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Forestry
  • Christine received a B.S. in Biology from the United States Air Force Academy and entered the Air Force as an aircraft maintenance officer.
  • During her Active Duty years, she received a M.S. Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and a M.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Arizona.
  • Her research focuses on forest arthropod communities and their contributions to vegetation recovery and forest restoration. 
Daniel Sanchez- Lauber Endowment and Templin Endowment Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Forestry
  • Daniel received a B.S. in Microbiology with a minor in Chemistry from Northern Arizona University.
  • His research investigates the baseline ecology of federally endangered species threatened by extinction: an anthropogenic mass extinction marked by centuries of habitat destruction.
  • His findings will help managers recover habitat by planting or protecting more food plants in areas where the species thrive.
Julia Stuart - Windrow Endowment Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Biology
  • Julia received a B.A. in History of Art from Bryn Mawr College and M.S. in Biology from Villanova University.
  • Her master's research investigated nitrogen cycling in wetlands, with a focus on the effects of wildfire and oil sands development in Alberta.
  • Her current research centers on nitrogen fixation associated with mosses in Alaska, and the connection between nitrogen cycling, plant communites , and permafrost carbon.
Damon Vaughan - Lafollette Endowment and Libby Endowment Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Forestry
  • Damon received a B.S. in Forestry with a minor in Mathematics and a M.S. in Forestry-Wood Science and Forest Products from Colorado State University.
  • His work involves characterizing the variation in wood properites of Ponderosa Pine, a local species which is commonly removed in forest restoration projects to reduce the risks of catastrophic wildfire.
  • This will allow for more efficent use of a resource that is often wasted in forest management operations.
University of Arizona
Eze Ahanonu - Crawford Endowment
  • Ph.D. Program - Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Eze received a B.S in Biomedical Engineering with a minor in Math, Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering and a M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Arizona. 
  • His research is on the use of artificial intelligence and neural networks to improve image compression of current imaging modalities. 
  • Reducing the size of these datasets will lesssen the strain on storage and transmission resources of medical networks. 


Rachel Braun - The Ethel and Kemper Marley Foundation Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Chemical Engineering
  • Rachel received a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and Mathematics from the University of Arizona and an M.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Arizona.
  • Her research focuses on how aerosols impact the atmosphere.
  • Rachel uses data from aircraft and surface measurements, model simulations, and remote sensing platforms to determine their effect on the atmosphere.
  • Results have implications regarding public health, climate change, and the water cycle.
Austin Conklin - Van Denburgh Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Molecular Medicine
  • Austin received a B.S. in Biology from the University of Wyoming.
  • His work in molecular medicine involves endothelial cells and understanding the transcriptional programs that are implemented within them.
  • Understanding these genetic and regulatory mechanisms could provide a foundation for future therapies to prevent heart attacks and atherosclerosis related mortality.


Christopher Coplen - Burton Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Immunobiology
  • Christopher received a B.S. in Biology from Indiana University.
  • Within the College of Medicine at the University of Arizona, Christopher is researching age-related immune function.
  • His research into the mechanisms underlying the breakdown of immune responses in older adults could be leveraged into targeted therapies to improve human health.
Benjamin Cromey - Kucera Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Optical Sciences
  • Benjamin received a B.S. in Optical Sciences and Engineering with a minor in Mathematics and a M.S. in Optical Sciences from the University of Arizona.
  • He is can NSF Fellow and currently resesarching optical microscopy.
  • Benjamin is developing an innovative microscope that can be used for cancer margin determination during surgery.


Taylor Gee - Kathryn Johnston West Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Biochemistry
  • Taylor received a B.S. in Chemistry from Williamette University.
  • She is researching the effects of opioids on dopamine neurotransmission in response to pain. 
  • Her objective is to enhance pain therapy by laying the neurochemical foundation for the development of more effective and less addictive pain therapeutics.
Travis Harty - Sandra Matteucci/Ralph Matteucci Memorial Endowment Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Applied Mathematics
  • Travis received a B.S. in Mathematics and a M.S. in Applied Mathematics from the University of Arizona.
  • His research is on improving the forecasting of renewable energy sources so that they may be able to offset fossil-based energy.
  • Travis is working to improve solar irradiance estimation and forecasting by combining satellite data, numerical weather models, and ground sensor data within a unique data simulation framework.
Brandon Hellman - Saba Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Optical Sciences
  • Brandon received a B.S. in Optical Sciences and Engineering from the University of Arizona. Brandon’s project is developing a LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) system for self-driving vehicles with potential to significantly and positively impact everyday transportation. While LIDAR systems exist today, Brandon’s research will decrease the package system size and cost, making LIDAR systems more readily available and autonomous vehicles safer.
Julie Huynh - The Carson Senger Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Julie received her B.S. and M.S. in Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona.
  • Her resarch surrounds the mechanisms of resistance that cancer cells develop to targeted therapies. 
  • She will be specifically studying targeted therapies for epidermal growth fact receptor (EGFR), a receptor that is altered in many cancers. 
  • By defining the molecular basis for this resistance, more effective treatment strategies for cancer can be developed.
David Knoff - Templin Endowment Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Biomedical Engineering
  • David received his B.S. in Biomedical Engineering with a minor in Material Science Engineering from the University of Connecticut.
  • He is developing novel protein-based biomaterials for advanced drug delivery and tissue engineering application specifically for cardiovascular disease.
  • Findings could help to reduce the side effects of current therapeutics and reduce the number of cardiovascular-related deaths.
Kendra Marr - Libby Worsley Crouch Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Cancer Biology
  • Kendra received her B.S. in Biology from the University of Kansas.
  • Her research into the mechanisms of prostate cancer progression is looking to identify predictors of aggressive disease.
  • Currently, there is a lack of understanding of the mechanisms by which prostate cancer spreads, and there are no reliable methods for predicting its course. 
  • More reliabe assessment of these cancers could decrease the need for unnecessary invasive procedures.
Alexander Pendleton - Might Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Physiological Sciences
  • Alexander received his B.S. in Organismal Biology from the University of Kansas and a M.S. in Cancer Biology from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology.
  • He is researching mitochondrial dysfunction and the fetal origins of adult onset metabolic diseases such as diabetes. 
  • He aims to advance the field of metabolism through analyzing the mitochondrial changes that occur in response to challenging in-utero conditions and the treatments that we can provide the fetus to prevent adverse long-term metabolic issues that persist through adulthood.
Travis Sawyer - Theresa F. Jennings Memorial Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Optical Sciences
  • Travis received his B.S. in Optical Sciences and Engineering with a minor in Mathematics from the Univerity of Arizona and a M.S. in Physics from the university of Cambridge.
  • His research interests focus on biomedical optics in the scope of non-invasive disease detection.
  • Travis is researching new imaging technology in biomedical optics and is developing technology for non-invasive screening of esophageal cancer.
Lauren Schultz - ARCS Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Cellular and Molecular Medicine
  • Lauren received a B.S. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the University of Nevada, Reno.
  • She is researching the underlying basic cellular mechanisms that result in disease.
  • Her work focuses on striated muscle proteins and how their dysregulation leads to cardiovascular disease. The goal is to determine how actin thin filament lengths are regulated in normal striated muscle and understand how this is perturbed in the human patient population.
Kristen Watts - Wilhoit Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Analytical Chemistry
  • Kristin received a B.S. in Chemistry from Furman University and an M.S. in Chemistry from Villanova University.
  • Her current research is focused on the degradation of organic semiconductors due to exposure to sunlight, atmospheric gases, and electric fields while operating next-generation solar cell devices.
  • This will allow manufacturers to build more stable, efficient and inexpensive devices.
Jacob Zbesko - The Ben and Catherine Ivy Foundation Scholar
  • Ph.D. Program - Immunobiology
  • Jacob received a B.S. in Biology from the University of Redlands. He is currently testing the hypothesis that the inflammatory response to stroke persists for months, is imperfectly segregated from adjacent tissue and causes bystander damage to healthy tissue. leading to the development of dementia.  Jacob hopes to improve neurological recovery in victims of strokes and betterunderstand the causes of post-stroke dementia.