Research Ambassadors

Istifaa Ahmed - UROC Co-Director (Humanities and Social Science)

Istifaa Ahmed is a Bengali, critical race feminist. Istifaa majored in Ethnic Studies and Gender and Women's Studies, and minored in Global Poverty and Practice. Traditionally, she is attached to a legacy that commits colonial sexual violence and erasure against her body. In her research, Istifaa analyzes sexual violence through women of color performance art. She examines how various women of color performance artists have used performance art as a platform to contest the secrecy of violence committed against them in the hidden and private, through the use of their bodies and its inhabitation, exhibition, and control over public space and audience. She also does research on gendered Orientalism, how the construction of Muslim womanhood justifies the War on Terror and imperialism into Muslim nations, and how this discourse is produced in such a way that seduces a national to want to engage in this violence and warfare.

Feel free to reach out to Istifaa as a resource! She's happy to get to know you, help develop your research interests or proposals and methodologies, integrate modes of decolonization into your research, apply for research programs and grants, and help find/create platforms to apply and share your research. She can meet individually and offer group workshops.

Research interests: Race, Gender, Sexual Violence, Women of Color Performance Art, Transnational and Third World Women of Color Feminism, ‘War on Terror,’ Orientalism, Colonialism, Slavery, Imperialism, Decolonization, Mass Incarceration, Prison Abolition

Tasnim Ahmed - UROC Research Ambassador

Tasnim Ahmed is a third year currently studying Biogeochemistry and Environmental Sciences in the College of Natural Resources. She hopes to pursue a career in researching Climate Change along coastal areas of the ocean such as in Bangladesh and Hawaii. She has always had a passion for marine biology, especially after working at an aquarium for a few years. But after spending some time in Berkeley, she became really interested in the biogeochemistry of the ocean, particularly the carbon cycles and it's relation to Climate Change. Recently she began a research project regarding Climate Change in Bangladesh coastal areas. In addition, she is an undergraduate researcher in the Firestone Lab, researching Soil Microbiology.

Tasnim also has an ongoing research project focused on the sexualization of Native American Women, from colonization to contemporary representations and impacts.

Feel free to reach out to her for questions, advice, or just to talk!

Lelisa Bera - UROC Research Ambassador

Lelisa Bera majors in Psychology and minors in public policy. He transferred to Cal from Los Angeles Southwest College. He worked for a sleep and neuroimaging lab, Emotion and Emotion regulation lab, and Golden Bear Sleep and Mood Research Clinic as research assistant (RA) in the Psychology Department at Cal. He is a McNair Scholar. Lelisa also worked for UC Berkeley Transfer Students Center as a peer advocate and teacher's assistant in Education 198. He is a Campus Representative for the Association for Psychological Science Students Caucus (APSSC) at Cal. Lelisa enjoys reading, teaching, doing research, hiking, and eating food from different cultures.

Kiran Brar - UROC Research Ambassador

Kiran Brar is from Hollister, CA and a cognitive science major. Through her research as a SURF fellow, Kiran is working with Prof. Mary Kelsey to discover how gender, educational attainment, and area of residency affect the division of household labor among heterosexual couples in Punjab. More broadly, she is interested in examining the impacts of society on gender and class identities.

Kiran  is also the undergraduate research apprentice for UC Berkeley Social Networks Study, where she works with Dr. Leora Lawton (Director of UCNets) and Prof. Claude Fischer (principal investigator) to examine the how being a member of a religious community confers well-being or a degree of complete network.

As a UROC research ambassador, she hopes to support others in overcoming personal barriers in reaching out and utilizing the various resources and opportunities on this campus to successfully conduct their own research. Feel free to reach out to Kiran is you're interested in applying to the SURF Fellowship program and the URAP program, or have any questions about navigating the research process!

Anthony Carrasco - UROC Research Ambassador

The first in his family to attend college, Anthony will soon complete two Bachelor’s degrees in Political Science Legal Studies, and a minor in Public Policy. As a McNair Scholar, Anthony used in-depth semi-structured interviews to investigate the lives of Homeless Students of Color in Orange County, California. Using a Critical Race Theory framework and qualitative data, his study uses microaggressions as a tool to explore the racialized experiences of Homeless Students of Color. Anthony’s own story involves a very personal connection to the issue of how Homeless Youth of Color struggle to access education, since as a child of an extremely economically disadvantaged Mexican American family, Anthony grew up a Southern California “motel kid” for the first 10 years of his life. His project hopes to shine a light on the lives of children who grow up without stable housing by exploring their experiences, their struggles, and their stories. Anthony’s article, A Home in the Margins: Using Critical Race Theory to Understand How Racial Microagressions Impact Homeless Students of Color, has been featured in the 26th volume of the Berkeley McNair Research Journal.

Please reach out to Anthony if you would ever like to discuss qualitative research methods, Critical Race Theory, the research process more generally, or anything else for that matter!

Manesy Ceja-Cevallos - UROC Research Ambassador
Manesy Ceja-Cevallos is an upcoming 4th year student majoring in Integrative Biology with a concentration in Human Biology and a minor in English. She is a bilingual Mexican-Ecuadorian first generation college student who grew up in Cerritos, California. Manesy is passionate about finding solutions to improve people's access to healthcare. She specifically wants to help communities that have been overlooked in the past, such as low-income people of color. She hopes to attend medical school and help these underrepresented populations. Currently, Manesy is leading an experiment under the Center for Research and Education on Aging. In this research, she studies how specific parts of the human body decline throughout life, and the implications of diseases related to age such as Alzheimer's and dementia. This research includes working with human subjects, submitting research proposals, and ultimately collecting data that will be presented in a scientific paper. She is very excited to help other students on campus conduct research and succeed in their work!
 
Please feel free to reach out to Manesy for any help on understanding the research process, scientific methods or papers, on-campus experiments, and the application process for research. She is more than happy to help students with any interest or questions about the human body, healthcare systems, and medical school.
Elizabeth Cervantes - UROC Research Ambassador

Elizabeth Cervantes is currently an English major at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California. She enjoys assisting college students with their essays to advance their learning in the English language and help them become effective writers. She too encourages all to delve into the world of literature. Being interested in human interaction and inclusion, Elizabeth has done independent research on bullying and its psychological effects later in life and gender inequities in the corporate setting. Until today, her awareness in both forms of oppression remain vivid. Still pursuing her research in gender inequities, Elizabeth has recently uncovered the disadvantages women tend to have in corporations, pilfering their ability to pursue their respective careers. This independent research has motivated her to express the injustices faced by those of her gender and show recognition to the unrecognized; the women that have silently furthered huge industries. As a research ambassador, Elizabeth’s aspiration is to serve brilliant students who aspire to learn and be influenced by their own findings leading them for personal growth.

Reach out to Elizabeth, for she will look forward to meeting with you and guide you on respective research project!

Chelsea Chen - UROC Research Ambassador
Chelsea Chen is from Milpitas, California, majoring in psychology focusing on clinical and biological psychology. She is the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants.

Chelsea has research assisted for the Berkeley Social Interaction Laboratory, Relationships and Social Cognition Laboratory, the Berkeley Psychophysiology Laboratory, and the Walker Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory, reflecting interests in social psychology, clinical psychology, and neuroscience.

Chelsea’s research and career goals include studying neurodegenerative disease, working on clinical therapies that are non-invasive, developing neuropsychological assessments, and improving neuroimaging technology. She hopes to improve affordability and access to health care, particularly for psychiatric and psychological care, remove stigma surrounding conversations about emotions and mental health, and increase representation in health care and psychology. 

Feel free to reach out to Chelsea for questions or conversations of any kind, as she is very eager to mentor fellow students as well as make new friends!
Riya Desai - UROC Grad Student Ambassador

Riya was originally born in Gujarat, India and has lived in southern California since she was 8. This immigration experience is the root of her passion for the intersection between global health research and social justice. She is a grad student in the public health masters program in epidemiology and biostatistics, and envisions practicing medicine and public health together in her career. She's had research experience in public health using qualitative and quantitative methods and graduated in Spring 2018 with a BA in Public Health and minor in Global Poverty and Practice having completed her honors thesis in public health.

Chinika Gunn - UROC Research Ambassador

Originally from San Diego, CA, Chinika has a bachelor’s in Organizational Communication from San Francisco State University. Chinika previously enjoyed accounting for law firms, private and public entities. She enjoyed presenting for 3 hours on “Corporate Accounting Practices in the US” to a team of Chinese delegates from the provincial Development and Reform Commission in Zhejiang China. As a lecturer at San Francisco State University, Chinika taught courses in American Politics and Oratory. In addition to lecturing at San Francisco State University, Chinika taught Public Speaking at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Chinika was selected to speak to at-risk teen aged high school parents. She spoke about juggling life as a single parent and a full-time student. She developed a program for Girls for A Change in which instruction was needed on how to speak successfully to large audiences. While employed for McKesson Corporation, Chinika served as Toastmasters President in which she trained executive level staff on public speaking. Her work in this field allow her to combine her passion for public speaking with a desire to help individuals overcome adversities and obstacles. Chinika Gunn is the CEO and Founder of SureFire Expressions, a professional speech and voice consulting firm. SureFire Expressions provides voice management, accent modification, persuasive speaking, professional image development, interview preparation, voice and articulation, presentation development, public speaking for kids. After her coaching sessions, clients have increased confidence, decreased anxiety and are skilled during speeches and social situations.

Aaditie Kudrimoti - UROC Research Ambassador

Aaditee is studying political science, public policy, and conservation and resource studies with a concentration in sustainable development and international governance. Aaditee is originally from Tucson, Arizona, where she began to develop an interest in politics and international environmental affairs. Aaditee is currently working on projects in rural electrification and collective action, election monitoring, education, and women’s voting preferences in developing countries. She is conducting an independent research project under the mentorship of Professor Kate O’Neill in which she is looking at the relationship between energy independence via small-scale renewable technology and women's political empowerment in developing countries. As the Global North continues to influence developing countries to transition to renewables-based industrialization, Aaditee has become especially interested in studying the possibility of using renewable energy as a tool for democratization in these countries. She hopes to work as a researcher in sustainable development governance for international institutions and work on foreign policy with an emphasis in the political economy of development assistance. In her free time, Aaditee loves to cook, dance, and binge-watch food journalism shows on Netflix.

Hoa Luong - UROC Research Ambassador

Hoa Luong transferred to UC Berkeley after graduating from Berkeley City College with high honor in 2015. Originally, Hoa came from Vietnam where she had been working as a middle school teacher for more than 20 years.

Hoa double majors in linguistics and psychology. She pursues her research in exploring the essential functions of language in evolution generally and in human development particularly.

Hoa won Sawyer Scholarship for Applied Linguistics in Summer 2017. Her research project briefly outlines some basic characteristics of Vietnamese noun phrase that serve as laying out the two significant differences between the noun phrases in Vietnamese and English that challenges English speakers in learning Vietnamese and Vietnamese speakers in learning English.

Shelby Mack - UROC Research Ambassador

Shelby Mack is a senior at UC Berkeley studying American Studies with a concentration in African American Studies and Education. Shelby is a part of the Haas Scholar's Research Program and an undergraduate recipient for the Center for Race and Gender Studies. She recently presented her research findings at the Haas Research Symposium in January of 2018. Her research question is based on understanding the different phases of the first Black female enrichment program of Oakland Unified School District named African American Female Excellence Program (AAFE) and how AAFE workers are using different healing methods (i.e. healing circles, restorative justice, spirituality) as a way to heal Black girls from dehumanizing school practices. The final report of her research project will be submitted as an honors thesis to the Department of American Studies at U.C. Berkeley 2018. The reason why Shelby chose this research topic is because she has been systematically targeted and impacted by zero tolerance policy practices and wants to find alternative solutions to solving the school to prison pipeline epidemic among Black girls.

Elia Marina Rubio - UROC Research Ambassador


Elia Marina Rubio is a senior on a Pre-Health track, pursuing a degree in Social Welfare. She is from a small town in the Napa Valley. Since moving to Berkeley, Elia became incredibly passionate about addressing health disparities through communal and research initiatives. In the future, she is considering a path in medical research or social work. For over a year now, Elia has volunteered at a clinical research lab in UCSF analyzing how different extraction methods of uterine fibroids affect women long term. Last semester she also worked as field officer for the Oakland Health Disparities Project ran by Stanford University. This summer Elia is looking forward to conducting biomedical research in Peru through the Harvard Multidisciplinary Research Training Program. During her free time Elia enjoys playing basketball, exploring the city, and traveling.

Lulu Matute - UROC Research Ambassador
    Lulu Matute (Mah-too-té) is a graduating senior in American Studies with a focus on Law, Media, and Social Memory in post-military coup d'état Honduras. She is currently both a Mcnair and Haas Scholar conducting research on the life and assassination of the Lenca-indigenous-leader and environmentalist, Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores. Through her research, Lulu seeks to examine the ways in which California-based Honduran women engage with the Politics of Berta and more generally, with the transnational resistance movement against the post-2009-Honduran State. Drawing inspiration for her research from her own background, she seeks to center the narratives and political struggles of Afro-descendant, Indigenous, Campesina and Queer Women in Honduras. 
     
    Lulu is a founding member of CAFE (Central Americans for Empowerment at Berkeley), an active member of Berkeley Underground Scholars (aka "USI"), and a program assistant in the American Cultures Center. She is originally from the West-Side of Chicago and firmly believes in the healing powers of house music. Lulu hopes to pay it forward to the UROC community by supporting other Berkeley students through their own research processes – and perhaps exchanging song recommendations along the way.
    Ifechukwu Okeke picture
    Ifechukwu Okeke - UROC Co-Director for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)

    Ife is of Nigerian descent and majors in Molecular and Cell Biology with a neurobiology concentration. A transfer student from Chaffee College in Rancho Cucamonga, Ife began at Berkeley in fall 2017, and since then has also been the guardian for her younger brother. Even before beginning at UC Berkeley and every summer since then, Ife has engaged in a wide variety of research opportunities at UCSF, and in summer 2018 will be carrying out research at Yale University as a HHMI EXROP fellow.

    Saraí Santamaría - UROC Research Ambassador

    Saraí J. Santamaría is from Santa Ana, California. They research meaning-making in speech communities of color. Saraí loves witnessing the lingüistic, social, and cultural depth that speech communities of color wield while using language. It’s an honor to participate in the legacies of people of color using their voices and their word to create spaces of power. Saraí speaks Santa Ana Spanglish, Santa Ana English, Academic English (non-native), and California Working Class Spanish.

    Saraí is invested in helping others cultivate and realize their own power through planning, envisioning, and connecting with others.

    “Awareness of our situation must come before inner changes, which in turn come before changes in society. Nothing happens in the "real" world unless it first happens in the images in our heads.” --Gloria Anzaldúa,“La Conciencia de la Mestiza: Toward a New Consciousness”