Diversity & Inclusion Council

Mission Statement
The BBS Diversity & Inclusion Council is committed to educating and serving the BBS community, while enhancing cultural awareness, sensitivity, and growth. We strive to provide safe spaces for students of all backgrounds to express their concerns and challenges with their graduate school journey on a peer level and maintain active communication with faculty in hopes to promote a more inclusive BBS community. Our council will amplify student voices, particularly those of Black, Native, Latinxs, and other students of color, by serving as liaisons between students, the BBS community and campus wide resources to ensure well rounded support is available.

Tentative Calendar of Events – Fall 2020
Be on the lookout for more information about the events we’ve planned for this semester!

  1. 1st BBS Diversity and Inclusion Journal Club – September 14, 2020
  2. Ask a Stupid Question Event – October 16, 2020
  3. Stories from BBS – November 16, 2020
  4. 2nd BBS Diversity and Inclusion Journal Club – December 7, 2020

Meet the D&I Council Members

Brian Imbiaka

I am a third year PhD student co-mentored by Dr. Hector Aguilar-Carreno and Dr. Avery August. In the lab I study the mechanisms by which Nipah virus antagonizes the immune system and understanding the regulation of immunosuppressive functions. Prior to starting my PhD, I attended the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) where I earned my B.S. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. At Davis, I conducted research to understand the mechanisms by which HIV used to increase transmission. Outside of the lab, I enjoy photography and playing soccer.

Naya Eady


Maria FontHello! I am a fourth year in the Biomedical & Biological Sciences PhD program. My love for animals attracted me to veterinary immunology and virology. The current focus of my research in Dr. Bettina Wagner’s lab, is the host immune response to Equine Herpesvirus-1, more specifically elucidating the antiviral mechanisms utilized by EHV-1 specific antibodies to protect host cells.

Prior to graduate school enrollment, I earned a BS in General Biology from Trinity Washington University and completed Virginia Tech PREP, Post Baccalaureate Program. I am a proud native Washingtonian, originally from Washington, DC. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, arts/crafts, singing, exercising, gaming, cooking, and watching movies.

Karla Garcia-Martinez

Karla Garcia-MartinezHi everyone!  My name is Karla and I’m part of Dr. Cynthia Leifer’s lab. I work on understanding how cancer derived extracellular vesicles modulate immune responses in macrophages. I’m a first-generation college student from San Diego, California and I earned my undergraduate degree in Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley.  In my free time, I enjoy reading short stories, learning different recipes to try with my friends, and exploring around Ithaca.

Kieran Koch-Laskowski
Shing Hu

I am a third-year Combined DVM/PhD student working to integrate my passions for veterinary medicine and biomedical research while promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the scientific and academic communities. Currently, I work in the lab of Dr. Praveen Sethupathy studying the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying metabolic diseases such as obesity and type II diabetes. I grew up in the Greater Philadelphia area and completed my undergraduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Outside of the clinic and the lab, I enjoy playing ice hockey, cooking and baking (more so eating), exploring new places and cuisines, and spending time with my friends, family, husband, and dog.

Hector Loyola Irizarry Jeff Pea

Hi! I am a third-year student in Molecular and Cellular Medicine in the Brito Lab, where I study how the gut microbiome can cause disease and possible ways to engineer it to improve host health. I'm from the beautiful island of Puerto Rico, where I grew up and did my undergraduate studies.  During my free time, I like to play video games, watch movies, and try out new recipes in the kitchen. If it's a nice day outside, you might catch me playing soccer or hiking!

Jeff Pea 

Jeff PeaHi everyone! I am currently a fourth-year student in the Molecular & Cellular Medicine program and a member of the Lujan Lab in the Division of Nutritional Sciences. My research interests relate to reproductive health, specifically the development of novel detection methods for gynecological disorders. I grew up mostly on the West Coast, having spent most of my childhood in northern California and doing my undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. In my free time, I love making art, staying fit through outdoor activities and watching anime! Through my own personal experiences in graduate school, I hope to improve the accessibility of on-campus and off-campus resources for students, promote a more inclusive space for students of different backgrounds and help students navigate their graduate degree journey with a focus on personal wellbeing and growth.

Jon Villanueva
Jon Villanueva

I am currently a third-year graduate student in the field of Biomedical and Biological Sciences (BBS) with a co-mentorship between Dr. Charles Danko and Dr. Praveen Sethupathy.  Prior to coming to Cornell, I earned my B.S. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  My current research focuses on investigating the gene regulatory mechanism utilized in colorectal cancer.  Specifically, I am looking at how these mechanisms can vary when comparing different primary patient samples and various model systems.  Outside of the lab I enjoy a bit of running, watching college sports, getting involved in science outreach, and watching movies.

Kaley Wilburn
Jon Villanueva

I’m currently a sixth-year PhD candidate in the VanderVen Lab, where my research has largely focused on how activating cAMP production in Mycobacterium tuberculosis changes this bacterium’s ability to utilize host-derived cholesterol. I grew up in Florida and attended UCF in Orlando for my undergraduate education, where I majored in Biomedical Sciences and minored in Philosophy. When I have time outside of lab, I enjoy hiking around Ithaca’s trails, reading novels, and trying new hobbies (currently, it’s Dungeons and Dragons over Zoom with college friends). I learned (the hard way) how important it is to prioritize and de-stigmatize mental health care to promote long-term success during graduate school. I have navigated Cornell’s mental health counseling system which helped me learn how to cope with an anxiety disorder while continuing my research. Because of my experiences, my goal is to provide an open door and a safe space to any student who wants to talk.

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Sept 2, 2020 - Message of Concern & Support from BBS GSS / D&I

Dear BBS Community,

As the Fall semester begins this week, we, the BBS Graduate Student Society and Diversity and Inclusion Council, would like to acknowledge the challenges of navigating graduate school in the midst of this relentlessly brutal year – including, but not limited to, the ongoing pandemic, economic hardships, recent natural disasters, and the all too frequent instances of violence and systemic racism against the Black community. We are writing to extend our solidarity and to offer support and resources, outlined in this message. 

As many of you know, the recent police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin followed by the murder and injury of protestors by Kyle Rittenhouse has rocked the country. We struggle to find the words to adequately express the outrage and anguish brought on by yet another shooting of a Black person. We also recognize that video and photo evidence circulating within social media and the news also means that many members of our community, especially those who identify as Black, are being subjected to a saturation of traumatic content.

In the wake of these continued acts of violence and systemic racism, the BBS GSS established the Diversity & Inclusion Council this summer to help create an inclusive, welcoming, and supportive space for everyone in our community. We will be hosting several events beginning this semester, including a Diversity and Inclusion journal club, storytelling events, and a “Stupid” Question Night to discuss topics surrounding social justice and to offer safe spaces for members of the community to share personal stories and learn from others’ perspectives. Please keep an eye out for details on these forthcoming events! We are also in active communication with BBS faculty members to address ways in which we can improve our program through initiatives to promote mental health and wellness as well as diversity and inclusion.

Beyond BBS, we want to highlight some resources from the Graduate School, especially the Office of Inclusion and Student Engagement (OISE). This office aims to support students of diverse backgrounds and also works with the Graduate and Professional Students Diversity Council (GPSDC). The GPSDC are a collection of campus organizations representing various student groups, including Black, Latinx, LGBTQ+ and First Generation / Low Income communities. Feel free to reach out to members of the BBS GSS, the BBS Diversity and Inclusion Council and OISE to learn more about getting involved.

Now more than ever, it is also critical that we each take individual actions to ensure that we are caring for our mental, emotional, and physical health. Many of us are navigating our current realities in ways to serve as caretakers and a source of support to others locally and/or from afar. However, if you are not able to engage in sufficient self-care, you simply will not be able to do what you need to for yourself and those you love, so please do all you can to take care. Below you will find links to various resources you can tap into to help support your mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.

Warm Regards,

The BBS GSS and D&I Council