2019-2020 Diversity Fellows
José Del Rio Pantoja
I was born and raised in a hospitable and nurturing community in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico. After graduating from high school, I pursued my undergraduate studies in the US mainland with the intention of eventually becoming a physician. However, my teaching and research experiences in college played a pivotal role in establishing my professional inclinations. I was particularly driven to pursue an academic career because of the steep learning curve that I faced when I started my undergraduate career. Driven by my passion for biomedicine, pedagogy, and serving underrepresented minorities in academia, I ultimately committed to pursuing a PhD in Chemical Biology at Harvard. Currently, I am a second-year graduate student in Dr. Cigall Kadoch’s laboratory, studying the fascinating cellular machinery that activates and deactivates genes in cancer and intellectual disability settings. As an aspiring professor seeking to serve underrepresented minorities, I am not only making my scientific education my priority during graduate school, but I am also making diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts a critical part of my graduate school experience. Furthermore, as an advocate of work-life balance and mental health, I actively seek to engage in hobbies during my free time such as working out at the gym, figure skating, and tumbling around the Cambridge/Somerville area.
WHY I AM A DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION FELLOW
I became an LGBTQ-focused Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Fellow because of my interest in fostering equity and inclusion within academia. I actively seek to get involved with my community to learn from peer leaders about the optimal ways to serve underrepresented sectors of the community. When I came out as a gay man in 2017, I faced a series of backlashes and a period of raw introspection and learning about myself and the LGBTQ community. Through key members of the LGBTQ community and allies, I developed a keen sense of identity and resilience, and a greater understanding of the needs and challenges of queer people pursuing higher education. Now, as a D&I Fellow, I am eager to fortify the current queer network at Harvard and reinforce GSAS’ commitment to underrepresented minorities. For this year, I will focus on supporting all LGBTQ efforts at GSAS, fostering community within the Cambridge and Boston campuses, and advocating for more outreach events that educate the GSAS community about the LGBTQ community and cater to the LGBT community itself and those struggling with their identity.
Xavier du Maine
I am a proud native of St. Louis, Missouri and the product of a "village" of black mentors. Through the encouragement of a high school science teacher, I was first exposed to biomedical research my junior year as a participant of the Young Scientist Program at WashU. That summer, I discovered the fascinating world of neuroscience in an ALS lab and decided to pursue a PhD, and I haven't looked back since. I went on to study biology and French at Columbia University in NYC, during which I conducted research in neuroscience labs at WashU, Columbia, UCSF (Summer Research Training Program), and Harvard (Summer Honors Undergraduate Research Program). Drawn to Harvard as a summer student, I ultimately decided to pursue my graduate studies here, where I am currently a fourth year student in the Biological & Biomedical Sciences Program. My research in lab of Dr. Chenghua Gu focuses on uncovering the molecular and cellular mechanisms of blood-brain barrier maintenance in adulthood. Outside of lab, I devote my time to high school and college STEM outreach programs and Christian ministry, and I enjoy venturing back to NYC to see Broadway musicals.
Why I Am a Diversity and Inclusion Fellow
Graduate studies and research are not performed in a vacuum. Among the many factors shaping the experiences and success of graduate students, the culture and community of an institution are crucial. I quickly learned this upon starting at Harvard. While serving in student groups such as Underrepresented Scholars in Neuroscience and Minority Biomedical Scientists of Harvard provided me with a supportive community, I felt unwelcome, undervalued, and unseen in other environments. My leadership in high school (Health Professions Recruitment and Exposure Program) and college (Summer Honors Undergraduate Research Program) STEM outreach programs has afforded me the opportunity to pave the way for future graduate students. However, I also wanted to be able to positively impact life for my fellow graduate students in GSAS, which led me to apply to be a Diversity & Inclusion Fellow. In my work as a D&I Fellow, I aim to make Harvard a place where underrepresented students in GSAS don't just survive grad school but thrive and flourish. I believe this starts with making sure every student has a community they can call their own and redefining and reshaping culture at the department and program level to be welcoming and inclusive for all students from all backgrounds.
I was born and raised under the sunny skies of Southern California. For my undergraduate studies, I stayed close to home and attended the University of California, Los Angeles. There, through my minor in Biomedical Research and experience in the NIH-funded Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) program, I discovered my passion for science and laboratory research that has since led me to places near and far. At UCLA, I had the opportunity to work in a genetics lab studying the effects of hormones like testosterone on the developing brain. Over the summers, I conducted research at the University of Colorado, Boulder (SMART program) and Stanford University (SSRP). These experiences, along with the support of many wonderful mentors, prepared me to apply to graduate school. I am currently pursuing my PhD in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences program. I study cancer metabolism and genetics in the lab of Dr. Raul Mostoslavsky. Outside of the lab, I have always been interested in scientific outreach and community building. At UCLA, I was on the board of the SACNAS student chapter. At Harvard, I have been actively involved in the GSAS Minority Biomedical Scientists of Harvard student organization. I also enjoy watching sporting events of all kinds (especially if my UCLA Bruins are playing), reading for fun, and traveling to new places.
WHY I AM A DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION FELLOW
As an undergraduate, it took me a while to find where I belonged. I finally found a home within the student chapter of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) at UCLA. This organization not only helped me academically and professionally, but I finally felt a sense of belonging and community. I felt understood. When I moved across the country to a city where I knew no one, to an institution with significantly different demographics than UCLA, I again sought out my community. I soon become involved with the student chapter of SACNAS at Harvard and the GSAS Minority Biomedical Scientists of Harvard (MBSH). When the pressures of graduate school and feelings of imposter mounted during my first few years here, I found solace in my community of talented, generous, and diverse peers. I want that for every GSAS student.
My goal is to work with others to create spaces where students can come together and feel free to be themselves. My work within GSAS MBSH, SACNAS, and the BBS program has helped to build stronger communities within these specific groups, but now, as a part of the ODMA, I hope to have a bigger impact. I hope to serve the needs of all GSAS students and make sure their voices are heard. Ultimately, I am deeply dedicated to working within the ODMA to develop a more supportive environment on the Harvard campus where underrepresented GSAS students can thrive as scholars and individuals.