BUILD EXITO Supports Scholars and Celebrates Milestones Despite COVID-19 Challenges

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By Jen Lindwall

Although Summer 2020 has held uncertain and tumultuous times for everyone, Portland State University’s BUILD EXITO program has found ways to support their Scholars and celebrate key milestones.

June was a busy month. EXITO held a remote matching fair in which 75 Scholars met with research mentors of their interest and were then matched with their research learning communities (RLCs). EXITO also celebrated Cohort 3 Scholars who completed their time in EXITO with a virtual online celebration event featuring alumni and student speakers as well as a video highlighting their EXITO experience. In addition, EXITO welcomed Cohort 6 Scholars into the program through a remote five day Summer Research Academy.

In July, summer immersion programming began for Cohort 5 Scholars and they are preparing their presentations for the upcoming BUILD EXITO Summer Research Symposium at the end of September.

The recent graduates are taking exciting new steps after graduation. University of Guam EXITO alumna Megan Gimmen had the privilege of working with her research mentor, Michael Orr, Ph.D, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Guam. Together, with EXITO scholar Ezra Cervera, they wrote and received a grant that supported efforts to develop guidelines for safe free diving in Guam and nearby islands to reduce diving deaths.

“The program played a very big role in me learning to believe in myself. The environment is so supportive. Every person you meet tells you you’re good enough and that you’re going to be the future,” Gimmen said.

This fall, Gimmen will begin a post-baccalaureate component of the Johns Hopkins Initiative for Careers in Science & Medicine pipeline program, by entering a two-year Doctoral Diversity Program at Johns Hopkins University. 

Right to left: EXITO alumna, Megan Gimmen, with Dean of the School of Health and BUILD EXITO UoG Principal Investigator Margaret Hattori-Uchima at SACNAS.


Another recent graduate, EXITO alumni Brandon Datuin just graduated with his bachelor's degree in chemistry and will be attending the University of Minnesota to obtain a Ph.D. in chemistry beginning this fall. Datuin was paired with Dr. Wu as his research mentor while in BUILD EXITO and shared, “Dr. Wu was the one who instilled in me a love for organic chemistry and the attitude needed to succeed."

EXITO Alumni Brandon Datuin

Cohort 3 Scholar, EXITO Alumna Yareli Cornejo Torres, was part of professor Blair Darney’s lab which focuses on family planning and women’s reproductive health. She graduated this past June with Cohort 3. Her BUILD EXITO research project is called "Improving Latina Participation in Research at OHSU." Through her research, Torres was able to collaborate with the Mexican Consulate in Portland, OR, to develop a survey in English and Spanish about Latina women participating in health research. “Latinas continue to be underrepresented when it comes to participating in health research. My project aims to identify barriers and facilitators (reasons why they would participate) to improve Latinas' participation in research projects,” she said.

When Torres presented her research this past summer, the Mexican Consul General herself, Beatriz Navarro, was in attendance. Consul General Navarro was impressed with the quality and rigor of the project and asked for a research brief that she can share with the network of Mexican Consulates across the United States as an example of how Consulates can contribute to generating evidence about the populations they serve.

Professor Blair Darney, M.P.H., Ph.D., will continue supporting EXITO Scholars this upcoming year. Cohort 4 Scholar, Edlyn Lopez, is currently preparing another study protocol in collaboration with the Mexican Consulate. Cohort 5 Scholar, Sara Diaz, will be joining the Darney lab in September. The significance of the long term research placements in BUILD EXITO provides an incredible opportunity for Scholars who are different points on their educational journey, to support and mentor each other, as they pursue their various pathways.

Left to right: Cohort 4 Scholar Katherin Gomez-Arboleda, Cohort 3 Alum Yareli Cornejo Torres, Professor Blair Darney, and Cohort 4 Scholar Edlyn Lopez


These student stories highlight just a few of the accomplishments and successes showcasing the hard work and passion of the EXITO Alumni. The program looks forward to seeing how their scientific research pathways unfold.

The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.
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