Graduate Students Meet Lawmakers in Sacramento

UC Riverside’s Jessica Diaz and Vicente Nunez took part in Graduate Research Advocacy Day 2015

UC Riverside’s Vicente Nunez (left) and Jessica Diaz (right) are seen here with California Assemblymember Jose Medina at Graduate Research Advocacy Day.Photo credit: UC Office of the President.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – While they don’t garner as much public attention as undergraduates, graduate students at the University of California, Riverside are a driving force behind UC’s leadership in research and education.

On April 28, two UC Riverside graduate students – Jessica Diaz and Vicente Nunez – joined 20 other UC graduate students and UC President Janet Napolitano at the state capitol to highlight the value graduate research brings to the state.

An annual event, Graduate Research Advocacy Day brings delegates from each campus to the capitol for a day of informal chats with lawmakers. The visits have established valuable relationships between graduate students and elected officials, who have often invited researchers back to Sacramento to tap their expertise on critical issues.

Diaz is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences.  In Sacramento, she discussed her dissertation research “Engineering Rice Plants with a Goal of Improving Yield.”  She is experimenting with ways to engineer rice plants to make their leaf angles more upright, enabling them to be planted more closely together and yield more rice grains per plot.  Leaf erectness is an important agronomic trait in rice and other cereals because plants with erect leaves require less growth space, allowing for higher density planting, which contributes to increased grain yields per acre.

UC Riverside's Vicente Nunez (left) and Jessica Diaz (right) are seen here with UC President Janet Napolitano at Graduate Research Advocacy Day. Photo credit: UC Office of the President.

UC Riverside’s Vicente Nunez (left) and Jessica Diaz (right) are seen here with UC President Janet Napolitano at Graduate Research Advocacy Day.
Photo credit: UC Office of the President.

Diaz expects to graduate from UC Riverside this summer.  She received her bachelor’s degree in biotechnology with a minor in chemistry from California State University, Northridge in 2009, after which she joined UCR.  Her research focuses on molecular biology and genetics in plant developmental biology.  Her goal is to understand the molecular events that regulate the development of the above ground organs of plants.

She is the recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, a National Science Foundation ChemGen Integrative Graduate Education Research Trainee (IGERT) Fellowship, and a National Institutes of Health Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) U-Star Fellowship.  Her work in plant biology has taken her across the globe with fully funded travel grants to present her graduate and undergraduate research at annual meetings of the American Society of Plant Biologists as well as the International Conference on Arabidopsis Research.

A native Californian (she grew up in the San Fernando Valley) and a first generation student born to Mexican migrant parents, Diaz has fostered various methods to make her research accessible to more than her professional audiences and advocates for accessibility to STEM career paths for underrepresented communities.  In 2012, she co-founded UCR’s Plant Discovery Day in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences.  This yearly outreach event is filled with interactive science demonstrations for local elementary school students.  She has also presented her research and discussed her career path annually since 2013 at workshops geared towards teaching and empowering young Latina women to pursue higher education and various career options.

Seen in this photo, from left to right, are California Assemblymember Jose Medina, UCR Graduate Division Dean Joseph Childers, Vicente Nunez, Jessica Diaz and UCR Assistant Vice Chancellor for Governmental and Community Relations Susan McKee.Photo credit: UC Office of the President.

Seen in this photo, from left to right, are California Assemblymember Jose Medina, UCR Graduate Division Dean Joseph Childers, Vicente Nunez, Jessica Diaz and UCR Assistant Vice Chancellor for Governmental and Community Relations Susan McKee.Photo credit: UC Office of the President.

Nunez received his Ph.D. in bioengineering in March 2015.  In Sacramento, he presented research titled “Bioinspired Engineering for Microbial Diagnostics and Biomimetic Nanotechnology: The Development of Rapid Bacterial Sensing Methodologies Based on Fluorescence Enhancement and Targeted Nanotransducers for Near Infrared Imaging.”

This research focused on the development of methods for rapid diagnostics of bacterial pathogens and on the development of biologically inspired nanotechnologies for imaging and treatment of ovarian cancer.

Currently, he is a National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Harvard University where he has joined the Neurobiology Department with the pursuit of developing high resolution microscopy technologies for investigating blood-brain barrier integrity and to develop novel drug delivery approaches for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Nunez was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and is a first generation immigrant.  He was raised in Palm Springs, Calif. He started his college education at the College of the Desert in Palm Desert, Calif., where he was inspired to pursue an engineering degree with an emphasis on the biological and biomedical fields. He transferred to UC Riverside as a bioengineering major and became a National Science Foundation funded undergraduate researcher under the California Alliance for Minority Participation (CAMP) program. His experiences as an undergraduate researcher in the field of biomolecular engineering further convinced him of pursuing a graduate degree in order to continue to develop his scientific research abilities.

Upon receiving his bachelor’s degree in bioengineering at UC Riverside, Nunez pursued a doctoral degree at his alma mater. He is a recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and is an integral contributor to several peer-reviewed articles and a patent application.

Media Contact


Tel: (951) 827-6050
E-mail: iqbal@ucr.edu
Twitter: UCR_Sciencenews

Additional Contacts

Jessica Diaz
E-mail: jdiaz017@ucr.edu

Vicente Nunez
E-mail: vnune004@ucr.edu

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