After months of hard work, 27 students from Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School gathered at the annual Bravo-USC Science and Engineering Fair to present their original research projects. Competition comingled with camaraderie, as the young scientists vied for awards and the opportunity to exhibit their work at the Los Angeles County Science Fair.

The students all are participants in the USC Science, Technology and Research program and the Engineering for Health Academy (STAR/EHA), funded by USC’s Good Neighbors initiative, and led by USC School of Pharmacy Professor Daryl Davies, PhD, and Joe Cocozza, PhD, assistant professor of research ophthalmology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. STAR/EHA has offered an innovative approach to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education since 1990 by providing high school students with USC faculty mentors and hands-on research experiences in USC laboratories.

Glendy Ramirez-De La Cruz, Bravo High STAR/EHA program coordinator, notes that the fair enabled students to show off their hands-on research experience to Los Angeles’ scientific community. The range of categories included animal physiology, pharmacology, behavioral and social sciences, microbiology and engineering.

During the academic year, STAR/EHA students work on a hypothesis-driven research project under the guidance of a faculty mentor and contribute directly to the lab’s broader research goals. “It’s a part of the school’s project-based learning approach that gives students an opportunity to take ownership of their research and defend their work,” De La Cruz said.

Bravo senior Momtahina Tahmida had conducted research alongside graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in the lab of University Professor Jean C. Shih, PhD, at the USC School of Pharmacy — an experience that confirmed her interest in neuroscience.

She presented her research on a Chinese antimicrobial product and its potential effects on cells that cause glioma brain tumors. “It could potentially replace the use of Temozolomide, a chemotherapy drug, to prevent tumor growth,” Tahmida said.

As judges from USC, UCLA and other institutions took in each project, students spoke about the issues their research addressed, how they tested different hypotheses and the future implications of their findings.

Martine Culty, PhD, associate professor of pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences at the USC School of Pharmacy, remarked about the caliber of the work presented.

“It’s impressive to see such young minds passionate about science and technology, learning to formulate scientific hypotheses and developing tools to test them,” said Culty, who served as a faculty judge. “Not all of them ended up confirming their hypotheses, but they were all winners, having learned scientific thinking and methods.”

Bravo senior Chowdhury Yeethaf, whose project analyzed food insecurity in local low-income neighborhoods, collaborated with the USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy for his research. The experience has inspired his future goal of becoming an orthopedic surgeon and working in underserved communities in India, Bangladesh and Nepal.

The USC Good Neighbors program, created in 1993, provides financial support to university-community partnerships involving collaboration between USC faculty and staff and local nonprofit organizations that have a visible, positive impact on the neighborhoods surrounding the University Park and Health Sciences campuses. Visit the Good Neighbors website to learn more or to make a gift.

— Divya Yerwa Mary


Thirteen projects from the Bravo-USC Science and Engineering Fair were selected to advance to the Los Angeles County Science Fair to be held at the Pasadena Convention Center from March 22-24, 2018. Here are those finalists, along with their USC faculty mentor (where available):

  • Kelly Cervantes (11th grade)
  • David Bocanegra (12th grade) – Noah Malmstadt, PhD, Laboratory for Biometric Phase Interfaces, USC Viterbi School of Engineering
  • Team: Gustavo Rodriguez, Jorge Hernandez (12th grade) – Brent Lui, PhD, Image Processing and Informatics Laboratory, USC Viterbi School of Engineering
  • Xochilt Estrada (12th grade) – Julio A. Camarero, PhD, Camarero Lab, USC School of Pharmacy
  • Daniela Miranda (12th grade) – Paula Cannon, PhD, Cannon Lab, Keck School of Medicine of USC
  • Jasmine Ly (12th grade) – Julio A. Camarero, PhD, Camarero Lab, USC School of Pharmacy
  • Tahmina Hasan (12th grade) – Daryl Davies, PhD, Davies Lab, USC School of Pharmacy
  • Samiha Mahin (12th grade) – Martine Culty, PhD Culty Lab, USC School of Pharmacy
  • Julya Mestas (12th grade) – Ite A. Laird-Offringa, PhD, Offringa Lab, Keck School of Medicine of USC
  • Anthony Morales (11th grade)
  • Alexis Chavoya (12th grade) – Ian Haworth, PhD, Haworth Lab, USC School of Pharmacy
  • Team: Xitlalli Ruiz, Jacqueline Sandoval, Seve De La Torre (11th grade)
  • Team: Elizabeth Miranda, Mayur Patel, Diego De La Torre (11th grade)