Seven Cal State San Bernardino students were selected as the California State University’s 2023-24 Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral Scholars. The seven scholars were selected from a total of 156 highly qualified CSU Pre-Doctoral Program applicants.

The program, which is awarded to juniors, seniors and graduate students, provides financial assistance for those interested in exploring and preparing for a doctoral program. Scholars receive one-on-one guidance provided by faculty members within the CSU and the opportunity to work with faculty from doctoral-granting institutions. 

The 2023-24 CSUSB Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral Scholars and their mentors are:

Kenya Luna: M.A. psychological science
Faculty Mentor: Jacob Jones, psychology

Kenya Luna’s academic interests include neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Currently, her thesis focuses on how cognitive functioning may differ in individuals who have different biomarker levels and how that may potentially improve diagnostic criteria. Luna, from Fontana, is planning to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology with an emphasis in neuropsychology to explore how intersectionality may play a role in diagnosing individuals at a much earlier stage and potentially earlier interventions or treatments. After completing her Ph.D., she hopes to return to a CSU as a faculty member, and through her teaching and research, inspire other students to find their passion.

Mishon Johnson: B.A. child & adolescent development
Faculty Mentor: Lisa Looney, psychology

Mishon Johnson’s academic interests revolve around addressing inequities in education for students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, and students with disabilities. Johnson, who is from Long Beach, is passionate about promoting reform in special education and aims to pursue a doctoral degree in the field of historical, social, racial, cultural and institutional factors affecting education. Johnson’s research focuses on examining the intersectionality of race, special education and economic background and its impact on the misidentification and placement of students of color in restrictive settings. She believes in the power of constructivism, behaviorism and intersectionality as theoretical perspectives to bring about positive change in the field of special education.

Brionne Zamrii-Garland: B.A. English – rhetoric concentration
Faculty Mentor: Alexandra Cavallaro, English

After being hired as an English tutor at Chaffey College in 2020, Brionne Zamrii-Garland discovered a passion for mentorship and pedagogy. He said it was always particularly fulfilling working with students from similar working-class backgrounds. Ultimately, this experience has led Zamrii-Garland, who is a first-generation student from Tujunga, to pursue a doctorate degree. His research interests are varied but currently centers queer theory and identity. Labels are an important aspect of identity construction both on an individual and collective scale. By understanding the way people construct definitions of themselves and others, Zamrii-Garland believes that people can better communicate despite differences.

Veronica Morales: M.A. English literature & composition
Faculty Mentor: Alexandra Cavallaro, English

Veronica Morales’ academic interests include the analysis of ethnic American literature and the study of correctional education. Her investigation in the two topics intersect with the analysis of different worldviews and perspectives. With them she hopes to change how higher education of English studies in America is conducted pertaining to class discussions and the overall classroom experience. Morales, who is from Highland, hopes to become a professor who keeps her students in mind and creates a safe space for the discussion of literature and its topics. Her investigation of ethnic American literature and education in prisons is focused on the celebration and inclusion of people from different backgrounds in and out of the classroom.

Negin Ghaffari: M.A. psychological science
Faculty Mentor: Christina Hassija, College of Social & Behavioral Sciences

Negin Ghaffari’s research broadly focuses on trauma and on the long-term impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on marginalized communities. She is particularly interested in researching how adverse childhood experiences affect psychological as well as physiological outcomes of minorities. Through the Master of Arts in Psychological Sciences program, she is currently working with Christina Hassija on different projects related to trauma and resiliency. Ghaffari, who was born in Tehran and moved to Los Angeles as a young child, plans to pursue a clinical psychology doctoral degree, which would allow her to further her research on effects of adverse childhood experiences and resilience factors among the Middle Eastern population.

Serenity Chavez: B.A. philosophy
Faculty Mentor: Kaitlyn Creasy, philosophy

Serenity Chavez’s academic interests include social epistemology, philosophy of disability, phenomenology, existentialism and environmental ethics. She is particularly interested in exploring the lived experience of individuals with psychiatric disorders. Through the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, she is currently engaging in a two-year research project that focuses on the epistemic injustices committed against individuals with psychiatric disorders in mundane and daily contexts. Chavez, a San Bernardino resident, plans to pursue a philosophy doctoral degree, which will allow her to continue her research and engage with students. As a future professor, she hopes to illuminate the understudied and under-recognized marginalization that neurodivergent individuals face.

David Murillo: B.S. chemistry
Faculty Mentor: Renwu ‘John’ Zhang, chemistry & biochemistry

Through the CREST II grant awarded by the National Science Foundation, David Murillo conducts research for the Center for Advanced Functional Materials with Renwu ‘John’ Zhang on investigating polymers as adsorbent materials for hydrogen storage. Hydrogen is a promising fuel as it has zero carbon emissions and can be sourced through environmentally friendly means. His work deals with using various intermolecular forces to enhance the hydrogen storage capacity of existing polymers. Murillo, from Adelanto, plans to pursue a Ph.D. with research focused on sustainable polymers technology to fight climate change with the goal of eventually becoming a faculty member at a primarily undergraduate university to educate, research and support academic success in disadvantaged and underrepresented students.

Visit the CSU’s Sally Casanova Scholars website to learn more.