Congratulations to the SOT 2024 Perry J. Gehring Diversity Student Travel Recipients

By Corie Ellison posted 02-29-2024 14:40


The SOT Committee on Diversity Initiatives (CDI) is pleased to announce that there are two recipients of the 2024 SOT Perry J. Gehring Diversity Student Travel Award: Alanis Joan Torres Berríos and Gia Marie Valdez. This award recognizes undergraduate or graduate students who were selected for the SOT Undergraduate Diversity Program within the last four years and have an abstract accepted for the SOT Annual Meeting and ToxExpo. The awardees are selected by CDI.


Alanis Joan Torres Berríos

Ms. Torres Berríos is pursuing a BS in biology and is in her senior year at Recinto Universitario de Mayagüez. Upon receiving the award, she replied, “I was delighted to receive the award! It is validation that putting in the effort pays off. This award inspires me to continue pursuing my research career. It makes me feel that, as part of an underrepresented group, I truly belong in the world of science.”

Ms. Torres Berríos is receiving the award for her abstract titled “Anatomical Location Defines the Adipogenic Capacity of Thoracic Aortic Perivascular Adipocyte Progenitors.” She explained, “My research is about the differentiation of fat cells from the perivascular adipose tissue and their role in the development of hypertension. Specifically, my research focuses on how anatomical location and structural cues like extracellular matrix stiffness affect the differentiation of these adipocyte precursor cells. Knowing their function in the development of hypertension is critical for finding possible therapeutic targets to treat and prevent this highly prevalent condition. I am determined to continue engaging in cutting-edge research applicable to human and animal health. As an aspiring veterinarian scientist, I aim to do basic and translational research that contributes to the well-being of animals and society.”


Gia Marie Valdez

Ms. Valdez is pursuing a graduate degree in biological sciences at DePaul University. Ms. Valdez shared that when she received the notification about receiving the award, “I was extremely excited. The first thing I did was forward the award email to my professor and share the news with my family. I explained to them how important the award was and how receiving this award opens opportunities that would support and stabilize my career as a scientist. In my experience with SOT, I have been mentored, given connections with researchers who share similar experiences to myself, and have been shown that I can follow my passions while fostering community; to me, these qualities have been vital for my confidence and success as a scientist. Receiving the Perry J. Gehring Student Travel Award has rooted my place in science, uplifting and motivating me to continue my education in STEM as both a scientist and an educator.”

Ms. Valdez is receiving the award for her abstract titled “Effects of Early Life Exposure to Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) on Neural Responses to Acute Alcohol Intake in Adolescent Rat Prefrontal Cortex.” She explained that the “work I have completed focuses on the effects of chronic ubiquitous chemicals on the neuroendocrine and neuroimmune functions of health. Research completed reflects a two-hit exposure method in which developing rats are exposed to the environmental contaminant PCBs during gestation, followed by an acute inflammatory stressor during adolescence. The goal of the research is to understand the effects of endocrine-modulating chemicals to determine potential interaction effects and their long-term consequence by mapping brain activity via cFos, an immediate early gene. My future goal is to pursue a PhD in neuropsychiatry where I can use the knowledge I’ve garnered regarding the effects of diverse lived-in environments, cellular pathways, and the brain to remove some of the ambiguity in the psychiatric frontier today.”

Ms. Torres Berríos and Ms. Valdez attended the Undergraduate Diversity Program in 2023.

The Perry J. Gehring Student Travel Award is provided through the SOT Endowment Fund. This award recognizes Dr. Perry J. Gehring who served as SOT President 1980–1981 and made important scientific contributions, especially in biological modeling and evidence-based assessment. Dr. Gehring had a strong interest in encouraging individuals from groups underrepresented in the sciences to enter biomedical sciences and toxicology.

The award will be presented during the CDI Reunion at the SOT Annual Meeting and ToxExpo. The reunion brings together current Undergraduate Diversity Program participants, past participants, program volunteers, and supporters. The CDI Reunion is open to all SOT members, and you can RSVP here to attend.