BRASS Scholars


BRASS Scholars 2019-2020


The following is a list and profiles for the recent BRASS Scholars.


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Ashley Hayden

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Ashley Hayden was born and raised in Friendswood, Texas, a suburb just outside of Houston. Growing up, Ashley had a passion for helping others, which led her to pursue a premedical degree from Texas A&M University. However, come college, she was surprised by how much she loved her basic science classes. Through a tutoring program, she also discovered her incredible passion for teaching and mentoring others. As a result, she decided to pursue a career of academic research. Ashley wanted to become a professor where she could not only teach the next generation, but also be on the cutting edge of science and potentially help others with her discoveries.

Ashley began her research journey in 2017, where she studied the genetic mechanisms behind monarch butterfly migration. She also performed research on newly discovered bacteriophages as potential therapeutics for bacterial-resistant infections. Ashley graduated in May 2019 from Texas A&M with a B.S. in honors biology. She solidified her love for research and decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Neuroscience.

In her free time, Ashley enjoys walking and hiking, taking Zumba classes, reading true crime novels, and painting. Ashley also loves to travel, and hopes to have more opportunities to do so over the next several years. As a first-generation college student, Ashley understands just how critical support is for student success, and is grateful to the BRASS organization for their unwavering resolve to help students like her succeed.


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Chiraag Kapadia

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Chiraag Kapadia grew up in the rural Kentucky town of Madisonville, Kentucky. He attended Washington University in St. Louis and double-majored in biology and computer science. His initial interest in biomedical research was sparked during high school, during a project investigating viruses that infect bacteria. While in college however, he became fascinated with the persistent problem posed by cancer and joined the lab of Dr. Vivek Arora, where he studied the mechanism of a mutation that causes bladder cancer. Realizing his desire to both treat patients with cancer and study the disease experimentally, he decided to pursue the physician-scientist career path.

Chiraag is now an M.D./Ph.D. candidate in the Cancer and Cell Biology graduate program. Within the realm of cancer biology, he is interested in studying the tumor microenvironment, aging and metastasis. He is excited to utilize emerging cutting-edge technologies to better and broader interrogate cancer evolution and translate those findings to more effective treatments for patients.

When not in the lab, Chiraag finds happiness in maintaining a vegetable garden on the roof- terrace of his home. He is also a budding climber and enjoys going to the climbing gym. Finally, he enjoys sampling the delicious restaurants, unique bars, and craft breweries contained within Houston. Chiraag is honored to be welcomed into the BRASS family and is excited share his love of biomedical research with fellow BRASS members.


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Vicki Mercado

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Vicki Mercado was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. She moved to Southern California to attend Whittier College where she received a full-tuition merit scholarship. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in biology and a minor in psychology. At Whittier, she enjoyed learning about human health and behavior. She loved sharing her knowledge through peer tutoring and mentoring first-year students as a residential advisor. Exceptional mentorship encouraged Vicki to spend a summer doing research and this ultimately sparked her interest in scientific investigation. Through several internships, she grew increasingly fascinated by the idea of a dual career in science and medicine. A two-year research program at the University of Pennsylvania confirmed her commitment to becoming a physician-scientist, which led her to matriculate to Baylor College of Medicine’s M.D./Ph.D. program.

Vicki is now a first-year graduate student in the Immunology & Microbiology graduate program at Baylor. Her first two years of medical school training enhanced her appreciation for the importance of the immune system in preventing and eliminating disease. She is excited to build her expertise in understanding the beautifully complex immune system, its shortcomings, and how we can harness its strengths to improve medical therapies for difficult-to-treat diseases.

In her free time, Vicki enjoys traveling, board game nights, outdoor activities, and photography. Moving to Houston has made it easy for her to nurture her interest in diversity, nature, and culture. She has recently made a habit of rescuing animals and her home is now blessed with the joy of two cats and two dogs. Vicki is incredibly grateful to join the BRASS family and is excited to make lifelong connections, share her passion for science, and give back to the Houston community.


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Rowland Pettit

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Rowland Pettit grew up in Maitland, Florida before moving to Fort Worth, Texas for high school. An avid athlete, Rowland jumped at the opportunity to play Men’s Lacrosse at Duke and won back to back National Championships with the team in 2013 and 2014. At Duke University, Rowland earned a Biophysics undergraduate degree, learning advanced mathematics, statistics, and physical principles. Rowland applied directly to medical school, and while at Baylor College of Medicine, his research endeavors led him to discover the exciting new applications of artificial intelligence for medical problems. His continued curiosity led him to seek additional education with formal PhD training.

After completing three years as a Baylor College of Medicine M.D. student, Rowland joined the Medical Scientist Training Program this summer. Rowland is pursuing a Ph.D. in Quantitative and Computational Biosciences. His interests include machine learning, statistical methods and data science. Rowland appreciates that medical research methods are rapidly evolving, and are now incorporating novel statistical techniques and machine learning methods to drive discovery. Rowland wants to be at the forefront of these applications and believes he can make his greatest contributions through scientific exploration. Rowland will utilize his time in graduate school to obtain both the technical knowledge base and the research skill set to become an effective physician scientist. 

Outside of academics Rowland enjoys investing in his community. He encourages friends to join him for a daily workout and stays active playing sports. Rowland enjoys the occasional mental/physical challenge such as shark cage diving in South Africa, riding a bull in Texas, and bungee jumping in Costa Rica. His favorite pastime is playing pool. Rowland has served on multiple trips to install clean water wells in rural regions of Costa Rica, with Agua Viva Serves. Rowland serves as a medical student representative at the state level on the Texas Medical Association’s Council of Science and Public Health. Rowland is honored to be able to join the BRASS family and is very excited to advocate for scientific research!


Previous BRASS Scholars


Kali Deans
Sarah Herzog
Matthew Penna
Linda Zhang

Oluwatoyosi Adewunmi
Dominique Armstrong
Andrea Ortiz
Arielle Raugh

Kristyn Hoffman
Patrick Hunt
Zachary Kadow
Michael Lam