Four students in Fordham’s College Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP) and Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP) were recognized for their research at statewide student conferences this year. 

CSTEP and STEP are programs that provide support to New York high school and college students from underrepresented backgrounds, including academic support and counseling, scholarships, and research opportunities. (CSTEP is for undergraduates, while STEP is for middle and high school students.) 

Fetal Development, Eel Health, and Neurodegenerative Disease 

Students in Fordham’s programs presented their research to judges at the programs’ regional student conferences and were recognized for the quality of their projects. 

Two women stand next to a research poster propped up on a table.
STEP student Laura Maca Vela with Fordham CSTEP/STEP counselor Carolina Salane

Three CSTEP students, who are all undergraduates at Fordham College at Rose Hill, were honored at the 29th annual CSTEP statewide student conference on April 16 in Lake George, New York: Daphne Buitron, a May graduate who earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology, won honorable mention in the natural sciences category for her project “Influence of COVID-19 Infection during Pregnancy on Infant Neurodevelopment,” conducted through a summer scholars program at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine; Latif Diaoune, a rising senior who studies general science and sociology, won 4th place in the natural sciences category for his project “H(eel)ing Our Rivers: An Assessment of River Health and a Survey of the American Eel,” conducted through Project TRUE; and Isaac Mullings, a rising senior who studies psychology on the pre-med track, won third place in the health sciences category for his project “Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Biomarkers of Disease Progression,” conducted through Columbia University’s PrIMER program

In addition, Laura Maca Vela, a high school senior at West End Secondary School in Manhattan, won third place in the biological sciences category for her research project “TLS Polymerase Activity in B. Subtilis in MMS” at the 23rd annual STEP statewide student conference in Albany on March 26. She conducted her research with Elizabeth Thrall, Ph.D., an assistant chemistry professor at Fordham. 

A Bronx Native Studies the Bronx River 

Latif Diaoune shows his research poster to a young woman.
Latif Diaoune presents his research.

Diaoune, a Bronx native and commuter student, studied the Bronx River, the only freshwater river in New York City. In a project conducted with Project TRUE, he researched the impact of macroplastics and other pollutants on the American eel, a keystone species that lives in the Bronx River. 

“We saw the result of accelerated plastic production combined with [poor]waste disposal management, which is ultimately causing the oceans and rivers to suffer,” said Diaoune, who caught and measured local eels and plastics. “These consequences are felt by marine species like the American eel.”

The purpose of his project was to get his hands wet with research, said Diaoune, a pre-med student who is considering becoming a surgeon. He learned how to run his own experiment and mentor younger scientists. (Diaoune supervised several research assistants who are high school students in the Bronx.) 

Diaoune has presented his research before, at a Project TRUE symposium held at the American Museum of Natural History, but he said the CSTEP symposium was different. 

“I realized how big CSTEP really is,” said Diaoune. “It’s a huge community.”


Taylor is a visual storytelling strategist in Fordham University's marketing and communications department, where she documents University life through photography and video. Since joining Fordham in 2018, she has served as a writer, photographer, videographer, and social media manager, dividing her time between University Marketing and Communications and the Office of the President. She earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from Stony Brook University's School of Communication and Journalism and her master's degree in public media from Fordham University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Her work has appeared on NPR, NBC New York, and amNewYork METRO.