Inaugural Mastercard Pilot Grant Program Recipients Selected

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Five Weill Cornell Medicine faculty members have been awarded research funding from the Pilot Grant Program of the Mastercard Diversity-Mentorship Collaborative at Weill Cornell Medicine.

Established through the support of a $5 million grant from the Mastercard Impact Fund, the Mastercard Diversity-Mentorship Collaborative aims to build on Weill Cornell Medicine’s foundational mission of enhancing diversity and inclusion in medicine and establish an infrastructure of mentorship that supports all research faculty at the institution. The grant supports a range of diversity and inclusion programs including the development of a mentoring curriculum; the establishment of a salary support program for new faculty; competitive career development awards for junior faculty from underrepresented minority in medicine (URiM) populations; and research assistance for those with childcare commitments.

The Mastercard Pilot Grant Program provides support for junior faculty interested in pursuing careers as physician-scientists or translational scientists. The program provides $50,000 to fund a promising research project during the crucial period of career development in the early years of the first faculty position at Weill Cornell Medicine.

“Our top priority is nurturing talent in medicine by mentoring and supporting faculty members early in their careers, and this initiative will help advance that mission,” said Dr. Katherine Hajjar, senior associate dean for faculty at Weill Cornell Medicine, who oversees the program. “We are thrilled to provide funding to these rising faculty members for the innovative research projects and thankful to Mastercard for their support.”

a woman smilingDr. Onyinye Balogun

Dr. Onyinye Balogun, assistant professor of radiation oncology, received her undergraduate degree from Harvard University before graduating from the Yale University School of Medicine. Dr. Balogun initiated her residency training at the University of Chicago and completed her final year at New York University. She has conducted and published breast cancer research in novel therapeutics for triple negative breast cancer and brain metastases. She is also engaged in gynecologic cancer research as well as global health activities with a focus on improving the delivery of radiation therapy in low and middle-income countries.

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Dr. Christopher Gonzalez

Dr. Christopher Gonzalez, assistant professor of medicine, completed his undergraduate degree at New York University, received his medical degree from Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his internal medicine residency training at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. He is a primary care physician committed to providing care in predominantly Latinx communities. Dr. Gonzalez has served as a leader in numerous institutional diversity initiatives and has been recognized for his commitments to teaching and increasing diversity in medicine. His research focuses on understanding and leveraging social and cultural behaviors to address obesity and obesity-related conditions in Hispanic communities.

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Dr. Ayana Morales

Dr. Ayana Morales, assistant professor of medicine, completed her undergraduate degree at Brown University and her medical degree at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. Following her internal medicine residency at Boston University and serving for two years as a hospitalist in Boston, she matched to the infectious diseases training program at Weill Cornell Medicine in 2015. In her research years of fellowship, Dr. Morales joined the lab of Dr. Ethel Cesarman, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, investigating viral and host factors in the pathogenesis of KSHV/HHV8 oncogenesis.

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Dr. Lisa K. Torres

Dr. Lisa K. Torres, assistant professor of medicine, received her medical education at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, graduating in 2010. Dr. Torres completed an internship at Sligo General Hospital and Galway University Hospital in Ireland and in 2014 completed an internal medicine residency at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. Dr. Torres completed her pulmonary fellowship at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in 2018. Her research focuses on the changes in mitochondrial metabolic function that contribute to sepsis-induced immune paralysis.

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Dr. Jonathan Villena-Vargas

Dr. Jonathan Villena-Vargas, assistant professor of clinical cardiothoracic surgery, completed his undergraduate degree at Cal Polytech in California. He received his medical degree from Loma Linda University School of Medicine in California and completed his residency in general surgery at Mount Sinai Health Systems in New York City, followed by a fellowship in cardiothoracic surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine. During his residency, Dr. Villena-Vargas completed a research fellowship in immuno-oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and continues to conduct translational immunotherapy research at Weill Cornell Medicine as a member of the Neuberger Berman Lung Cancer Research Center.


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