Meet the BIGGER Participants


Jiwoo Kim
2021 graduate, Duke University, Durham, NC 
Faculty Mentor: Larry Jackson, MD

Gabriel Blanco-Colmenares
2019 graduate, Florida International University, Miami, FL
Faculty Mentor: Larry Jackson, MD 

Kaila Moore
2021 graduate, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC
Faculty Mentor: Andrew Landstrom, MD

"Participating in the BIGGER program has given me tremendous insight into health disparities, personal development, and increased my interest in research! I have enjoyed conducting a systematic review with my faculty mentor and have been offered extra opportunities to assist with research outside my chosen project for the program. Everyone in the program provides opportunities for you to excel in any area you aspire, and I can’t wait to be able to apply all I learn from the program to my future endeavors." 

Logan Long
2021 graduate, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 
Faculty Mentor: Isaretta Riley, MD

Kyra Potter
2020 graduate, University of California, Los Angeles, CA
Faculty Mentor: Andrew Landstrom, MD

“When I first applied to the BIGGER Program, I hoped to gain a more in depth understanding of the disciplinary cross-link between patient care and research through exposure to clinical research. My involvement in the program has not only allowed me to achieve this goal, but has also given me a newfound interest in alleviating healthcare disparities through clinical research. In the future, I aspire to apply to a Physicians' Assistant program, where I hope to further develop the professional as well as research related skills that I have gained from my involvement in this program. Furthermore, I plan to continue clinical research with the goal to make the healthcare experience more equitable.”

Taylor Mitchell
2021 graduate, Duke University, Durham, NC
Faculty Mentor: Isaretta Riley, MD


Six participants have been chosen for the 3rd year of Duke Bridging the Gap to Enhance Clinical Research (BIGGER) program. Participants will use this unique opportunity to spend six months training with Duke Faculty mentors and research teams, allowing them to explore clinical research career possibilities during their gap year following the completion of a baccalaureate degree and applying to graduate school. The program is particularly focused on creating opportunities for individuals from NIH designated underrepresented populations.

Between now and December, they will get to train with Duke faculty in varied medical divisions to develop a research project in a clinical area (cardiovascular, pediatrics, physical therapy, etc.),  complete curricula in research methodology responsible conduct of research, and professional development, and participate in observational clinical rotations.

The program, funded by the NIH, is under the leadership of Duke Clinical Research Institute faculty Vivian Chu, MD and Kevin Thomas, MD.

Breyah Atkinson
2018 graduate of East Carolina University, Greenville NC
Faculty Mentor: Lance Okeke, MD

"I chose a gap year program because I wanted to expand and enhance my knowledge of clinical research and public health. The BIGGER experience will allow me to gain knowledge on the importance of clinical research especially as it relates to health disparities, ethics, and equity. This experience will allow me to explore public health deeper, and connect with my peers on how to better serve the community through clinical research. After the internship, I hope to explore international health disparities before applying to medical school."

Melanie Bakovic
2019 graduate of Duke University, Durham NC
Faculty Mentor: Kristin Newby, MD 
Faculty Mentor: Erich Huang, MD

Antonina Flair
Meredith College Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Health Program, Raleigh NC
2010 graduate of Knox College, Galesburg IL
Faculty Mentor: Jennifer Li, MD
Faculty Mentor: Christoph Hornik, MD

​“I know I still have much to learn, but the progress and knowledge gained in these short months has given me perspective and fueled my engines forward. This would not be possible without the consistent support and encouragement of my mentors along the way."

Morgan Lane
2018 graduate of University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill NC
Faculty Mentor: Danny Benjamin, MD
Faculty Mentor: Kanecia Zimmerman, MD

"Before I started the BIGGER program I didn't even know what clinical research involved. I chose to participate in the BIGGER program because it is an opportunity to explore clinical research and different areas of medicine while I apply to medical school. As I have learned about clinical research I have started to understand its importance and now want to pursue a career in academic medicine so I can continue clinical research. I hope to matriculate next fall to study for a career in pediatric medicine."

Chiagoziem Ogbonna
2019 graduate of Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem NC
Faculty Mentor: Andrew Landstrom, MD

"For me, this program has been a truly eye-opening introduction to clinical research. I am only beginning to realize this field's capacity for improving clinical practice and positively impacting public health. I chose this gap year program to gain additional research experience and valuable mentorship from senior and junior faculty members within the Duke University Health System. Following the BIGGER program this year, I hope to be accepted and enrolled in a M.D. program by fall 2020."

Maria Parra
2019 graduate of North Carolina Central University, Durham NC
Faculty Mentor: Kevin Thomas, MD 
Faculty Mentor: Larry Jackson, MD

"I chose the BIGGER gap year program to gain more research experience in preparation for my graduate studies. This program will also allow me to explore different health careers that I could potentially consider in the future. After the six-month research experience, I plan to begin the process of applying to graduate school. This experience will give me an unique perspective of the clinical research field and allow me to learn new skills in research."


Liz Ciociola
Senior Faculty Mentor: Jennifer Li, MD
Jr. Faculty Mentor: Christoph Hornik, MD
Project: "Association between preoperative respiratory support and postoperative complications in patients undergoing pediatric cardiac surgery"

Razan Fayyad
Senior Faculty Mentor: Janet Prvu Bettger, ScD, FAHA
Project: "Uptake of a smartphone app for self-assessment of functional capacity as the sixth vital sign a RE-AIM evaluation"

Ciara Green
Senior Faculty Mentor: Kimberly Johnson, MD 
Jr. Faculty Mentor: Rasheeda Hall, MD
Project: "Hypothesized negative correlation between self-reported recovery time and physical activity levels in older hemodialysis patients"

Tomi Ladipo
Senior Faculty Mentor: Brian Smith, MD 
Jr. Faculty Mentor: Kevin Hill, MD
Project: "Epidemiology of Bacterial Meningitis in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit"

LaPrince-Miller Smith
Senior Faculty Mentor: Danny Benjamin, MD
Jr. Faculty Mentor: Kanecia Zimmerman, MD
Project: "Comparing the Safety of Morphine and Fentanyl in a Retrospective Study on Preterm Neonates"


Kiera Benson
Senior Faculty Mentor: Danny Benjamin, MD
Jr. Faculty Mentor: Kanecia Zimmerman, MD
Project: "Antibiotics Use for the Treatment of Early-Onset Neonatal Sepsis" 
Synopsis: This project focused on characterizing the trends in antibiotic use for the treatment of early-onset neonatal sepsis. We also compared the predictors for suspected early-onset neonatal sepsis to those for culture-proven early-onset

Cecil Daniel
Senior Faculty Mentor: Brian Smith, MD 
Jr. Faculty Mentor: Kevin Hill, MD
Project: "Patterns of Phlebotomy Blood Loss and Transfusions in the Extremely Low Birth Weight Infants"
Synopsis: Extremely Low Birth Weight (ELBW) Infants are the most highly transfused patient population during their first few weeks of life. Excessive phlebotomy in both number and blood volume is one of the biggest contributors to the high transfusion rates. In this retrospective study, we investigate the frequency of phlebotomy testing and the necessity of blood transfusion requirements in ELBW infants.

Reid McCabe
Senior Faculty Mentor: Kristin Newby, MD 
Jr. Faculty Mentor: Erich Huang, MD
Project: "Reducing Disparities to Ensure Health Equity in Project Baseline: A Longitudinal Cohort Study"
Synposis: There are unique challenges to maintaining diversity and reducing disparities across each level of recruiting, enrolling, and monitoring participants in a large, technologically-advanced study to map human health. My role in correcting and preventing these disparities was by (1) analyzing recruitment and enrollment statistics to identify imbalances in race and ethnicity, disease risk level, age, and gender, (2) reporting findings to community engagement and project management personnel, and (3) brainstorming strategies to correct the imbalances.

Luz Plumey
Senior Faculty Mentor: Kimberly Johnson, MD 
Jr. Faculty Mentor: Rasheeda Hall, MD
Project: Ethnic Differences in hospital days among older adults receiving dialysis.
Synopsis: Dialysis is associate with limited life expectancy in older adults. To performance this study we used RENDER website provided by the United States Renal Data System. This study was conducted to examine ethnic differences in hospital days among older adults receiving dialysis.

Miracle Thomas
Senior Faculty Mentor: Jennifer Li, MD 
Jr. Faculty Mentor: Christoph Hornik, MD
Project: "Patterns of Lab Evaluations in Neonates Undergoing Cardiac Surgery"
Synopsis: Postoperative cardiac intensive care relies heavily on high-precision, laboratory blood testing to collect the most up-to-date information in an effort to maximize patient outcomes, but can also result in the excessive collection of patient blood samples, particularly in neonates. My role in addressing this issue has been analyzing patient records in an effort to develop an algorithm that can reduce complications and improve outcomes in neonates recovering from cardiac surgery on cardiopulmonary bypass.

Jimica Wilson
Senior Faculty Mentor: Kevin Thomas, MD
Jr. Faculty Mentor: Larry Jackson, MD
Project: "Racial and Ethnic Differences in Prevalence, Management, and Outcomes of Patients with Severe Aortic Stenosis: A Narrative Review" 
Synopsis: My research complies and characterizes the differences in prevalence/incidence, management, and outcomes of severe Aortic Stenosis (AS) by race and ethnicity.