2017 Tillman Scholar
During her undergraduate studies, Maya joined a project as a research assistant working closely with Marines that sustained a traumatic brain injury from blast exposure during their deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. One day, on her way to the field to evaluate service members, Maya was introduced to the biology Ph.D. program at UTA and the potential to do behavior research on the broad-horned flour beetle in the Demuth Lab. While studying this model organism, she made an exciting connection.
The male flour-beetles exhibit a highly-stereotyped behavior where losers of traumatic encounters demonstrate behavior that parallels symptoms related to PTSD, in a very fundamental way. Her research aims to elucidate the genetic foundations of these behaviors and determine the molecular basis of what causes the “switch to flip” between normal behavior and this PTSD-like “shut down.” Maya chose to study animal behavior because of the impact her research can make on a global scale. As a woman of color and a military veteran studying the molecular basis of behavior, Maya represent a minority demographic and can be instrumental in bringing diversity to the STEM field.
Maya’s long-term goal is to build on her own research experiences and use them as a guide to mentor the upcoming generation of scientists from all backgrounds towards their projects, research goals, and their personal and professional scientific ambitions.