Young Innovative Investigator Program (YIIP)

Graduate Certificate of Research Experience in Biomedical Science and Master of Science in Biomedical Science Program

The only program of its kind at the University of Connecticut, the Young Innovative Investigator Program (YIIP) is a 2-year program of the Cato T. Laurencin Institute for Regenerative Engineering which aims to develop the next generation of innovative scientists by providing academic training to individuals dedicated to pursuing careers as scientists and scholars in biological and biomedical science. The program is specifically focused on recruiting underrepresented students to contribute towards developing a sustainable pipeline to increase diversity among the pool of academic scientists. YIIP provides tools for scholars to conduct research, succeed in an academic environment, and become competitive candidates for medical school or graduate school. YIIP Scholars will acquire the expertise necessary to obtain a Ph.D., M.D./Ph.D., or M.D.

YIIP is an intensive research program for college graduates comprised of graduate level coursework and supervised research in biomedical laboratories on the UConn Health campus. It provides individualized mentorship, academic support, and career guidance. YIIP Scholars are employed as Graduate Assistants who earn a stipend and also qualify for health insurance coverage. In addition, the tuition expense and fees associated with required graduate level courses are waived. Upon successful completion of year one, scholars obtain a Graduate Certificate of Research Experience in Biomedical Science. In year two, Scholars who meet the academic qualifications are invited to pursue a Master of Science in Biomedical Science involving innovative mentored research.


All YIIP Scholars are provided a team of mentors to guide them through their research and graduate education experience. Each scholar’s Lab Mentor (PI) will coordinate their efforts with their graduate student’s M1 Mentor. Additional mentors include faculty members from within and outside their department, graduate school leadership, and diversity team members.

Seminar Series

All YIIP Scholars are required to attend bi-weekly seminars presented by UConn faculty members. Seminar topics include: Biostatistics and Data Analytics, Community Engagement, Covid-19 and Effects on the Conduct of Science, CV and Personal Statement, Health Justice and Diversity in Medical School Admissions, Mentor/Mentee Relationship, Preparing for Medical and Graduate School, Presenting at Scientific Conferences, Publishing in Academic Journals, Reading Scientific Literature, Research Ethics and the Role of the Institutional Review Board, Scientific Writing, and Translational Research.

Scholar Testimonials

The Young Innovative Investigator Program (YIIP) gave me the amazing opportunity to come to the U.S. and immerse myself in the research field. Thanks to the amazing mentorship of the YIIP program and CICATS, I was able to successfully complete my master's degree and fulfill my goal which was to go to medical school. It was during this program that I found my calling - combining research and service through medicine. The experiences and skills I have acquired through the Young Innovative Investigator Program not only prepared me for medical school, but also equipped me with the necessary tools needed to provide research that benefits everyone, in order to close the health disparities seen in many communities.

Master of Science Graduate,
Spring 2018

Master of Science Graduate,
Spring 2023

“When I reflect on my two years in the Young Innovative Investigator Program (YIIP), I realize that the experience not only prepared me for my future aspirations as a physician but also exposed me to so many wonderful opportunities that allowed me to realize my desire to combine research and community service. Through classes, seminars, service and the support of my mentors and peers, I was challenged to grow personally and professionally in the field of biomedical sciences. Thanks to YIIP, I have developed skills in collaboration, communication, and innovation that will carry me through not only medical school but the rest of my career as a physician scientist.”

Master of Science Graduate,
Spring 2023

“The Young Innovative Investigator Program granted me the opportunity to conduct groundbreaking research in the field of Biomedical Science. It was a joyous experience to be around distinguished faculty, staff, and students who valued the advancement of science to positively improve the world through scientific research. In addition to the tremendous support from my mentors, the diverse and friendly environment made this a monumental experience I will never forget. I have participated in many scientific conversations with students and faculty from various backgrounds which has provided me with unique perspectives on my future aspirations of becoming a physician-scientist and an educator. I plan to apply these lessons and professional skills as I continue my academic journey. Thank you, YIIP!”

Master of Science Graduate,
Spring 2023

“My time in the Young Innovative Investigators Program (YIIP) can only be termed transformative. I entered the program as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed undergraduate in search of scientific experience, and I gained that and more from this program. YIIP allowed me to further my education and resources and continue building my passion for medicine through various community outreach opportunities (JUMP). I also garnered a support system of colleagues and mentors that encouraged me towards a successful path, which enabled me to complete my master's degree. My YIIP journey has enhanced my growth into becoming a more confident, tenacious, and curious scholar, and I could not be more thankful.”

The Young Innovative Investigator Program (YIIP) has equipped me with priceless tools necessary for both my personal and professional development. This program along with its invaluable mentors have helped strengthen my inner confidence crucial to the journey of becoming an academic physician.

The space created for underrepresented minorities within this program continues to be a safe environment focused on nourishing its scholars through academics, research exposure, and self-empowerment.

Master of Science Graduate,
Spring 2018


Current YIIP Scholars

Marc Antonio Merriman
Xavier University of Louisiana
B.S.;  Biology 

Reiner González Heredia
University Of Connecticut
B.S.; Molecular and Cell Biology 

Taraje Whitfield
Princeton University
B.A.; Molecular Biology

Year 1 YIIP Scholars

Kennedy Drake
Xavier University of Louisiana
B.S.; Biology 

Refugio Lara, Jr.
Pennsylvania State University
B.S.; Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Yvette Oppong
University of Connecticut
B.A.; Environmental Sciences

Gina Airoldi
University of Vermont
B.S.;  Biomedical Engineering


Former YIIP Scholars

Cohort 6

  • Morgan Dawkins, MS, 2022-2023: University of Arkansas B.S., Biomedical Engineering; UConn Graduate School, Biomedical Engineering
  • Oyindamola Teniola, MS, 2021-2023: University of Connecticut, B.S.; Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, University of South Florida
  • Romoye Sohan, MS, 2021-2023: University Of Connecticut B,S; Biological Sciences
  • Sandro Cloiseau, MS, 2021-2023: University Of Connecticut B,S; Biological Sciences
  • Stephanie Chinwo, MS, 2021-2023: University Of Connecticut B,S; Biological Sciences

Cohort 5

  • Christina Valera, MS, 2021-2023: University of Connecticut B.S., Physiology & Neurobiology
  • David Onwuka, MS, 2021-2023: University of Connecticut B.S., Molecular & Cell Biology; Tufts Medical School
  • Kai Clarke, MS, 2020-2022: Florida Institute of Technology B.S., Biomedical Engineering; UConn Graduate School, Biomedical Science
  • Mylan Panteah, MD, 2021-2022: New Mexico State University, B.S., Biology; University of North Dakota School of Medicine
  • Tebyan Khalfalla, BS, 2020-2022: University of Connecticut, B.S., Physiology & Neurobiology; University of Rochester School of Medicine

    Cohort 4

    • Luis Loza-Rojas, 2020-2022: University of Connecticut, B.S., Chemical Engineering

    Cohort 3

    • Jaliyah Peterson, MS, 2018-2021: Spelman College, B.S., Molecular Biology and Biophysics
    • Savannah Samuel, BS, 2020-2021: Xavier University of Louisiana, B.S., Chemistry
    • Anisha Lewis, MD, 2018-2020: Brown University, B.A., Public Health; UConn School of Medicine
    • John Garcia, MS, MPH, 2018-2020: University of Connecticut, B.S., Biological Sciences; Quinnipiac School of Medicine
    • Kaussar Rahman, MS, 2019-2020: Mount Holyoke College, B.S., Biology
    • Joshua Green, DPM 2018-2019: Southern Connecticut State University, Biochemistry, B.S., Temple School of Podiatric Medicine

    Cohort 2

    • Aundrya Montgomery, MS, 2016-2019: Alabama State University, B.S., Biology/Pre-Health; University of Connecticut
    • Shania Aponte-Paris, MS, 2016-2019: Universidad Adventista de los Antilles, B.S., Biology; Universidad Central del Caribe School of Medicine
    • Archibald Agyekum-Yamoah, MD, MS, 2016-2018: University of Ghana, B.S., Biology; Southern Connecticut State University, B.S., Biochemistry and Mathematics; University of Pittsburgh College of Medicine, Captain. United States Air Force (USAF)
    • Aaliyah Riccardi, MD, 2016-2017: University of Connecticut, B.S., Biology; University of Connecticut School of Medicine

    Cohort 1

    • Akilah Plair, ND, MS, 2014-2016: Southern Connecticut State University, B.S., Biochemistry; University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine
    • La Shondra Ellis, MS, 2014-2016: Oakwood College, B.S., Biology
    • Melissa Carr-Reynolds, MS, 2014-2016: Spelman College, B.S., Biology
    • Nilse Dos Santos, MD, MS, 2014-2016: University of Rhode Island, B.S., Biological Sciences; Penn State College of Medicine
    • Sandra Lopez, DMD, MS, 2014-2016: University of Connecticut, B.S., Biological Sciences; Rutgers School of Dental Medicine
    • Trisha Kwarko, MD, MS, 2014-2016: University of Connecticut, B.S., Allied Health Sciences; UConn School of Medicine

    YIIP Alumni - Keep in Touch

    If you have recently moved, changed jobs, retired, earned an advanced degree, or celebrated a career milestone, please contact Program Manager Jolene Monahan Wilding at This information will be used to update your record in our alumni database.

    Application Process and Requirements

    Submission Deadline: Sunday March 3rd, 2024

    Applicants to the Young Innovative Investigator Program (YIIP) must apply online to the UConn Graduate School


    Step by Step Instructions for Application Process 

    Graduate School Calendar


    As we are committed to promoting a diverse graduate community, the Graduate School has agreed to waive the $75-dollar non-refundable application fee for prospective YIIP students. Once you begin your online application, you must email the YIIP Program Manager Jolene Monahan Wilding at stating that you are applying to the program to initiate the waiver. You will be notified when the waiver has been granted and how to proceed with your application submittal. Application fees will not be refunded if the application is submitted without completion of this step.