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Scientific Superstars

Outstanding students in USC Dornsife’s biological sciences department and undergraduate neuroscience program are honored during an awards luncheon recognizing their best and brightest.

Students recognized as outstanding undergraduates in biological sciences honors core courses display their awards with Albert Herrera, professor of biological sciences at USC Dornsife. Photo by Erica Christianson.
Students recognized as outstanding undergraduates in biological sciences honors core courses display their awards with Albert Herrera, professor of biological sciences at USC Dornsife. Photo by Erica Christianson.

Manan Shah has a passion for understanding how the brain works. Specifically, the USC Dornsife junior is interested in visual cognition — the complex process that interprets what we see into what we know.

Shah studies how the brain accomplishes the incredible feat of perceiving, recognizing and understanding images of objects and scenes. His research also looks at how the brain organizes the vast array of conceptual dimensions activated by an image or a word.

“For instance, a fraction-of-a-second-glimpse of a picture of a giraffe can activate associations that it is a living thing, 15 feet tall, that can be found in Africa,” explained Shah, a research assistant in the laboratory of Irving Biederman, Harold Dornsife Chair in Neuroscience, and professor of psychology and computer science.  

“The neural basis for this extraordinary access to the interpretation of an image has previously defied scientific analysis. My research aims to explore the visual recognition map in the brain, advancing the neural cartography of object recognition.”

For his exceptional work, Shah received the Brian Philip Rakusin Scholarship in Neuroscience, which honors the most outstanding student entering his or her junior or senior year in the USC Dornsife neuroscience program. The scholarship will provide him with financial support for his senior year at USC Dornsife.

Shah and other top students were recognized with many other awards during a luncheon held at the USC Davidson Conference Center on April 23. The event brought together students and faculty to celebrate the accomplishments of stellar undergraduate and graduate students in USC Dornsife’s biological sciences department and neuroscience program.

“The students we’re honoring are fulfilling the promise that they had when they were admitted to USC,” said master of ceremonies Albert Herrera, professor of biological sciences in USC Dornsife. 

Not only are they model students with top grades, but they are seizing the opportunity to work with faculty in their laboratories while engaging with them in their classrooms, Herrera noted. 

William McClure, professor of biological sciences, presented Shah with his award, which honors the memory of Brian Rakusin, the first student enrolled in USC Dornsife’s undergraduate neuroscience program.

McClure was a mentor for Rakusin, a remarkable neuroscience student who was an undergraduate when he died in 2003.

“Brian’s name was on the rolls before our program was even approved by the curriculum committee,” McClure said.

Ken Rakusin, Brian’s father, who attended the event, said that endowing a scholarship in his son’s name will give other students the opportunity to make strides in a field that had meaning for his son.

“The world was deprived of what our son could do in the future, but now we’re helping someone else do things that will help others,” Rakusin said. “It’s a ‘pay it forward’ moment. Hopefully when the students who win this prize are able to get to a point in their lives where they can do something similar they will help someone else.”

Shah said that receiving the Rakusin Scholarship is a great honor.

“The recognition motivates me to strive for more excellence in my work both in class and in my research,” he said.

Of Ken Rakusin’s recommendation to help others in the future: “I most definitely will,” Shah said.

Other winners recognized:

Undergraduate Course Honors

BISC 120Lg: Kaitlin Aquino, Harrison Lee, Hajin Lee 

BISC 121Lg: Moriah Mulroe

BISC 220L: Mincheol Park, Miya Okado, Jonathan Bushman            

BISC 221L: Christina Yang

BISC 315: Megan Nathan              

BISC 320L: Kaitlin Kogachi, Adeel Mohammadi

BISC 325: Brian Lentz

BISC 330L: Thalia Bajakian, Kellie Spector


Outstanding Teaching Assistant Awards

BISC 104L: Meghen Miles

BISC 120Lg: Sarah Hu, Rebecca Sawyer, Jamie Smith, Megan Hall, Tyler Beebe

BISC 121Lg: Alle Lie

BISC 150L: Jillian Shaw, Stephanie Chan

BISC 220L: Xiao Liu, Patrick Sun

BISC 221L: Megan Hall   

BISC 300: Rohan Sachdeva, Johanna Holm                                                                         

BISC 320L: Hong Seok Shim, Jennifer Cardell

BISC 330L: Carolyn Truong

BISC 403: Jared Peace

BISC 469L: Brian Seegers

The Brian Philip Rakusin Scholarship in Neuroscience

Manan P. Shah

Outstanding Student of the Year Award

Katherine Fu, Russell Stewart

The Milton Okin Award

Morgan Cheeks, Sara Meghji, Jeremy Paluch, Benjamin Rostami

The Milo Don Appleman Award

Ashley Hu

The SCynergy Award

Kacie Amacher

The Harrison M. Kurtz Award

Emily Smail

The William E. Trusten Award

An Ying Alice Lie