Are you a prospective UIUC student, new to campus, or to the MCB major? Do you have questions for experienced MCB upperclassmen?

MCB Leaders are here for you.

We’re a small group of accomplished students in MCB that want to help current and prospective students learn more about the University of Illinois, the College of LAS, and the Molecular and Cellular Biology and biochemistry majors. We know what it takes to succeed, what resources are available to you, and how to get involved on campus, so please contact us if you have any questions at! Feel free to request a specific person if someone stands out to you.

Meet the 2023-2024 MCB Leaders

Headshot of Maya Raviv in an MCB Leaders polo.

Name: Maya Raviv - President
Preferred Pronouns: She/her/hers
Year in School: Senior
Major(s): MCB Honors Concentration
Minor(s): Creative writing, chemistry
Hobbies/Activities: On campus, I am the Vice President of the health volunteer organization, MEDLIFE, a research assistant at the Brieher Lab where I study cytoskeleton dynamics, and work at an EMT-B. When I'm free, I like watching and talking about movies, reading books, coffee shops, TED talks, thrifting, and science podcasts.
Favorite Place to Study: Caffe Paradiso or CIF on the day to day, and Grainger Library when I'm really desperate.
Favorite Restaurant in Champaign/Urbana: Jip Bap and Chipotle are my go-tos on campus. Outside of campus, definitely try Sticky Rice for Thai food and Fiesta Cafe for very good Mexican.
Why you chose the U of I: I loved the idea of being in a big school, where I can meet new people and see new faces everyday. I feel like I learn the most through collaboration with and listening to other people. UIUC was a school that fosters this culture, and is also in Illinois, where I can be close to my family. Plus, our school has awesome research opportunities for MCB!
Favorite things about MCB: I love biology. I love that it's a story and a puzzle at the same time, and I love how whole learning about the human body makes me feel. I also like that studying biology is, at its nature, very collaborative, studying and researching concepts that are so simultaneously big and small is difficult without talking it through. It's fun to study enriching things with my friends, who are as passionate about them as I am.

headshot of Saniya Zaidi 

Name: Saniya Zaidi - Vice President
Preferred Pronouns: She, her, hers
Year in School: Junior
Major(s): MCB
Minor (s): Public Health
Hobbies/Activities: On campus, I'm the president of a nonprofit organization called the Illini Thaakat Foundation, and a student leader at Carle Foundation Hospital. Along with that, I volunteer at the post-anesthesia care unit at Carle and conduct research in Dr. Reddi's spermatogenesis lab. In my free time, I like to draw, play the piano, and spend time with my friends.
Favorite Place to Study: Campus Instructional Facility and Grainger Library
Favorite Restaurant in Champaign/Urbana: My favorite restaurants on campus would be Bangkok Thai or Oozu Ramen. Off-campus, I'd have to go with Dos Reales.
Why you chose the U of I: When initially applying to college, I always saw myself attending a smaller school, as the idea of a big school seemed daunting. However, with having an older sibling attending UIUC, I was able to see the variety of social and academic opportunities that this school was able to offer. Going to UIUC would allow to me step out of my comfort zone and meet all kinds of new people, which is exactly what I wanted out of my college experience.
Favorite things about MCB: Something that I really appreciate about the MCB major is how it gives you the liberty to learn about topics you're personally interested in. Once you reach the upper-level courses, there's a lot of independence in terms of classes, and they allow you to get a deeper understanding in specific concepts. I also love how this major is able to tie chemistry, biology, and physics all together, and use them to explain numerous biological processes.

headshot of Rujita Chikodikar

Name: Rujuta Chikodikar - Secretary
Preferred Pronouns: She/her/hers
Year in School: Senior
Major(s): MCB Honors Concentration
Hobbies/Activities: On campus, I am a volunteer at Carle Foundation Hospital and Avicenna Clinic. I also pursue research at Dr Qiao's lab in the College of Veterinary Medicine. In my free time, I enjoy taking brisk walks around campus, cooking, singing or just doodling in my notebook!
Favorite Place to Study: Grainger and MCB Learning Center
Favorite Restaurant in Champaign/Urbana: I love a lot of places, but I tend to frequent Shawarma Joint and Basil Thai the most.
Why you chose the U of I: During the pandemic, I wasn't able to get an in-person campus tour, but the virtual tours and information sessions gave me a glimpse of the university’s welcoming and enriching learning environment. Another aspect is the wide range of opportunities an organizations on campus, and the opportunity to meet new people everyday! I also liked the idea of having a choice between MCB and IB as majors.
Favorite things about MCB: MCB nurtures my passion for biology and deepens my curiosity for the vivid sub-cellular processes that keep us alive. MCB Advisors have always given me helpful advice on the advanced classes that would suit my interests. Furthermore, the field of molecular biology has witnessed remarkable progress over the last few years - being a part of such a dynamic and rapidly evolving field will make my career path exciting and fulfilling!


headshot of Neha Bashir

Name: Neha Bashir - Treasurer
Preferred Pronouns: She, her, hers
Year in School: Junior
Major(s): MCB Honors Concentration
Minor (s): Business, Chemistry
Hobbies/Activities: Reading, Crocheting, Baking, Playing tennis, Listening to Music
Favorite Place to Study: Caffe Paradiso
Favorite Restaurant in Champaign/Urbana: Bangkok Thai
Why you chose the U of I: I chose UIUC because of all the diverse opportunities for research, extracurriculars, and overall experiences unmatched any other school. I felt that I could find a sense of community and home while also furthering my academic goals. UIUC offers incredible academic programs and vibrant campus life, with state-of-the-art facilities.
Favorite things about MCB: Being an MCB major allows me to dissect the intricate world of cellular processes and molecular mechanisms. I love being able to participate in cutting-edge research in interdisciplinary fields, as well as working towards gaining insight in the advancement of healthcare and biomedical technology. Being an MCB major allows me to explore a multifaceted major in an effort to gain experience for my goals of working in healthcare.

Headshot of Edward Andrews in an MCB Leaders polo.

Name: Edward Andrews - Activities Director
Preferred Pronouns: He, him, his
Year in School: Senior
Major(s): MCB Honors Concentration
Minor (s): Chemistry
Certificate: Microbiology
Hobbies/Activities: I am passionate about research and work in Dr. Whitaker's laboratory, where I study antimicrobial resistance. Prior, I worked at the USDA in Peoria, where I assisted in the improvement of microbial insecticides. I also love teaching and will begin working as a chemistry TA this fall. Being interested in medicine, I am also an EMT-B and enjoy volunteering. Outside of academics, I play the saxophone and piano and perform throughout my community.
Favorite Place to Study: Campus Instructional Facility (CIF)
Favorite Restaurant in Champaign/Urbana: Black Dog
Why you chose the U of I: Having grown up in a small town, my choice to attend UIUC meant stepping outside of my comfort zone to prepare me for the challenges of a career in medicine. As a large school, UIUC offers opportunities to experience the forefront of scientific research, learn from renowned faculty, and challenge oneself with coursework. Additionally, students can explore interests through RSOs and work alongside a diverse group of intelligent, motivated peers.
Favorite things about MCB: During MCB 150, I was amazed that many of the fundamental concepts discussed were recent discoveries by scientists often still alive. An MCB major means joining an innovative, fast-growing field and witnessing breakthroughs happen firsthand‚ opportunities that provide a strong background necessary for a future career. MCB also encompasses several departments, offering the flexibility to tailor coursework toward academic and professional interests.

Headshot of Maaz Bashir in an MCB Leaders polo

Name: Maaz Bashir
Preferred Pronouns: He, him, his
Year in School: Senior
Major(s): MCB Honors Concentration
Minor(s): Business
Hobbies/Activities: Working Out, Running, Basketball, Cooking/MedLife, IMSS, Avicenna
Favorite Place to Study: Grainger or my room
Favorite Restaurant in Champaign/Urbana: Shwarma Joint
Why you chose the U of I: I chose UIUC mainly because I thought it would be the best fit for me. I feel like whichever college someone chooses is always a new experience, and no one knows how it will go. Personally, I thought UIUC was a good school because there is a lot of diversity, and it is very close to home for me so I could still see my family. It's such a big school where it is very easy to meet new people and make new friends. 
Favorite things about MCB: One of my favorite things about being an MCB major is the concepts we learn in our MCB classes. Ever since I was in high school, I enjoyed learning about Biology and Anatomy. My interest in the subjects led me to select MCB as my major. I love how this major teaches me information about multiple aspects of biology that I will continue to use throughout my career in healthcare. I also feel like the professors teach the content really well. 

headshot of Zoe Daniel

Name: Zoe Daniel
Preferred Pronouns: She, her, hers
Year in School: Junior
Major(s): MCB 
Hobbies/Activities: Reading (My favorite book is Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon), Giving campus tours as an ISTAR, Playing cello, and hiking at National and State Parks!
Favorite Place to Study: The Natural History Building or Siebel Center for Art and Design on campus. If I am feeling adventurous, I love going to The Literary in downtown Champaign.
Favorite Restaurant in Champaign/Urbana: Oozu Ramen
Why you chose the U of I: I chose Illinois because of the amount of opportunities offered on this campus. I really love how this campus is large enough that you can make your college experience a choose your own adventure story and have any path be the best path for you. I also feel like the community on this campus is unmatched, and even though the campus is large I love the feeling of making it feel like a small community and how easy it is to do so.
Favorite things about MCB: My favorite thing about being an MCB major is the variety of classes offered by the major and the freedom you have in choosing what to take. I love being able to design my course schedule based on what I am really interested in. I also love being able to do undergraduate research, and how my research feels meaningful even as an undergraduate.

headshot of Ritika Jawale

Name: Ritika Jawale
Preferred Pronouns: Any
Year in School: Junior
Major(s): Biochemistry
Hobbies/Activities: drawing, baking, reading
Favorite Place to Study: Dailybyte
Favorite Restaurant in Champaign/Urbana: Oozu Ramen
Why you chose the U of I: I chose to attend the U of I because of its large and diverse campus. I wanted to meet new people while also not being too far from home. I was excited to meet new people and explore the many opportunities that this school provides. Plus, the U of I has a great biochemistry program that makes it very easy for students to get involved with undergraduate research.
Favorite things about MCB: Some of my favorite things about being an MCB major is that anything we learn in class has a real world application. Even small cell processes can have a major effect on our lives. Another reason I love biology is that no biological problem has a simple answer, instead, each discovery leads to many more complex questions. Part of what makes the subject so fascinating is that there is an unlimited amount of information waiting to be uncovered.

Cesar Maldonado

Name: Cesar Maldonado
Preferred Pronouns: He, him, his
Year in School: Junior
Major(s): MCB Honors Concentration
Hobbies/Activities: On campus, I am the Director of Medical Education for the RSO Global Medical Training. I am also a member of the Illini Medical Screening Society, as well as the American Medical Student Association. I am also engaged in MCB research through the Jie Chen Lab working on muscular regeneration. In addition, I participate in volunteering through Carle Hospital and the Food Assistance and Well-being Program. In my free time, I like to stay physically active, whether it’s lifting weights or participating in the RSO called Illini World Taekwondo.
Favorite Place to Study: Funk ACES Library
Favorite Restaurant in Champaign/Urbana: Huraches Moroleon
Why you chose the U of I: I chose UIUC because of the vast amount of opportunities it provides. There are many academic courses and programs at each student’s disposal. Also, there are many other extracurricular opportunities, ranging from registered student organizations to different professional and networking events (such as career fairs). Finally, I admired the university’s accomplishments with their research endeavors and wanted to help make scientific contributions.
Favorite things about MCB: I chose MCB because of my goal to become a physician, an aspiration born from my curiosity in human biological systems that grew in a variety of classes. The major also helped me develop professionally by providing events about opportunities on campus or preparing for med school. Finally, being an MCB student allowed me to find a research lab that heavily aligned with my biggest interests and allowed me to gain valuable experience and knowledge.

Headshot of Julie Mathews in an MCB Leaders polo.

Name: Julie Mathews
Preferred Pronouns: She, her, hers
Year in School: Senior
Major(s): MCB Honors Concentration
Minor (s): Psychology
Hobbies/Activities: On campus, I'm on the executive board for Alpha Epsilon Delta (pre-health fraternity) and Illini Mentor Program. I'm also a research assistant in the Nutrition and Human Microbiome Laboratory. Off campus, I work at Carle Foundation Hospital as a health care tech/CNA on a medical-surgical floor, and I've worked at a nursing home in my hometown for several years. In my free time, I like to run, hang out and cook dinner with friends, and watch reality TV shows.
Favorite Place to Study: Grainger or main library
Favorite Restaurant in Champaign/Urbana: Bangkok Thai, Ko Fusion, Cowboy Monkey
Why you chose the U of I: I chose UIUC because of the variety of academic, professional, and social opportunities and experiences I knew I could have here. I had several different interests coming into college, and I knew I would be able to explore them all at a school with as many resources as ours. Also, with how large and diverse the student body is, I love that this university has allowed me to form bonds with and learn from so many different types of people.
Favorite things about MCB: One of my favorite things about the MCB major is that it provides students with a strong background on both the small-scale and large-scale views of core biological processes that are relevant to fields like health care and research. Beyond that, I love that the MCB program makes you feel welcome and supported, planning events that allow you to relieve stress and bond with your peers, and helping you achieve whatever goals you have in mind.

Kendall McFarlin

Name: Kendall McFarlin
Preferred Pronouns: She, her, hers
Year in School: Junior
Major(s): MCB Honors Concentration
Minor (s): Music
Hobbies/Activities: I love music and I play the trumpet and bass in a few bands. My favorite is the Marching Illini! I also love listening to music, especially Taylor Swift. In my free time, I read lots of fantasy novels and play Dungeons and Dragons. I also enjoy crocheting, playing karaoke with my friends, and feeding my Starbucks addiction.
Favorite Place to Study: My favorite place for writing papers and reports is the ACES Funk Library, but I also love the whiteboards at the Siebel Center for Design for memorizing lots of information.
Favorite Restaurant in Champaign/Urbana: Mia Za's
Why you chose the U of I: I grew up near the campus and fell in love with the electricity on campus fueled by connectedness and diversity. My hometown is relatively small, so I wanted to go somewhere with a completely different atmosphere where I could experience more perspectives, ideas, and backgrounds. I’ve been able to pursue so many things that have made me well-rounded and a better person as well as a better student.
Favorite things about MCB: My brain has always liked understanding how something works, whether this is opening up a piano or putting together a PC. MCB allows me to explore and understand in this way. It feels like a puzzle that you get to put further together with each class you take. It allows you to dig deeper into processes that happen around us everyday.

Justus Omowumi

Name: Justus Omowumi
Preferred Pronouns: He, him, his
Year in School: Sophomore
Major(s): Neuroscience
Hobbies/Activities: I enjoy playing soccer, reading books, hanging out with friends, and playing video games.
Favorite Place to Study: Grainger Library
Favorite Restaurant in Champaign/Urbana: Neil St. Blues
Why you chose the U of I: I chose UIUC because it had one of the top pre-med programs in the state. I enjoyed the energy of the Illini band and I LOVED the campus when I visited. I had a feeling that I would be challenged at UIUC and I wasn't wrong. Also, it was the perfect distance from home.
Favorite things about MCB: Being a neuroscience major has allowed me to take classes that address subjects I'm interested in. I like the fact that my major is competitive and I haven't had a chance to slack off because of that. I love being a neuroscience major because I get to dabble into the world of chemistry, physics, and biology with great increase in knowledge and appreciation for science.

headshot of Mohammad Rashdan

Name: Mohammad Rashdan
Preferred Pronouns: He, him, his
Year in School: Junior
Major(s): MCB 
Minor (s): Psychology
Certificate: EMT
Hobbies/Activities: Spikeball, Ping pong
Favorite Place to Study: Everitt Lab
Favorite Restaurant in Champaign/Urbana: Shawarma Joint
Why you chose the U of I: I chose UIUC for its diversity because I wanted to be surrounded by people from different backgrounds and cultures. I believe that interacting with individuals who have different perspectives and life experiences will broaden my horizons and help me become a more well-rounded person. I knew that I would be able to form lasting friendships with people whom I could share life experiences with for years to come.
Favorite things about MCB: As an MCB major, I love the depth and breadth of scientific knowledge I'm gaining. I enjoy the challenge of tackling complex problems and discovering how biological systems work. I also appreciate the sense of community among MCB students and the opportunities to conduct research and gain practical experience in the field.

headshot of Ramiya Shanmugam

Name: Ramiya Shanmugam
Preferred Pronouns: She, her, hers
Year in School: Junior
Major(s): MCB
Minor (s): Public Health
Hobbies/Activities: I love to dance, play the violin, volunteer, watch some of my favorite TV shows, and hang out with my friends in my free time.
Favorite Place to Study: Campus Instructional Facility
Favorite Restaurant in Champaign/Urbana: Cowboy Monkey
Why you chose the U of I: I chose UIUC for many reasons. I knew it offered many opportunities to help me prepare for my career, I heard it had an amazing social life, and I heard MCB was challenging and rewarding due to the complexity of the classes.
Favorite things about MCB: I love how the major studies the detail of the fundamental unit of life. We learn each of those details and somehow piece it together to learn about an organism as a whole in terms of properties and function.

Tyler Stritzel

Name: Tyler Stritzel
Preferred Pronouns: He/him/his
Year in School: Junior
Major(s): MCB
Minor (s): Public Health
Hobbies/Activities: On campus, I am one of the Clinic Managers at Avicenna Community Health Center, which is a clinic in Champaign that provides access to free healthcare to individuals in our community. I am also the Membership Chair of Alpha Epsilon Delta, which is a pre-health professional fraternity for students on campus. I also work as a Healthcare Tech at Carle Foundation Hospital in the Float Pool. I plan to apply to Physician Assistant school in April of 2025. In my free time, I enjoy hiking, playing and watching volleyball, thrifting, and spending time with friends and family.
Favorite Place to Study: Grainger 3rd Floor Cubicles
Favorite Restaurant in Champaign/Urbana: Thai Fusion
Why you chose the U of I: I chose UIUC because I wanted to surround myself with individuals who wanted to push themself in an academic context while simultaneously having a vibrant social life and so much to do around campus. Every student at UIUC has such an interesting background and story, so every conversation I've had with my peers has been nothing short of interesting.
Favorite things about MCB: My favorite thing about MCB is that the major lays a solid foundation for a variety of career paths while constantly integrating the new advances in our field into our classes. MCB keeps up with ground-breaking science while using the groundwork of molecular and cellular biology to guide these discussions.

headshot of Natalie Taylor

Name: Natalie Tayler
Preferred Pronouns: She, her, hers
Year in School: Senior
Major(s): MCB 
Minor (s): Psychology
Certificate (s): Neuroscience
Hobbies/Activities: I am on the executive board of the UIUC Pre-Genetic Counseling Club, work as an LAS 101 Intern, and am a member of the DRES Student Advisory Committee. I also play trumpet in the University Band. In my free time, I enjoy cooking, playing tennis, working out, and watching TV shows.
Favorite Place to Study: Grainger Library
Favorite Restaurant in Champaign/Urbana: Just Bee Acai 
Why you chose the U of I: I chose UIUC because I would be able to explore my interests both academically and personally through the wide range of opportunities and resources available to me here. UIUC offered a strong MCB curriculum and I knew that I would learn from amazing faculty. Plus, as an in-state student, I can study at a great school without being too far away from my family.
Favorite things about MCB: Biology is fascinating, and I am often surprised by how applicable everything I learn is to my future career as a genetic counselor. I have been taught by accomplished professors who have given me support and motivation throughout my time at UIUC. I love that the curriculum allows me to explore neuroscience through my advanced courses, and the MCB department offers many unique classes that would be difficult to find at other universities.