Mercedes Florez Memorial Research Fund

The Mercedes Florez Memorial Research Fund provides funding to graduate students from the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Wayne State University or Eastern Michigan University for research on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias, with a specific focus on serving the Latinx community.


Maria Mercedes Florez

Maria Mercedes Florez

Maria Mercedes Florez was living in Cuba when her husband was killed in a car accident, leaving her behind with two young children. The country had just witnessed the end of the Cuban Revolution, which placed Fidel Castro at the helm, and Mercedes Florez knew she had to get out. With one small suitcase and $50, she embarked on a journey that, thanks to two generations of powerful women, will now be immortalized in the field of Alzheimer’s Disease research.

Maria Mercedes Florez and Cecilia Votta in 1995

Maria Mercedes Florez and Cecilia Votta in 1995

In the Summer of 2019, Cecilia Votta, a PhD student in the University of Michigan’s clinical psychology program, and her mother, Maria Martinez, came together to celebrate the woman who made their successes possible. After a life of hard work, bravery, and kindness, Mercedes Florez, beloved grandmother to Votta and mother to Martinez, passed away this year after a battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. In her honor, Votta and Martinez decided to make a gift to the Michigan Center for Contextual Factors in Alzheimer’s Disease (MCCFAD) at the U-M Institute for Social Research to establish the Mercedes Florez Memorial Research Fund.

This gift to MCCFAD provides funding for research on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias, with a specific focus on serving the Latinx community. Votta was inspired to initiate this gift as a result of her work with members of the MCCFAD team. She says that when her family first began to struggle with the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, she reached out to Dr. Laura Zahodne, one of the center’s co-directors, to obtain resources. With help from MCCFAD, Votta was able to normalize the experiences of aging and dementia, and to lead her family through necessary, albeit difficult, end-of-life conversations. She recognizes that access to this kind of aging support is not a privilege shared by all, and hopes that her gift will ultimately help others to navigate these situations, as MCCFAD helped her.

MCCFAD is a collaborative effort between the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Wayne State University and Eastern Michigan University, located on the campuses of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University. MCCFAD is an Alzheimer;s disease Resource Center for Minority Aging Research (AD-RCMAR) funded by the National Institute on Aging. MCCFAD aims to foster and enhance innovative research in Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias with long term goals to advance relevant social and behavioral science research in underserved and underrepresented communities. MCCFAD also aims to diversify the research workforce dedicated to healthy aging.

The MCCFAD Mercedes Florez Memorial Research Fund provides grant funds of up to $10,000 to support research activities on ADRD in Latinx populations. Funds may be used to:

  1. support/carry out novel pilot studies
  2. facilitate Latinx community relationship building for research activities,
  3. or supplement ongoing research projects to better address Latinx community needs around ADRD, including preparation and/or production.

Mercedes Florez Memorial Fund Awardee:

Emily FloresEmily Flores was a 2023 Next Generation Awardee, the recipient of the Mercedes Florez Memorial Research Fund, and a third-year doctoral student in the Psychology Department at Wayne State University. She would like to share an update on the impact the award has made over the past year.

How did the award you received impact your career? Receiving the award has significantly impacted my career in several ways.

Receiving the award has significantly impacted my career in several ways. First, it has provided me with the opportunity to network with colleagues in the Latin community who are also engaged in related work. This networking has been invaluable for sharing ideas and expanding my professional circle. Since the start of my study in August, the award has served as a natural conversation starter, enabling me to connect with well-established senior colleagues. This has been instrumental in fostering mentorship opportunities and gaining insights from experienced professionals in the field.

Moreover, the recognition of my work through this award has generated enthusiasm and support from those who hear about it. This encouragement has been uplifting and has motivated me to push further in my research endeavors. Additionally, the award has led to invitations and opportunities, such as speaking engagements, which have allowed me to confidently speak about my area of research to public audiences. Conducting the research thus far has provided an excellent opportunity to apply my skills in research and psychometrics. This hands-on experience has enhanced my proficiency in translational research, experimental design, and participant recruitment, contributing significantly to my professional development.

Are there any updates on your academic career or your current academic activities?

Currently, I’m in the third year of my program, where I’m immersed in both academic and practical aspects of my field. As I get ready to enter fourth year, my focus is on preparing for the qualifying exam, which is scheduled for the end of this summer. This exam is a crucial milestone in my academic journey, requiring extensive studying and preparation to demonstrate mastery of the material and readiness to advance to proposing my dissertation, which I plan to be an extension of this research. Therefore, one of my utmost priorities is to continue data collection this summer. Alongside exam preparation and data collection, I’m also finishing up my first year of clinical practicum at a local hospital. This applied experience has been invaluable in applying textbook material to real-world scenarios and honing my clinical skills. Balancing the demands of coursework, my research, and practicum has been challenging but incredibly rewarding. Each aspect of my training is complementing the other, allowing me to grow both academically and professionally. As I progress in my career, I’m excited to continue this journey of learning and development, with a focus on becoming a competent and compassionate researcher and clinician in the field.

What are your future academic plans?

My future academic plans are deeply intertwined with my current research study and my passion for making meaningful contributions to the field. I plan to expand on my current research study and develop it into my dissertation. This study has been a pivotal point in my academic journey, and I am excited to research deeper into its complexities and implications. Through this process, I aim to not only advance knowledge in the field but also contribute practical insights that can benefit practitioners and the communities they serve. Additionally, I am committed to disseminating the findings of this study once it’s completed. I see sharing the knowledge gained is essential for fostering dialogue, promoting best practices, and guiding future research endeavors. I envision presenting my findings at conferences and publishing in peer-reviewed journals. My experience with this study has not only inspired me to continue this line of work but has also deepened my motivation and determination. Through navigating the process of completing this study, I have identified gaps in the literature and gained insight into how to address them. I am motivated to fill these gaps and contribute to the advancement of the field. Additionally, I have built connections with experts in the field, and I am excited about possibly collaborating with them and leveraging their expertise as I embark on future research endeavors.

Are there any personal updates you would like to share?

I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the donors who made my award possible. Your support has had a profound impact on my academic and personal journey. I want to take this opportunity to share a personal update and let you know how your generosity has inspired me to pay it forward. Since receiving the award, I have made extra efforts to make a difference not only in my own life but also in the lives of others. I founded an organization at my school called LatinXcellence. LatinXcellence aims to empower and support Latinx students, providing resources, mentorship, and a sense of community. Through LatinXcellence, I’ve been able to connect with students who share similar backgrounds and experiences, and together, we’re working to overcome challenges and achieve our goals. Being part of this organization has been incredibly rewarding, and I’m proud of the impact we’re making on campus and in the community. Your generosity has fueled my passion for making a difference, and I am committed to continuing to motivate and empower people like me.