Diversity in Life Science Programs

The Keystone Symposia Fellows Program

Fellows Class of 2013-2014

Melinda AldrichMelinda Aldrich, Ph.D., MPH

Dr. Melinda Aldrich is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Thoracic Surgery and Division of Epidemiology at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Aldrich received her MPH in Epidemiology/Biostatistics in 2003 and her PhD in Epidemiology in 2007 from the University of California, Berkeley. She joined the faculty at Vanderbilt University in 2010 after completing a postdoctoral fellowship in Genetic and Molecular Epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Aldrich has established a research program focused on identifying genetic and environmental risk factors for complex pulmonary diseases, including lung cancer and COPD, with an emphasis on understanding racial/ethnic differences in disease. Diverse perspectives at the bench bring together wide-ranging experiences and insights that result in scientific advancement and innovation that is more than the sum of its parts.

Amanda BrownAmanda Brown, Ph.D.

After receiving her B.S. in Biochemistry from the University of California Riverside, Dr. Amanda Brown obtained a PhD in Microbiology/Immunology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, she moved to the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine where she is an Assistant Professor studying the role of macrophages in HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders. She believes that what we see, hear, and learn is filtered through our culture, environment, and experiences. With people at the bench from different backgrounds, we can more accurately see all dimensions of a problem, harnessing the capacity for innovation from everyone.

Vinicio de Jesus PerezVinicio de Jesus Perez, M.D.

Dr. Vinicio A. de Jesus Perez obtained his MD at the University of Puerto Rico in 2000 followed by Internal Medicine training at Massachusetts General Hospital. He continued subspecialty training in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine first at the University of Colorado in Denver and then at Stanford University where he developed an interest in pulmonary hypertension (PH) research. Over the past three years, he has transitioned from being a postdoctoral fellow to assistant professor in the Stanford University Department of Medicine. His research centers on elucidating the genetic and molecular mechanisms that regulate pulmonary angiogenesis in health and disease. Diversity is critical to problem solving in science as it provides many angles and a wealth of options to attack a given problem. It also opens the doors to collaborations that will nurture and increase the success of the project as well as aid in the career development of young investigators.

Senta GeorgiaSenta Georgia, Ph.D.

Senta Georgia is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at USC. She earned her BS from Stanford University and her Ph.D. at UCLA. Her previous studies focused on cell cycle molecules during the establishment, expansion, and maintenance of beta cell mass. During her junior professorship at the Hillblom Islet Research Center, she studied the role of DNA methylation in the differentiation of pancreatic progenitor cells and in the maintenance of beta cell identity. Currently, her lab focuses on cellular reprogramming with the goal of generating new beta cells as a potential therapeutic for patients with diabetes. Being at the bench is just like being at the boardroom; having people from diverse backgrounds expands the perspectives available to think about data, insights, problems, and solutions.

Curtis HenryCurtis Henry, Ph.D.

Dr. Curtis J. Henry received his B.S. in Molecular Biology from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in 2003 and his Ph.D. in Immunology from Wake Forest University in 2008. Dr. Henry then joined Dr. James DeGregori at the University of Colorado AMC as a postdoctoral fellow and was promoted to Research Instructor in 2012. He currently focuses on understanding the impact of age on hematopoiesis and how these aging-associated alterations promote leukemia. Dr. Henry believes that the only way to successfully combat the vast malignancies we face is to have an equally diverse group of individuals tackling critical scientific issues.

Glenn RoweGlenn Rowe, Ph.D.

Dr. Glenn C. Rowe received his B.S. in Biology from Brandeis University and his Ph.D. in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology from Yale University. Dr. Rowe is currently a Instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School where his research interest focuses on understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying metabolism in the cardiovascular system. Dr. Rowe believes that by increasing both hands-on research opportunities and peer-to-peer mentoring this will have a positive effect on diversity. He also believes that by increasing diversity at the bench will have a "trickle-up" effect on diversity within the biomedical research community as a whole.

Fellows Class of 2012-2013

Sharilyn AlmodovarSharilyn Almodovar, Ph.D.

Dr. Sharilyn Almodovar was born, raised, and educated in Ponce, Puerto Rico. She received her B.S. in General Sciences in 2000 from the Pontifical Catholic University in Ponce and her Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences at the Ponce School of Medicine in 2006. After completing a 3-year postdoctoral fellowship in Cardiovascular Pulmonary Research at the University of Colorado Denver, she is now serving as Assistant Professor in the Division of Pulmonary Sciences and Critical Care Medicine since 2010. Dr. Almodovar has been awarded with a Loan Repayment Program in Clinical Research in 2008, a Research Supplement to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research in 2009 and a Mentored Career Development Award to Promote Faculty Diversity in Biomedical Research in 2010, all supported by NIH/NHLBI. Her research focuses on the evolution of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) genes in the context of Pulmonary Hypertension. One of her perspectives about Diversity in Sciences is that letting under-represented minorities complete short research projects in the laboratory as undergraduates provide them with valuable outreach opportunities that are more likely to end up increasing Diversity in Life Sciences at the graduate level. This may be accomplished by active and assertive inter-discipline and inter-institutional networking.

Magdia DeJesusMagdia DeJesus, Ph.D.

Dr. Magdia De Jesus received her B.A. in the Biological Sciences from New York University in 2001. She then conducted research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine as a PREP scholar from 2001-2003. Dr. De Jesus then obtained her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 2009. In 2009, she joined the Wadsworth Center, New York State Department of Health as a CDC-APHL Postdoctoral Fellow to participate in infectious disease outbreak investigations. In 2011, she received the HHMI-Life Sciences Research Foundation Fellowship to continue her studies in mucosal immunology and vaccine delivery vehicles. Dr. De Jesus considers herself a product of pipeline mentorship. She currently takes part in the advisory committee for the research experience for undergraduates (REU) Program at the Wadsworth Center. She is also a member of the Junior Advisory Committee for the American Society for Microbiology(ASM).

Joaquin LugoJoaquin Lugo, Ph.D.

Dr. Joaquin Lugo received his Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from the University of South Carolina-Columbia. He then pursued his postdoctoral training in the department of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine under the mentorship of Dr. Anne Anderson. He is currently an assistant professor in the department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Baylor University. Dr. Lugo's primary interest is in investigating behavioral outcomes due to epilepsy and the molecular mechanisms that underlie these changes. Dr. Lugo is also interested in the role of dendritic ion channels in synaptic plasticity.

Dwain Morris-IrvinDwain Morris-Irvin, PhD, MPH

Dr. Dwain Morris-Irvin received his B.A. in Natural Sciences at The Johns Hopkins University, his Master's in Public Health, at UCLA School of Public Health, Environmental Health Sciences, and his doctorate at UCLA School of Medicine, Department of Molecular & Medical Pharmacology. His doctoral dissertation focused on Notch-DSL signaling in mammalian neural progenitors. Dr. Morris-Irvin performed his postdoctoral work as an NIH postdoctoral fellow at Lund University, Wallenberg Neuroscience Center in Sweden, under the supervision of Dr. Anders Bjorklund. His postdoctoral research focused on manipulation of ventral midbrain progenitors/stem cell fate using viral gene delivery to promote dopaminergic cell fates for cell replacement therapy in Parkinson's disease. Dr. Morris-Irvin is currently an Assistant Professor/Research Scientist II in the Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. His current research focuses on developing novel immunotherapy against glioblastoma multiforme and other brain tumors. His laboratory focuses on therapy resistant glioma cells, also referred to as cancer stem cells, to identify novel therapeutic targets for immunotherapy. He is also interested in the role of adaptive immunity in Parkinson's disease.

Digna R. Velez EdwardsDigna R. Velez Edwards, Ph.D.

Dr. Digna R. Velez Edwards is a genetic epidemiologist and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Velez Edwards received her Ph.D. in Human Genetics (2008) and Masters in Applied Statistics at Vanderbilt University (2007) with subsequent postdoctoral training in human genetics at the University of Miami (2008-2009). She has established a research program focused on genetic and environment risk factors associated with women's health and reproductive outcomes. Since the start of her faculty appointment Dr. Velez Edwards has developed and coordinated a repository of biospecimens from participants in the Right from the Start pregnancy cohort to be used for genetic epidemiology studies examining reproductive health complications and risk for adverse pregnancy outcomes. She has several ongoing research projects utilizing this resource, as well as large clinical databases that link clinical information to DNA. These studies focus on understanding the racial and/or ethnic disparities in genetic risk for several complex diseases including preterm birth, miscarriage, uterine fibroids, and pelvic organ prolapse.


Fellows Class of 2011-2012

Blythe JanowiakBlythe Janowiak, Ph.D.

Dr. Blythe Janowiak received her B.A. in Chemistry and Biological Sciences in 2000 from DePauw University and her Ph.D. in Biochemistry at the Medical College of Wisconsin in 2005. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at Harvard Medical School, she joined the faculty of Saint Louis University as an Assistant Professor of Biology in 2010. Her research focuses on the role of bacterial antioxidants as potential new drug targets in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. She believes that having a laboratory composed of individuals with diverse backgrounds greatly enriches the scholarly, cultural, and social activities both inside and outside the lab.

Frederick GregoryFrederick Gregory, Ph.D.

Frederick Gregory is a postdoctoral scholar in Molecular Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Iowa. He earned a B.S. in Biology from Morehouse College and a Ph.D. in Neurobiology from UCLA. During the first phase of his postdoctoral training he was a science teaching and curriculum development fellow at Emory University. Currently, Dr. Gregory is investigating the regulatory mechanisms controlling Ca2+ channels in inner hair cells from the mouse cochlea. He believes that diverse approaches and people are required to elucidate the answers to the mysteries of life and our physical world. Multiple perspectives allow us to conceptualize problems in a way that permit finding the most creative solutions.

Kelly Jean Thomas CraigKelly Jean Thomas Craig, Ph.D.
Dr. Kelly Jean Thomas Craig received her Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from Georgetown University in 2009, studying mitochondrial dysfunction in Parkinson's disease in the laboratory of neurogenetics at the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Saccomanno Research Institute at St. Mary's Hospital and Regional Medical Center investigating the role of mitochondria in the initiation and progression of lung cancer, she joined the faculty of Colorado Mesa University as an Assistant Professor in the biological sciences department in 2012. Her research focuses on mitochondrial dysfunction and its relationship to disease etiology. Her labs supports undergraduates from diverse backgrounds interested in pursuing biomedical research and she strives to help advance the goals and careers of her students.
Lydia ContrerasLydia Contreras, Ph.D.

Dr. Lydia M. Contreras was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and arrived in New York City in October of 1991. She obtained a B.S.E. in Chemical Engineering from Princeton University in 2003 and completed her PhD in Chemical Engineering from Cornell University in 2008, focusing on engineering bacterial cells for improved production of therapeutic proteins. In 2008, she joined the Wadsworth Research Center (New York State Department of Health) as an NIH Postdoctoral Fellow, where she worked on understanding mechanisms of infection in pathogenic bacteria. In January 2011, Dr. Contreras joined the Chemical Engineering Department at the University of Texas at Austin as an assistant professor to conduct fundamental research in the areas of RNA characterization and RNA-protein chemistry. Dr. Contreras has received several recognitions, most recently including a 2009 FASEB Postdoctoral Award, a Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) Young Investigator (2011-2013), and named as an Innovative Early-Career Frontiers of Engineering Educator (2011). She believes that enhancing diversity is essential to provide the types of creative solutions that are needed to solve complex and interesting problems in biology.

Manu PlattManu Platt, Ph.D.

Dr. Manu Platt earned his BS in Biology from Morehouse College in 2001 and a Ph.D. from Georgia Tech and Emory University's joint Biomedical Engineering program in 2006. After postdoctoral work at MIT, he returned to Georgia Tech/Emory as an assistant professor in 2009. There, his lab studies proteolytic mechanisms of sickle cell disease, HIV-mediated cardiovascular disease, and cancer metastasis with computational and experimental models. These diseases disproportionately affect minority populations which underscore Dr. Platt's belief in diversity at the bench to solve health disparities with unique perspectives. His work is funded by NIH Director's New Innovator Award, International AIDS Society, and Georgia Cancer Coalition.


Fellows Class of 2010-2011

Alexis StranahanAlexis M. Stranahan, Ph.D.

Alexis M. Stranahan received her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Princeton University and continued her training as a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University before beginning an assistant professorship in the Department of Physiology at the Medical College of Georgia. She is a Ford Foundation Fellow and has received several awards, including the C.J. Herrick Young Investigator Award through the American Association of Anatomists, and an Early Researcher Award from the American Psychological Association. Her research interests are in the areas of neuroendocrinology, synaptic plasticity, and the neuroscience of aging. Just as neurons exhibit neurochemical, morphological, and functional heterogeneity, the process of generating new knowledge benefits from the participation of individuals from diverse backgrounds. In this regard, broadening access to research careers promotes excellence across all scientific fields.

Caren Petrie AroninCaren Petrie Aronin, Ph.D.

Dr. Petrie Aronin received her B.S. in Chemical Engineering and Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering both from the University of Virginia. In 2008 following her graduate studies with Dr. Edward Botchwey, she spent one year as an intramural postdoctoral research fellow at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases with Dr. Rocky Tuan. Currently, she is continuing her postdoctoral work under Dr. Ronald Germain in National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. Dr. Petrie Aronin's primary research interests combine the fields of immunology and bioengineering to design new therapeutic strategies for regenerative medicine applications.

Jonathan DeaneJonathan A. Deane, Ph.D.

Jonathan Deane is a Research Investigator at the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation (GNF). After Ph.D. training in immunology and signal transduction at the University of California, Irvine, he moved to the NIH to study innate immunity, particularly looking at nucleic acid-sensing molecules. In 2008, he began running a research group at GNF, where his group is exploring ways to target innate immunity for therapeutic purposes. He is convinced that for science to progress to its fullest, a diverse set of backgrounds, perspectives, and approaches must be brought to the table and incorporated into the scientific community.

Marcus JonesMarcus B. Jones, Ph.D.

Dr. Marcus B. Jones is an Assistant Professor within the Infectious Disease and Genomic Medicine groups at JCVI, where he specializes in a wide variety of gene expression and biomarker discovery studies. His scientific research focuses on employing "omics" technologies to understand various human disease, microbial infection models and the evolution of antibiotic resistance. He measures changes in human, mouse and bacterial gene expression in various infection models to understand how bacteria cause infections and how the immune system responds to invading microbial pathogens. Dr. Jones also utilizes next generation sequencing technologies to characterize the role of the human microbiome as it relates to human disease.

Dr. Jones received his bachelor's degree at Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, LA in 2000. He received his M.S. and Ph.D. in Microbiology in the laboratory of Dr. Martin J. Blaser in The Sackler Institute at New York University School of Medicine. Dr. Jones did his postdoctoral training at The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) from 2005-2006 in the Pathogen Functional Genomics Resource Center (PFGRC) prior to joining the JCVI. Dr. Jones was the recipient of the UNCF/Merck Graduate Dissertation Fellowship and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation Graduate Fellowship.

Tracie LocklearTracie Locklear, Ph.D.

Dr. Tracie Locklear is a proud member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. Dr. Locklear graduated from High Point University in 2001 with a B.S. in Biology/ minor in Chemistry. In 2008, she graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a Ph.D in Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy, with a focus on Ethnobotany. Currently, Dr. Locklear is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Illinois at Chicago and her research focuses on investigating medicinal and food plants of the Lumbee Tribe for breast cancer prevention. This work is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Health.


Fellows Class of 2009-2010

Dana CrawfordDana Crawford, Ph.D.

Dr. Crawford received her PhD in Genetics and Molecular Biology with Dr. Stephanie Sherman at Emory University in 2000. Following her graduate studies, she spent two years as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and in 2006, she joined the faculty of Vanderbilt University's Center for Human Genetics Research after a four-year postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Genome Sciences at the University of Washington with Dr. Deborah Nickerson. Dr. Crawford's primary research interests include the broad field of genetic association studies to identify genetic variations associated with human complex diseases or traits. Dana Crawford is Hispanic.

Jameel DennisJameel Dennis, Ph.D.

I am a postdoctoral fellow at Virginia Commonwealth University. I earned my Baccalaureate of Arts degree in Philosophy and Doctorate of Philosophy degree in Neuroscience from the University of Virginia. My previous research projects focused on mitochondrial dysfunction in Parkinsonism and extracellular matrix dependent inflammation in renal fibrosis. I am currently investigating oligodendrocyte morphogenesis during Central Nervous System development. My diverse training experience has been an invaluable asset that has enriched the quality of my research and perspective of scientific investigation. Similarly, I believe cultural diversity in scientific research also combines unique experiences essential for the advancement of science. Jameel Dennis is African American.

Dana-Lynn KoomoaDana-Lynn Koomoa, Ph.D.

Dana-Lynn T. Koomoa is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Cancer Research Center of Hawai'i. She received her Ph.D. from the Department of Molecular Pharmacology, Physiology and Biotechnology at Brown University, in the Spring of 2005. Her current research interests include investigating the Malignant Progression of Neuroblastoma. She believes that increasing diversity in Science is important because bringing people with diverse perspectives together will drive innovation and enhance Bio-Medical and Life science research. Furthermore, she feels that increasing diversity in science will result in more role models and mentors for underrepresented trainee students who may be interested in science. Dana-Lynn Koomoa is Native Hawaiian.

Fatima RivasFatima Rivas, Ph.D.

Fatima comes from a Salvadorian immigrant family and believes that she adds a different perspective to her research as a Hispanic woman. Fatima attended Huntington Park High School and obtained her BS in chemistry from CSUDH. She earned her doctorate degree in 2006 from UCSD and attributes much of her success to programs such as USTAR (NIGMS), which played an important role in her decision to go to graduate school. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow at TSRI working in the Nicolaou laboratory. Her current research areas are total synthesis of natural products and drug design. Fatima Rivas is Hispanic.

David WilsonDavid R. Wilson, Ph.D.

David Wilson is a Native American molecular immunologist who graduated from Arizona State University and is currently at the NIH investigating the biological functions of the SIRT6 enzyme. He was raised on the Navajo Nation reservation and strives to encourage younger Native generations into pursuing careers in science. Diversity at the bench gives rise to diverse ideas pushing towards a common goal. Collections of ideas then enable research groups to choose which ideas best fits the laboratories needs such as cost, time, man power, novelty of design etc.


Fellows Class of 2008-2009

Cherié L. Butts, Ph.D.

Dr. Butts is Associate Director of Immunology Research at Biogen Idec (Cambridge, MA). Her research interests include how factors produced in the microenvironment - including steroid hormones - impact immunity during disease. Dr. Butts' interest in immunology was inspired during her undergraduate and master's degree tenure at The Johns Hopkins University. Her pre-doctoral studies at UT MD Anderson Cancer Center furthered this interest and focused on characterizing anti-tumor immune responses in patients with epithelial ovarian cancer. Seeing a connection between steroid hormone effects on immunity and their impact on disease development, Dr. Butts conducted postdoctoral studies at the National Institutes of Health studying hormonal regulation of immunity. She continued this work at the US Food & Drug Administration and also took on responsibilities of evaluating drug and biologics applications. In her current position, Dr. Butts brings together her scientific expertise and drug/biologics review experience to facilitate movement of drug products through the pipeline for treatments against autoimmune diseases and fibrotic conditions.

De'Broski R. Herbert, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor Cincinnati Childrens Research Foundation, University of Cincinnati School of Medicine
Research Area: Immunoparasitology and Mucosal Immunology Macrophages
Nicole LaRonde-LeBlanc, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
University of Maryland
Dept. of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Research Area: Structural Biology of Ribosome Biogenesis