Mentor Immersion at PTY – Mentor Bios
Previous and Current Mentors
Emma Banks is a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Tennessee State University. She holds a PhD in Anthropology from Vanderbilt University. Her research focuses on how marginalized communities remake their social relations around coal mining. Since 2013, she has worked with Wayúu and Afro-descendant communities displaced by the Cerrejón Coal Mine in La Guajira, Colombia. As part of her ongoing commitment to social justice in the region, she is part of a network of solidarity activists that support local movements for a just post-coal future. When she’s not thinking about climate justice, she likes to play with her dogs and spend time on her small farm outside of Nashville.
Dr. Will Barbour is a research scientist at the Institute for Software Integrated Systems at Vanderbilt University. His broader research interests focus on the application of novel and advanced computational techniques to transportation systems; examples include big data analytics, machine learning, optimization, and artificial intelligence. He currently works on the I-24 MOTION testbed, seeking to establish a preeminent study area for automated vehicle technologies on an open roadway in Tennessee. Will’s other domain interests include pedestrian and cyclist accessibility, public transit planning, and transportation policy and equity.
Dr. Barbour received his Ph.D. in civil engineering from Vanderbilt University, an M.S. degree in sustainable and resilient infrastructure systems from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a B.S. in Biosystems Engineering from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He has previously worked at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and CSX Transportation.
Alyssa Baskam is a partner in Beasley Allen’s Atlanta, Georgia office. She became a trial lawyer so she could help people through unimaginable hardship and has been a part of several multi-million dollar verdicts. Alyssa attended the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies. She was a Public Service Scholar recipient, inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, and graduated in 2011 with honors. She earned her law degree from Emory Law School, where she graduated with honors in 2014. While at Emory, she was a member of the Emory Moot Court Society executive board and a national qualifier at the Saul Lefkowitz Moot Court Competition. She was also an executive member of the Emory Public Interest Committee. Alyssa is currently a member of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association (GTLA) where she serves as an Executive Committee member, Co-Chair of the New Lawyers Division, and is a member of the Women’s Caucus. She is an alumna of GTLA’s LEAD program, a highly competitive leadership program for select GTLA members identified as potential leaders in the field. She enjoys playing tennis, cooking, painting and hiking.
Co-mentors Delaney Beck and Kyle Blasinsky are Ph.D./J.D. Students in Vanderbilt Law School’s joint degree program in Law and Economics. Hailing from Bakersfield, California, Delaney studied math and economics at Wagner College in New York City where she earned her B.A./B.S. in Economics and Mathematics. While at Wagner, Delaney represented the Seahawks on the soccer field as a Division 1 scholar athlete. Over her academic career, Delaney interned for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) as a Financial Management Scholar serving as a paid Risk Management Intern in the San Francisco field office. While in New York City, she also held an internship with The Legal Aid Society-Juvenile Rights Department. Kyle, meanwhile, has spent the better part of his life in Cleveland, Ohio where he was born, raised, and attended John Carroll University. While at John Carroll he earned his B.S. in Interdisciplinary Physics while additionally studying economics and political science. Over his academic career, Kyle has had the opportunity to work with the American Institute of Physics, intern in the U.S. House of Representatives, and assist with novel disease detection research in physics. As he progresses toward graduation at Vanderbilt, he expects to continue his work across disciplines, examining energy and environmental policy through a legal and economic lens.
Alex Becker is a 4th-year PhD candidate in biomedical informatics at Vanderbilt University. He earned his master’s degree in the same field earlier this year. His academic journey began at the University of Cincinnati, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in biomedical engineering. While at the University of Cincinnati, Alex performed research at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in developmental biology (studying drug treatments in mouse models of Fragile X and Autism Spectrum Disorder) and imaging informatics (building predictive models using diffusion tensor and functional magnetic resonance imaging). He also worked in industry at Zimmer Biomet (remediating and testing orthopedic knee and ankle implants to meet FDA regulations) and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (managing collection, use, and analysis of bioreactor data for drug discovery research). At Vanderbilt University, Alex’s master’s thesis focused on electronic health record phenotyping and evaluating a suicide risk prediction model. His PhD work will focus on depression risk assessment and treatment stratification as well as the implementation of a shared decision-making tool for high-risk drug-drug interactions. Beyond his academic pursuits, Alex finds joy in hiking, photography, reading, and volunteering. Alex is currently pursuing a certificate in college teaching and has been involved with higher education through various roles, including teaching assistant, lab instructor, tutor, graduate assistant, and mentor for over eight years.
Morgan Beers is a 2nd year PhD student in Rhetoric, Composition and Literacy at The Ohio State University whose research areas include Digital Rhetoric and Public Rhetorics. As a digital rhetorician, Morgan is interested in examining how meaning is created within and through digital spaces with particular attention to how such meaning making holds larger implications for social justice, online communities (particularly minority communities), and the circulation of mis/disinformation. Some of her past and current projects include “Tumblr’s Adult Content Filter and Algorithmic Oppression,” “The Role of Social Media Misinformation during the COVID-19 Pandemic,” and most recently a pilot study titled, “COVID-19 and the Circulation of News Information on Social Media.” Morgan has worked with Vanderbilt’s Programs for Talented Youth in various positions over the past 5 years, including with Vanderbilt Summer Academy and PTY’s Online Academy. Morgan received a B.A. in English Literature and Writing from Lipscomb University in 2018 and an M.A. in English Literature from The University of Alabama in 2020.
Charreau Bell, Ph.D. is the Senior Data Scientist at the Data Science Institute (DSI) at Vanderbilt University. In her current role, she leads several data science projects across a spectrum of disciplines using machine learning and deep learning. She is a consultant for researchers and industry organizations to help them form, plan, evaluate, and reach their data-driven academic or business objectives. She also educates on data science topics, and strives to empower students, researchers, industry professionals, and others to responsibility, confidently, and ethically use data science to reach their academic and business goals. Prior to joining the DSI, she earned her Doctorate, Master’s, and Bachelor’s degrees in engineering from Vanderbilt University. She also taught computer science courses at Tennessee State University as an adjunct professor, and worked at NASA implementing machine learning and other optimization algorithms for robotic systems and instrument sensorization.
Laurel Bellocchio, PhD Candidate
Laurel is a 3rd year graduate student in the Chemistry Department at Vanderbilt University. Her research, under Dr. Sandy Rosenthal, utilizes nanoscience technology to better characterize mental health disorders on a molecular level. Specifically, she is interested in serotonin-linked mental health disorders (major depressive disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and anxiety disorders); part of her research includes understanding how membrane lipids interact with serotonergic transporters and receptors via lipidomics and super resolution microscopy techniques. She graduated from Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA with a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry with a mathematics minor. Mental health outreach is very important to her, as she has volunteered with NAMI Allegheny County and NAMI Davidson County. Laurel is also a Neurodiversity Inspired Science and Engineering (NISE) graduate fellow, which is a fellowship funded by the NSF and the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and baking, reading, watching sports, and spending time with her puppy Stella.
Dr. Kensey Bergdorf is currently a post-doctoral fellow in the Integrated Biological Systems Training in Oncology program and Vanderbilt Department of Pharmacology. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Immunology and Medical Microbiology and Bachelor of Multidisciplinary Studies (biology, leadership studies, political science) from West Virginia University in 2018. She then joined the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program at Vanderbilt and completed her PhD in pharmacology in March 2022. Her dissertation work with Dr. Vivian Weiss focused on identifying therapeutic candidates for anaplastic thyroid cancer, and her current work with Dr. Ann Richmond is aimed at refining immunotherapies for metastatic melanoma. Kensey is passionate about immuno-oncology, improving pre-clinical model systems, and multidisciplinary approaches to drug development. When she is not in the lab, she enjoys spending time with her husband and daughter, collecting houseplants, and playing with her two dogs and cat.
Kai Bracey is a PhD student in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology at Vanderbilt University. His research is centered on pancreatic beta-cell structure and insulin secretion. Kai graduated from Hampton University with his BS in 2014 and his master’s degree from Fisk University in 2016. Kai has trained numerous students in lab techniques and has been a special lecturer at both his prior institutions. Kai began teaching for PTY during the summer of 2022 and is now looking forward to his second stint with the PTY Mentor Immersion program. When Kai is not staring down at a microscope or writing his dissertation, he enjoys playing basketball, cooking, and woodworking. Kai also has an ever-growing collection of Jordans (his wife may say he has a shoe problem).
Kyle Brinker, J.D. Candidate
Kyle M. Brinker is a third-year student at Vanderbilt Law School, where he serves as Articles Editor on the Vanderbilt Law Review, and was a 2021 Summer Associate at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson in Washington DC. Previously, Kyle interned for a federal district judge in the Southern District of Texas and for the Committee on Ways and Means in the House of Representatives. He is originally from Columbia, Maryland and received his B.S. in Finance from the University of Maryland.
Pietra Bruni, Ph.D.
Dr. Pietra Bruni is currently a post-doctoral fellow in Clinical Health Psychology at VA Connecticut Healthcare System/ Yale School of Medicine. She specializes in developing, researching, and implementing biopsychosocial interventions for a Veteran population at the intersection of physical and mental health. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2015 with a BPhil/BS in Psychology and Film Studies, before joining the Department of Psychology at Vanderbilt University in 2017. Pietra recently earned her PhD in Clinical Psychological Science—her doctoral research broadly examined how emotion is felt in the body. As physical sensations are a central aspect of emotional experience, she investigated this connection via embodiment and interoception (the sense of the physiological condition of the body) across domains. She completed her pre-doctoral APA-accredited psychology internship residency at VA Boston Healthcare System/ Harvard Medical School in 2023, where her clinical work centered on geropsychology, trauma, and neurodevelopment in all life stages.
Pietra received a Certificate in College Teaching from Vanderbilt and has assisted in leading numerous college-level courses. She has even won awards for finding creative ways to teach science! Pietra has previously designed and taught numerous courses and mentorships to gifted students through PTY, ranging from Biology of the Brain to Neuroscience 101. She is passionate about learning and finding innovative ways to explain complex topics. In her free time, Pietra enjoys hiking, gardening, and exploring the New England coffee scene.
Dr. Carcia Carson currently works as a Medical Science Liaison within the Oncology division at Natera. She earned her PhD Biomedical Engineering Department at Vanderbilt University where she conducted cancer research in John T. Wilson’s Immuno-Engineering Laboratory. Her research focused on developing nanotechnology-based cancer vaccines designed to improve immune responses to clinically relevant immune checkpoint inhibitors. She was a leader in the Vanderbilt graduate student community, serving as Vice President of both the Graduate Student Council and the Organization for Black Graduate & Professional Students, and was a member of the Provost’s Women’s Advancement and Equity Council as well as the University’s Diversity Council. Carcia initiated new programs in each organization that immediately provided resources and guidance to many of her fellow graduate students. Outside of her lab coat successes, Dr. Carson devotes her time and skills to community services. Her mission is to empower, inspire, and motivate adolescents to study a field within the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) industry, making her dedication to her discipline even more valuable.
María López Cavestany is a 5th year PhD student in the department of Biomedical Engineering at Vanderbilt University. Originally from Madrid, Spain, María has also lived in Canada, Texas, and New York. She graduated from Stevens Institute of Technology with a B. Eng. in Biomedical Engineering and a minor in Social Sciences (Psychology and Sociology). In the lab, María is working on designing nanoparticles that target cancer cells in the bloodstream in order to prevent metastasis. Outside of work, María has many hobbies, including figure skating, hiking, salsa dancing, and hanging out with her dog, Kika!
Nicholas Chason is a PhD candidate at Vanderbilt University studying Astrophysics. He holds a BS in Physics with a minor in Disaster Science Management from Louisiana State University. His research focuses in data science and using Machine Learning models to investigate informative parameterizations explaining dark matter accumulation in cosmological simulations. When he’s not doing research, he enjoys CAD modeling and 3D-printing, learning jazz piano, and gardening.
Kofi Christie Is an ambitious researcher with an eye toward innovations that can improve the well-being of populations with limited access to essential resources. He is currently a postdoctoral research associate at the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment at Princeton University. Christie completed his Ph.D. in environmental engineering at Vanderbilt University, where he worked to expand our understanding of desalination processes via thermodynamic analysis and the investigation of interactions between wastewater constituents and polymeric materials. He holds a master’s degree in environmental engineering from Vanderbilt University and a bachelor’s degree in physics from Morehouse College. Christie is also the co-founder of a start-up company, C-Salt, which provides smart solutions for managing challenging wastewater generated at industrial facilities. Outside of science, Christie enjoys playing the bass guitar, rollerblading, and reading about economics and religion.
Christina Davis is a PhD candidate at Vanderbilt University studying Astrophysics. She holds a BS in both Math and Physics from Louisiana State University. Her research focuses on the evolution and interactions of galaxies in the universe using cosmological simulations. She is also invested in teaching physics, astronomy, and math at all levels, and loves finding creative ways to engage with students online. When she’s not doing and teaching science, she loves spending time with her dogs, making clothes, and riding bikes around the city.
Christine Dickason is a doctoral student in the Department of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations at Vanderbilt University, where she studies college access for underserved communities and high school counselors. She holds a B.A. in Public Policy Leadership from the University of Mississippi, and a master’s degree in Public Policy from George Washington University. Prior to Vanderbilt, Christine worked in Washington, D.C. in a variety of organizations, including the White House Office of the First Lady, the Government Accountability Office, the Center for American Progress, and the Global Development Incubator. In her free time, she enjoys anything related to cooking—from exploring local farmers’ markets to testing out new recipes—and trying to hit her annual Goodreads goal.
Carlina Duan is the author of the poetry collection I Wore My Blackest Hair (Little A, 2017). She currently teaches at the University of Michigan, where she is also a Ph.D. student in the Joint Program in English and Education. Carlina has received residencies and writing awards from Tin House, the Academy of American Poets, the Fulbright Program, Sundress Academy for the Arts, Narrative Magazine, the Hopwood Program, Signal Fire Arts, & more. In 2019, she received her M.F.A. in Poetry from Vanderbilt University, where she served as the Co-Editor-in-Chief of Nashville Review. Her second book of poems, Alien Miss, is forthcoming from the University of Wisconsin Press in the spring of 2021. Carlina has taught in-person and online creative writing courses for PTY Vanderbilt for the past three years. In her free time, she loves biking, baking sweet breads, and (re)watching Hayao Miyazaki films.
Devaki “Dini” Chandra has worked at the Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG) at UC Berkeley for the last ten years in the summer. She holds a Ph.D. in economics and has taught Math as well as Economics in this program. She enjoys teaching because she sees young people as a big part of the solution to the problems we face world-wide. Youth engagement with the older generation can lead to practical as well as innovative solutions. Different communities and by extension, different countries, can approach a given problem with a solution that satisfies its specific needs.
Dini currently is teaching Math courses at SIG this July at UC Berkeley. She will be joining the Vanderbilt community as her husband will be is the Dean of Basic Sciences at the Vanderbilt Medical School starting next spring.
Jamisha D Francis is a PhD candidate in the Pathology, Microbiology, and Immunology program at Vanderbilt University. Originally from the US Virgin Islands, she moved to Nashville in 2018 to pursue her PhD in the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program. Jamisha currently works in the Gaddy laboratory where the main focuses of the lab is Group B Streptococcus and metal homeostasis. Jamisha is the president elect of the Organization of Black Graduate and Professional Students; she is also an active member for the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development. In both programs, Jamisha has implemented new group programs and initiatives for both student development and success by fostering connections at Vanderbilt and in the greater Nashville area. Outside of the lab, Jamisha enjoys cooking, drawing, painting, and exploring nature.
Kelley-Frances Fenelon is a PhD candidate in Vanderbilt’s Community Research and Action program and a content creator and consultant on moral professional leadership and organizational social impact. Her research explores how more equitable, inclusive, and just communities are created when people and organizations leverage their power and resources for change, and her work focuses on equipping individuals and organizations to do just that. Her current projects include a qualitative study of a business-based social movement for LGBTQ inclusion and a quantitative analysis of the contexts and characteristics driving Fortune 500 adoption of environmental, social, and governance reporting and LGBTQ-affirming policies. Her consulting work prioritizes discerning organizational purpose and values and identifying and expanding positive social impact. Kelley-Frances holds an M.S. and M.T.S from Vanderbilt University and a B.A from Princeton University.
Margret “Maggie” Fye is a 4th year Ph.D. student in cell and developmental biology at Vanderbilt University. She received her B.S. in physiology from the University of Arizona in 2019, along with a minor in studio art. Maggie’s work at Vanderbilt in Dr. Irina Kaverina’s lab centers around understanding the normal cell biology of pancreatic beta cells to better understand diabetes. Her dissertation project utilizes high resolution microscopy to determine the role that the microtubule cytoskeleton plays in insulin secretion. Maggie has been involved in science outreach for K-12 since 2018 and is passionate about educating others about the human body, science, and diabetes. Outside of the lab, Maggie enjoys painting and crafting, reading, gaming, and exploring Nashville restaurants (ideally with her puppy, Rory!).
Nicolette Granata is a PhD candidate in Developmental Science at Vanderbilt University. Nicolette also attended Vanderbilt as an undergraduate, graduating with a double-major in Child Development, Psychology, and a minor in Special Education. Nicolette has always been passionate about improving the inclusion and acceptance of children with differences, and she believes research is her tool to do so! Nicolette’s research is focused on children’s concepts of disability, judgments of behaviors produced by persons with disabilities, and how disability labels and acquisition affect how fundamental both children AND adults think persons’ disabilities are to their identity. Nicolette is extremely passionate about teaching, especially in a mentorship style, such as the PTY Mentor Immersion. She hopes her love for learning and passion for creative thinking inspires you to pursue your own scientific goals and dreams. When she’s not thinking science, she’s at various fitness studios around Nashville or spending time with her beloved dog Lola – a COVID-19 quarantine rescue from Nashville Humane Association.
Candace Janine Grisham is a third year MD/PhD student who is focusing on cancer research in the biomedical engineering department at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. She completed her master’s in medical science from Boston University School of Medicine and her Bachelor of Engineering from Vanderbilt University.
During her time as an undergraduate student at Vanderbilt University, Candace was the Vanderbilt cheerleading captain, Vice President of the Eta Beta Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., and an active member of the National Society of Black Engineers. Currently as a student at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine she is the president of First-Generation MDs and the MAPS Liaison of the Student National Medical Association. She is also a committee member of the Vanderbilt MSTP Anti Racism Diversity and Inclusion Council.
Upon completion of her MD/PhD program, she intends to specialize in Neurosurgery. Candace has published several studies pertaining to neurology and neurosurgery.
Dr. Erika Grundstrom loves sharing the wonder of the universe with everyone young and old and has done so for 13 years with Programs for Talented Youth. She is the director of astronomy labs and outreach in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Vanderbilt University, and her research combines interests in massive stars, spectroscopy, and astronomy education. She received a Ph.D. from Georgia State University in 2007. Education and outreach have brought her (and often an inflatable planetarium) into schools throughout the Nashville region as well as provided opportunities to develop and teach curriculum for fifth-, sixth-, and ninth-grade students. Outside the classroom she loves to play with her husband and two young sons, partner dance, play sand volleyball, and travel.
Christopher Hansen is completing his PhD in Pharmacology at Vanderbilt University. His work focuses on using novel nanomedical applications in treating preterm labor. Christopher received his Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and his Bachelor of Arts in French from Belmont University in 2019. Though when he started at Belmont, he was an avid dancer with hopes of pursuing a career in theatre and dance. As his passions shifted, he entered academia and discovered a new love for science, medicine, and education. He has worked in academic research for three years and has had an amazing time mentoring a number of undergraduate students. Aside from benchtop research and mentorship, Christopher enjoys public speaking and sharing his passion for women’s health. He has given numerous research talks, TA-ed many courses, presented at national conferences, and now mentors students in scientific writing and presentation. Outside of the classroom, Christopher enjoys gaming, playing with his dogs, baking, and traveling.
Sydney Henriques is originally from Stuart’s Draft, VA where she went to the University of Virginia for her undergraduate degree. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering and is currently a third year PhD student at Vanderbilt in Todd Giorgio’s lab in the Biomedical Engineering department. Her research focus includes biomaterial development for cancer immunotherapy. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, and crocheting!
Dr. Hollister currently works as an Academic Program Specialist for the Genetics & Genomics PhD program at the University of Florida Genetics Institute. She earned her PhD in Human Genetics at Vanderbilt University and completed her postdoctoral training at the National Human Genome Research Institute in the National Institutes of Health. Her research has focused on how genes and environment interact to affect common diseases like high blood pressure as well as how genetic information impacts and is used by groups such as parents and medical students. She is incredibly passionate about genetics education and has taught numerous courses to all different levels of students as well as contributed to community events focused on promoting genetics education.
Anna is a 4th year PhD Candidate in the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Department of Biochemistry. Her dissertation is focused on understanding the mechanisms by which dysregulated transcription factors promote disease in acute myeloid leukemias. Anna completed her undergraduate work at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA, where she worked as a teaching assistant for molecular biology, chemistry, and mathematics courses. When not in the lab, Anna can be found in one of Nashville’s lovely parks or embarking on an overly ambitious culinary adventure.
Dr. John P. Koch is a Senior Lecturer and Director of Debate in the Department of Communication Studies. He has a Ph.D. in Communication Studies, with an emphasis in rhetoric, from Wayne State University. John Koch uses a wide range of methods to understand and explain political and policy debates. He is interested in political campaign debates, presidential debates, policy debates and presidential rhetoric. His research is guided by the question of how we can improve citizenship practices and debates within our political culture. He currently serves as the chair of National Communication Association’s Argumentation and Forensics Division. His research has appeared in various publications on academic debate, presidential debates, and presidential rhetoric. He has also been published or quoted in various news publications. Currently, he serves as the Director of Debate of Vanderbilt’s internationally renowned and award-winning debate program.
Hailey Kresge is a fourth year M.D./Ph.D. candidate working under the mentorship of Dr. Angela Jefferson at the Vanderbilt Memory & Alzheimer’s Center to earn her Ph.D. in Neuroscience. Her research utilizes plasma proteomic data to identify novel biomarkers of adverse cognitive aging. Clinically, Hailey is interested in cardiovascular medicine and plans to apply to Internal Medicine residency programs following graduation. Hailey has previously presented work at numerous international conferences and published several studies looking at the intersection between cardiovascular health and cognitive aging outcomes. Within the medical school, Hailey serves as co-president of 1GMD, an organization for first-generation students, and as chair of a mentoring program for undergraduate students interested in M.D./Ph.D. training. Hailey is originally from Lancaster, PA, and prior to joining Vanderbilt’s M.D./Ph.D. program, Hailey earned her undergraduate degree in neuroscience from Vanderbilt University in 2019. Outside of school and work, Hailey enjoys reading, traveling, and playing with her two cats – Nyla and Hazel.
Dr. Loren LaPointe was born and raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She attended Western Michigan University and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish in 2008. Dr. LaPointe began her research career as a college sophomore synthesizing gold nanoparticles, and her undergraduate thesis characterized the oxidation of aldehyde compounds in fish oils. Before graduate school, she spent a year at Pfizer studying monoclonal antibodies for therapeutic drugs. Dr. LaPointe received her PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2014 and then completed her postdoctoral research at Vanderbilt University studying Alzheimer’s disease proteins. In 2017, Dr. LaPointe started as an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow in Washington DC where she was placed at the United States Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS). At FAS, she addressed non-tariff trade barriers for U.S. agricultural exports, engaged in science diplomacy and U.S. trade policy, and served as a liaison to the U.S. regulatory system when representing US interests abroad. In 2020, Dr. LaPointe started a career position at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency where she serves as an international, tribal, and state liaison to EPA’s many pesticide programs. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, knitting, exercising, and reading. She currently lives in Alexandria, VA, with her husband, son, and orange cat.
Sam Lisy is a fourth year graduate student in the Department of Biochemistry at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Basic Sciences. She studies host-virus interactions with an emphasis on how cellular proteins discriminate between cellular vs viral genetic material. Sam grew up just outside of Cleveland, OH and earned her Bachelor’s of Science from Indiana University, where she was also the captain of the varsity swim team. Sam discovered her passion for probing the intersection between biochemistry and virology after undergraduate coursework in both disciplines. She hopes to foster a similar level of interest, excitement, and awe for the disciplines with the students that take her course.
Thao Le, MD/Ph.D. Candidate
Thao Le is an MD-PhD student in the Vanderbilt Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), with a passion for psychiatry and research. Originally from Tra Vinh, Viet Nam, Thao left her home at a young age to study abroad in the United States. After receiving her undergraduate education in anthropology and interdisciplinary science at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, Thao moved to Nashville to join the Vanderbilt Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in 2015 and the Vanderbilt MSTP in 2016. Her PhD research, under the guidance of Dr. Julio Ayala in the department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, examined how analogs of a gut hormone called Glucagon-Like Peptide 1 (GLP-1) affect feeding and body weight by acting on the brain. Beyond medicine and research, Thao is deeply invested in mentoring and education. She has taught several courses in college, led outreach efforts, and mentored students from diverse academic and socioeconomic backgrounds throughout her time at Vanderbilt. In her free time, Thao enjoys practicing and teaching yoga, hiking, and learning jiujitsu.
David Lee, MFA
David Ian Lee currently serves as full-time faculty for the Theatre and Dance Program at Tennessee State University and as Co-Producing Artistic Director for Nashville’s Pipeline-Collective, an organization that creates guerilla-style theatre, with emphasis on the craft of the actor, dynamic storytelling, and theatrical magic on a shoestring budget. He is a freelance actor and director, having worked in New York for companies including Pearl Theatre Company, Manhattan Theatre Source, Boomerang, Gideon, and Flux Ensemble; for regional theatres including Actors Theatre of Louisville, Milwaukee Rep., Arizona Rep., Tennessee Rep.; and classical companies including New York Classical Theatre, Arkansas Shakespeare, Illinois Shakespeare, Sedona Shakespeare, Utah Shakespeare, and Nashville Shakespeare. He is an internationally produced playwright, with recent productions of his work in Canada, South Africa, Scotland, and Greece. He has presented at conferences including Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) and Mid-America Theatre Conference (MATC), and will present again at MATC 2019. A graduate of the William Esper Studio, He received his M.F.A in Directing in 2015 from Illinois State University, where he was honored with an Outstanding Teaching Award. He has proudly taught with Vanderbilt’s Programs for Talented Youth since 2016. Favorite credit: his son, Beckett Harrison Lee.
Dr. Ashleigh Maxcey (she/her) is a Senior Lecturer & Research Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department. In her laboratory, Dr. Maxcey studies memory and forgetting. She earned her PhD and MA from the University of Iowa in Cognition & Perception and her BA from Purdue University. At Vanderbilt, she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in research methods, statistics, positive psychology, cognitive psychology, and general psychology. She has a passion for helping students embrace topics they previously found daunting and bridging topics to applications outside the classroom. At home, Dr. Maxcey lives with two kids in high school, one child in middle school, one large cat, and one small dog.
With nearly ten years of experience in higher education administration, Katie Minyard has been part of both east coast and west coast university administrations and enjoys engaging with leaders at every level. Katie has a masters degree in business administration and is pursuing a PhD in Leadership Studies. Katie was the director’s choice award recipient at Georgetown University’s Institute of Political Journalism and has a strong passion for developing youth leaders from within and outside the classroom. Katie’s personal leadership philosophy was inspired by her grandfather who was a former university president, historian, and was appointed by US President Jimmy Carter as Under Secretary of the Army. Katie resides in Southern California with her husband, Mike, and their rescue dog Murphy.
Jenna Mosier is a PhD candidate in the Reinhart-King Cell Mechanics lab in the Vanderbilt Biomedical Engineering Graduate Program. Jenna is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research fellow, who works on cancer cell migration in the context of breast cancer metastasis. Her research is primarily focused on understanding how cells respond to the surrounding tumor microenvironment and the many physical and biochemical challenges cells encounter while there. She has a passion for teaching and science and loves to work with students in and outside of the lab. When not focused on research, she loves to read, paint, and run.
Alex Munden is from rural Indiana and graduated with a BS in Biomedical Engineering from Johns Hopkins University. After realizing he didn’t want to be an engineer, he worked as a research assistant in a cancer biology lab at Vanderbilt University Medical Center before going back to graduate school. He is currently a PhD candidate in the Biological Sciences Department at Vanderbilt University. Using fruit flies, he studies how genetic material is safely copied during development. More specifically, Alex uses a variety of DNA- and RNA-sequencing technologies to understand how specific regions of the fly genome are difficult to duplicate during embryogenesis. He then uses computer science to analyze a frankly overwhelming amount of data. He is passionate about teaching and promoting an inclusive environment where students from a variety of backgrounds can feel welcome. Since COVID started, Alex has been spending his time working from home and playing video games with his wife and 3 cats.
Logan Northcutt is a 5th-year PhD candidate in the Cancer Biology Program at Vanderbilt University and is co-mentored by Julie Rhoades, PhD, and Marjan Rafat, PhD. Logan studies how the physical factors of the bone microenvironment can cause tumor cells to become more malignant after metastasis. He is a GEM Fellow and Provost Graduate Fellow Recipient. Logan graduated with his BS in Chemistry from Morehouse College. Outside of the lab, Logan enjoys reading, listening to music, mentoring, and working out.
Duby Okonkwo is a 3rd year student in the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) at Vanderbilt. He obtained his Bachelor of Science degree from The University of Texas at Arlington in tissue engineering and afterwards spent 3 years as a Biomedical Quality Engineer in the Medical Devices Industry before joining the Vanderbilt M.D./Ph.D. training program in 2021. He is part of the Schoenecker lab, and his research interest is in regenerative medicine where he is focused on bone grafts to promote fracture healing, and bone formation in spine fusion surgeries. His clinical interest is focused on Pediatric Orthopedics, as well as Orthopedic Trauma and Spine Surgeries. Duby has always enjoyed teaching, so this opportunity is a dream come true for him. Duby’s hobbies include eating, making music, dancing, and learning new skills.
Olivia Owens is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Chemistry at Vanderbilt University. Her research is focused on developing electrochemical biosensors to aid in the understanding, detection, and prevention of preterm birth. She graduated from the University of Montevallo with her B.S. in 2020. In her free time, Olivia enjoys traveling, thrifting, and spending time with her husband and their (very large) golden retriever, Aubie.
Andrea Perreault earned her PhD in Chemical and Physical Biology from Vanderbilt University in May 2020. She is now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andrea’s research uses biology and computer science to understand how your genetic material is organized in your cells and how this is altered in various diseases. She is also interested in increasing women and minority participation in STEM and creating fun, challenging, inclusive learning environments. Previous PTY courses include Dabbling with DNA and The Science and Ethics of Genome Editing.
Katie Reed is a Genetics and Molecular Biology PhD candidate in her fifth year at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. She studies how and why cells reorganize their DNA as they respond to their environment. She generates genome-wide data of many types and then uses computer science to look for exciting trends. Katie loves teaching and talking science – in her day-to-day work, in the classroom, and at home. Her favorite teaching experience was volunteering at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, leading hands-on experiments for visitors of all ages. When she’s not thinking about science, she loves playing video games, playing piano, and relaxing with her husband and their dog, Baxter.
Zachary Richards is a corporate prosecutor who focuses his practice on antitrust and consumer protection litigation and investigations. Zach is a 2014 graduate from Vanderbilt’s College of Arts & Science with degrees in the History of Art and Philosophy (Highest Honors), and he graduated from the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C. in 2018. After graduating law school, Zach clerked in the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky and then spent a year working at a major corporate law firm in Washington, D.C. Between his time in the public and private sectors, Zach has worked on cases in in the telecommunication, mobile software application, airline, fashion, and finance & banking industries. In his spare time, Zach enjoys working on his willow farm in Scottsville, Kentucky with his partner, two dogs, two cats, and their flock of silkie chickens.
Tiffany Richardson grew up in Spotsylvania, Virginia. She attended Princeton University and received a Bachelor of Arts in Molecular Biology with a minor in Engineering Biology. Attending Princeton gave her the unique opportunity to broaden her scientific knowledge while doing cutting-edge research. Her research experience helped her to realize the importance of chasing down a question until you find the answer. Tiffany is currently a 5th year Ph.D. candidate in the Molecular Physiology and Biophysics department at Vanderbilt University. As a member of the Powers-Brissova Research Group, she studies how the pancreatic islet environment affects its ability to secrete hormones to control blood glucose levels. This research can aid in better understanding diabetes and improve the lives of many people. Tiffany is interested in the integration of scientific investigation and its implications on human health. Furthermore, Tiffany believes that science communication is necessary to bridge the gap between biomedical research, the patients it strives to serve, and the public who funds research. To help bridge these gaps, Tiffany has given many award-winning presentations to a broad range of audiences. In her free time, Tiffany enjoys photography, exercising, and watching movies/TV.
Loni Rumph earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at Florida Memorial University in 2018. She is currently a doctoral candidate of biomedical science at Meharry Medical College. Loni’s research interests include environmental exposures, environmental justice, maternal/infant health, nutrition, and health disparities. Loni also has interest in combining basic science and public health to answer questions about environmental exposures, such as how exposure to a chemical impacts a person’s physiological response and identifying what factors increased their risk of this exposure in the first place. Loni is passionate about understanding how environmental exposures impact maternal and infant health and identifying preventative measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of initial exposure or prevent health ailments associated with that exposure (e.g., change of lifestyle or diet).
Kayleigh Ruiz, JD
Kaleigh Ruiz is a PhD student studying judicial politics at Vanderbilt University. She graduated from law school at the University of Chicago, where she held leadership positions on the Law Women’s Caucus, Latinx Law Student Association, and International Law Society. When not busy researching or teaching, Kaleigh enjoys hiking beautiful landscapes, curling up with a good book, and hanging out with her cat, Penny.
Cole Schott is a third-year student at Vanderbilt University Law School. A Nashville native, Cole grew up mere blocks from Vanderbilt’s campus. After graduating from one of Tennessee’s premier public high schools, Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet, Cole attended Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. While there, Cole was captain of the swim team and a member of the University Singers. He received his Bachelor of Science, magna cum laude, in Accounting and Political Science. He was also elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Cole worked as an investment banking analyst for two years in Richmond, Virginia before returning to Nashville to attend law school. At Vanderbilt, Cole is an articles editor for the Vanderbilt Law Review, a member of the Vanderbilt Moot Court Board, and a John W. Wade Scholar. Upon graduation, Cole will serve as a law clerk to the Honorable David J. Novak in the Eastern District of Virginia. From there, Cole plans to pursue a career in trial work.
Benjamin Schwartz is a doctoral candidate currently finishing his PhD in the Department of English at Vanderbilt. He has a BA in American Studies from Brown University and an MA in English & Comparative Literature from Columbia University. Ben taught middle school for three years before coming to Vanderbilt and loves working on reading, writing, and storytelling with students of all ages. When not doing his homework or teaching his classes to undergraduates, he can be found watching Mets games with his cat.
Jermaine Soto is the Director of the Office of Faculty Development within the Office of Faculty Affairs at Vanderbilt University. He has taught college level courses on Intergroup Dialogue at various universities in New York and Tennessee. Jermaine incorporates dialogue and storytelling in his current work with faculty as well as in past curriculum development for schools, school districts, and education agencies at the state level. Jermaine received his Bachelor’s in English from Cornell University, an MS in Cultural Foundations of Education from Syracuse University and is currently completing his PhD from Syracuse University.
Dr. Chris Simmons is an Associate Professor in the College of Computing and Technology at Lipscomb University. He obtained his Bachelor’s degree from Tennessee State University, followed by a Master’s degree in Information Technology from Carnegie Mellon University. Chris completed his doctorate in Computer Science from the University of Memphis. Prior to pursuing a Ph.D., Dr. Simmons held positions as a Software Engineer and Sr. Programmer Analyst for companies such as the Boeing Company and FedEx. Simmons’ research involves enhancing secure software development standards and the development of knowledge management systems for secure software and cyber-attack response. His work has appeared in Journal of Computing Sciences in Colleges and Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education, among others. Simmons has a passion for increasing technology usage in underprivileged communities and developing countries.
Jesse Spencer-Smith, PhD is Chief Data Scientist for the Data Science Institute at Vanderbilt University. He leads a team of data scientists who collaborate with researchers across the university and medical center and with industry partners, and is also an Adjunct Professor in Computer Science. He was previously at HCA Healthcare for nine years, where as Director of Data Science he built the first Data Science team for the company and was charged with enabling Data Science across the enterprise through training, mentoring, skills assessments and consulting with business units on Data Science preparedness. He has been teaching and consulting on analytics since he was a high schooler, when he started a consulting company building software for civil engineering companies.
Dr. Caoimhe Harrington Stack recently received her PhD from Vanderbilt University in Cognitive Psychology. Her research is in psycholinguistics, the investigation of how the mind represents and organizes language. Most recently, her research explored how listeners utilize prosody to structure the language they hear. She is currently a Teaching Fellow at Harding Academy. A huge animal lover, Caoimhe’s free time is most often spent at the horse barn or at home surrounded by her pack of three dogs and a cat.
Jade is a rising 4th year PhD Candidate at Vanderbilt University in the Molecular Physiology and Biophysics Program. She was raised in Birmingham, AL and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry with a concentration in Food Science from Tuskegee University. During her undergraduate career, she participated in summer internships surrounding organic and electrochemical research, which sparked her motivation to pursue a PhD. Although her undergraduate degree is in chemistry, her goal was to research and study a topic that could contribute to the overall health and wellness of people. At the start of her graduate career, she committed to pursuing studies within the field of biomedical research. Jade currently works under the mentorship of Dr. Danielle Dean studying the liver-alpha-cell axis, which is a feedback loop involving both glucagon and amino acids that may be disrupted in obesity and diabetes. She is specifically interested in how arginine regulates islet cell proliferation and glucagon secretion from alpha cells, a potential target for new diabetes treatments. During her undergraduate career, she had the opportunity to be a tutor, as well as a teaching assistant, where she identified her love for mentorship and educating others. Her long-term goal is to become a research professor teaching both chemistry and biology to the next generation of scientists. Outside of the lab, Jade enjoys touring art museums, exploring botanical gardens, and spending time with family and her dog, Teddy!
Victoria Stephens is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Pathology, Microbiology, and Immunology at Vanderbilt University. Her research focuses on examining how exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals contribute to disease processes relating to reproductive dysfunction in women. As a result of Victoria’s interest in the field of women’s health, her long-term goal is to conduct translationally relevant studies that have the potential to aid in advancing the efficacy and efficiency of diagnosing and treating women suffering from gynecologic diseases and adverse reproductive outcomes. In addition to becoming an independent scientist, Victoria plans to fulfill her career aspirations by mentoring aspiring scientists and partaking in outreach programs that provide exposure to scientific careers to early-stage students.
Zachary Stuckelman, Ph. D. received his doctorate degree in Developmental Psychology from Vanderbilt University. Currently, he serves as the Lead Content Researcher for Lovevery, a child development-based toy company. Zach has a strong background in various psychological domains, statistics, and social science research methods. He has previously taught multiple courses for the SAVY/PTY programs around various topics in psychology and research. He is very excited at the opportunity to mentor students to become the next generation of researchers and psychologists!
Dr. Joshua Swartz earned his PhD in Chemistry from Vanderbilt University researching and developing Malaria diagnostic technologies. Since 2011, he has been the lead teacher of the Interdisciplinary Science and Research Program at Hillsboro High School (in conjunction with the Center for STEM Education Outreach CSEO at Vanderbilt). Josh enjoys mentoring students as they explore their curiosities. In addition, he serves alongside his wife as the children’s director at his Messianic congregation. Outside the classroom, he loves to spend time with his wife and four young children and has a passion for college football (Go Bucks! – O-H!) and researching his family history on Ancestry.
Ariel Thorson, PhD Candidate
Ariel Thorson is an MD/PhD student at Vanderbilt University, currently in her graduate phase studying the influence of sex hormones on cardiovascular health in individuals with diabetes. Her clinical interest is pediatric endocrinology. Ariel graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from Vanderbilt University. She is passionate about teaching and mentorship. She began tutoring in high school, where she worked with elementary and middle school students on reading and math. At University, she worked at the Vanderbilt Tutoring Center, where she assisted students with Biology, Chemistry, Calculus, Physics, and Biomaterials. In the summer, Ariel served as a tutor for adult learners studying for their CNA certification. She loves to teach and to mentor students and believes in creating an environment where students feel valued and comfortable. She hopes to inspire discovery and nurture curiosity. She meets students where they are, helps them get to where they want to be by facilitating their learning in the way that they learn best.
Rebecca (Rho) Townsley is a PhD Candidate in Political Science with subfield specialties in Political Theory, Comparative Politics, and Gender and Sexuality Studies. Prior to her graduate work at Vanderbilt, she was an English teacher overseas for almost ten years, living and working in Ethiopia, Korea, and Vietnam. After returning to the US, she earned an MA in Social Justice and Human Rights from ASU. Through interdisciplinary work and exploratory mediums, she became interested in how the power of political theory informs our political practices, behaviors, relationships, and voices. She currently teaches undergraduate students in a myriad of political philosophy courses and is working on her dissertation. Her research centers on the intersections of political violence, trauma, and political subjectivity. She has an additional graduate certification in college teaching and in her spare time, she loves chilling with her kittens and doing anything outside – hiking, camping, swimming, and tree climbing.
Katie is currently a 6th year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics at Vanderbilt University, where she explores the role of microglial cells (the innate immune cell of the brain) in the context of Alzheimer’s Disease and neuroinflammation. Originally from Southern California, Katie received a Bachelor of Science degree in Neuroscience, with a minor in Art History, from Washington and Lee University in Virginia. Through her coursework and research internships at several different institutions, she discovered a love for the iterative nature involved in asking and answering questions in biomedical – and specifically, neuroscientific –research. Drawing on her liberal arts education, she holds a deep appreciation for integrative learning experiences and thus seeks to foster thoughtful inquiry and critical-thinking skills which transfer to a multitude of life applications. In her various mentorship and teaching experiences at Vanderbilt, she has found joy in encouraging individuals to discover and develop their specific interests and unique skills to apply to whatever field they decide to pursue. Outside of science, Katie enjoys being active and outdoors, finding running routes around Nashville, and exploring new coffee shops and restaurants with friends.
Dr. Thayer S. Walmsley is from Houston, Texas, and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Physics and Mathematics from Baylor University. While at Baylor he was a part of the Glenn R. Capp Debate forum and performed astronomy research. Thayer obtained his Ph.D. in Physics from Vanderbilt University with a focus on condensed matter and optics working on two-dimensional material optoelectronic devices. He won both department and university-wide teaching awards while working as a laboratory instructor. Currently, Thayer is pursuing his J.D. at Vanderbilt Law School to apply his technological knowledge to patent prosecution and litigation.
Hope is a 5th-year PhD student in the Chemical and Physical Biology Program at Vanderbilt University. Her work focuses on developing algorithms to predict the effects of mutations in membrane proteins associated with human disease. She studied math and biology at Lyon College and enjoys working on a project where those two subjects intersect. Hope grew up on a cattle farm in northwest Arkansas. Since she moved to Nashville, Hope became a beekeeper so she can continue to farm in the middle of the city.
Dr. Laine Walters Young is the Assistant Director for the Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership in the Professions at Vanderbilt University, a cross-professional co-curricular program aimed at helping students, faculty, and community practitioners hone their sense and skill of moral possibility within their everyday work and callings. She loves zooming out to see the big picture of things and then back in to help people breathe, vision, and work toward their intentions. She holds a doctorate in Religion, Psychology, and Culture from the Department of Religion at Vanderbilt University. Laine enjoys working with students from around the world, emotionally and socially supporting change agents, and spending time with her husband and toddler son.