Board Member Biosketches

2017-18 Seattle AWIS Board Biosketches

President: Jessica N. Cross, PhD, Research Associate at NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.

Jessica is a passionate and forward-thinking advocate for women leaders and women in science in the greater Seattle area. She volunteers extensively with this broad community by organizing and hosting a variety of workshops and programs and has been an active member of Seattle AWIS for two years. Last year, Jessica helped to roughly double participation in AWIS programs as Events Chair, and hopes to keep the trend going through all of AWIS! Currently, she works as a research oceanographer with the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, where she co-leads an oceanographic technology development program focused on meeting the unique challenges of the Arctic environment. Jessica holds a BS in Chemistry from Rhodes College (2008) and a Ph.D. in Chemical Oceanography from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (2013).

Vice-President: Jac Fitzgerald, BA, BE, Web developer at Tableau

Jac majored in Software Engineering, French and Cognitive Science at the University of Queensland, moved to Seattle in 2009 to work for Microsoft and now works as a web developer at Tableau. Along with board games and running, she is interested in broadening pathways into the computing profession and improving the industry experience and career opportunities for existing diverse professionals.

Secretary: Mary Young, PhD, Postdoctoral scientist at the Center for Infectious Disease Research

Mary earned a Ph.D. in Immunology from the University of Colorado, where her thesis focused on the structural components of T cell receptors from rare and unconventional T cell subsets. She joined the Center for Infectious Disease Research (formerly Seattle BioMed) in 2013 in the laboratory of Dr. Alan Aderem. Her postdoctoral research is centered on leveraging systems biology to predict and enhance T cell responses in order to improve upon vaccine strategies, particularly against influenza. She serves a leadership role in CIDResearch’s postdoctoral association and is passionate about career development for early career scientists. She also enjoys sharing her love of science with the next generation of young scientists.

Treasurer: Reitha Weeks, PhD, Scientist and Educator. Currently, Biotech Camp Program Coordinator at Shoreline Community College.

Reitha received her BS from Oregon State University and her PhD in Genetics from the UW in 1987. She worked for 13 years in the biotech industry at multiple companies in Seattle, progressing from bench scientist to company director. Reitha was Program Manager for Science Outreach at Northwest Association for Biomedical Research from 2004-2013. She was responsible for curriculum development, workshops for teachers, educational conferences for researchers, and a variety of science outreach programs and collaborations. Currently, she is Program Coordinator for Shoreline Community College’s biotech summer camp for high school students. She has been a Seattle AWIS member since 1987 and has served in many capacities on the board, most recently as treasurer.


Banquet & Awards Committee Chairs:
Katie Pollock, PhD, Scientist at Juno Therapeutics
Reitha Weeks, PhD, Scientist and Educator. Currently, Biotech Camp Program Coordinator at Shoreline Community College.

Katie earned her PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Minnesota, where she studied cryopreservation optimization strategies.  Katie moved to Seattle in 2016 to begin working at Juno Therapeutics, where she is a cryobiology scientist working to fully characterize and improve their t-cell freezing protocols.  Outside of the lab, she enjoys tutoring, baking, biking, and crocheting.

Reitha – see above.


Events Committee Chairs:
Alicia Cusack, BS, Manager, Lab Operations at ZymoGenetics/Bristol-Myers Squibb
Isil Hamdemir, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Systems Biology

Alicia graduated from Central Washington University with a BS in Biology with a minor in Chemistry. She began her career as an intern for ZymoGenetics and was hired on full time in the Lab Operations team after her graduation (2008). Now managing the department she started in as an intern she is focused on creating a strong scientific support team. Over the last 10 years, she has worked with her organization to focus on moving science forward, creating strong educational programs and supports her local community through various outreach opportunities. She is passionate about making science available to a broader spectrum of people and encouraging scientific discussions. This is her first year with AWIS and she is very excited about the opportunity!

Isil earned her PhD in Inorganic Chemistry from the Colorado State University.  Her thesis focused on synthesis, characterization, and testing of nanoparticle materials in catalytic industrial applications.  She is currently working on biomedical applications of novel cross linkers in determination of protein-protein networks using cross linking mass spectrometry.  She also serves a leadership role at Postdoc Advisory Board at Institute for Systems Biology.  Isil is passionate about providing resources to scientists at any stage of their career to help them reach their career goals.  Isil volunteered at AWIS events committee for a year and is excited to continue this journey in the events committee for the upcoming year.


GEMS Committee Chairs:
Rachelle Lim, BS, graduate student at the University of Washington, Oceanography
Juliana Chase, BS, UW research assistant

Rachelle received her BS in Biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2014, where she developed an interest in oceanography and marine microbiology. She is currently working as a graduate student at UW investigating diatom physiology and diatom-bacterial interactions. Outside of the lab, Rachelle enjoys reading, attempting to learn new languages, and biking around Seattle.

Juliana graduated from the University of Vermont in 2014 with a BS in Neuroscience focusing in Pharmacology and Behavior. After university, she traveled back to her PNW home and took a break from academia, traveling and working in Seattle as an EMT and W-EMT in Wyoming. Taking time off only further cemented her passion for Neuroscience and she is excited to be taking the next step by pursuing a Neuroscience PhD program next Fall. She is currently working in two labs at UW as a research assistant focusing on addiction, motivation, and the pharmacology of opioid receptors. Juliana volunteered with the GEMS program last year and is a first-year board member. She is excited and honored to hold a position that directly impacts how girls approach, engage with, and practice science in the region she has grown to know and love.

Group Mentoring Committee Chairs:
Krista Eraham, DVM, Veterinary Pathologist Resident at Specialty VETPATH
Gretchen Meller, PhD, most recently Program Manager for Research, Providence Health & Services

Krista is a veterinarian pursuing specialty training in anatomic pathology at SpecialtyVETPATH, an independent veterinary diagnostic pathology lab in Seattle. A Northwest native, she earned her B.S. in Zoology from the University of Washington and her DVM from Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, and then practiced 10 years in private veterinary practice in the Puget Sound area. Driven by a passion for continued learning and connection with other scientists, she is working to expand her knowledge of animal and human disease. She is particularly interested in similarities between human and animal disease and is committed to improving animal health. After joining AWIS at the beginning of 2017, she is eager to get involved in the Seattle AWIS Chapter’s Mentoring Program and connect with other people doing great science in the region.

Gretchen holds a BA in Biology from Swarthmore College and a PhD in Cell & Molecular Biology from the University of Virginia. Gretchen believes that everyone should be able to understand and learn what they need to know about health and science. She has furthered this in the Seattle community through her role as a co-founder and organizer of Science on Tap, a Seattle nonprofit dedicated to sparking public interest in science. She has worked as a Program Manager for Research at Providence Health & Services, leading a team in supporting the system needs of the regional research teams, and as a Program Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation where she was responsible for a variety of efforts in enteric and diarrheal diseases, including those for therapeutics and vaccines.


Membership Committee Chairs:
Sandra Merrick, PhD, Project Manager at NanoString Technologies
Nikita Midamba, MS, Clinical Research Associate with SMAHT at Seattle Children’s Research Institute
Alexis Coffer, BS, Genomic Technologist at Covance Genomic Laboratory Services

Sandra received her BS in Chemical Engineering from Johns Hopkins University and her PhD in Neuroscience, studying Alzheimer’s disease, from the University of Pennsylvania. She worked as a postdoc at Duke University in cell biology, before moving to Seattle. For more than 15 years she has worked in preclinical research as a Study Director managing client studies in the areas of drug discovery, ADME properties, pharmacology profiling, and drug-drug interactions. Sandra recently worked as Senior Project Manager for Covance Genomics Lab managing genotyping, and gene expression profiling projects. She recently joined NanoString Technologies as a project manager. Sandra served as AWIS Membership Committee co-chair last year.

Nikita is a Clinical Research Associate with the Social Media and Adolescent Health Team (SMAHRT) at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. Nikita graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a bachelor of science degree in materials science and engineering and Drexel University with a master of science degree in forensic science. She is currently leading a project investigating the assessment, association, and policy regarding electronic harassment or cyberbullying as well as another project looking at how tanning salons engage with adolescents on social media. She has an interest in preventative medicine and global health, and is eager to conduct research that will lead to interventions that will positively impact adolescent health.

Alexis is a current student at the University of Washington studying molecular and cellular biology with a special interest in cancer biology. She moved to Seattle in 2014 to complete her degree. She volunteers exhaustively with multiple local breast cancer affiliated non-profits as a young breast cancer survivor herself. She believes that science and community partnership are necessary to provide transparency in an often confusing and misunderstood field of study. She is currently working at Covance Genomics Laboratory. This is her first year as an AWIS committee member.


Scholarship Committee Chairs:
Fran Solomon, PhD, Environmental Biology Professor
Melissa Conerly, PhD, Postdoctoral Scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Fran earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Rochester (Rochester, NY), and a master’s degree in environmental health and PhD in fisheries from the University of Washington. She has 25 years of experience as an environmental agency biologist and is now bringing that experience to the classroom, specifically The Evergreen State College, Tacoma campus and Western Washington University, Huxley College of the Environment on the Peninsulas. Her courses focus on impacts of pollution, especially toxic chemicals, on human health and aquatic species. She also teaches short courses and gives lectures for environmental professionals and the general public in Washington State, Alaska, Canada, and Japan. Fran is a founder and past President of Seattle AWIS, founder of our scholarship program, and is an avid hiker, bicyclist, and international traveler.

Melissa earned her BS in Biology from UC Riverside and her PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Washington. During her undergraduate time, she investigated plant pathogens known as viroids and their potential use in the citrus industry. This work led to a job in the biotech sector working on nutrient sensing in plants and the genetic control of root development. Her graduate work focused on genome-wide changes in chromatin marks during cancer progression, particularly B-cell lymphoma. Her post-doctoral work is centered on investigating the mechanisms of transcriptional control during differentiation and how this contributes to disease states, such as muscular dystrophy. She enjoys both teaching and bench work and her hobbies outside of the lab include gardening, soccer, and global travel.


Website Committee Chairs:
Katie Smolnycki, MS, Market Analyst at Fred Hutch
Jac Fitzgerald, BA, BE, Web developer at Tableau

Katie has eight years of experience working in the life sciences and is passionate about innovation in healthcare and life sciences. She has worked in lung biology research laboratories, developed a business plan for a pediatric obesity clinic, and consulted in market research and product development for life science technologies. Currently, Katie works as a Market Analyst on the Business Development and Strategy team at Fred Hutch. She received her M.S. in Health Care Management from the Simon Business School, a certificate in Biotechnology Project Management from the University of Washington, and her B.S. in Biological Sciences and Psychology from The College at Brockport, State University of New York. Katie actively volunteers with Women In Bio, the Seattle Health Innovators group, and with other local STEM organizations in the community. She acted as the Events Committee co-chair from June 2015 – July 2017 and has assisted with publicity and website maintenance.

Jac – see above.