Board Member Biosketches

2016-2017 Seattle AWIS Board Member 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).

Secretary: Sierra Hinkle, BA, Laboratory Technician at Lab/Cor, Inc.

Sierra earned her Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry from Seattle Pacific University and is a laboratory technician at Lab/Cor, Inc. where she working towards becoming an analyst in the next month. Before joining the Seattle AWIS Executive Board last year, she volunteered on the events committee. Sierra constantly looks forward to new experiences and challenges. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, playing board games, dancing, and running with her two puppies. While she has lived all over the United States, she considers Washington to be her home.

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 president.

Events Committee Chairs:
Mary Young, PhD, Postdoctoral scientist at the Center for Infectious Disease Research (formerly Seattle Biomed)
Katie Smolnycki, MS, Consultant
Amrita George, BS, Researcher at UW

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.

Katie received her MS in Health Care Management from the University of Rochester and her BS in Biological Sciences and Psychology from The College at Brockport, State University of New York. Before moving to Seattle in 2015, she researched therapeutic interventions for pulmonary fibrosis and inflammation at the University of Rochester and investigated molecular mechanisms for virulence factors in Histoplasma capsulatum at Ohio State University. During her master’s program, Katie developed a business plan and financial model for a startup pediatric obesity clinic and did a technology transfer internship at URVentures. She has consulted on projects performing due diligence, market research, and customer discovery for healthcare and life science technologies. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, working out, volunteering, cooking, and the occasional Netflix binge.

Amrita earned her Bachelor of Science from the University of Michigan in Molecular and Cellular Biology (2007) and moved to the Seattle area to continue work in research at the University of Washington. When she moved to the Pacific Northwest, she found that attending AWIS events exposed her to all varieties of exciting research taking place in Seattle, and allowed her to belong to an empowering community of women scientists. She is excited to continue building that circle, as well as to help create more opportunities to share enlightening information with each other. She is passionate about volunteering and loves to meet others who are actively involved. Currently, she serves on the AWIS Events and Membership Committees, and also volunteers with the Public Health Reserve Corps of King County. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking experiments and most anything active.

GEMS Committee Chairs:
Rachelle Lim, PhD Student at the University of Washington
Jac Fitzgerald, Web Developer at Tableau

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.

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 also improving the industry experience and career opportunities for existing diverse professionals.

Group Mentoring Committee Chairs:
Frances Chu, PhD, Research Scientist, University of Washington
Zhuojin Xu, PhD, Research Associate, HHMI/University of Washington

Frances earned her Ph.D. in Microbiology from Harvard University where she studied microbial communities. Frances then moved to Seattle to do her post-doctoral work in the Department of Microbiology where she studied mycobacterial virulence. Currently, Frances is rounding out her love affair with bacteria by studying the metabolism of methane-eating bacteria in hopes of saving the world from increases in atmospheric methane.

Zhuojin earned her PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology from University of California, Santa Barbara. She studied protein trafficking as a graduate student, and transitioned to the stem cell field after she moved to Seattle in 2012. Currently she is trying to figure out the role of Wnt signaling in different states of pluripotency of embryonic stem cells in Dr. Randall Moon’s lab. Outside of the lab, she enjoys playing soccer, cooking or simply meditating (aka daydreaming).

Membership Committee Chairs:
Sandra Merrick, PhD, Senior Project Manager at Covance Genomics Lab
Nikita Midamba, MS, Clinical Research Associate with SMAHRT at Seattle Children’s Research Institute

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. Currently she is a Senior Project Manager for Covance Genomics Lab managing genotyping, and gene expression profiling projects. Sandra served on the AWIS Membership Committee this year.

Nikita graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a BS in Materials Science and Engineering and Drexel University with a MS in Forensic Science. She currently works with as a clinical research associate with SMAHRT (Social Media and Adolescent Health Research Team) at Seattle Children’s Research Institute.. 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.

Newsletter Committee Chair:
Graciela Matrajt, PhD, Managing Director of the Nanotechnology Program at North Seattle College

Graciela earned her PhD in Astrobiology from the University of Paris, Pierre et Marie Curie, France. She worked for 14 years doing research and recently changed her career path toward science and outreach communications and project management. As a Research Scientist at UW, she developed and wrote content for academic and research websites. Currently she is Managing Director of the Nanotechnology Program at North Seattle College. Graciela volunteers as a writer for several organizations, colleges, and science journals. On weekends, you can find her in the garden or doing outdoor activities with her daughter and husband, enjoying the wonders of the Pacific Northwest.

Publicity Committee Chair:
Yang Wu, PhD, Process Technology Specialist at CMC Biologics

Yang received her PhD in Engineering from the University of New Mexico. She was a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Pathology and a Project Leader of the Center for Molecular Discovery, UNM Health Science Center. Her research covered many aspects of early stage drug discovery targeting cell surface receptors and ion channels. She moved to Seattle in Spring 2015. She would like to combine her project management experiences, engineering skills and biological research interests. Yang is highly energetic and loves challenges, she is constantly taking classes to refresh her knowledge or to expend her horizon. She is a certified Zumba® and Zumba Toning® instructor. Besides AWIS, Yang also volunteers for the Society of Laboratory Automation and Screening and is an ad-hoc reviewer for multiple scientific journals.

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

Fran earned 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, 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 the lab include gardening, soccer, and global travel.

Website Committee Chair:
Sailaja Arungundram, PhD, Chemistry Instructor, South Seattle College and Pierce College Puyallup.

Sailaja obtained her PhD in Chemistry at the University of Georgia working on the synthetic chemistry of carbohydrate synthesis. Following this, she completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Utah continuing on her work on carbohydrates albeit from a glycobiology standpoint. Sailaja believes that students from all walks of life deserve a fair opportunity to succeed in STEM areas. In her spare time, Sailaja likes to play the Veena (a south-Indian musical instrument), explore the natural beauty of Washington with her husband and daughters, cook and read.

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