Board Member Biosketches

2018-19 Seattle AWIS Board Biosketches


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.


Mi-Youn Brusniak, PhD, PMP, Bioinformatics Director at the Protein Drug Discovery Initiative at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Mi-Youn earned a Ph.D. in computer-assisted drug design from the College of Pharmacy at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research and career interests are in the development of biomarkers and therapeutics through creation of robust and analytical information platforms for various aspects of preclinical and clinical data in order to optimize the development path. She has worked projects in academia, biotech, government and nonprofit organizations. She is the mother of a young engineering major daughter and has been involved in volunteering as a career fair presenter and industry expert presenter at local high schools. She is interested in creating policies and workplace environments that can provide fair resources and opportunities for developing diverse and capable teams that can succeed in achieving various challenging and exciting STEM objectives.


Miriam L. R. Meister, PhD, Postdoctoral Scientist at University of Washington.

Miriam is a neuroscientist studying the neural basis of memory, and how memory influences where we decide to look when we move our eyes around the world. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin where she studied the neural basis of eye movement decisions, and her B.A. in psychology from Haverford College outside of Philadelphia, where she learned the science of how to carefully study human behavior.

Miriam is a strong advocate of promoting women into leadership positions, and has been routinely attending AWIS events since 2014, joining in 2016. She hopes to engage in service through AWIS that uplifts women professionally and creates access to science.


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.

Publicity Chair:

Adrienne Parsons, BS

Adrienne earned her BS in Anthropology from the University of Alaska, Anchorage (2006). In the last few years she has taken a finance support role for tech and science related academic programs at UW. Adrienne worked for UW CoMotion as a fiscal specialist for all privately funded budgets which included budgeting for the Global Innovation Exchange. This lead to Adrienne’s departure at CoMotion to follow the Global Innovation Exchange (GIX) program when the school opened in Bellevue in 2017. As the sole finance employee at GIX, Adrienne was responsible for all accounting, budgeting, invoicing, ProCard reconciliation, and fiscal reporting in an innovative tech space. Known for her ability to multitask and answer inquiries at lightning speed, Adrienne was a core member of the GIX staff. Adrienne is now returning from a 2.5 month, 8 country world tour and looking for volunteer opportunities that complement her personal and professional interests. Adrienne also has several years’ experience doing marketing, PR, and advertising for events and the arts, as well as writing for and managing websites.

Banquet & Awards Committee Chairs:

Monica Cuevas, MSc, Project Coordinator at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

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

Monica earned a MSc in Chemistry, Laurea Degree form University of Naples, Italy.  She went on to earn a Diploma in Business Administration with an Accounting option and Certificate of Business Management.  She has a deep understanding of project development and the ability to collaborate successfully with diverse groups of stakeholders.  Currently she is a Project Coordinator at the Fred Hutch.  She is an active volunteer in the Science Community. In 2016 she joined the AWIS Banquet & Awards Committee.  She was a Board Member for Women in Bio (WIB) – Seattle Chapter, from 2016 – 2018 as Treasurer elect and Treasurer. Since June 2018, she transitioned to a Director-at-large.  She was also a leader for the WIB Mentors, Advisors and Peers Group (MAPS).  She was passionate about leading her group, building a network of peer support, motivation and appreciation.  She is trilingual (fluent in English, Italian and Spanish), enjoys living in the Northwest and exploring the outdoors.

Reitha – see Treasurer

Events Committee Chairs:

Charu K. Midha, PhD, Data Science Consultant, Institute for Systems Biology.

Laura Szkolar Sienkewicz, PhD, Project Manager at Specelabs Healthcare.

Charu earned a PhD in Biosciences from International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, New Delhi, India in 2013. She carried out genomic and proteomic computational analysis on malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum. Later, she worked on SERPIN protein family as a Post Doctoral Fellow at Department of Biosciences, Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi, India. Before coming to Seattle in 2017, she served the French Embassy, New Delhi, India as a Deputy Head of Section (Scientific Coordinator) for three years where she managed the bilateral Indo-French Science Collaborations. Presently, she is working as a Data Science Consultant at Institute for Systems Biology, working on Natural Language Processing on clinical electronic health records. She is passionate about learning and teaching science by volunteering at Pacific Science Center. Her interests include hiking and swimming. She has been actively volunteering at AWIS events for the past year and continues to do so as an Event Committee Chair for the upcoming year.

Laura earned her PhD in Biomedical Materials Science from a joint venture between Peptisyntha-Solvay and The University of Manchester, UK. After spending time working on a biotech start-up in the UK, Laura moved to Lansing, Michigan to research novel MRI Theranostics for Clinical Imaging at Michigan State University. Now in Seattle Washington, Laura is a Project Manager at Spacelabs Healthcare, and is an active member of the Seattle community. She is passionate about driving equality, and has volunteered for AWIS since 2017, as well as writing for AWIS national, and serving on the board of Women In Bio, Seattle.

GEMS Committee Chairs:

Whitney Cleghorn, PhD, University of Washington, Biochemistry.

Yasmeen Hussain, PhD

Whitney graduated in 2012 from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, with a PhD in Pharmacology that focused on visual neuroscience and cell biology.  As a postdoctoral fellow in biochemistry at the University of Washington in Seattle, Whitney studies how retinal neurons meet their enormous metabolic demand and how mitochondrial dynamics alter energy output in light and darkness.   When not at a microscope, she can be found hiking, making origami, gardening, teaching biology at the University of Puget Sound, or mentoring with GEMS.

Without the inspirational teachers and mentors Whitney had throughout her education, her science career would not have been possible.  Therefore, she is honored and excited to co-chair GEMS and engage young diverse minds through making science and math approachable and fun.  She aspires to provide mentorship and create learning experiences that allow each girl to discover what they are truly capable of, and to propel their education and love of STEM forward into the future.

Yasmeen is returning to Seattle after working as a AAAS Congressional Fellow sponsored by the Biophysical Society and as an associate program officer with the Board on Higher Education and Workforce and the Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine at the National Academies. She earned her PhD in biology at the University of Washington in Seattle, where her research focused on how sperm find eggs using chemical signals. Yasmeen is from Utah, where she earned BS degrees in mathematics and biology and held a position at the Bureau of Reclamation. Yasmeen volunteered with GEMS for four years during graduate school, and is excited to be able to serve as co-chair.

Group Mentoring Committee Chairs:

Gretchen Meller, PhD, Project Director, Vaccine Product Development Center, International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.

Stephanie Hawthorne, MS, Director of Operations at Northwest Genomics Center, University of Washington.

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 co-organizer of Science on Tap, a Seattle nonprofit dedicated to sparking public interest in science. She is currently managing HIV vaccine product development projects. Previously she has worked as a Program manager for Research at Providence Health & Services, leading a team supporting 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.

Stephanie received her B.S. in Biology from Gonzaga University and her M.S. in Health Administration with a concentration in Bioinformatics from Saint Joseph’s University. She has spent the last decade working in academic core research facilities at NYU Medical Center and the University of Washington. Starting out as a bench scientist, she has performed just about every task in the lab from bench work to analysis to lab management. Her primary focus has been to improve laboratory procedures and workflows to make research as affordable and efficient as possible for investigators. Currently she is the Director of Operations for the Northwest Genomics Center at the University of Washington and a co-organizer for Science on Tap.

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:

Emi Hanawa-Romero, MS, PhD, Industry Analyst at SCGC Captal.   

Lauren Ryan, BS, Senior Mechanical Engineer at Microsoft.

Lauren is a medical device engineer who has worked on design, development, and manufacture of orthopedic implants, surgical instruments, ultrasound devices, and wearable monitors. Her degree in biomedical engineering is from Purdue University, where her passion for supporting other women in STEM was born with a leadership role in the Women in Engineering Mentees & Mentors program. She is currently working towards eliminating cardiovascular surprises, mentors through AWIS and other channels, and serves on the leadership team of the Microsoft Research Mavens community of women. Lauren loves to spend time with family, read, learn new things, and participate in the subset of fitness/athletic activities that are still possible for rather uncoordinated people.

Emi received her BS in Chemistry from University of Denver and MS from DePaul University (Chicago, IL) focusing on material/polymer science. After serving as a regulatory affairs consultant in Japan, she moved to New Jersey, where she studied SAR of carbohydrate molecules for potential CNS therapeutics for her PhD dissertation. While she was pursuing her PhD, she also worked as an editor for technical documents such as patents and medical documents, as well as a chemistry consultant to develop environmental friendly cement additives. She received her PhD from Seton Hall University in May 2017 and moved to Seattle in November of the said year. She is currently an industrial analyst at a venture capital firm, being a liaison between science and business.

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