Garima is a Geographical Information Science (GIS) Dev Team Lead who concentrates on Oil and Gas consulting. She holds a Master’s in Urban Spatial Analytics from University of Pennsylvania. In her work, Garima blends technology and science for geospatial solutions. In her decade-long career, she has worked for a GIS software company and local government agency before switching her focus to the Oil and Gas industry for GIS Solutions. Garima appreciates any opportunity for problem solving, critical thinking, learning and mentoring. Outside of her work, Garima enjoys bike-riding, kayaking, reading fiction and biographies, practicing Krav Maga, attending Houston Symphony classical concerts and socializing at new breweries or coffee shops in Houston.
Ashleigh McWilliams, Ph.D.
Ashleigh is a Ph.D. chemist with a background in inorganic materials and analytical chemistry. She recently made the transition to industry and began working as a Spectroscopy Analytical Chemist at INEOS Olefins & Polymers. In August 2020, she received her Ph.D. in Chemistry from Rice University, where she studied the dispersion and diffusion dynamics of Boron Nitride Nanotubes in aqueous solution. Prior to that, she graduated with her B.S. in Chemistry from Texas Tech University. Outside of the lab, Ashleigh enjoys spending time with friends, cheering on the Red Raider football team, and binge-watching Netflix series with her husband and cat, Tiger.
Senior Chapter Trustee
Jeniffer Masi, Ph.D.
Jeni is originally from Venezuela and currently based in Houston. Her current role is as the Geoscience Advisor at Geoex-MCG LLC, responsible for the generation of leads on frontier basins globally and planning of seismic surveys. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Geophysical Engineering from the Simon Bolivar University in Venezuela, and her PhD in Earth Science with focus in Global seismology from Rice University in Houston, TX. After she finished her Ph.D. studies and prior to her current role, she joined BP America Inc. and Osprey Petroleum as a Geophysicist where she identified and evaluated lease opportunities, supported current operations, and aided the design of new wells. On a personal level she enjoys dancing, long distance running, cooking and spending time with friends and family.
Dhwani is pursuing a PhD in Cancer Biology at the MD Anderson Cancer Center where she studies epigenetic modifications in RNAs in pancreatic cancer. She received her undergraduate degree in pharmaceutical sciences from India in 2014 and a masters in pharmacology from the University of Minnesota in 2016. In her free time, Dhwani enjoys cooking, hiking, travelling, playing soccer and ultimate frisbee and spending time with family and friends.
Nicole Moringo, Ph.D.
Nicole is a Ph.D. chemist with a background in biomaterials and tissue engineering. Networking with AWIS GCH allowed Nicole to transition into industry as an R&D Research Scientist at Rockwater Energy Solutions working on the development of completion, production, and specialty chemicals for the upstream oilfield services industry. In May 2020, she received her Ph.D. in Chemistry from Rice University, where she utilized supramolecular chemistry to create biomaterials for tissue regeneration. Nicole graduated with her B.S. in Chemistry and B.S. in Biological Sciences from University of California: Irvine. In her free time, Nicole can be found on the golf course with her husband and puppy, Lilly, or crocheting blankets for family and friends.
Aparna is pursuing her PhD in epidemiology with a focus on cancer genomics and bioinformatics at UT Health Science Center. She graduated with her MD in India and her MPH in epidemiology from UT School of Public Health. She is also working as a graduate research assistant in the department of sarcoma medical oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center. The focus of her research is in understanding the genomic characteristics of vascular sarcomas, particularly angiosarcoma that can be translated to develop new therapeutic interventions that improve survival outcomes for patients. Aparna is also interested in correlating treatment responses to specific targeted therapies with molecular predictors in order to aid a tailored and personalized approach to cancer therapy.
When not buried in books and research, Aparna enjoys traveling, hiking and pampering her dogs!
Career Development Chair
Varsha Pednekar, Ph.D.
Varsha Pednekar is a Ph.D. trained scientist with a diverse technical background spanning chemistry to cancer biology. She recently switched career paths and now works as a Patent Agent with one of the top IP firms within the United States. In her non-scientist role she is still required to think and act like a scientist. Science has always motivated her, and she believes “once a scientist always a scientist”.
Varsha is a strong advocate of the mentoring process and believes all career paths must be nurtured via proper mentoring channels. She is looking forward to giving back to the scientific community via her leadership position as the career development chair.
Varsha strikes a perfect work-life balance and when not working she is spending time with her family and friends. She enjoys cooking and finds it therapeutic.
Liaison to Industry
Alyssa Johnston, Ph.D.
After completing her bachelor’s in Biotechnology at Kent State University in Ohio, Alyssa relocated to Houston, Texas to pursue her PhD in Translational Biology and Molecular Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. For her graduate research, Alyssa investigated the effect that antipsychotics had on the growth and development of breast cancer in a specialized mouse model.
During her time as a graduate research assistant, she also acted on the board of a non-profit organization, focusing on bringing together research heads and advocacy groups to help advance the understanding and treatment of metastatic breast cancer. In this role, she helped establish wellness activities for patients to participate in (such as yoga classes and free breakfasts in clinic) and helped develop a metastatic breast cancer conference that is still held yearly.
Alyssa has held roles in the industry as a field application scientist at Nexcelom Bioscience, and later a rare disease Medical Science Liaison (MSL) at NS Pharma, and currently works as an oncology MSL at Astrazeneca.
Alyssa is an active member of the Association of Women in Science and holds the Liaision to Industry Chairwomen for the Houston Golf Coast Chapter since 2019. In her free time, Alyssa enjoys traveling, hiking, running in marathons, and trying new fitness classes. She also likes to discover new restaurants, cook meals with her friends, and volunteer at the Houston Pets Alive dog shelter where she participates in “Dog day out” programs.
Liaison to Academia
Jon Flynn, Ph.D.
Jon is an assistant teaching professor in neuroscience at Rice University. He helps to build the new neuroscience major at Rice by instructing classes in basic experimental techniques, behavioral and molecular neuroscience, and science communication. He received his PhD at UTHealth in theoretical neuroscience, where he studied the computational underpinnings of perceptual phenomena. He has a particular interest in how noise in neuronal communication effects perception, as well as the neural correlates of timing. Besides teaching and research, he does a lot of work in science communication and outreach. Currently, he runs two organizations in the Houston area that bring science to the public. BrainSTEM is a multi-institutional organization (as well as a course at Rice – BIOC 129) that attempts to teach neuroscience subjects to local under-served high schools, with a particular emphasis on building connections to KIPP Sunnyside. He is also the City Coordinator for Taste of Science Houston, which focuses on connecting local scientists to the area through demonstrations and talks at various bars and restaurants.
Public Relations Chair
Charlotte is an Applied Physics PhD candidate and NDSEG Fellow at Rice University from Ridgecrest, California. She received a BS in both Chemistry and Biology from St. John’s University in Queens, New York. She is interested in understanding the characteristics of polyelectrolyte-modified gold nanoparticles, namely oxidation and reduction protection and catalytic behavior, using cyclic voltammetry and single-particle spectroscopy. She is a member of the Association of Women in Science (AWIS), the Electrochemical Society (ECS), and the American Chemical Society (ACS). Her goal as a member of the science community is to improve the scientific literacy of the general public and encourage young scientists, especially women, to pursue careers in STEM fields.
Eunice is a Contractor in Data Science. She received her BS from University of Houston and MPH from UTHealth School of Public Health. She serves on the PASS Virtual Data Science Group and is a board member with the UH Natural Science and Math Alumni Group. She is also a member of a local chapter for Toastmasters International. Her hobbies include reading and running.
Outstanding Women in Science Chair
Sandhya was born and raised in Nepal and came to the United States to pursue her higher education in biomedical research. After completing her bachelor’s in Biochemistry at Lee University in Tennessee, Sandhya relocated to Houston where she is currently pursuing her PhD in T-cell immunotherapy at Baylor College of Medicine. Her project focuses on enhancing the potency and efficacy of T-cells in targeting Epstein-Barr virus positive Lymphoma. Sandhya loves organizational and outreach activities and has been involved in various mentorship and leadership activities during her graduate school years. In addition, Sandhya is a strong advocate for women representation and women empowerment, and is looking forward to promoting and enhancing outstanding women and their contributions in Science so as to inspire millions of women like herself. Outside of her work, Sandhya enjoys hiking, travelling, playing sports, spending time with friends and family and shamelessly binge-watching TV series.
Community Outreach Chair
Sri Lakshmi Chalasani
Sri Lakshmi Chalasani is a physician-scientist who obtained her MD from India, along with a Masters and Ph.D. in Pharmacology from Virginia Commonwealth University. She did a post-doctoral fellowship in the translational Heme-Onc lab at VCU. Her main interests are in Oncology clinical research and is passionate about diversifying her career. She wants to apply her skills gained through her 15 years of professional and personal experience in health sciences towards impacting people’s lives. She is interested in communicating science at the community level to create awareness of the advancing medical field. Sri Lakshmi is a travel enthusiast at heart, a nature lover, and appreciates an adventurous opportunity, academic or non-academic.
Science Communication Chair
Rupa Kanchi, Ph.D.
Rupa is a Bioinformatics Scientist, and enjoys developing computational methods and tools to understand, analyze and interpret biological data. She earned a Master’s in Statistics from India and PhD in the field of Quantitative Genetics from Texas A&M University. She was a Postdoc at MD Anderson Cancer Center for ~3 years where she discovered her interest in Science Communication. Rupa is a Court-appointed special advocate (CASA) of children in Montgomery County (TX), a yoga enthusiast and promoter of STEAM learning among elementary and middle school children.
Tapsi is originally from India and currently based in Houston. She is a Computational Biology PhD candidate and a Rosalie B. Hite fellow at MD Anderson Cancer Center. She received her Masters in Statistics from Rice University. Her current research focus is studying changes in human breast and its progression to invasive cancers. Outside research, she volunteers her time at the MD Anderson Surgical waiting area, where she serves as a liaison between surgical staff and patient’s family/friends. When not in front of a computer making sense of data, Tapsi loves travelling, playing and watching Netflix with her dog and guinea pig, reading science fiction novels and colouring.
Patrice O. Yarbough, Ph.D.
Patrice O. Yarbough, Ph.D. is a senior scientist at NASA Johnson Space Center, a contractor to NASA’s Human Research Program employed by KBRwyle. She is principal investigator for the confined isolation human subject studies performed in the Human Exploration Research Analog habitat. Yarbough managed the NASA bed rest studies at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Previously, she did HIV clinical research at Tanox Inc. and hepatitis pre-clinical research at Genelabs Technologies. At Genelabs, she led the group to develop a hepatitis E virus sub-unit vaccine and received the international COPEV Association Award for Prevention of Viral Hepatitis.
A native Houstonian, her volunteer work includes serving as President of the Ashley Jadine Foundation, a charity that seeks to prevent suicide in youth. A long-standing member of the Association for Women in Science, she is the past Chair, Diversity Task Force, and currently serves on the Advisory Committee of the AWIS Gulf Coast Chapter. Yarbough earned her BS and PhD in biochemistry from the University of Houston. In 2017, the College of Natural Science and Mathematics honored her as a distinguished alumna; she now serves on the Dean’s Advisory Board.
Lory Z. Santiago-Vazquez, Ph.D.
Lory Z. Santiago-Vázquez is an Associate Professor of Biology and Biotechnology at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. She earned her BS in Marine Biology at the University of Puerto Rico, Humacao campus. She moved to the University of California, Santa Barbara where she completed a Ph.D. in Marine Pharmacology. Afterwards, she obtained a postdoctoral position in Marine Natural Products Biotechnology at Florida Atlantic University.
In 2006 she helped secured federal funding for the start-up biotechnology company Nautilus Biosciences, where she also became the Principal Scientist. In the fall of 2007 she joined the University of Houston-Clear Lake as an Assistant Professor of Biology and Biotechnology. Her research interests are on the microbiome or bacterial communities associated to marine soft coral and sponges to try to understand how these bacteria are related to the health of the organisms. She is also an active member of the Association of Women in Science Gulf Coast-Houston chapter. On her almost non-existent spare time, she likes to travel the world, run races where she is not the last one to cross the finish line, and spend time with her family.
Brittany C. Parker Kerrigan, Ph.D.
Brittany C. Parker Kerrigan, Ph.D. is the Scientific Manager in the Department of Neurosurgery at MD Anderson Cancer Center. After earning her Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of California, Irvine, she performed research the industry sector for Allergan, Inc. She then earned her Ph.D. in neuroscience from the UT Health MD Anderson Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. She is currently responsible for managing the Glioblastoma Moon Shot, as well as other multi-investigators grants, maintaining donor relations, and assists in the overall scientific direction of the department. A strong proponent for the acquisition and retention of women and minorities in STEM, Brittany has served various leadership outreach positions, including serving as President of the Houston Chapter of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS), and Chair-elect of the AWIS National’s Chapter’s Committee, where she will oversee all 80 AWIS Chapters across the United States. She has a strong background in grant management and acquisition, with awards totaling $15,000,000+ brought into MD Anderson.