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2017 Keystone Symposia Fellows


On behalf of the DAC, who served as reviewers for the Keystone Symposia Class of 2017, I would like to thank the larger scientific community, including universities, research labs, and industry that presented very fine early career trainee applications for consideration. Please note that going forward, the Keystone Symposia Fellows program will have an annual deadline date of March 15. Mark your calendars!

Please join me, the BOD, SAB, and DAC, in welcoming the Keystone Symposia Class of 2017!


burghardt_picNesha S. Burghardt received her BA in Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley and her PhD in Neuroscience from New York University. As a graduate student, she investigated the effects of acute and chronic antidepressant treatment on fear learning. Nesha then did her postdoctoral training at Columbia University, where she studied the role of the hippocampus in mood regulation and cognition. In 2014, Nesha joined the faculty at Hunter College as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology. She is also a member of the CUNY Graduate Center and the Center for Translational and Basic Research (CTBR). The research in her lab uses animal models to identify the neural circuits that underlie the cognitive impairments and emotional symptoms that accompany depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and addiction. Nesha currently mentors several graduate and undergraduate students and participates in numerous programs within Hunter College that are designed to encourage and prepare students from diverse backgrounds to pursue graduate degrees in science.

preston_picDr. Campbell received his doctorate in Pharmacology from Vanderbilt in 2012, under the mentorship of Dr. Florent Elefteriou, where he discovered a molecular link between chronic stress, bone metabolism, and metastasis. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Vanderbilt with Dr. Deborah Lannigan working on small molecule kinase inhibitors in the context of breast cancer and drug repurposing.  Dr. Campbell’s research interests revolve around mechanisms of metastatic colonization, cellular stress response kinetics, and drug development. He is passionate about improving the efficiency and reproducibility of academic research and has developed a course to teach business and management principles specifically to scientists.  Dr. Campbell’s initial foray into undergraduate research was funded by a SACNAS grant which sparked a keen interest in harnessing the power of diversity to fuel the scientific enterprise. Dr. Campbell is also an Endocrine FLARE (Future Leaders Advancing Research in Endocrinology) Fellow with the Endocrine Society. FLARE Fellows are underrepresented trainees who represent basic science and clinical research and who have demonstrated achievement in endocrine research.


contreras_picAndres Contreras, DVM MS PhD received his DVM from Universidad Nacional de Colombia. After three years of large animal clinical practice in central Colombia, he served as an intern in the Dairy Internship Program at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Michigan State University. He continued his education receiving a Master’s degree in mastitis and a PhD in Comparative Medicine and Integrative Biology. His research background includes expertise in adipocyte and endothelium biology as well as in adipose tissue sympathetic innervation. His research work has focused on the interactions between adipose tissue function and disease and his doctoral studies evaluated the effects of lipolysis on endothelial cell inflammatory responses. Findings from his dissertation emphasize the role of adipose tissue malfunction in the development of inflammatory based diseases, especially those with a vascular component such as atherosclerosis and hypertension. His postdoctoral research work focused initially on the lipolysis- induced white adipose tissue remodeling process and developed into elucidating the effects of sympathetic innervation on the appearance of thermogenic adipocytes (brown) within subcutaneous adipose. His current work focuses on the adrenergic activity of perivascular adipose tissue and its link with the development of hypertension during obesity.



rodriguez_picPaola Giusti-Rodríguez is currently a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Genetics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she is using functional genomics and genetics approaches to gain mechanistic insight onto schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders. For this work, she was recently awarded a K01 Mentored Research Scientist Development Award by the National Institute of Mental Health. Since joining UNC as a postdoctoral researcher in 2012, Paola has served as a leader and co-chair (from 2013-2014) of the Postdoctoral Association. Paola grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she earned a BS in biology at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras. In April 2011, Paola completed her PhD in Cell and Developmental Biology at Harvard University, where her doctorate research focused on studying the molecular basis of neurodegeneration. Since 2013, Paola has been working with Ciencia Puerto Rico (CienciaPR; cienciapr.org), a non-profit volunteer-based organization that connects the Puerto Rican scientific community and seeks to broaden Latinos’ engagement with science through education, careers in STEM disciplines, and the development of science endeavors in Puerto Rico.


james_picAmanda Marie James received her BS from Spelman College in Atlanta, GA and her PhD in Clinical Pharmacology from University of Alabama at Birmingham (2013). She has significant training in clinical technology (pharmacological and application-based) and biomedical engineering, with specific training and expertise in detection of clinical samples and method development. As a graduate trainee at UAB, she developed and validated mass spectrometry methods for the detection and quantification of two different antiretroviral drugs. Her current research interests focus on the identification of encapsulated and nonencapsulated circulating microRNAs as biomarkers for coronary atherosclerosis. She is specifically interested in the frequency/abundance of coronary atherosclerotic isomiRs, (isoforms of microRNA) and their correlation to clinically relevant outcomes based on race and co-morbidities of coronary atherosclerosis. She has been both formally and informally trained in minority science outreach, the importance of science education, and mentoring. As a scientific mentor, a course facilitator, and minority outreach advocate and coordinator, Dr James has worked on developing an environment, which fosters scientific advancements while providing the needed resources for ALL learners to be successful. During her time at Emory University, she coordinated the online portion of Emory’s pre-freshman GLUE (Getting a Leg Up at Emory) program, which targeted biomedical science students whom may need some additional guidance during their matriculation at Emory. Dr James is also part of the IMSD (Initiative to Maximize Student Development) executive team serving now as the program’s Assistant Director. Society and the American Physiological Society, and the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity.



johnson_picMichael D. L. Johnson, originally from Chicago, earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Music from Duke University. After a brief stint as a technician in the laboratory of Dr. Jeff Frelinger, he joined Dr. Matthew Redinbo’s group earning his PhD in Biochemistry and Biophysics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he studied mechanisms of bacterial motility and attachment. Michael then began his postdoctoral fellowship at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in January of 2012 under Dr. Jason Rosch in the Department of Infectious Diseases. There, he studied how Streptococcus pneumoniae, a causative agent of pneumonia, meningitis, and ear infections, processes metals to survive. In January of 2015, he began his second postdoctoral fellowship working in the Department of Immunology under Dr. Douglas Green where he studied LC3-associated phagocytosis, a method hosts use to get rid of pathogens or dead cells. While at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and with a passion for scientific outreach, Michael developed a podcast called Science Sound Bites, which serves as a easily transportable and accessible resource to teachers and their students designed to give real world scientific applications to classrooms that don’t always have access to them. In July of 2016, Michael began a position at the University of Arizona as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Immunobiology. There he studies the orchestrated bacterial response to metal stress using copper as a focal point.



lemas_picDominick Lemas is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Outcomes and Policy at the University of Florida. Dr. Lemas received his Bachelor’s Degree in Biology at the University of Vermont in 2006 and acquired training in molecular biology, mass spectrometry and proteomic analyses. After graduating college, Dominick took a position with the Alaska Area Indian Health Service Institutional Review Board (IRB) and received training in database management, ethical research practices, and technical writing. In 2012, Dr. Lemas completed his Doctorate in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) where his research was focused on understanding how interactions between diet and genetic factors influence obesity traits in rural Alaska Native communities. Working in the Center for Alaska Native Health Research at UAF, Dominick acquired training in data collection, bioinformatics, molecular epidemiology and statistical genetics. During his post-doctoral training at University of Colorado Denver, Dominick extended his graduate training to include maternal-fetal biology and was awarded an NIH F32 focused on maternal-infant metabolism and the microbial signatures by which infants gut metabolism is affected by the maternal host. As an independent investigator at UF College of Medicine, his research is devoted to understanding the fetal origins of pediatric obesity with a specific interest in the functional implications of gut microflora and the critical host-microbe interactions that regulate infant metabolism.


stewart_picDr. Florastina Payton-Stewart received a B.S. degree in Chemistry from Xavier University of Louisiana in 1999 and her Ph.D. in Bioorganic Chemistry at Tulane University in 2007.  After receiving her Ph.D., Dr. Payton-Stewart held a postdoctoral position at Tulane University Medical School from 2007-2010 working in a Molecular Biology laboratory.  Her research centers on the design, synthesis and biological evaluation of analogs of known phytochemicals such as curcumin and berberine as anticancer agents. Her research has been funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). She is the recipient of various honors, such as the Cancer Association of Greater New Orleans Fellowship, the Dissertation Writing Fellowship, the Louisiana Cancer Research Consortium Fellowship and the Susan G. Komen Postdoctoral Fellowship. She has mentored and trained several undergraduate students on projects related to the biological activity of natural phytoalexins. She joined the Chemistry department faculty at Xavier University in August 2010. Currently, she teaches Organic Chemistry and Molecular Structural Organic Synthesis Laboratory. Dr. Payton-Stewart maintains a research laboratory at Xavier University of Louisiana working on designing and synthesizing novel anticancer agents for breast and prostate cancer. She enjoys working with students and participating in different outreach programs.



segarra_picVeronica A. Segarra, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology at High Point University in High Point, North Carolina. She completed her PhD in Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale and her BS in Biochemistry at the University of Miami. Her contributions to science have come in the form of research breakthroughs in the study of several yeast proteins that coordinate vesicular trafficking pathways, including clathrin, auxilin, and Atg27. She uses budding yeast to investigate the cellular compartments and proteins responsible for trafficking specific lipid membranes and membrane-associated proteins within the cell, particularly in response to conditions of stress. Her lab is particularly interested in the identification and trafficking of cargo molecules and adaptors involved in the cellular process known as autophagy, a cellular self-eating process that helps cells cope with starvation and cellular damage. This involves the biochemical and genetic manipulation of budding yeast and observation of fluorescent cargo proteins trafficking throughout the cell. Her laboratory is located at High Point University (HPU)—a primarily undergraduate institution in High Point, NC. Her lab is not only the home base for her research program, but a place where undergraduate students receive one-on-one mentoring as they strive to develop their identity in science and research. At HPU she primarily teaches general education courses and upper level Cell Biology courses with rigorous laboratory components. Her research interests also include science pedagogy innovation and best practices.   She is currently Acting Co-Chair of the Minorities Affairs Committee of the American Society for Cell Biology.


simmons_picDr. Glenn E. Simmons Jr. is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Molecular Genetics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. He received his B.S. in Biomedical Sciences from the University of South Florida in Tampa, FL and a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN. He is a broadly trained molecular biologist, with published works in the infectious disease, cancer epigenetics, and science education. His current research is exploring the relationships between lipid metabolism and oncogenic protein stability in cancer tissues. Dr. Simmons believes that the lack of access to mentorship and sponsorship must be overcome if science, and society as a whole, is to move toward true equity and justice in the future. To that end, he has helped to establish mentoring programs in the Dallas- Ft. Worth area, to provide trainees with opportunities to learn how to effectively navigate their career paths. He is also the co-chair of UT Southwestern Postdoctoral Association Career Development committee where he helps students and postdocs hone skills that can be of use in any field of endeavor.








Irelene Rickshttp://keystonesymposia.org
Director of Diversity, Life Sciences Keystone Symposia on Molecular and Cellular Biology

Keystone Symposia on Molecular and Cellular Biology is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a 47-year history of convening open, peer-reviewed conferences that connect the scientific community and accelerate life science discovery.