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Student Council

Meet our BBS Graduate Student Council

The members of the BBS Graduate Student Council are a dedicated group of current students serving as liaisons between the Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS) graduate program and prospective students all over the world. They are here to share their personal perspectives and experiences as a BBS graduate student with you via email. Please feel free to contact them by clicking on their name. Please note that questions related to administrative matters can be directed to the Office of Graduate Education.

Karen Barnard

Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Colin ParrishKaren Barnard Immunology and Infectious Disease

My name is Karen Barnard and I’m in the Immunology and Infectious Disease field. I am working in Colin Parrish’s lab at the Baker Institute for Animal Health researching interactions between influenza A and sialic acid, the glycan used by the virus to enter host cells. Originally, I am from rural Alaska and received my Bachelor of Science from the University of Alaska Fairbanks with an acute interest in virus/host interactions. Outside of my research, I enjoy hiking and fishing in the beautiful state forests around Ithaca, baking, and knitting.

Alicia Brunson

Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Jon Cheetham Comparative Biomedical Sciences

Alicia Brunson is an intellectual thrill seeker. The complexities of scientific problems drive her excitement for research. Her sights are set on the ultimate prize, the brain. It is a formidable opponent, but she hopes that by determining its strengths and weaknesses that she can advance research to defeat pathology and accomplish healthy longevity. She has worn many hats in her life, including being an aide for those with developmental disabilities, a psychotherapist for children and families, mentor for peers, and an independent researcher in her university’s biomedical research lab. Her ultimate goal is to advance our understanding of neuropathology and become an advocate for science literacy. As a non-traditional student she has a different perspective on life in general and can hopefully help in a wide range of student concerns. 

Heather Callaway

Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Colin ParrishKaren Barnard Immunology & Infectious Disease

I'm a third year graduate student in Colin Parrish's lab at the Baker Institute for Animal Health. I work on canine parvovirus (CPV) capsid structure and function - specifically, understanding how mutations to the capsid can prevent the virus from infecting cells or assembling its capsid. My work involves basic virology, structural biology, and some biophysics and biochemistry.

Erika Gruber

Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Cynthia Leifer Comparative Biomedical Sciences

 I am originally from a small town in southern New Jersey, and came to Cornell for the first time to attend veterinary school. After graduating, I practiced small animal medicine for several years before returning to Cornell for a residency in clinical pathology. Over the course of my residency, I found that I wanted to know more about the pathologic mechanisms underlying the diseases that I was diagnosing. I became particularly interested in macrophages, since these cells are present during many chronic disease processes and appear to have important regulatory functions. For my thesis project, I am working in Dr. Cynthia Leifer’s lab studying how physical properties of the extracellular environment influence macrophage function. Although regulation of macrophage function by biochemical signaling pathways has been extensively investigated, the role of extracellular substrate stiffness in regulating macrophage function and phenotype is less well-understood. This project incorporates approaches from immunology, cell biology, and bioengineering fields. When I’m not in the lab, I enjoy spending time in beautiful Ithaca with my three young children and husband.

Shing Hu

Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Natasza KurpiosShing Hu Comparative Biomedical Sciences

I am a DVM seeking PhD from Taiwan. My research interest focuses on developmental biology and pathophysiology. I am currently a 2nd yr PhD student in Dr. Natasaza A. Kurpios’ lab, where she studies the basis of left-right asymmetry in organ development in vertebrate models. Feel free to ask me any questions!

Melissa McDowell

Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Gerlinde Van de Walle Comparative Biomedical Sciences

I'm a 4th year CBS student in the Van de Walle Lab studying mammary stem cells and breast cancer. I am particularly interested in learning why some species are more resistant to mammary cancer than others. Originally from Louisiana, I've had to adapt to the snow, but I love going hiking and kayaking during the summers. I'm happy to do whatever I can to help you love Cornell as much as I do!

Jordan Mohr

Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Barbara Baird Pharmacology

I grew up in southern tier New York and ended up staying here as I pursued my undergraduate studies at Elmira College. I chose to test the waters of multiple research fields – abstract mathematics, organic synthesis, analytical chemistry, and epidemiology – before realizing that the questions of the biological sciences were what truly interested me. I ultimately came to Cornell because of the perfect mix of location, resources, and academics. The faculty, students, and research here are among the best in the world and the community is naturally welcoming and collaborative. This place feels like home and I am enjoying pursuing my thesis in this unique environment. I am now a member of the Baird-Holowka lab where we study membrane receptor biology and biophysics.Beyond the lab, I like to spend my time helping with various scientific educational outreach programs, reading, playing tennis, and enjoying video games.

Matt Pennington

Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Gerlinde Van de WalleMatt Pennington Comparative Biomedical Sciences

I grew up in Kansas City before moving to New Jersey to complete my undergrad at Seton Hall University. While there, I was able to develop a diverse research background that included studies on viruses, cancer, and elephant behavior, but ultimately I decided to focus on viral pathogenesis and the host response to infection. I chose Cornell because of the diverse resources available to let me explore my interests. I am in Gerlinde Van de Walle's lab where my research focus has to aims. First, I am working to develop novel ex vivo model systems to study the pathogenesis of ocular feline herpesvirus (FHV-1) infection and to analyze potential anti-herpesviral drugs against FHV-1. Second, I am working to understand how antivirals can affect the host's immune response with an emphasis on their potential anti-inflammatory and anti-angiogenic properties. When I'm not in the lab I enjoy traveling, cooking and baking, as well as hiking, geocaching, and fishing in all of the preserves and state parks in and around Ithaca.

Pragya Shah

Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Jan LammerdingPragya Shah Comparative Biomedical Sciences

I have always been fascinated with diseases and wanted to understand their etiology and my current obsession is to study cancer. So, I decided to pursue my PhD in biomedical sciences at Cornell and I am so glad to be here! Being an international student, I could not have asked for better place for my graduate studies. Ithaca is a beautiful place to live in and Cornell has a very nurturing and friendly environment which made it easy for me to settle down here.
I have recently completed my first year rotations and have decided to pursue my PhD in the lab of Dr. Jan Lammerding where I will be studying the role of nuclear proteins called Lamins in cancer cell migration during metastasis. Particularly, I will be studying how migration of cancer cells through tiny constricted spaces (of the order of 2um and less) as encountered during metastasis affects the genomic instability of these cells.

Divya Shiroor

Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Carrie Adler Divya Shiroor Comparative Biomedical Sciences

 I am a DVM seeking Ph.D. student in the Comparative Biomedical Sciences graduate field. I have a Master’s degree in veterinary surgery from India. I fell in love with research while I was exploring the therapeutic potential of stem cells in osteoarthritic dogs for my Master’s thesis. Numerous labs working on diverse aspects of stem cell biology and regeneration brought me to Cornell. I have just finished my first year and I recently joined the Adler lab, which is where I will be completing my Ph.D. from.  We in the Adler lab study stem cell biology using flatworms called planaria, that can regenerate completely from tiny pieces. When I’m not experimenting in the lab, I’m experimenting in the kitchen, reading or at the gym. I’m in love with Ithaca and I’m excited to be spending the next 5 years here.

Alyssa Wetterau

Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Matthew Hare Alyssa Wetterau Zoology & Wildlife Conservation

I'm originally from a small town in upstate New York and first came to Cornell in the fall of 2009 as an undergraduate. Following graduation, I worked for the New York state wildlife health program before returning to graduate school to pursue my passion for conservation. Currently, I'm a student in Zoology and Wildlife Conservation with the Cornell-Smithsonian Joint Graduate Training Program. I'm interested in studying the impacts of infectious disease on amphibian populations and the implications of disease for the conservation of threatened and endangered species. I have broad interests in wildlife conservation and management, and am particularly interested in the development and application of genetics and non-model genomics approaches as tools for amphibian conservation. When I'm not in the lab or out in the field chasing frogs and salamanders, I enjoy hiking, backpacking, baking, and training future guide dogs!

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