2024 Biological Sciences Newsletter

Department of Biological Sciences, George Washington University. Image of two students reading a book outside with green trees in the background

Message From the Chair

Guillermo Orti

Greetings to all of our alumni from the George Washington University Department of Biological Sciences!

As the new department chair, I am thrilled to share a series of recent success stories by our team. In this newsletter, you’ll read about our faculty who had their research featured on the cover of Science magazine twice in the last six months, and about Assistant Professor Sandy Kawano receiving the prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award. You’ll also learn more about other achievements in our community of alumni, faculty and students.

Thank you so much for your support and involvement. Please stay in touch. 

Guillermo Ortí
Louis Weintraub Professor of Biology and Department Chair 

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Department Spotlights 

Headshots of Professor Lill and Alex Pyron along with two Science magazine covers
Professors Lill (left) and Pyron (right) and their Science covers in October 2023 and February 2024.

High-Profile Research on Cicadas and Snakes

Two CCAS biology professors each had important research featured on the cover of the prestigious journal, Science—in just six months! In his study, Professor John Lill and his students revealed how the 2021 Brood X of cicadas altered the diets of birds and feeding patterns of other creatures in the forest. Cicadas emerge from the ground every 13 or 17 years. His cicada research also appeared in GW Today.

In a separate study, Associate Professor Alex Pyron and collaborators completed the most comprehensive evolutionary tree of snakes that shows their rapid evolution and diversification into multiple ecological and natural history dimensions. His research also appeared in GW Today

Sandy Kawano Wins CAREER Award

Assistant Professor Sandy Kawano received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development CAREER grant of more than one million dollars to study salamander locomotion.

Her project will integrate physiology, engineering and evolutionary biology to examine how habitat preference and development affects the structure and function of bones and whole-organism performance in locomotion. A Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experience for post-baccalaureates in biology will broaden the participation of learners from historically excluded communities. In addition, Kawano, the leader of the Fins and Limbs Lab, will host a “Salamander Safaris” event during Amphibian Week to promote the participation of girls in STEM. 

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Other Biology Headlines

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Department Kudos

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Alumni Class Notes

Ziyana Alrawahi, BS ’91, received their PhD in environmental science and public policy from George Mason University. The title of their doctoral dissertation is: “The Sustainability of an Ancestral Water Acquisition System: A Study on Falaj Daris.”

Bibhas Amatya, BA ’20, is a medical student at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and interested in pursuing a surgical specialty. 

Robert Bayewitch, BS ’74, retired as a dentist.

Parag Bhanot, BA ’97, is a professor of surgery and plastics and reconstructive surgery at Georgetown School of Medicine

Nicole Casasanta, BS ’16, completed internal medicine residency at Mount Sinai Hospital and now serves as chief resident in the Department of Medicine. She matched for fellowship in hematology/oncology at Yale-New Haven Hospital and will begin this position in July 2024.

George Chang, BS ’82, has been working in General Urology at Medstar Washington Hospital Center since 1998.

Domencis Ciampa, BS ’17, is pursuing his doctorate in nursing at Boston College, training to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner.

Victoria Costa, BA ’13, is the assistant medical director of the blood bank at NYU Langone Tisch Hospital and assistant professor in the Department of Pathology at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine. 

Susan Estabrooks, BS ’91, is head of market access at Mirvie. Their efforts focus on improving coverage and reimbursement to increase access to a test to identify pregnant women at increased risk for preeclampsia months before it occurs. 

Melanie Fisher, BS ’2023, worked as a research technician at the Ohio State University studying vestibular schwannomas. She is currently focusing on the effect of collagen in the tumor microenvironment.

Holly Ganz, BS ’92, visited with classmates, Krissy and Kevin Kivimaki. She is now the chief science officer of AnimalBiome, a California-based company that provides microbiome assessments and creates novel supplements to restore and support pet health.

Daniel Halsted, BA ’21, is thrilled to be continuing his research at Kite Pharma in Santa Monica, Calif. His investigations into immunological cancer therapies have been fascinating. 

Marissa Hanzlik, BS ’23, is completing a year-long entomology fellowship at the Electron and Confocal Microscopy Unit of the United States Department of Agriculture.

Charles Hertz, BS ’23, is working at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City as a clinical research coordinator for the Tisch Cancer Center where they help run clinical trials focused on the experimental treatment of myeloproliferative neoplasms. 

Elizabeth Hill, BS ’09, is a hematologist/oncologist working on clinical trials for multiple myeloma at the NCI in Bethesda, Md.

Brian Hoppy, BS ’90, is a senior vice president and director of cross sector for HDR and currently resides in Philadelphia, Penn. He oversees a team of over 2,500 scientists, planners and consultants supporting HDR’s infrastructure work.

Norma Talley, BA ’81, is happily retired after a long career in the pharmaceutical industry.


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