Department News, Fall 2019

Message From the Chair

John Lill

Greetings from Foggy Bottom to all of our alumni, students, faculty and friends! 

We are excited to begin another busy school year here at GW as the Department of Biological Sciences continues to make new discoveries and teach innovative courses to a diverse and talented group of students. In this issue, we welcome new faculty to the department, celebrate exciting new projects that received external funding and feature our talented undergraduate and graduate students who are constantly raising the profile of GW through their creative investigatory studies of a wide variety of organisms in both the laboratory and the field.

We also highlight the exciting activities of our alumni and express our appreciation for the many generous gifts of time, talent and philanthropy provided by our alumni and supporters. Please read on to get a glimpse into some of the exciting happenings in the department.

Dr. John Lill
Chair, Department of Biological Sciences

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Department Spotlights

Welcome Dr. Sandy Kawano!

Sandy Kawano

The department welcomes our newest faculty member, Dr. Sandy Kawano! An expert on “fins and limbs,” Dr. Kawano’s research compares the evolution of locomotion across the transition from water to land. Her work has been published in major scholarly journals including Evolutionary Ecology and the Journal of Experimental Biology, and has been cited in media outlets such as the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.

Dr. Kawano holds a PhD in Biological Sciences from Clemson University. Prior to coming to GW, she was an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at California State University, Long Beach.

Dr. L. Courtney Smith Awarded $750,000 NSF Grant

Dr. Courtney Smith

Dr. L. Courtney Smith was awarded a $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for her work with Dr. Leon Grayfer on their project "Multitasking anti-pathogen activities of the sea urchin SpTransformer protein family: insights into an evolutionarily divergent metazoan immune system.”

The following abstract describes their work:

“Sea water has lots of marine bacteria. So, how do animals (sea urchins) that live in sea water protect themselves against infections? Answers to this question have applications to successful management of marine populations and successful aquaculture. The sea urchin immune system lacks important aspects that are present in humans. For example, sea urchins do not make antibodies. Instead, they express a family of anti-pathogen proteins called Transformer proteins (they change shape!). At least one of the Transformer proteins acts very broadly, and can bind to bacteria, fungi and other pathogens. This is very different from one antibody that binds only one target. The hypothesis is that each Transformer protein has a slightly different repertoire of targets, which gives sea urchins great flexibility to protect themselves against pathogens with similar, different or overlapping targets. Because of the large variety of slightly different Transformer proteins in sea urchins, their complex anti-pathogen activities are likely essential for these invertebrates to survive.”

Students Travel to Galapagos with Planet Forward

Assistant Professor of Biology Leon Grayfer
Biology majors Henry Becker and Corinne Tarantino (back row, second and sixth from right) joined a Planet Forward expedition to the Galapagos Islands.

GW Biology majors Corinne Tarantino and Henry Becker participated in an environmental storytelling expedition to the Galapagos Islands this summer to document biodiversity and conservation efforts. The educational journey was organized by SMPA’s Planet Forward. Tarantino and Becker are both pursuing a concentration in ecology, evolution and the environment. They won an in-house competition to attend the Galapagos trip through Planet Forward, which is run by SMPA director Dr. Frank Sesno.

Henry Becker writes: “The Planet Forward Galapagos expedition was an unforgettable experience. After seeing countless documentaries on the islands, actually being there felt surreal. The park is an excellent example of how humans and wildlife can coexist. Visitors are respectful and only walk along designated paths, the animals are not frightened by humans and often watch with interest as tour groups pass by… . It was awesome to experience the Galapagos with the other story fest students who all shared the same passion for wildlife and environmental stewardship. I can’t thank the GW Biology Department and Planet Forward enough for this life-changing trip!”

Corinne Tarantino writes: “The animals really weren’t all that afraid of people, allowing us to come very close. There were so few predators that some of the birds like the blue footed booby nest on the ground. Snorkeling was probably the most incredible [part]. We got to swim with sea lions, sea turtles, marine iguanas, penguins and sharks. It was impossible not to be astounded by the contrast between the preservation on the Galápagos compared to other areas. People can only go into the park at specific times designated by a permit and guided by a naturalist. Additionally, they do not allow single use plastic into the islands any more. They have many invasive species removal projects which have occurred on the island recently. Several people from the Planet Forward group are writing about these projects, which should be really interesting. My piece focused on why one of the park naturalists became interested in biology while growing up on the islands and tried to capture her view on the importance of field biology and conservation.”

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Faculty Kudos

Dr. Keryn Gedan's ground-breaking research on the effects of sea level rise on the formation of “ghost forests” was featured as the cover article of a recent edition of Nature Climate Change

Left to right: Tara Scully, Chair John Lill and Carly Jordan

Left to right: Tara Scully, Chair John Lill and Carly Jordan

Drs. Tara Scully and Carly Jordan were recipients of the 2019 Morton A. Bender Teaching Award in recognition of their outstanding contributions to biology education at GW.

Drs. Arnaud Martin and Ioannis Eleftherianos received a prestigious NSF EDGE grant to develop genomic and gene-editing tools for the Indian meal moth, Plodia interpunctella.

Dr. L. Patricia Hernandez was promoted to full professor this summer.

Dr. Vijaykumar Seenapuram Palaniswamy, a postdoctoral associate in Dr. Alex Pyron's laboratory, discovered a new species of frog (the Starry Dwarf Frog) from the Western Ghats region of India that represents an ancient lineage. He was profiled in GWToday.

Dr. Gullermo Orti was elected president of the GW Faculty Association for 2019-2020.

PhD student Ryan Spahn was awarded a Graduate Student Research Award by the Lepidopterists' Society to support her research on the effects of global climate change on host-parasitoid interactions in the diamondback moth.

PhD student Jignasha Rana was awarded a Smithsonian Graduate Student Fellowship at the National Museum of Natural History to support her research on the biogeography and evolution of cryptic species of turtle ants.

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Class Notes

Acacia Ackles, BS ’18, enrolled in a PhD program at Michigan State University, studying genome evolution in digital organisms.

Ziyana Al-Rawahi, PhD ’08, is pursuing a doctorate in environmental science and public policy at George Mason University.

Reza Askari, BS ’96, is an assistant professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, and is also the director of the Surgical Intensive Care Unit and the associate trauma director at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Scott Baker, BS ‘99, MD ’04, completed his residency in urologic surgery at the University of Missouri. Currently, he is the president of Associated Urologists of North Carolina.

Jeffrey Becker, BS ‘80, MD ’88, is retired as an Army Colonel and is currently the medical director for Outpatient Cardiology at Children's National Health System in Washington, D.C.

Thomas Brown, BS ‘16, is serving in the United States Navy as a meteorology and oceanography officer. He is currently deployed to Bahrain, where his team analyzes Sonar data from Unmanned Underwater Vehicles.

Megan Cardoso BA ’04, MD ‘08, is a practicing pediatrician in the Boston area. After completing her bachelor's degree in biology, she attended medical school at the George Washington University’s School of Medicine & Health Sciences.

Adam Carpenter, BS ’07, received his PhD in environmental science and public policy from George Mason University in May 2019. He welcomed his new son, Thomas, in June, joining George (age 4). He continues his work at the American Water Works Association.

George Chang, BS ’82, is a physician practicing in general adult urology at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C.

Victoria Costa, BA ’13, PhD ’17, is in her third year of pathology residency at New York Presbyterian - Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Ginny Cranford BA ’17, retired and moved with her husband to Williamsburg, Va. She is a busy master gardener and tree steward, volunteering at Colonial Williamsburg Gardens.

Trang Do, BS ’91, MD ’95, completed her residency in internal medicine at GW Medical Center in 1998. She is in private practice in San Jose, Calif.

Matthew Gardner, BS ’11, is currently working at a stealth-mode genome editing startup in the Bay Area.

Gabrielle Garruppo, BA ’17, BS ’17, is pursuing her Master of Health Science degree in epidemiology from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, working towards a career in injury epidemiology.

Prospero Gogo, BS ’93, MD ’97, is currently an academic interventional cardiologist at the University of Vermont Larner School of Medicine and was recently promoted to professor of medicine.

Justin Guthier, BA ’05, is a practicing cardiologist and associate program director of internal medicine residency in Lehigh Valley, Penn.

Siobhan Haney, BS ’98, went to vet school, did a residency in radiation oncology and is now the medical director for the Veterinary CyberKnife Cancer Center at Hope Veterinary Specialist.

Akash Katakam, BS ’16, is a senior research analyst at Cello Health BioConsulting and advises the world's most innovative drug developers with business strategy. 

Emmanouil Kapetanakis, BS ’97, is a thoracic surgeon specializing in pulmonary oncology at the Attikon University Hospital in Athens, Greece. He is happily married and has a 4-year-old son.

Jay Katzen, BA ‘67, MD ’72, interned in medicine/surgery at Washington Hospital Center and later did his ophthalmology residency at George Washington University Hospital. He served on the GW Board of Trustees for eight years, and is a member of the School of Medical and Health Sciences Dean's Advisory Council and the Katzen Cancer Center.

Munziba Khan, BS ’05, MPH ’08, is a DOD contractor working as a senior data analyst at Henry Jackson Foundation.

Malini Khanna, BS ’02, is a physician practicing in New Jersey. 

Paul Kravitz, BS ’68, is a dermatologist in practice in Burke, Va. He previously served as section chief of dermatology at Inova Fairfax Hospital and president of The Washington D.C. Dermatological Society. He has two children and four grandchildren.

Michael Kressner, BS ’73, truly enjoyed his four years at GW and went on to become a medical doctor with a degree from SUNY Buffalo. He is now retired and living in Cortlandt Manor, N.Y.

Sahira Long, BA ’95, MD ’99, works for Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C., as the medical director for the Children's Health Center in Anacostia.

Charles Malemud, PhD ’73, is a tenured professor of medicine at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. He teaches medical students and is an adviser to graduate students where his research team studies cellular mechanisms in arthritis.

Patrick Mamudu, BA ’14, is a biostatistician at Ortho Clinical Diagnostics in New Jersey. He is transferring to the New Jersey State Department of Health as a research scientist.

Marissa Mangini, BA ‘17, is currently in her third year of medical school and is thoroughly enjoying her clinical experiences.

James Marks, Ph.D. ‘81, spent the majority of his career in preclinical drug discovery at Park-Davis and  Pfizer. He is currently retired, living in Michigan and pursuing multiple interests.

Nabonasar Martinez, BA ’86, went back to his home country of Colombia to work in his family’s business, which was established in 1935. He greatly thanks GW for his education and “wishes everyone to Raise High!”

Cecelia McCloy, BS ’76, recently retired after 19 years as CEO of Integrated Science Solutions, a science and engineering company she co-founded.

Eric Muller, PhD ’73, is a project manager and lead scientist in a wide variety of environmental consulting projects and biodiversity studies in Africa including in Guinea, Mauritania, Tunisia and Central African Republic.

Naomi Naik, BA ‘17, BS ’17, MPH ’19, works for the United Nations Foundation, managing digital content strategy. 

Takashi Nakamura, BS ‘99, lives in Okinawa, Japan with his family members, Reiko, Kohki and Riho. He is currently an associate professor at the University of Ryukyus teaching coral reef ecology.

Mary Perkins, BA ’72, is retired. Next summer, she and her husband are volunteering at a migratory waterfowl refuge in Alaska.

Joseph Perras, BA ‘93, MD ’97, is the president, CEO and chief medical officer of Mt. Ascutney Hospital in Vermont.

Alex Randall, BS ‘16,  is a medical student at the Stritch School of Medicine in Chicago.

Brian Ray, BA ’93, is a managing partner at Alchemy-ABR Investment Partners. He serves on the Advisory Board for GW's Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis.

Bradley Revenis, BS ’08, is a dentist onboard the aircraft carrier USS NIMITZ.

Rita Roy, BA ’88, MS ’91, MD ’94, is CEO of the National Spine Health Foundation.

Heath Schmidt, BS ’99, is an associate professor of pharmacology and neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania. He was recently awarded a new R01 to study a novel neuropeptide system regulating cocaine-taking and-seeking behaviors.

Albert Tarasuk, BA ‘60, is a practicing urologic surgeon in New York.

Dedeene Thompson-Montgomery, BA ‘92, MD ’88, is a research associate with the American Red Cross Biomedical Services Division, Transfusion Innovation Department at The Jerome Holland Laboratory. She works on platelets, platelets recovery and survival in vivo.

Althea Tyndall-Smith, BS ’91, is a family physician in Gainesville, Fla. She served for five on the faculty at the University of Florida College of Medicine.

Paul Upman, BA ‘70, is a former hospital corpsman in the U.S. Navy. He retired in 2006 after working for 40 years as the scientific director for NAmSA in Toledo, Ohio.

Perry Van Over, MS ‘96, practiced patent law in Washington, D.C. for 20 years. He is now enjoying his retirement in McKinney, Texas.

Mitchell Zeitler, BS‘75, practiced anesthesiology for 13 years in Maryland and 20 years in Florida.

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Donor Recognition

The Department of Biological Sciences would like to gratefully acknowledge the generous donors who made a gift to the department from July 1, 2018 – June 30, 2019. 

+ Faculty/Staff | # Parent | ~ Student | * Friend

Reem Al Shabeeb, BS ’17

Steven Bergmann, Ph.D., BA ’72

Joseph Favorito #

Laura Favorito #

Wendy Fott, BS ’92

Stephen Gordon, M.D., AA ’60, BS ’62

Jeffrey Guertin, BS ’05

Christopher Suhwa Hsu, BA ’07

Emily Kleczko, Ph.D., BS ’07

Kenneth Leonard, BS ’80

Nola Masterson, MS ’71

David Rothenberg #

Amal Rubai, Ph.D.,  #

Robin Sadja, BS ’85

Katherine Scott-Mejia, BS ’88, MS ’93

Jennifer Seirafi, BS 92, M.D. ’00

Vishakha Sharma, BS ’08, Ph.D.’13

Sophia Shea, BS ’15

Barbara Shipes, Ph.D. ’88

Ira Singer, BS ’74, M.D. ’78

Cathy Singer, BS ’74, MS ’78

Lane Srochi, BA ’77

Alexandra Straus, BS ’19

Emily Wendel, BS ‘18

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