Our Team

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Our Team2024-03-19T18:12:10+00:00

Meet Our Worlds of Connections Team

The National Institutes of Health Worlds of Connections Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) team combines experts who are committed to engaging youth with knowledge and careers in network science for health. Team members have training in a variety of disciplines (sociology, anthropology, computer science, mathematics, biology, genetics, public health, science education, learning research, psychology, graphic design, augmented reality/virtual reality, informal science education, museum curation, educational communication and technology, and discipline-based education research). In addition to focusing on their specific roles on the project, team members work synergistically to achieve project goals.

Julia McQuillan
Julia McQuillanPrincipal Investigator (2018–Present)
Professor and Chair, Sociology, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Kirk Dombrowski
Kirk DombrowskiCo-Investigator (2018–2020) and Network Scientist
Vice President for Research, The University of Vermont
Bilal Khan
Bilal KhanCo-Investigator (2018–2022) and Network Scientist
Professor of Computer Science & Engineering, LeHigh University
Christine Cutucache
Christine CutucacheCo-Investigator (2018–2022) and NE STEM 4U Founder
CEO and Co-owner of  Cutucache Consolidated, LLC
Trish Wonch Hill
Trish Wonch HillCo-Investigator and Director of Learning Research (2018–Present)
Sociologist and Research Associate Professor, Center for Science, Mathematics and Computer Education, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Judy Diamond
Judy DiamondScience Connector Coordinator (2018–Present)
Curator and Professor of Informal Science Education, University of Nebraska State Museum
Wendy Smith
Wendy SmithSenior Personnel (2018–Present)
Research Associate Professor and Director, Center for Science, Mathematics and Computer Education, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Colleen Syron
Colleen SyronGraphic Design and Communications Director (2018–2021)
Founder and Director, Syron Design
Amy Spiegel
Amy SpiegelInternal Evaluator (2018–Present)
Research Associate Professor, Methodology and Evaluation Research Core, Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Consortium, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Michelle Phillips
Michelle PhillipsExternal Evaluator
President and Senior Researcher, Phillips & Associates
Senior Researcher, Inverness Research
Megan Elliot
Megan ElliotAugmented Reality/Virtual Reality Coordinator (2018–Present)
Founding Director, Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Nova Gocchi Carrasco
Nova Gocchi CarrascoNetwork Science Activities and NE STEM 4U: Lincoln Director (2018–2019); Rural Drug Addiction Research Center Liaison (2019–Present)
Research Specialist, REACH Lab, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Grace Stallworth
Grace StallworthProject Coordinator (2018–2019)
Project Associate, Bureau of Sociological Research, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Meghan Leadabrand
Meghan LeadabrandProject Coordinator (2019–Present)
Project Coordinator, Sociology, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Ash Smith
Ash SmithAugmented Reality/Virtual Faculty (2020–Present)
Assistant Professor, Johnny Carson School of Emerging Media Arts, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Joel Brehm
Joel BrehmWebsite Admin (2021–Present)
Web Developer and Designer, Bolero Information Systems

Meet Our Worlds of Connections Undergraduate Teammates

Elizabeth Jardee
Elizabeth JardeeUndegraduate Mentor (2020–Present)
Elizabeth Jardee is a senior, majoring in Business Administration and Microbiology.

I initially began mentoring because I love all things STEM and wanted to help share my love of learning with others.

Karen Rodriguez
Karen RodriguezNE STEM 4U Mentor (2022–Present)

Karen Rodriguez is a Sophomore currently majoring in Sociology and Philosophy

Professor of Sociology Julia McQuillan invited me to interview for a mentor position at the NE STEM 4U Program. When I learned more about the program’s purpose and mission, I became interested. Ever since middle school, I have worked with a mentor. Having a college student mentor at that age really inspired me to chase my dreams of one day attending college to pursue my interest in STEM.

Adam Wong
Adam WongNE STEM 4U Mentor (2022–Present)
Adam Wong is a sophomore majoring in Actuarial Science and Accounting.

What interested me in NE STEM 4U was the ability to make a difference by being part of this program. I am also thrilled that part of my responsibilities includes practicing and guiding all sorts of fun activities.

Brecken Obermueller
Brecken ObermuellerNE STEM 4U Mentor (2021–Present)
Brecken Obermueller is a sophomore computer science major with a minor in entrepreneurship.

I was interested in NE STEM 4U because when I was in 3rd grade I attended a STEM day once a week. That is where I learned how to code and do experiments, and what got me interested in science. I wanted to be that person that got the younger kids interested in STEM fields and showed them that it was possible.

Kayla Gaertig
Kayla GaertigNE STEM 4U Mentor (2021–Present)
Kayla Gaertig is a senior at UNL who is majoring in biology with minors in psychology and humanities in medicine. I became interested in becoming a mentor because I love teaching kids about science and the different scientific possibilities in jobs which aligned with the STEM 4U goal and mission.

Meet Our NE STEM 4U–Lincoln Mentors Emeriti

Shayla McNear (2018–2019)
Shayla McNear (2018–2019)
Nestor Hernandez (2018–2019)
Nestor Hernandez (2018–2019)
Luke Novack (2018–2019)
Luke Novack (2018–2019)
Grecia Macias (2018–2019)
Grecia Macias (2018–2019)
Amjad Awlad-Thani (2019–2020)
Amjad Awlad-Thani (2019–2020)
Alvaro Moreno Lozano
Alvaro Moreno LozanoNE STEM 4U Mentor (2019–2020)
Amy Klar
Amy KlarUndergraduate Mentor (2019–2020)
Aditi Jain
Aditi JainUndergraduate Mentor (2019–2020)
Chika Akwani
Chika AkwaniUndergraduate Mentor (2019–2020)

Meet Our Worlds of Connections Advisory Committee Members

We are fortunate to have an advisory committee with extensive and diverse expertise. Some members are science advisors, helping to shape the activities by identifying research that addresses the gaps in public understanding about network science and evaluating the merits of proposed topics and ideas. Others focus on the education and diversity components of the project, providing input on audience needs, existing resources, and effective communications strategies for target constituencies. Still others guide the development and dissemination of project emerging media arts deliverables apps, podcasts, and the Internet, and several current and former teachers provide input as to the appropriateness of the network science topics for middle school youth. We are particularly excited to involve three recent B.A.-degree alumni of the UNL Department of Sociology—two were involved in UNL’s prior Biology of Human SEPA and currently work in public health, and one is pursuing postgraduate education in health informatics.

Regardless of their specialized expertise, all advisors provide advice regarding the program’s overall direction. They assess the program with respect to evaluation and learning research productivity, professional skill development, publications produced, and leadership demonstrated in the field. They also evaluate the program’s success in recruiting underrepresented minorities and women and in selecting appropriate deliverable content, the accessibility of program activities and deliverables, and develop effective dissemination plans and partnerships.

James Blake

K-12 Science Curriculum Specialist, Lincoln Public Schools

Dr. James Blake has fourteen years of experience in science education as a 7-12 science teacher, state science supervisor, and now K-12 science curriculum specialist.

Nola Derby-Bennett

Lincoln 21st Century Community Learning Centers Director

Nola Derby-Bennett, MA, directs Lincoln’s 26 current Community Learning Centers located in schools and supports the development and implementation of safe, supervised before- and after-school programs, weekend and summer enrichment opportunities and other support services for children, families and neighborhoods.

Kirk Dombrowski

Vice President for Research, The University of Vermont

Trained as a cultural anthropologist, Dr. Kirk Dombrowski is an active researcher whose work straddles the social and behavioral health sciences, addresses issues of public concern and social good, such as HIV infection dynamics, drug and alcohol addiction, minority health disparities, and suicide prevention in Native American/First Nation communities. His research has received funding from NSF, NIH, and numerous foundation sources; and his published work has appeared in social science, computer science and health science journals.

Leslie Eastman

Director of Assessment and Evaluation, Lincoln Public Schools

Dr. Leslie Eastman leads the creation of assessment and evaluation reports for Lincoln Public Schools and collaborates on research to identify ways to improve educational outcomes for K-12 youth.

G. Robin Gauthier

Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Dr. Robin Gauthier uses social network analysis for health research. As a postdoctoral researcher in the Minority Health Disparities Initiative, she led the conceptualization and analysis of a peer-reviewed social science publication using network data on middle school youth from the prior Biology of Human SEPA project.

Sarah Gergen

Eighth Grade Science Teacher, Irving Middle School

Sarah Gergen is an experienced middle school science teacher who specializes in hands-on, inquiry-based education. She participated in a Biology of Human SEPA workshop on activating youth STEM identities and the 2019 Worlds of Connections SEPA Network Science Institute for Teachers.

Chittibabu (Babu) Guda

Professor, Department of Genetics, Cell Biology, and Anatomy and Director, Bioinformatics and Systems Biology Core, University of Nebraska Medical Center

Dr. Babu Guda leads the Bioinformatics Core for the IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence-Nebraska Research Network in Functional Genomics project and applies network science to measure cancer protein interactions.

Judi M gaiashkibos

Executive Director, Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs

An enrolled member of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, Judi gaiashkibos has served as the Executive Director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs since 1995.  In 2006, she was elected President of the Governor’s Interstate Indian Council (GIIC), a national organization with the mission of improving and promoting cooperation between state and tribal governments.  She is also actively involved in nonprofit service, has won numerous service awards in Nebraska and nationally. Ms. gaiashkibos served on the advisory board for prior SEPA grants and supports Native youth leadership and STEM summer camps.

Mary Herrington

Educator and Community Learning Center/UNL STEM/Engineering Curriculum Coordinator, Culler Middle School

Mary Herrington has more than 20 years of experience creating after-school programs for middle school youth, including “Roads, Rails, and Race Cars” (developed with UNL and the Nebraska Transportation Center) and “Empire Builders” (developed with Southeast Community College and the Lincoln Public Schools Career Academy). She participated in the the 2019 Worlds of Connections SEPA Network Science Institute for Teachers.

Bilal Khan

Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, LeHigh University

Dr. Khan is a mathematician whose transdisciplinary research emerges from theory/applications of networks, ranging from the evolutionary emergence of social organization in wireless cognitive radio systems to the modeling and simulation of dynamic human social systems particularly in the context of public health.

Jorge Ledesma

Post-Bachelor Fellow, Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation  

Jorge Ledesma earned a B.A. in Sociology from UNL in 2017, collected and analyzed data on middle school youth focused on English language learners and health, and served as a collaborator on a social network analysis of Biology of Human SEPA-funded middle school youth data focused on the role of friends and science clubs in science identities among underrepresented minority youth. He holds a prestigious fellowship at the University of Washington in global health using “Big Data”.

Sara H. LeRoy-Toren

Lecturer, College of Education and Human Sciences and Research Associate, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Sara LeRoy-Toren, MA, is a former science-focused high school science teacher, facilitator of former Biology of Human SEPA science club at a Community Learning Center, and educator for secondary science pre-service teaching program.

Grecia Macias

Masters Student, University of Michigan

As an undergraduate at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and NE STEM 4U Afterschool Club mentor, Grecia Macias helped create and implement network science activities.  She is currently a Master of Health Informatics student at the University of Michigan and continues to work on STEM activities and public museum exhibits at the U-M Museum of Natural History.

Camillia Matuk

Assistant Professor of Educational Communication and Technology, New York University

Dr. Camillia Matuk designs and researches learning environments, particularly the Web-based Inquiry Science Environment. She leads undergraduate and graduate studio courses on gaming for learning. Dr. Matuk served as a valuable member of the Biology of Human SEPA advisory board and attended an annual SEPA meeting.

La’Risa McLennon

Injury Prevention Specialist, Children’s Hospital and Medical Center

As an undergraduate sociology major at UNL, La’Risa McLennon, MPH, led SEPA-funded after-school science clubs, helped to create activities, provided feedback, and provided the voice of the teacher for the Biology of Human Occupied comic app on gut microbes. Part of her master’s degree in public health was funded by the Biology of Human SEPA. She also designed public health messaging focused on increasing early detection of breast cancer among black women in Omaha, NE and now works in public health focused on youth.

Jeffrey Smith

Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Dr. Jeffrey Smith teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on social network analysis; publishes methodological articles in top social science journals that advance network science; and uses social network analysis to explain social class, race, and gender differences in health risk and outcomes.

Rebecca Smith

Co-Director, Science & Health Education Partnership, University of California–San Francisco 

Dr. Rebecca Smith is Co-Director of the UCSF’s SEPA to have high school students create health messaging for peers and co-author on a Biology of Human SEPA book. Close collaborations with Dr. Smith on learning research on youth STEM identities include partnering in a SEPA conference workshop on measuring STEM identities.

Julie Thomas

Interim Associate Dean for Research and Research Professor in the College of Education; Department of Teaching, Learning, and Teacher Education; University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Dr. Julie Thomas specializes in science education and using technology for education. She has an extensive research record on teacher training for science education and on-line education. Dr. Thomas supports college-wide research on education.

James B. Turpen

Professor Emeritus, Genetics, Cell Biology, and Anatomy; Associate Vice Chancellor, Academic Affairs;  Executive Associate Dean, Graduate Studies, University of Nebraska Medical Center

Dr. James Turpen is Principal Investigator of the National Institutes of Health-funded IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence program in Nebraska (NIH P20 GM103427)