Meet our team

The Chicago Women in STEM Initiative is led by a team of over 20 dedicated graduate student, postdoctoral and professional volunteers, as well as liasons from Chicago-area academic institutions and organizations that are committed to promoting equity and diversity in the local STEM community and beyond.


Colleen Zaccard, PhD, Chair, Postdoctoral Fellow, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University

Dr. Colleen Zaccard is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Physiology at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, where her research focuses on the rapidly evolving field of neuro-immunology. Her long-standing interest in immunology, infectious diseases, and public health began when she was an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and continued with her predoctoral research on novel mechanisms of immune cell communication during HIV infection at the University of Pittsburgh. She currently utilizes enhanced-resolution, live-cell microscopy techniques to investigate dynamic neuro-immune cell cross-talk in health and neuro-psychiatric disorders, i.e., Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Zaccard is also a strong advocate for gender equity and diversity in STEM, where women are still under-represented at advanced career stages and in leadership. As inaugural Chair of the Northwestern University Postdoctoral Association’s Chicago Women in STEM Initiative, she leads a team of over 20 postdoctoral and student volunteers in implementing programs to support the success of early-career women. They recently launched STEM Circuits, an interdisciplinary mentoring program at Northwestern that drew over 160 registrants, and they are planning a second annual conference on International Women’s Day to raise community awareness of implicit bias in STEM. Dr. Zaccard and colleagues were recently awarded a 2019 Daniel I. Linzer Grant for Innovation in Diversity and Equity by the office of the Provost in support of these ongoing efforts. Dr. Zaccard was also selected as a 2019 Leadership Fellow by the Northwestern Center for Leadership, which emphasizes the utilization of interdisciplinary teams to conduct research and shape a diverse and inclusive campus landscape.


Svetlana Kurilova, PhD, Communications Director

Grace Bellinger, STEM Circuits Study Design and Implementation Director, PhD Candidate, Northwestern University

Grace Bellinger is a PhD candidate in the Northwestern University Interdepartmental Neuroscience (NUIN) program. She joined the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative in January 2018 and serves as the STEM Circuits Liaison. Grace’s research focuses on stroke rehabilitation within the Department of Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences. She studies various motor impairments contributing to reaching dysfunction in individuals who have experienced a stroke. Outside science, Grace has strong interests in teaching, public health, and programming supporting women in STEM.


Kristoffer Myczek, PhD, Recruitment Coordinator, Postdoctoral Scholar, Northwestern University

Since joining the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative, Kris has helped to grow membership and foster inter-collegiate collaborations.  His goals are to expand the reach of the organization, refine and develop strategic aims, and ultimately, expand the leadership opportunities for underrepresented minorities in STEM in the greater Chicagoland area.  He also volunteers and coordinates events with the Northwestern University Postdoctoral Association (NUPA).  As a postdoc in Northwestern’s Physiology department, Kris researches the synaptic phenotypes and pathogenesis of stress-related genetic risk factors for psychiatric disorders.  He received his Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of California, Irvine, and his B.S. in Psychology and Molecular/Cellular Biology from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. 

Valerie Fako Miller, PhD is the Assistant Director of Postdoctoral Affairs at the University of Chicago Biological Sciences Division. Prior to joining University of Chicago, Dr. Miller completed a three-year postdoctoral fellowship in the Laboratory of Human Carcinogenesis at the National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute, focusing on liver cancer genomics. Dr. Miller has extensive experience in career and professional development efforts for postdocs, having participated in the leadership of the NIH Fellows Committee, NCI Center for Cancer Research Fellows & Young Investigators Association, NCI Center for Cancer Training, Association for Women in Science, and the National Postdoctoral Association. Dr. Miller is a Chicagoland native who completed her Bachelor’s degree in chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Master’s degree in chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and PhD in pharmacology at the Indiana University School of Medicine.


Thao Pham, PhD, Marketing Director, Postdoctoral Fellow, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University

Thao is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Medicine at Northwestern University.  She got her PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago where she conducted a comprehensive study on the role of PKCα in breast cancer metastasis. Thao received the Translational Bridge Fellowship from the Lurie Cancer Center to investigate novel therapeutic regimens for advanced, metastatic thyroid cancer and pancreatic cancer. She has continuously and actively participated in local organizations that broaden the impact of STEM in under-represented communities. Since 2015, she has been a committee officer for the Graduate Women in Science at Chicago. Her role is to oversee chapters’ outreach and educational activities that service graduate students and postdocs in the Chicago area. Thao is excited about the opportunity to work with the Chicago Women in STEM initiative as she believes in their impact on raising awareness and bringing the larger Chicago community together to celebrate the contributions of women in STEM fields.

Claudia B. Späni, PhD, Social Media Coordinator, Postdoctoral Fellow, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern 

Claudia B. Späni, Ph.D., is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, where she is investigating brain proteome changes associated with cognitive aging and Alzheimer’s Disease. She is originally from Switzerland, where she obtained her doctoral degree from the University of Zurich in 2015, showing that the adaptive immune system plays an important role in Alzheimer’s Disease pathogenesis. She already completed a two-year postdoctoral training period at the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging at the University of Kentucky, studying the influence of neuroinflammation on traumatic brain injury. Additionally, she serves on the Board of Directors of the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) and is an active member of the “Women’s Brain Project”. In her free time, she enjoys travelling, reading, and scuba diving.


Valerie Fako Miller, PhD, Liason, Assistant Director of Postdoctoral Affairs at the University of Chicago Biological Sciences Division

Valerie Fako Miller, PhD is the Assistant Director of Postdoctoral Affairs at the University of Chicago Biological Sciences Division. Prior to joining University of Chicago, Dr. Miller completed a three-year postdoctoral fellowship in the Laboratory of Human Carcinogenesis at the National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute, focusing on liver cancer genomics. Dr. Miller has extensive experience in career and professional development efforts for postdocs, having participated in the leadership of the NIH Fellows Committee, NCI Center for Cancer Research Fellows & Young Investigators Association, NCI Center for Cancer Training, Association for Women in Science, and the National Postdoctoral Association. Dr. Miller is a Chicagoland native who completed her Bachelor’s degree in chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Master’s degree in chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and PhD in pharmacology at the Indiana University School of Medicine.