Meet our team

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

Colleen Zaccard, PhD, Chair, Research Assistant Professor, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University

Dr. Colleen Zaccard is a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Physiology at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Her research focuses on the rapidly evolving field of neuroimmunology. Dr. Zaccard’s long-standing interest in immunology, infectious diseases, and public health began with her undergraduate studies 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. In support of these efforts, Dr. Zaccard was recently awarded the 2020-21 Northwestern Alzheimer’s Disease Pilot Grant. 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 and Co-founder of Chicago Women in STEM Initiative, she leads a large team of postdoc, grad student, and Chicago-area professional volunteers in implementing programs to support early career women. These efforts include the annual Chicago Women in STEM Symposium, established in March 2018, and STEM Circuits, a monthly interdisciplinary cross-career level mentoring program. The 2019 Daniel I. Linzer Grant for Innovation in Diversity and Equity was awarded to Dr. Zaccard and colleagues by the Provost Office to support these efforts. Dr. Zaccard was selected in 2019 for the Postdoctoral McBride Award for furthering the Graduate School’s strategic priorities of campus diversity, service, and engagement. As a 2019 Leadership Fellow for the Northwestern Center for Leadership, Dr. Zaccard worked in interdisciplinary teams to explore strategies for positively shaping the campus landscape. In late 2019, she received the first Early Career-Motivator Award from the American Women in Science (AWIS)-Chicago Chapter for her service in providing new resources and opportunities for Chicago-area women pursuing a scientist career trajectory. In the face of COVID-19, Dr. Zaccard and colleagues remain committed to providing volunteer opportunities and programming for early career women in a virtual format.

Twitter @ColleenZaccard

Julia Quinlan, PhD, Vice-chair, Research Fellow, Northwestern University Prosthetics-Orthotics Center, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University

Dr. Julia Quinlan is the Vice-chair of the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative. Julia is a research fellow at Northwestern University Prosthetics-Orthotics Center, Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. She is a Project Director of No Longer Smooth: Introducing Striations into Prosthetic Socket Construction to Improve Suspension, Rotation, Fit and Comfort. She is impassioned in applying biomedical research to improve women’s lives. Such research includes examining mechanical properties of women-specific, adjustable prosthetic feet and the effects of footwear with different heel heights. Julia earned her PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Focused on spine biomechanics, Dr. Quinlan developed, constructed and utilized custom apparatus for her dissertation on intervertebral disc degeneration. Completing her master’s program in her native Slovakia, Julia mentored graduate and undergraduate students toward STEM pursuits; a commitment she continues to uphold today. A comprehensive leader in the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative, she adaptively effects positive change by managing volunteers, marketing and helping to coordinate monthly STEM circuit programs and symposium events. Julia is a passionate leader who firmly believes in building a diverse and inclusive working environment. Her lifelong passion is to champion and support women, people with disabilities and underrepresented communities to become future leaders in STEM.

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.

Erika Ramos, BS, Treasurer & Fundraising Chair, PhD Candidate, Northwestern University

Erika Ramos is a PhD candidate in the Department of Pharmacology at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. She earned her Bachelors of Science in Biological Sciences at the University of California Irvine. After graduation, she was a PREP Scholar at Case Western Reserve University for a year before entering graduate school. Her current research investigates the role of cancer stem cells and their exosomes in breast cancer metastasis. Erika is passionate about mentorship and promoting STEM in underrepresented communities.

Rachel Burga, PhD, Lead Symposium Coordinator, Outreach Director, Postdoctoral Fellow, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University

Rachel is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Neurological Surgery at Northwestern University, where she focuses on integrating cell therapy and nano-mediated gene editing towards developing enhanced therapeutics for glioblastoma. Rachel completed her PhD in Immunology at George Washington University in 2019 and is very passionate about cancer therapeutics. As a bioengineer with a background in cellular engineering, she took a unique approach in her graduate research to develop nano-immunotherapies for the treatment of challenging pediatric malignancies. Specifically, she focused on genetic modification of natural killer (NK) cells coupled with multi-functional nanoparticles as a directed therapy for neuroblastoma. Rachel has always strived to include outreach as an important component of her life; she co-chaired a local Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) symposium for middle school students, and loves teaching younger students about the diverse opportunities available in a scientific career. Through Chicago Women in STEM she is grateful for the opportunity to continue to grow her network of women and men with a range of scientific (and non-scientific) backgrounds, and to connect with organizations that support STEM outreach and workshops for younger students here in the Chicago area.

Farners Amargant i Riera, PhD, STEM Circuits Lead Coordinator, Postdoctoral Fellow, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University

Farners is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University. She is originally from Catalonia, Spain, where she obtained her PhD in 2018 from the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, where she studied the role of the sperm centrosome during fertilization and early development. During her PhD, Dr. Amargant also developed novel methods to improve the Assisted Reproduction Technologies (ART) success rates. Then, she moved to Chicago to continue her research in female reproductive aging. Farners joined the Chicago Women in STEM initiative in May 2019 and serves as the Administrative Coordinator. She is also part of the International Women’s Day organization committee. Farners advocates for gender and ethnicity equity in STEM. Additionally, she is part of the trainee advisory board of the Center for Reproductive Sciences at Northwestern.

Kathleen (Kacey) Suvada, STEM Circuits Coordinator, Social Media Coordinator – FB and Instagram, PhD Student, Northwestern University

Kathleen ( Kacey) Suvada is a third year PhD Candidate in the Neuroscience PhD program at Northwestern University.  She studies motor control post stroke in humans and how a stroke impacts activities of daily living. Kacey takes part is various types of outreach including working with elementary school kids and teaching them basic scientific principles, educating high school teachers about the field of neuroscience and how they can teach their students about the brain, advocating for gender equality specifically in STEM fields, and speaking about mental health awareness in high schools around Chicago. Kacey hopes to continue these passions beyond her time at Northwestern as she pursues her career.

Caren Nassif, STEM Circuits Coordinator- MA Candidate, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University

Caren Nassif is a MA candidate in Clinical Psychology (with a concentration in Neuropsychology and Behavioral Neuroscience) in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, where she studies the clinical, cognitive and anatomical features of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia disorders. Her research goal is to develop a better understanding of the neuropathology of neurodegenerative disorders and to find novel patient-centered treatments. After receiving her Masters degree, Caren aspires to get her Ph.D. in clinical neuropsychology, where she hopes to
continue applying the same methods to her research. Throughout her career in STEM, Caren hopes to continue to spread awareness of the significant role women play in science and in our society.

Anna Di Staulo, Social Media Coordinator – Blog & Website, PhD Student, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine

Anna Di Staulo is a PhD student at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine. She earned her Bachelors of Science at Saint Louis University. After graduation she worked for a couple years as a clinical trial coordinator and research technician before pursuing her PhD. Her research interests lie in stem cell biology and tissue engineering. Anna joined the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative in the spring of 2019 and serves as a Social Media Coordinator. In this role she manages both the blog and the website. In her free time, Anna enjoys cooking, reading historical fiction, and camping.

Barbara Szynal, Social Media Coordinator – Twitter, PhD Student, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine

Barbara is a PhD student at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine. She earned her Honors BS in Biochemistry from Loyola University Chicago, where she lead research focused on synthesizing and testing photodynamic therapy agents for cancer treatment. Her research interests lie in better understanding cellular mechanisms and signaling pathways in order to design better therapeutics. Her current research focuses on bioengineering antibiotic and light-activatable proteins. Barbara joined the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative in early 2020 as a Social Media Twitter Coordinator. She hopes that through this role she will be able to continue building a strong network of women in STEM.

Jennifer Bogs, MBA, JD, Social Media Coordinator – LinkedIn, Graduate Student, Loyola University Chicago’s School of Environmental Sustainability

Jennifer Bogs is a corporate environmental professional in the Chicago area. She graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in Environmental Science and a Masters of Business Administration and also holds a law degree from John Marshall/UIC. Jennifer was admitted to the Illinois State Bar in 2013 and enjoys work that meets at the intersection of environmental science, business and policy. Currently a student of Loyola University Chicago’s School of Environmental Sustainability, Jennifer is pursuing a graduate level certificate program in Sustainability Assessments and Planning. Jennifer joined Chicago Women in Stem in order to give back and to support the future women and men of STEM.

Jill Wenderhott, PhD, STEM Circuits Coordinator – Evanston Campus, Postdoctoral Fellow, Materials Sciences and Engineering, Northwestern University

Jill is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) at Northwestern University. Her research focuses on the bulk and thin film syntheses of multi-anionic materials for use in a variety of applications including water-splitting devices. Outside of the lab, Jill has interests in educational outreach and improving diversity in the STEM fields, and she collaborates with organizations like the graduate Society of Women Engineers (GradSWE) at Northwestern. She is also currently serving as the ​VP of Fundraising for the Association for Women in Science, Chicago chapter. Before arriving at Northwestern, Jill was at the University of Michigan, where she completed her PhD in MSE in June 2018.

Kristoffer Myczek, PhD, Operations Manager

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. 

Blanca Gutierrez, Assistant STEM Circuits Coordinator-Chicago Campus, PhD Student, Driskill Graduate Program, Northwestern University

Blanca Gutierrez is a PhD candidate and a Fulbright Fellow in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Blanca is originally from Mexico where she got her Bachelor of Science degree at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico in 2016. Her interest in research and blood diseases lead her to pursue graduate studies at NU. Blanca’s current research focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms that drive chemotherapy resistance in leukemia patients. By helping the Chicago Women in STEM initiative, Blanca hopes to increase awareness about gender and ethnic bias to encourage equality in the field.