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.

Farners Amargant i Riera, PhD, President, Postdoctoral Fellow, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University

Farners is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University. Farners is passionate about women’s health and her research has always been tightly aligned with the study of the female reproductive system. Dr. Amargant’s current research is focused on understanding the molecular causes of reproductive aging with the long-term objective to find treatments to extend reproductive longevity and improve overall women’s health. Farners 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 embryo early development. During her PhD, she also developed a novel system to be used as a gamete selection tool in Assisted Reproduction Technologies (ART). In addition to her research, she is actively involved in teaching, serving as a co-chair of several conferences, editing scientific journals, serving on committees, among many other roles. Dr. Amargant’s work has been recognized by several awards such as the “Lewis Landsberg Research Day award for Excellence in Women’s Health Research” and the “Society for the Study of Reproduction trainee research award”. Farners received the Global Consortium for Reproductive Longevity and Equality (GCRLE) grant to develop new treatments and technologies to delay reproductive aging (2020-2022). Farners joined the Chicago Women in STEM initiative in May 2019 and served as the Administrative Coordinator. She then took a more senior role in the initiative and co-organized the 2020-2021 edition of the STEM Circuits together with Kacey Suvada and Caren Nassif. In 2021, Farners was elected as the new President of the initiative, and she currently works very closely with Kacey Suvada (Vice-President) and Colleen Zaccard (Advisory Committee Chair) to establish a strong community of women in STEM in the Chicago-area and helping other Women in STEM initiatives around US. One of the main objectives that Farners has during her role as President is to promote the growth of the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative and to welcome new members from all backgrounds, nationalities, genders, and orientations to make science a more inclusive environment.  
Twitter @FarnersRiera 

Kathleen (Kacey) Suvada, Vice President, PhD Candidate, Northwestern University

Kathleen (Kacey) Suvada is the Vice President of the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative and has been with the initiative since 2018. She is a current PhD Candidate in Neuroscience with a BS in physics and mathematics. Her current research interests implement her interdisciplinary background to understand research questions post brain injury with Dr. Ana Maria Acosta and Dr. Julius Dewald. Her research lies at the boundaries of neuroscience, engineering, and neurorehabilitation in studying the impact of a stroke on reaching coordination with the trunk. The goal of her work is to further understand the consequences of altered neural control post stroke and its impact on postural control during a seated reach, and how reaching function may be affected beyond what we have observed with the limb in isolation. Kacey is also engaged in several different organizations inside and outside Northwestern. Kacey volunteers with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) educating the Chicago area and Chicago public schools about mental health, mental illness, and mental well-being. In addition, through the Northwestern University Brain Awareness Outreach and Science in Society, she educates K-12 students and science teachers about the basics of Neuroscience with multiple events held during the school year. The goal is to introduce and motivate students to pursue science at a young age. Kacey hopes to remain involved in these passions as she continues her career in research after her PhD. She is thrilled to be a part of the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative and to be a part of this community of amazingly inspiring individuals. 

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.

Anna Di Staulo, IWD Committee Member & Social Media Coordinator – Website, PhD Candidate, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine

Anna Di Staulo is a PhD candidate 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. She is currently investigating the bone marrow microenvironment and its regulation of hematopoietic stem cells. Anna joined the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative in the spring of 2019 and serves as a member of the IWD Committee Member and Social Media Coordinator. By helping the Chicago Women in STEM initiative, Anna hopes to increase awareness about gender and ethnic bias to encourage equality in the field. Additionally, Anna serves as the Vice President of her graduate student association (GEMSSA) where she enjoys planning STEM outreach and social events. In her free time, Anna enjoys cooking, reading historical fiction, and camping.

Michelle Teplensky, PhD, IWD Committee Member, Postdoctoral Fellow, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University

Michelle is a postdoctoral fellow in the department of Chemistry at Northwestern University. She develops nanotechnology to be potent vaccines to treat cancer and infectious disease. Through modular design and tuning nanoscale architectures, we have the capability to retrain the body’s natural immune system. Michelle completed her PhD at the University of Cambridge under a Gates Cambridge Scholarship in Chemical Engineering, and her B.S. at MIT in Chemical-Biological Engineering. Within the Chicago Women in STEM initiative, Michelle is helping to coordinate the 2022 Annual Symposium. She is passionate about making science exciting and accessible to young students, as well as bridging scientific fields through interdisciplinary collaborations.

Jaqueline (Jackie) Rojas, IWD Committee Member, Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois at Chicago

Jaqueline is currently a Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. student working in the Laboratory for Oxide and Research Education (LORE) located at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She also earned her Bachelors of Science in Bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she developed an interest in biomaterials. Currently, her research interests include studying nanocomposite materials and developing biological applications of materials for renewable energy use and antimicrobial resistance solutions. In addition to her research work, Jaqueline enjoys STEM outreach and education involvement. She is also the current GradSWE President for UIC and part of the SHPE Region 6 National Graduate Student Committee.

Barbara Szynal, STEM Circuits Committee Member & Social Media Coordinator – Twitter, PhD Candidate, 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.

Divya Joshi, STEM Circuits Committee Member, PhD Candidate in Biomedical Engineering, Northwestern University

Divya Joshi is a PhD Candidate in Biomedical Engineering in the Department of Physical Therapy and Human Movement Science at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Before pursuing her PhD, Divya earned her Bachelors of Science in Biomedical Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis. Her research develops and implements novel imaging and biomechanical measurement tools to quantify deficits in musculoskeletal structure following cerebral palsy. Divya is passionate about advancing pediatric rehabilitative medicine, as well as fostering community and involvement in communities affected by childhood-onset disabilities. Additionally, she is enthusiastic about STEM outreach and education, particularly with women and children. Divya joined the initiative in February 2021 and is currently a co-coordinator of the monthly STEM Circuits program. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and trying new restaurants, reading, painting, and yoga.

Nasreen Choudhury, PhD, STEM Circuits Committee Member

Nasreen is an ex-postdoctoral fellow from the Rush University Medical Center. She earned her PhD at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India where she investigated the hormonal regulation of an ion channel. Her research interests lie in understanding the dysfunction of ion channels in brain diseases and potentially contributing to developing ion channel-targeting therapeutics. Nasreen has always had an interest in science outreach and mentoring activities and writes a popular science blog called “InEvitable Science”. She joined the initiative in September 2020 as a volunteer and is now supporting the STEM Circuits activities remotely from Germany while exploring career options in science communication and project management.

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

Jennifer Bogs is a corporate environmental and sustainability 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. Jennifer joined Chicago Women in Stem in order to give back and to support the future women and men of STEM.

Advisory Committee Team

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

Dr. Colleen Zaccard is a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Neuroscience 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. Dr. Zaccard was recently awarded the 2020-21 Northwestern Alzheimer’s Disease Pilot Grant to support her research. 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 Founder and Inaugural Chair of Chicago Women in STEM Initiative, she has led a large team of postdoc, grad student, and Chicago-area professional volunteers in implementing programs to support early career women. These efforts included 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. 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. Beginning in 2021, Dr. Zaccard has transitioned to an advisory role in the in Initiative, serving as Advisory Committee Chair.

Twitter @ColleenZaccard

Julia Quinlan, PhD, Advisory Committee Member

Dr. Julia Quinlan is an Advisory Committee member of the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative. Julia was 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.

Rachel Burga, PhD, Advisory Committee Member

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.