Meet the AWIS National Governing Board
Chair Isabel Escobar, PhD
Paul W. Chellgren Chair Professor and Professor of Chemical Engineering, Director of the Chellgren Center for Undergraduate Student Excellence, University of Kentucky
Dr. Escobar a Professor in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering at the University of Kentucky. She is also Associate Director of the Center of Membrane Sciences and Co-Director of the College of Engineering Undergraduate Research Scholars Program, both at the University of Kentucky. Isabel Escobar and her research group have published over 75 articles in peer-reviewed journals/book chapters and have made over 200 presentations at national/international conferences. In September of 2015, Escobar gave a TEDx talk on Worldwide Water Issues. She is the Past-President of the North American Membrane Society.
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Chair-Elect Neelima Rao
Vice President of Human Resources for Global Oncology R&D and North America Country Lead at AstraZeneca
At AstraZeneca, Neelima Rao is responsible for defining and implementing workforce and workplace strategy across multiple geographies globally. She also serves as the HR Chair of the AstraZeneca North America Governance Committee. She has over 20 years of experience driving successful change, growth, and innovation across complex and global organizations in the Life Sciences industry. She has led large-scale transformational agenda in acquisition, ramp-up, turnaround and integration environment. Rao is passionate about driving business outcomes through designing fit-for purpose organizations, building high performing teams and shaping desired cultures. She has a Master’s degree in human resources from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. In addition to serving the AWIS board, Rao has been serving as an Inclusive Growth Committee Advisor for Greater Washington Partnership, a civic alliance focused on catalyzing equitable solutions that make the region the best place to live, work, and thrive.
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Secretary, Brittany Parker Kerrigan, PhD
Associate Director of Research Planning and Development of the Brain Tumor Center at MD Anderson Cancer Center
Brittany C. Parker Kerrigan, PhD is a scientific administrator within the Department of Neurosurgery at MD Anderson Cancer Center. She is co-creator and oversees operations of CATALYST (CNS Tumor AnaLYsis STream) an effort to profile patients’ CNS biospecimens in a streamlined, comprehensive, multi-platform way. She also manages the Glioblastoma Moon Shot, a multi-million dollar research portfolio, and other multi-investigator grants. Dr. Parker Kerrigan served as President of the Houston Chapter of AWIS and Chair of the AWIS Chapter Advisory Committee. She was named the 2020 University of Texas MD Anderson Department of Neurosurgery Employee of the Year. Dr. Parker Kerrigan earned her Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of California, Irvine, and then performed research in the industry sector for Allergan, Inc. She then earned her PhD in neuroscience, graduating summa cum laude from the UT Health MD Anderson Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, and completed her postdoctoral training with a joint appointment between Rice University and MD Anderson Cancer Center in the field of translational cancer nanotechnology.
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Treasurer, Karene Richards-Wise
CEO, Fit Hidden Figure and CEO, The Karene Group LLC
Karene Richards-Wise is a capital markets quantitative expert and women’s advocate. She spent 18 years’ in the investment banking industry before becoming a health coach and personal trainer. Mrs. Richards-Wise most notably built the first carbon finance model for the World Bank and a mortgage backed security model that generated $25M for Route 66 Ventures. In 2019, she was recognized by the United Nations as one of the top 100 Most Influential People of African Descent under 40. She received a Master of Financial Mathematics and Statistics from Columbia University and Bachelor in Electrical Engineering from Howard University. She is a member of Women in Housing and Finance and serves on the board of the National Speakers Association.
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Director Andrew Bean, PhD
Dean of the Graduate College and Interim Vice Provost for Research, Rush University
Dr. Andrew Bean is Dean of the Graduate College and Interim Vice Provost for Research at Rush University. Previously, Dr. Bean was Professor and Associate Dean at MD Anderson/UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. His laboratory works to understand fundamental cellular processes focusing on relevance to cancer biology and neurological disease. He has used data-driven approaches to initiate and refine programs characterized by diversity and cross-disciplinary strategies. Dr. Bean has authored over 80 research papers, book chapters, and a book. He has participated on numerous editorial boards, grant review panels, and has received awards for teaching and mentoring.
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Director Karen Bjorkman, PhD
Distinguished University Professor, University of Toledo
Dr. Bjorkman is an astronomer and astrophysicist. In addition to her research, she has provided significant service to the international astronomical community, and has been heavily involved in education and public outreach. She regularly gives public talks on astronomy, space, and science, and she was the original founder of the long-running “Universe in the Parks” program at the University of Wisconsin. She’s a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAS) and a Cottrell Scholar of the Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA). She is also co-founder of the Northwestern Ohio chapter of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) at UToledo. Dr. Bjorkman serves on the Board of Directors for the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA).
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Director Tasneem Hajara
Managing Director, TIAA
Tasneem Hajara is the Head of Digital Distribution, Financial Wellness and Mobile Technology at TIAA. An innovative, entrepreneurial, highly curious, results oriented and situationally aware leader with over two decades of experience in identifying and delivering unrealized value to transform businesses using technology. Tasneem has led Digital and Product technology teams across different domains during her career. She leads with a broad lens on product and platform strategy as well as engineering and operational efficiency. Most recently, in her role at TIAA, she built TIAA’s home grown Robo Advisor and she is currently creating a brand new, comprehensive digital-first Financial Wellness platform. The platform is cloud native and leverages machine learning to nurture and inspire customers to confidently engage and take control of their financial health.
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Director Joanne Kamens, PhD
Scientist and DEI Consultant
Dr. Kamens was trained as a molecular biologist and has had a varied career in academia, pharma, biotech and nonprofit. She is a senior consultant at Diversity North Group, a consulting firm that helps organizations develop and maintain equitable and inclusive cultures that are rich in diversity. Dr. Kamens founded the AWIS Massachusetts chapter almost two decades ago and has been a staunch activist for diversity and inclusion in STEM. She also has a deep knowledge of STEM careers gained through her own STEM career and mentoring work. She was Executive Director of Addgene for a decade, and in that time she increased the company’s work force, diversity, and employee job satisfaction to the point it won several best place to work and diversity workplace awards during her tenure. She consults and speaks widely on topics such as Science Careers, Culture Roadmaps for Start-ups, Implicit Bias, Management Excellence, and Making the Most of Mentoring Relationships.
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Director Venkat Sethuraman, PhD
Senior Vice President, Global Biometrics and Data Sciences, Bristol-Myers Squibb
Dr. Sethuraman is Head of Global Biometrics and Data Sciences at Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS). In addition, Venkat leads the digital health ambition within BMS for the Global Drug Development. He has over 20 years’ biopharmaceutical industry experience, holding executive roles at large pharmaceutical companies such as BMS, Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline. Dr. Sethuraman earned his PhD in Statistics from Temple University and an MBA from Wharton Business School. He is also an active member of Statistical and Data Science community and has served on the board of Biopharmaceutical Section of American Statistical Association.
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Director Patrice Yarbough, PhD
Retired Senior Scientist, NASA
Dr. Patrice Yarbough is former senior scientist at NASA JSC. She was awarded the 2020 Silver Achievement Medal for leadership in the human research HERA program. At Genelabs Technologies, she led development of a hepatitis E virus vaccine and received the 1996 COPEV Award for Prevention of Viral Hepatitis. An NSF pre-doctoral fellow, she earned biochemistry degrees at University of Houston and was honored as a distinguished alumna in 2017. She provides strategic advising for the AWIS Gulf Coast chapter, UH College of NSM and the UH STEM Advisory Board. Yarbough is a Marine Biological Laboratory Board Trustee.
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Director Reem Yunis, PhD
Vice President, Digital Clinical Measures, Medable Inc.
Dr. Yunis is Vice President, Digital Clinical Measures at Medable, a Health Tech company. Her work is focused on building technical solutions to support clinical research and trials. With her multidisciplinary science training, she has over 2 decades of research experience, spanning over molecular genetics, immunology, cancer biology, and biotechnology. She has committed time and energies supporting AWIS Palo Alto for the past 12 years bringing nonconventional thinking to its operation and management focused on running a very lean non-profit organization. Dr. Yunis has the drive to organize around a mission. She previously served as a member of the Board of Directors for a local education foundation for 3 years and the chair of the DEI committee at Medable.
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With a 50-year history of championing women in science and over 30 grassroots chapters, AWIS offers opportunities for professional development, recognition, and networking with members, allies and supporters worldwide
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