AWIS Governance

Meet the AWIS National Governing Board

AWIS Board Chair Isabel Escobar

Chair Isabel Escobar, PhD

Paul W. Chellgren Chair Professor and Professor of Chemical Engineering, Director of the Chellgren Center for Undergraduate Student ExcellenceUniversity of Kentucky

Dr. Escobar is 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.

Connect with Dr. Escobar on LinkedIn
AWIS Board Chair-Elect Neelima Rao

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

Director of Research Planning and Development of the Cancer Neuroscience Program at MD Anderson Cancer Center

Dr. Parker Kerrigan is the Director of Research Planning and Development for Cancer Neuroscience at MD Anderson Cancer Center, and holds a faculty appointment at Rush Graduate College, where she teaches Introduction to Neuroscience. She has a strong background in strategic planning, scientific communication, scientific fundraising, and team-oriented leadership, which is reflected in her being awarded the 2020 University of Texas MD Anderson Department of Neurosurgery Employee of the Year. Dr. Parker Kerrigan is a consummate advocate for women in science, and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Association for Women in Science. Dr. Brittany C. Parker Kerrigan earned her Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of California, Irvine, and then performed research in industry 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, followed by a T32-funded postdoctoral fellowship between Rice University and MD Anderson Cancer Center studying translational research opportunities for patients with glioblastoma. She has over 30 peer-reviewed publications, in high impact journals such as Nature Cancer, Nature Communications, and the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

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AWIS Board Chair Karene Richards

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.

Connect with Ms. Richards-Wise on LinkedIn
AWIS Board Councilor Andrew Bean

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.

Connect with Dr. Bean on LinkedIn
AWIS Board Councilor Karen Bjorkman

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).
Connect with Dr. Bjorkman on LinkedIn
AWIS Board Councilor Tasneem Hajara

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. Hajara 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 Hongmei Huang, PhD

Vice President and Global Head of Digital Strategy and Enablement at Roche Genentech

Dr. Hongmei Huang is an accomplished strategic leader with over 25 years of experience across many domains in the Pharmaceutical Industry, particularly in Research and Development. By connecting science and technology, she has successfully led organizational drives to transform the data and digital landscape for insight discovery and process simplification. Currently, she holds the position of Vice President and Global Head of Digital Strategy and Enablement at Roche Genentech. She is also a Board Member for the Genentech Foundation and a Core Team member for Genentech Women in Science and Engineering, leading efforts to develop and support the next generation of diverse leaders.

Connect with Dr. Huang on LinkedIn
AWIS Board Councilor Joanne Kamens

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 where 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 Julia (Omotola) Omotade, PhD

Senior Science Policy Specialist at the Association for American Medical Colleges

Dr. Julia Omotade is a cellular and molecular neuroscientist whose expertise spans the academic, nonprofit, and policy sectors. She received her PhD from Emory University, where she used advanced microscopy to investigate mammalian brain development and synapse formation, contributing to our knowledge of neuronal growth, plasticity, and repair. Currently, Dr. Omotade is a Senior Science Policy Specialist at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), where she serves as a trusted voice in our nation’s pressing biomedical policy issues. Her portfolio includes scientific training of and diversity, equity and inclusion in the US scientific biomedical workforce; sexual harassment in academic medicine; and new, national and regional research initiatives. Prior to joining AAMC, Julia was a Senior Healthcare and STEM Executive Search Consultant at Isaacson, Miller, where she recruited leaders to drive discovery, health, education, and patient care in our nation’s scientific enterprise.

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AWIS Board Councilor Venkat Sethuraman

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, he 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.

Connect with Dr. Sethuraman on LinkedIn
AWIS Board Councilor Patrice Yarbough

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.

Connect with Dr. Yarbough on LinkedIn
AWIS Board Councilor Reem Yunis

Director Reem Yunis, PhD

Healthcare/Life Science Partnership and Product Strategy, Vaultree Inc. 

Dr. Yunis is Head of Healthcare/Life Science Partnership and Product Strategy at Vaultree, Inc. With her multidisciplinary science training, she has over 2 decades of research experience in basic and clinical sciences that focus on mechanisms of disease. Reem is a digital health leader on a mission to transform healthcare and clinical development through cutting-edge scientific and technological advancements. She has committed time and energies supporting AWIS Palo Alto for the past 14 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, Inc.

Connect with Dr. Yunis on LinkedIn
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