Meet the 2020 COVES Fellows

Ryan Chaban
Institution: William & Mary
Host Office: Dominion Energy Public Policy Department

Originally from Orange County, CA, Ryan received his BSE in Engineering Physics from Case Western Reserve University, and is currently a 3rd-year Physics Ph.D. candidate at William & Mary. He researches plasma physics and fusion energy; specifically, he studies experimental diagnostics and the edge region to better understand how to increase the confinement of fusion plasmas while keeping the reactor from damaging itself. He began with an internship on the DIII-D tokamak in San Diego, CA and his current project involves analyzing fast camera data on the MAST machine in Oxfordshire, UK. Through his education and research, he has come to believe the energy policy and goals established today will be among the most impactful decisions we make to safeguard our future and reduce the impact of climate change. This begins with sound science, engineering, and economically based decisions at the top, and continues with funding science literacy education in our schools.  After graduate school, he hopes to find a career where he can combine his passion for physics, clean energy advocacy, and education.

Sarah Hall
Institution: Virginia Tech
Host Office: Virginia Biotechnology Association

Sarah graduated from the University of Virginia’s College at Wise in 2018 with a BS in biochemistry. After graduating, she worked in a biophysics research laboratory at Vanderbilt for a year, and then began her MS in biomedical engineering and mechanics at Virginia Tech in the fall of 2019. Through her various research experiences, she has worked with DNA repair mechanisms, spectral analyses of variable stars, microtubule dynamics, and is currently developing the use of nanoparticle mediated focused ultrasound to treat metastatic breast cancer. Even though she has a very scientific background, she is very passionate about science communication and science policy. Her ultimate career goal is to work in intellectual property law.

Nicole A. Jefferson
Institution: Virginia State University
Host Office: Office of Virginia Senator Ghazala Hashmi

An avid proponent and practitioner of STEM / STEAM education, Nicole is most honored to serve VA as a COVES Fellow. Having completed her undergraduate studies in Mechanical Engineering Technology, she is pursuing a MS in Computer Science with an emphasis in Education at VSU. As an undergraduate, her passion for and involvement in Science and Technology was multi-faceted, to include having served as Lead Designer for our Formula One Race Car Team, an Eisenhower Fellowship for Magnetic Engine Design, President for Society of Automotive Engineers, and Summer Faculty for the National Congressional Youth Leadership Conference. Currently as a Middle School teacher of Engineering Technology and Co-Founder of OvrActv Imagination (OvrActv.org), an Engineering Ideation Consulting Group with a Green-space initiative, her desire is to gain a stronger understanding of our Commonwealth’s public and private industry vision, plan and involvement in STEAM initiatives, while becoming actively engaged in securing our State’s position in the forefront of technological advancements.

Erin Robartes
Institution: University of Virginia
Host Office: Office of the Secretary of Natural Resources

Erin Robartes is a native of Boston, Massachusetts and graduated from the University of Connecticut with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and minors in mathematics and environmental engineering in 2015. She is currently a PhD student at the University of Virginia in the Engineering Systems and Environment Department, pursuing a degree in Civil Engineering. Her research has involved bicycle safety in Virginia, analyzing available crash data sets and collecting statewide data on crashes and bicycle infrastructure. She now works in the Omni-Reality and Cognition Lab developing bicycle and pedestrian simulators for use in behavioral transportation research. She is passionate about transportation as a means to creating equitable, human-centered cities. Erin also leads the Institute of Transportation Engineers student chapter at UVA and is involved with the Graduate Engineering Student Council, and the Society of Women Engineers at UVA.

Nick Walker
Institution: George Mason University
Host Office: Department of Conservation and Recreation – Dam Safety

In 2019 Nick finished his PhD in Environmental Science & Public Policy at George Mason University, he also has a Master’s in Animal Biology from the Universidade Federal de Viçosa. His work combines natural science, social science and culture, so he’s worked in a variety of areas, everything from being a park ranger to sequencing DNA to working at government agencies to providing consulting services for businesses. For him it’s less about technical skills and more about being able to synthesize information and collaborate with everyone. He’s the executive director of a 501(c)3 non-profit called EelTown.org and the president of Journal Editors of America LLC, where he helps scientists from around the world publish their work in academic journals and textbooks. You can download his latest CV from www.eeltown.org/cv.

Sandra Yankah
Institution: Virginia Commonwealth University
Host Office: Department of Health – Office of Health Equity

Sandra received bachelor’s degrees in psychology and sociology from Western Carolina University’s Honors College in 2014. After graduating, she completed a master’s degree in clinical psychology at Valdosta State University in 2016. She joined the doctoral program in clinical psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2017, where she is currently a rising fourth-year doctoral candidate. Her research falls within the domain of dissemination and implementation science and aims to apply research findings in relevant communities in the most effective way possible. Over the course of her education, she has had the privilege of completing clinical rotations in a variety of settings including community mental health clinics, primary care settings, and interdisciplinary agencies that provide support to children referred to law enforcement. These experiences led her to adopt a more systems-based focus. She believes that policy changes create the most direct and pervasive changes in the lives of those who are systematically disadvantaged. Ultimately, her career goal is to work in a research-oriented position that directly informs federal policy guidelines for the behavioral health system.