Meet the 2021 COVES Fellows

Adele Balmer
Institution: Virginia Commonwealth University

Adele is a PhD candidate in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Integrative Life Sciences doctoral program. Originally from the west coast, Adele earned her BS in biology with a focus on ecology from the University of Nevada, Reno, and her MS in biology from Auburn University. While attending Auburn, Adele served as the Graduate Student Association president, the NAGPS southeast legislative coordinator, and received an NSF fellowship to bring science education into underserved schools in rural Alabama. Upon graduation, she worked in Florida as a senior environmental specialist for the DEM within the Office of the Governor. In 2017, Adele returned to school to pursue her doctorate in population ecology. Her dissertation uses a long-term dataset to assess factors influencing the demographic rates of Prothonotary Warblers, with a focus on climate change. She is passionate about effectively communicating science and currently has six publications: four in academic journals, one scientific report to the USFWS, one encyclopedia article, and a book overviewing the federal and state environmental review process for local government stakeholders. Upon completion of her PhD, Adele looks forward to sharing her passion for science and is excited to help educate the next generation of scientists.

Janey Dike
Institution: Virginia Tech

Janey is a rising fourth-year PhD candidate in clinical psychology at Virginia Tech studying stress and trauma. Prior to joining her current program of study in 2018, Janey received her MPS in Clinical Psychological Science and her BA in Journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park. Her research is focused on identifying resiliency factors in the context of complex, interpersonal trauma, investigating how discrimination-related stressors influence trauma outcomes, and exploring long-term outcomes of chronic stress. She has had the opportunity to serve as a student clinician within community mental healthcare settings where she conducts assessments and therapeutic interventions with individuals, groups, and families. These experiences have informed her research and highlighted the need for community-based and systems-level care. Janey’s future aspirations include translating evidence-based research outcomes into policy in order to better serve marginalized populations and bridge gaps in access to care.

Isis Garcia-Rodriguez
Institution: Virginia Commonwealth University

Isis Garcia-Rodriguez (she/her/hers) is a rising third-year PhD student in the counseling psychology’s doctoral program at Virginia Commonwealth University. Prior to VCU, Isis became a McNair Scholar and received her bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in sociology and health & society at Suffolk University. Her research interests are in the areas of legal status, parent-child relationships, systemic factors (e.g., public policy), immigration, immigration trauma, and overall adolescent health in Latinx mixed-status families. Isis has presented research at multiple national research organizations including NLPA, SRA, SRCD, AAHHE, and APA. She is currently the president of the Latinx Graduate Student Association at VCU where she aims to engage Latinx graduate students to community organizations. Overall, Isis is invested in continuing to serve the Hispanic/Latinx community and contribute through interdisciplinary research, clinical practice, policy, and advocacy.

Chelsea Gray
Institution: George Mason University

Chelsea Gray is a PhD student at George Mason University. She is multidisciplinary, with research interests in individual based modeling, social science, and policy. She is currently developing a model of basking shark behavior in Ireland. She is the president of the Conservation Marketing and Engagement Working Group. She is passionate about science outreach and education.

Tara Illgner
Institution: University of Virginia

Tara is a third-year graduate student at UVA studying atmospheric chemistry. Her work focuses on Carbon Capture, science-communication, and policy. Her international upbringing taught her four languages and the urgency of addressing preventable disasters through science-communication. Here is some of her recent work: (1) Co-Director of the Science Policy Initiative (SPI), (2) testifying to the Virginia General Assembly regarding Carbon Capture Bill (SB1374) this Spring, (3) writing 3 science-policy memos addressing air pollution injustices and Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR), (3) publishing 3 Op-Ed’s over the last year, and (4) addressing US Congressional members with UCAR (2019) and AAAS-CASE (2021). She also holds a master’s degree in education, and she spent a few years as a teacher. She is a parent of a son, a daughter, and more recently, a foster-daughter. Outside of her graduate studies, Tara and her family spend time with their pets (two cats and one ferret) and enjoy turning their garage into an informal art gallery filled with paintings and sketches.

Nikita Lad
Institution: George Mason University

Originally from Mumbai, India, Nikita pursued her bachelor’s degree in microbiology and master’s degree in bioanalytical sciences. She then gained professional experience in Regulatory Compliance for 3 years in India and is currently a second-year PhD candidate at George Mason University in the Environmental Sciences and Public Policy department. Given her background, she was interested in bridging the gap between policy and science. As an avid nature lover, she gained an interest in promoting sustainability through social science research. She is now studying ways to assess sustainability in higher education as well as the challenges faced by various universities to promote sustainability literacy on campus. She has a keen interest in evidence-based policymaking and hopes that her research will aid policymakers to make laws that encourage sustainability literacy and culture within higher education.

Sunil Manandhar
Institution: William & Mary

Sunil is a PhD candidate in the Department of Computer Science at William & Mary. He is working with ​Dr. Adwait Nadkarni​. His research focuses on the analysis and enforcement of security, safety, and privacy policies in modern operating systems. He is currently building and maintaining frameworks for smart home security and privacy policy analysis. He completed his BSc in Computer Science and Information Technology from St. Xavier’s College in Nepal. Prior to graduate school, he worked as a software engineer at Bajra Technologies and was also the president of the Computer Science and Information Technology Association of Nepal (CSITAN). During his PhD journey, he has had the opportunity to work in the Information Security department at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center.

Margaret Nagai-Singer
Institution: Virginia Tech

Margaret received her BS from the University of Tennessee at Martin in 2018 with a major in Animal Science. During her undergraduate career, she researched the effect of different feeding strategies on piglet health and feed efficiency. She currently is a PhD Student in the Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences program at Virginia Tech. Her project investigates the effect of the immune system on pancreatic and breast cancer, focusing on an immune system protein that functions as a tumor suppressor in a cell-specific manner. Her passion for science stems from its ability to create a more safe, just, and healthy future. Beyond the lab, she is also passionate about policy and advocacy work. Her excitement for and experience in both science and policy inspired her to pursue science policy as a career.

Homa Jalaeian Taghadomi
Institution: Old Dominion University

Homa received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Environmental Science and will complete her PhD in the summer of 2021 from ODU. She is currently working on her PhD dissertation, investigating the rainfall-runoff relationship and mitigating flooding in the coastal watershed area with numerous wetlands and ponds. During the academic year of 2019-2020, she was a research assistant working on a project providing resilience solutions for homeowners (e.g., sea-level rise, impact and adaptation, preparing the properties, and innovative development of ideas for building safely near water). She has also been a teaching assistant for various courses, such as water resources and hydraulics, hydromechanics, and water/wastewater treatment. She has three peer-reviewed published papers to date and others in progress. Also, she received five awards during her graduate program at ODU, including three graduate enhancement awards.

Kelsea Yarbrough
Institution: Norfolk State University

Kelsea Yarbrough is a native of Winston-Salem, North Carolina and graduated from Norfolk State University (NSU) with a dual bachelor’s degree in Electronics and Electrical Engineering and Mathematics. Following the completion of her bachelor’s degree, she completed her master’s degree at NSU in Electronics Engineering with a concentration of microelectronics and photonics. Kelsea is currently a PhD candidate at NSU studying Materials Science and Engineering. STEM exposure and representation and energy policy continue to be areas Kelsea works to improve for future generations. She believes science policy has a more direct influence and is the trajectory needed to implement these changes.