2022 COVES Fellows

Amit Seal Ami
Institution: William & Mary
Joint Commission on Technology and Science

Amit Seal Ami is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Computer Science, William & Mary. He is researching Security and Software Engineering with his co-advisors, Dr. Adwait Nadkarni and Dr. Denys Poshyvanyk. Through his research, he creates systematic soundness evaluation frameworks that can help improve software security testing tools. His recent works on this topic have been accepted and published in top-tier Security Venues such as ACM Transactions on Privacy and Security (TOPS) and IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy (S&P). Furthermore, he received CoVA CCI Dissertation fellowship for his research. In addition, he investigates the impacts of unsound security tools in software and services. Previously, he has worked as a Lecturer at the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh, and as a Software Engineer in M&H Informatics (IQVIA), Bangladesh. Amit believes that active engagement with policymakers is instrumental in making positive changes and increasing the impact of science.


Jennifer Bertollo
Institution: Virginia Tech

State Council of Higher Education for Virginia

Jennifer is a rising fifth-year Ph.D. candidate studying clinical psychology at Virginia Tech. Prior to graduate school, Jennifer completed her undergraduate work at Binghamton University and then worked as a clinical research assistant at the Center for Autism Research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Jennifer’s research focuses on understanding and overcoming barriers to accessing mental healthcare for autistic children and their families, particularly in underserved rural areas such as southwest Virginia. Her work has specifically focused on novel methods of service delivery in rural regions, such as mobile clinics and telehealth. In addition to research, Jennifer has the opportunity to work as a graduate clinician, delivering low-cost therapy and assessment services to children and families in the local community. Jennifer is committed to a research career in the dissemination and implementation of evidence-based mental health services into community settings, by connecting researchers, providers, and policymakers toward a common goal of equitable access to mental health services.

Denise Daniels
Institution: Virginia State University

Office of the Secretary of Education

Denise Daniels is currently a first-year M.S. student studying computer science at Virginia State University and will graduate in August 2022. Denise completed her undergraduate degree at Bloomfield College and received a B.S. in Computer Science. During her time at Bloomfield College, she was a member of the McNair Scholars program, the Bloomfield College Honors Program, Student Representative on the Bloomfield College Honors Council, and President of the Bloomfield College Honors Program. At Virginia State University, Denise has worked as a graduate teaching assistant. She has also conducted her thesis research which will be published at the 24Th International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction conference proceedings. Her research looks at potential issues associated with virtual learning and experimentally tests the possibility of using technology-generated course content.  Aside from academia, Denise has worked as a web developer handling updates, testing, and adding new functionality for company websites. She was also an HSCC Instructor for the New Jersey Chapter of the Black Data Processing Associates (BDPA), where she has taught and mentored high school students for the BDPA National High School Computer Competition. Denise further worked as a Tech fellow for CodePath, a non-profit organization that offers free coding classes, coaching, and career help to college students interested in pursuing jobs in technology.

Frankie Edwards
Institution: Virginia Tech

Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services Division of the Chief Clinical Officer

Franklin (Frankie) Edwards is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health graduate program at Virginia Tech. Prior to joining his current program of study in 2018, Frankie received his B.S. in Experimental Neuroscience and Psychology from Virginia Tech, Blacksburg. Frankie is a first-generation college student from southwest Virginia, and he is passionate about translating research to under-resourced communities and underserved populations. In his current doctoral research, he uses high-fidelity manikins and opioid overdose scenarios to measure rescuers’ resuscitation skills including naloxone administration (an antidote for opioid overdose), ventilations, and chest compressions. Furthermore, he is working with an authorized comprehensive harm reduction program (otherwise known as a syringe exchange program) to test the effectiveness of an adaptive just-in-time intervention to increase the presence and administration of naloxone in contexts familiar to people who use or inject opioids. Apart from his research, Frankie has effectively collaborated with other professional students and his campus administration to increase resources for graduate students and co-led the production of several science communication events including ComSciCon, a nationally known science communication conference that originated at Harvard University. Specifically, Frankie wants to apply his translational research knowledge and experience working with community leaders to support the expansion of authorized syringe exchange programs (and other means of mitigating the overdose epidemic) in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Alissa Ganser
Institution: Virginia Tech
Office of Senator Jennifer McClellan

Alissa Ganser is currently a Ph.D. student in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. Alissa works with freshwater mussels, an extremely endangered aquatic fauna. Her research encompasses genetics, physiology, population demographics, reproduction, and life-history of freshwater mussels, which she has worked with for over a decade. Previously, Alissa was an adjunct instructor, teaching human anatomy and physiology, microbiology, and ecology classes. She also held a clinical medical assistant certification (CCMA) and taught phlebotomy, urinalysis, and clinical laboratory classes for students enrolled in a CCMA program. Alissa hopes to combine her interests in aquatic science and ecology with her interests in human health in her future career. Alissa is originally from Minnesota and enjoys spending her time reading and playing with her cats and thirteen-year-old cichlid fish.

Xu Han
Institution: George Mason University

Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services Office of Recovery Services

Xu is a Ph.D. student in the Information Technology program at the College of Engineering and Computing of George Mason University. He is broadly interested in studying decision guidance systems, digital products and markets, technology adoption and entrepreneurship. Before coming to Mason, Xu received his M.S. in Information Systems from the University of Maryland, College Park. He has also had several years of professional experience across multiple industries both in the U.S. and back in China. Being a close observer of how modern information technologies influence businesses and societies worldwide, Xu is committed to exploring innovative ways of bringing the most benefits out of technologies to the people in this world.

Nathan Holland
Institution: Old Dominion University

Virginia Port Authority

Nathan Holland is a third-year Ph.D. student in Mechanical Engineering at Old Dominion University (ODU). He has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology and an M. Eng. in Acoustics from Pennsylvania State University (Penn State). Nathan has served as an adjunct instructor and Director of the School of Engineering and Technology summer bridge program at Hampton University (HU) and as a lead Graduate Teaching Assistant for the Materials Science Laboratory at ODU. Having passed his candidacy exam, Nathan is approaching the completion of his proposal and is commencing biomechanical-focused dissertation work. Nathan is invested in STEM education including competency, innovation, retention, and support for historically marginalized groups.

Alie Lepp
Institution: University of Virginia

Virginia Marine Resources Commission

Alie is a third-year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia. Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Alie earned her B.S. degree in Geology from Georgia State University and her M.S. in Earth and Environmental Studies from Montclair State University. She began exploring her interest in science-based policymaking through an internship with the United Nations Environment Programme in 2018, during which she covered hearings on such topics as sustainable fisheries and challenges faced by Indigenous communities in the Arctic. At UVA, her research aims to reconstruct the behavior of Antarctica’s least stable glaciers through recent millennia using marine sediment cores. Alie’s interest in Earth’s icy regions stems from the fact that what happens at the poles does not stay at the poles – changes to these frozen parts of the planet are affecting people in coastal communities at all latitudes. She believes policy that integrates a range of scientific disciplines and considers the disproportionate effects of climate change on marginalized communities is key, and she looks forward to exploring these ideas at the state level as a 2022 COVES fellow.

Kyle Mason
Institution: Virginia Commonwealth University
Office of Senator Ghazala Hashmi

Kyle L. Mason, M.S., of Richmond, Virginia is a Health Psychology Doctoral student at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). Kyle engages in research and scholarship at the intersections of health disparities (e.g., violence exposure, psychological distress, and chronic illness), inequities in healthcare (e.g., discrimination and erasure), and deleterious and efficacious health behaviors (e.g., healthcare underutilization and treatment adherence) that have implications for public health. Prior to their beginning graduate school at VCU, they earned a B.A. in Psychology from Mary Baldwin University. Kyle’s commitment to and advocacy of diversity, equity, and inclusion in research, policy, governance, and service was manifested in their appointment to the Virginia LGBTQ+ advisory board by Governor Ralph Northam in July 2021, and being elected to serve as its inaugural chair in the Fall of 2021. Their aspirations to pursue professional pathways whereby they are able to provide leadership to local, state, federal, and/or global public health research teams in understanding the embodied (e.g., psychological and physiological) response that social oppression elicits are bound up in their commitment to ensuring that members of the public from all demographic populations are represented in science and visible in policies that are said to ensure the protection of the public’s welfare. Kyle values the sacredness that exists in the embodiment of identity and health, which is visible in the ways that they embrace and affirm the identities of all. The identity that they find unlimited joy, delight, pride, and fulfillment in is in being a Kycle to their niece (Audrey) and nephew (Ethan).

Elena Meyer
Institution: Virginia Commonwealth University

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality

Elena Meyer is a third-year Ph.D. candidate from Virginia Commonwealth University in the Integrative Life Science program. At VCU, they are studying evolutionary biology focused on computational and genetic topics with research focusing on the reproductive systems of angiosperms. At VCU, they were also elected and served as the president of the Integrative Life Science Student Association. Originally from Woodbridge, VA, they went to college at New College of Florida in Sarasota, Florida. At New College, they earned their B.A. in Biology with a minor in Chinese Language and Culture from New College of Florida and developed a strong interest in botany. After receiving an NSF-REU, they worked in a conservation genetics lab at Missouri Botanical Gardens. Using data from that project, they have recently published their first first-author paper on the endangered plant species Polygala lewtonii. Outside of science, they like thrifting, working on DIY projects, and working on growing a patio garden of vegetables and native plants.

Nicholas Minster
Institution: George Mason University

Virginia Bio

Nicholas is a rising fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology at George Mason University. His long-term research interests involve investigating large databases for molecular signatures and pathways that contribute to the development of human disease. The goal of which is to establish and improve the resources available for translational medicine. He embraces a bench-to-bedside approach, especially in the context of diagnostics and drug discovery. His current research applies these concepts to Parkinson’s disease. Before serving as a COVES fellow, he was an NSF fellow working in an interdisciplinary team that engaged with community stakeholders to create fundamental research and translational innovations aimed at challenges related to disability. These experiences, along with his training in regulatory science, have highlighted the need for community-informed decision-making in research and policy.

Lacee Savage
Institution: Norfolk State University

Virginia Department of Transportation

Lacee is a first-year M.S. student in Electronics Engineering at Norfolk State University. Originally from Houston, Texas, she attended Northwestern State University where she received a B.S. in Electronics Engineering with concentrations in electronics and biomedical engineering. She played basketball all four years of her undergraduate career and received a basketball scholarship offer from Norfolk State University where she was able to complete the last year of her basketball career.

Casie Slaybaugh
Institution: Virginia Commonwealth University

Virginia Board for People with Disabilities

Casie was raised 20 miles south of Virginia’s capital in the small city of Colonial Heights. She attended Vanderbilt University where she was involved in the Undergraduate Political Science Association, the Vanderbilt International Relations Association, V-Squared engineering mentoring, and was a member of the Model United Nations travel team. She also assisted in research in the Departments of Geriatric Medicine and Allergy, Pulmonary, and Critical Care Medicine at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She earned a B.S. in 2021 with a double major in Engineering Science and Medicine, Health, and Society. She then began graduate study in Biomedical Engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University where she intends to earn a Ph.D. studying the protective effects of extracellular matrix nanoparticles on acute lung injury. During graduate school, Casie has become a member of the Biomedical Engineering Society and the Society for Biomaterials and has enjoyed presenting her work at these groups’ annual meetings. Casie is looking forward to combining her personal and academic interests working in science policy this summer.

Hazel Sun
Institution: University of Virginia

Virginia Department of Forestry

Haoyu (Hazel) Sun grew up in Beijing, China, and arrived in the U.S. at the age of 18. She received her B.S. in Biochemistry from Bates College, ME in 2019. During the 4 years, Hazel participated in Chemistry research that focuses on developing and validating small molecules that could improve long-term memory formation and consolidation caused by Pitt Hopkins Syndrome. Since then, Hazel continued her pursuit of biochemical science at the University of Virginia. Now a rising 4th-year Ph.D. candidate, Hazel focuses her research on developing live-cell monitoring probes for protein tyrosine phosphatases using chemical biology tools. During her career, Hazel has published as a co-author in ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letter and presented twice at ACS National Meetings. Her goal in life is to make contributions to benefit society and the human race through the lens of science, whether via developing life-saving drugs or advising policymaking that truly benefits the community.

Yezi Yang
Institution: Virginia Tech

Office of Delegate Sally Hudson

Yezi is a fourth-year Ph.D. student at Virginia Tech where she works with Dr. Benjamin Gill in the Biogeochemistry Lab. In her research, she utilizes geochemical proxies to understand paleoenvironmental changes and how these changes affected the evolution or extinction of life. Yezi is passionate about science communication and advocacy. She hopes to apply her research and communication skills in real-world policy advising.