VASEM Selects the 2023 Cohort of COVES Policy Fellows
Meet the 2023 Cohort of COVES Policy Fellows


Mohammed Alrezq
Virginia Tech
Mohammed Alrezq is a Ph.D. candidate in the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech. He holds both undergraduate and graduate degrees in Industrial Engineering. His current research focuses on understanding the success of continuous improvement methodologies in public sector organizations, working closely with his advisor, Dr. Eileen Van Aken. Alrezq has also conducted research in other areas, including data science/analytics and simulation modeling. He has published several conference proceedings and a peer-reviewed journal article. Besides his academic work, he is a team member of the transformational office on campus to conduct continuous improvement initiatives across university enterprises to improve processes and system outcomes. He is an active member of professional societies, including the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers and The American Society for Engineering Management. Alrezq is looking forward to applying his academic skills and interests in science policy to make a meaningful impact.

Shelita Augustus
Norfolk State University
Shelita obtained her B.S. in Chemistry from Norfolk State University (NSU) in May of 2020. During her academic career, she has had the opportunity to gain invaluable research experience as an undergraduate research assistant for various projects funded by the Department of Defense (DOD), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Shelita is currently a Ph.D. student and graduate research assistant at Norfolk State University for Materials Science and Engineering. Her work within NSU's Space Biology Laboratory entails fabricating neural probes to understand how space radiation impacts cognitive functions.

Juli Dutta
Norfolk State University
Juli Dutta is completing her master’s degree in cybersecurity in the computer science department at Norfolk State University. Her research project focuses on potential threats in the maritime industry. She has examined specific sources of vulnerabilities in the maritime industry including but not limited to humans, offshore and onshore systems, and maritime vessels, then scrutinized through the lens of selected, documented maritime cybersecurity incidents from around the globe. Such findings qualitatively show the extent to which cybersecurity risk threatens the maritime industry and other dependent segments including critical infrastructures. She has completed hundreds of classroom hours in cloud safety, network security and digital forensics, trained how to defend against cybercriminals and how to use digital forensics to identify hackers and mitigate the likelihood of successful attacks.

Zhenyi Huang
George Mason University
Zhenyi Huang is a Ph.D. student in Statistical Science at George Mason University with a focus on developing advanced, data-driven algorithms for automated detection and extraction of global and local structures of protein landscape. Zhenyi earned a Master of Science in Statistics from the University of Connecticut and a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics and Physics from Wheaton College, where he was awarded the H.M. Pastra-Landis Prize in Physics and was a member of Alpha Beta Kappa. Zhenyi has worked as a Graduate Teaching Assistant, providing tutoring and grading for introductory and advanced statistics courses, as well as a Physics Algorithm Engineer in Beijing, China. In his free time, Zhenyi enjoys playing violin and was a member of the Great Woods Symphony Orchestra at Wheaton College.

Kaushal Kafle
William & Mary
Kaushal Kafle is a Ph.D. student in the department of computer science at William & Mary. He is advised by Dr. Adwait Nadkarni. His main research interests are in understanding the security and privacy threats in modern operating systems, and building tools that help in their mitigation. His research has been published in various conferences such as ACM and IEEE. His paper on the study of security vulnerabilities in smart home platforms won the ‘best paper award’ at ACM CODASPY’19, and also received wide media coverage. Currently, he is the lead graduate student of the Secure Platforms Lab, supervised by Dr. Nadkarni. Through the lab, he actively engages in the mentorship of undergraduate students, as well as in community outreach programs. He was part of the Emerging Scholar Series at William & Mary, where he presented his research on the security of smart homes to the Williamsburg community. Due to the tangled nature of science and policy, Kaushal believes that the active participation of both sides is vital to increase the impact of science and to create effective policies. He is looking forward to working as a COVES Fellow over the summer.

Jasmine Lewis
Virginia Tech
Jasmine is a Ph.D. student studying biological psychology at Virginia Tech. Before coming to Virginia Tech, she received her B.S. in Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her M.S. in Biomedical Sciences from Liberty University. Her research interests include the effects of childhood trauma and stress on health outcomes. More specifically, she is interested in the immunological and genetic effects of traumatic stress in youth who have been exposed to violence either directly or indirectly. She hopes to use her research to further the understanding of the impact of traumatic events on youth development overall and inform prevention/intervention efforts.

Sarah Morton
Virginia Commonwealth University
Sarah is a rising fourth-year doctoral student studying health psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). She grew up in a small rural community about 40 miles outside of Richmond, VA and earned her B.S. degree in psychology from VCU. She enjoyed working with several different community intervention research programs before moving to Michigan in 2014 to pursue an M.S. in clinical psychology at Eastern Michigan University. After graduation, she worked in private practice as a licensed psychotherapist and autism evaluation consultant for several years before moving back to Virginia and joining her current program. Sarah’s current research focuses broadly on exploring the associations between patient-provider interactions, medical distrust, and health disparities in pediatric and young adult illness populations. She is passionate about the translation of health research into sustainable community-focused programs and health policies, and looks forward to further developing her science policy skills as a 2023 COVES policy fellow.

Geovani Muñoz
Virginia Commonwealth University
Geovani Muñoz is a Ph.D. student in Counseling Psychology going into his third year of study at Virginia Commonwealth University. Prior to attending VCU, Geovani was a McNair Scholar and received his Bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in Political Science from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. His research interests are in the area of addressing mental health disparities among racial-ethnic minoritized communities, improving mental health utilization, investigating systemic factors (e.g., public policy) impacting mental health access, and substance use.

Nishat Ara Nipa
Old Dominion University
Nishat is a first-year Ph.D. student at Old Dominion University's Department of Modeling & Simulation. Prior to starting this program, she earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and a master's degree in wireless communication and signal processing. She is currently a Research Fellow at the Virginia Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation Center, where she is supervised by Dr. Sachin Shetty. Her research interests are diverse and include Artificial Intelligence (AI), Deep Learning, and Machine Learning applications, with a focus on trustworthy AI. She has always enjoyed performing sanity checks on her work, so evaluating uncertainties in AI systems is something that piques her attention. She believes we’re going through a transformative era where the emergence of AI is changing the way we look at life and it’s imperative to integrate policy to regulate AI for the greater good of humankind. She is excited to be a part of the COVES fellowship 2023 program to expand her thoughts in this field and learn more about policymaking.

Teri Ramey
Christopher Newport University
Teri is currently working to finish her Master of Science in Environmental Science at Christopher Newport University, where she is conducting research on the use of insects as bioindicators for the impact of urbanization in Newport News, Virginia. She previously earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Old Dominion University and an Associate of Science in Biology from Tidewater Community College and plans to begin a Ph.D. program in Integrated Life Sciences at the University of Georgia this fall. Her academic focus has been on evidence-based decision making, sustainability analysis, and creating mitigation and adaptation plans for areas impacted by climate change. Teri has gained valuable experience as an Adjunct Supervising Instructor for introductory biology labs, a Lab Manager, and a Graduate Assistant while at Christopher Newport University. She is a member of the Graduate Student Advisory Council and one of two serving Student members of the Graduate Council at CNU. She is passionate about environmental science and is eager to work with local policymakers to make a positive impact on the community through her research and the COVES Fellowship.

John Reilly Stiles
George Mason University
Reilly Stiles is a Master's Student in the Climate Science program at GMU. He also attended GMU as an undergraduate where he received a B.S. in Atmospheric Sciences. He is currently working with the Virginia Climate Center as a Graduate Research Assistant through GMU. His research focuses on flooding in the Commonwealth of Virginia and the implications of climate change relating to this issue, with the main regions of interest being the Potomac River and James River. He also has experience with modeling the co-benefits of fossil fuel emission reductions at the county level of Virginia, which was the basis for a moderate-scale research project he contributed to with the Virginia Climate Center.

Thanh Nhan Duc Tran
University of Virginia
Duc is currently a Ph.D. Student in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment at the University of Virginia. His research, supervised by Dr. Venkataraman Lakshmi and supported by the National Science Foundation, focuses on Water Resources Management using Remote Sensing techniques to enable sustained collaboration and support equitable decision-making and solution adoption on risks of flooding and saltwater intrusion. Before commencing his doctoral studies in 2022, Duc earned his MSc in Hydroinformatics and Water Management, a program fully funded by the European Union through the Erasmus scheme, which enabled him to study in four different European countries. In his current doctoral research, Duc examines the consequences of extreme weather events on human life and the environment, aiming to inform decision-making processes and assist policymakers in environmental management. His work has been presented at prestigious conferences, such as the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in 2022, and published in well-known journals such as the Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies, Remote Sensing, and Water. Duc maintains that active collaboration with policymakers is crucial for driving positive change and enhancing the influence of scientific research.

Dreon Wheatley-Owens
Virginia State University
Dreon Wheatley-Owens is a first-year M.S. student studying Computer Science at Virginia State University and will graduate in August 2023. Dreon completed his undergraduate degree at Bloomfield College and received his B.S. in Computer Science. During his time at Bloomfield College, he worked as a Computer Science Tutor. As a tutor, Dreon mentored students that attended sessions held throughout each week of the semester. The classes Dreon tutored for consisted of Programming 1, Programming 2, and Data Structures. At Virginia State University, Dreon is currently working on his thesis in which he looks into Frustration detection. His research consists of exploring the reasons behind the difficulty in learning programming concepts and the application thereof. Outside of academia, Dreon will be starting a full-time position as a Systems Engineer in the fall.