Current Students


DMCDevin Mae Christopher is a second year PhD student in Gene Therapy and Vaccines (CAMB). She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2011 with her BS in Psychology and BA in Biology. As an undergraduate she began her research career in molecular neuroscience, which furthered her interest in molecular biology. She also participated in the NIMH COR (Career Opportunities in Research) program with Dr. Philip May at UNM CASAA (Center on Alcohol, Substance Abuse and Addiction) which sparked her interest in public health and epidemiology.

Devin is now a student in Dr. Dan Rader’s lab, working primarily on pre-clinical studies demonstrating the feasibility and safety of gene therapy for several cholesterol metabolism disorders including Familial Lecithin-Cholesterol Acyltransferase deficiency and Abetalipoproteinemia. Her public health interests include global health/infectious diseases and veterinary epidemiology.



Kristel Emmer is a second year PhD student in the Cell and Molecular Biology program with a concentration in Gene Therapy and Vaccines.  Her interest in public health began as an undergrad at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, where she received a minor in Public Health in addition to a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry/Molecular Biology.  Kristel joined the Public Health Certificate Program at Penn to gain more exposure to the field of public health and to discover career opportunities in the field.

Kristel is interested in research involving infectious diseases, particularly viruses and vaccines to viruses.  She is currently performing her pre-dissertation research in the lab of Dr. Hildegund Ertl at the Wistar Institute.  Dr. Ertl’s lab focuses primarily on pre-clinical development of vaccines to infectious diseases and cancer.  Kristel is researching the development of a vaccine to prevent HIV infection.  Ultimately, Kristel hopes to pursue a career that bridges vaccine research and immunization in a global health setting.


Seleeke Flingai is a second year PhD student in the Gene Therapy and Vaccines department. However, his research is purely immunological, asking a simple yet important question: how do immune cells travel to sites of disease? Working in Dr. Gudrun Debes’ lab, he is working to uncover novel factors – chemokine receptors, adhesion molecules, etc. – that are involved in the trafficking of lymphocytes to and from places of inflammation or infection. Insight into this mechanism would have impacts on ameliorating inflammatory diseases, improving vaccine formulations, and more.

Ultimately, this connection between disease and vaccines is what interested him in public health. With many of vaccine-preventable deaths continuing to ravage much of the developing world, the improvement of medical infrastructure – in particular, disseminating vaccines cheaply and efficiently – is crucial to improving global health. Seleeke hopes to marry the microscopic view with the population perspective, combining his biological training with the human element.


Enrique Lin Shiao - photoEnrique Lin Shiao is a PhD student in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics. He was born and raised in Costa Rica and obtained his Bachelor of Science in Engineering Physics and Master of Science in Biophysics at the Technical University of Munich in Germany. After his masters, Enrique spent a year performing research in the United Kingdom before moving to the United States for his PhD in 2013. His international background and interest in epidemiology, development, global health and advocacy drove him to join the Public Health Certificate Program.

His current research is in epigenetics in the lab of Dr. Shelley L. Berger. There, Enrique studies the factors involved in chromatin remodeling during spermatogenesis, with the aim of understanding basic epigenetic processes, as well as changes that can lead to infertility. While epigenetics is still an emerging field, it has the potential to unravel the causes of many common complex diseases as well as help us understand how our environment can promote or repress disease. Enrique is interested in bridging this knowledge with epidemiology, combining his biological research with his public health interests.


Rachel Leibman is a second year PhD student in Microbiology, Virology, andParasitology studying genetic engineering of T-lymphocytes for therapeutic purposes in the lab of Dr. Jim Riley.  Her current research revolves around genetically engineering primary human T-cells to express modified antigen receptors in an attempt to target active, HIV-infected cells as well as the latent HIV reservoir. 

She enrolled in the PHCP program because of her interest in utilizing her basic science background to enhance public health education.  She believes that the PHCP is a great opportunity for basic scientists to broaden their graduate education by learning about public health, health care policy, and epidemiology.



Megan Wise

Megan Wise

Through her undergraduate classes in medical anthropology, Megan quickly learned that science and society do not exist independent of each other and there is a need to make health solutions culturally relevant. This knowledge drew her to the interface between basic research and public health, leading her to participate in the Public HealthCertificate Program. Currently, Megan is a second year PhD student in the Microbiology, Virology, and Parasitology department. She will be performing her thesis work in the laboratory of David Weiner, focusing on HIV vaccine development.



Yuxiang Zhang is a first year PhD student in Pharmacology. He got his Bachelor of Medicine in Basic Medical Sciences from Zhejiang University in China. Because of an interest in the genetic epidemiological research of complex diseases, he studied genetic susceptibility to tuberculosis in Chinese population and discovered the polymorphisms of genes involved in innate immunity associated with tuberculosis susceptibility. Then, he completed the Master Program of Biotechnology in University of Pennsylvania. In 2012, he started his PhD study in Pharmacology at Penn and he entered the Public Health Certificate program because of an interest in population-based research.

Currently, his research direction in Public health is the population susceptibility to complex and chronic diseases including cardiovascular diseases and chronic inflammation diseases.



PHCP Alumni


Kara ColemanKara Coleman was a student in the Cancer Biology program of CAMB and completed her thesis in the laboratory of Roger Greenberg. Her thesis research centered around BRCA1 protein complexes and their role in DNA double-strand break repair. Specifically, she investigated the role of the BRCA1-interacting proteins RAP80 and BRCC36 in preserving the fidelity of the homologous recombination repair process.

Kara has always had an interest in the communication of science to the public and how communication can shape health behaviors. During her time in the PHCP program she became interested in the genetic susceptibility of cancer and the role that genetic counseling and testing play in high risk patient populations. Specifically, her project looked at factors influencing participation of high-risk African-American women in breast cancer genetic counseling programs. She applied knowledge gained from her public health education to develop a conceptual framework of the myriad factors affecting participation in genetic counseling, including perceived disease susceptibility, perceived benefits and risks of counseling, and self-efficacy.

She currently works as an Associate Scientific Director for ETHOS Health Communications where she oversees the development of educational materials for healthcare providers and patients regarding oncology disease states and therapy information.

Becki Lijek received her Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Biology from Penn in 2012. Her thesis research was done in the Department of Microbiology under the mentorship of Dr. Jeff Weiser. Becki’s dissertation focused on the interaction between bacterial pathogens of the upper respiratory tract and the host immune system. To complement her work at the bench which uncovered novel vaccine antigens for S. aureus, she developed a PHCP project that investigated antibody responses to those antigens in a human cohort. This work was mentored by Dr. Joshua Metlay, Senior Scholar at the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

Becki is currently a Research Fellow in the Department of Microbiology and Immunobiology at Harvard Medical School. Her postdoctoral research focuses on the cellular mechanisms that contribute to chronic immunopathology during diseases of public health importance, such as inflammatory bowel disease and persistent Chlamydia trachomatis infection.

Chao LuChao Lu is a fifth year Cancer Biology student. He has a long-standing interest in understanding the molecular mechanism of cancer. He was attracted to the Public Health Certificate Program because he wants to combine knowledge from basic science and cancer epidemiology to discover new pathways underlying tumor development and novel treatments for cancer.

His basic science project, carried out in the laboratory of Dr. Craig Thompson, focuses on mutations of the isocitrate dehydrogenases (IDH) that were recently found in leukemias and gliomas at high frequency. The findings of his project will help to elucidate the oncogenic mechanism of this gene mutation and identify potential therapeutic targets. Under the supervision of Dr. Timothy Rebbeck, his PHCP independent study involves systematic assessment of additional genetic factors’ contribution to breast and ovarian cancer risks in people carrying germline BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. The results of this study will provide benefits to genetic counseling, prediction, prevention and management of these types of cancer.

AlyssaAlyssa MacMillan received her PhD in Microbiology from Penn in 2013.  Her basic science thesis project, under the supervision of Dr. Susan Ross, involved determining the mechanisms by which APOBEC3, a mammalian anti-viral protein, restricts the mouse retrovirus, Mouse Mammary Tumor Virus. This natural mouse pathogen allows for an in vivo model to help understand intrinsic immune protection from retroviruses. During her time in PHCP, she worked with Dr. Robert Gross (Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics) to help determine specific barriers to drug adherence in HIV patients initiating antiretroviral drug therapy. This work helped her to develop skills in creating databases, quantitative and qualitative data analysis, statistics, and manuscript writing. She was also able to learn about HIV from a patient standpoint, gaining insight into the struggles many patients commonly face. This work, along with her dissertation work in Microbiology, helped her to receive a two year post-doctoral fellowship in public health science, as an Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL)/CDC Emerging Infectious Diseases Research Fellow. During this fellowship, Alyssa is placed at the New Jersey Department of Health, a state public health laboratory responsible for helping to prevent and track infectious diseases for the state of New Jersey, among other duties. She am learning the basic organization of a state public health lab, becoming familiar with the assays commonly used throughout the laboratories, and initiating an independent research project to establish a pyrosequencing-based assay to test for antiviral drug resistance in seasonal influenza. The fellowship allows Alyssa to apply her molecular biology expertise to help advance the capacity of the state lab, and helps her pursue a career in applied public health science at the bench.

Leah Sabin

Leah Sabin graduated from the CAMB MVP program in 2011. She conducted her thesis research in Dr. Sara Cherry's laboratory, and her dissertation was entitled "The role of RNA silencing in Drosophila antiviral immunity". For her PHCP project, Leah worked under the mentorship of Dr. Gary Smith, using mathematical modeling to explore the possible consequences of a Rift Valley Fever virus outbreak in a naïve population. Her project was entitled "A Model of Rift Valley Fever Virus Transmission Dynamics Between Mosquito and Domestic Ruminant Populations in the Greater Philadelphia Metro Area". Leah is currently a Damon Runyon postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Greg Hannon's laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor. She is investigating the role of long noncoding RNAs in normal hematopoiesis and malignant transformation.


Chris SkipwithChristopher Skipwith is currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Northeastern University in Boston, MA. As a Ph.D. student, his basic science interests were in the biochemical regulation of matrix metalloproteases. His PHCP project developed a survey that examines the perceived genetic risk among the families of pediatric severe and moderate hemophilia A patients to probe the feasibility of integrating genetic counseling into treatment regimens for these populations. His current research focus is on developing and implementing novel imaging modalities to visualize thrombosis and inflammation in animal models.

Nathaniel Snyder

Nate Snyder is a fifth year PhD student in Pharmacology. He has had a long standing interest in population level science, including pharmacoepidemiology, environmental exposures, and biomarkers. He has previously interned for a non-profit patient advocacy organization, Genetic Alliance, based in Washington D.C.

His thesis project focuses on the bioactivity, signaling, and metabolism of a newly described endogenous lipid under the mentorship of Ian A. Blair, Ph.D. The cutting edge technology used in his thesis, liquid chromatography- high resolution mass spectrometry (LC-HRMS), can also be applied to public health issues including biomarkers of environmental exposures. To that end, his public health project bridges LC-HRMS to study asbestos exposures related to mesothelioma in the nearby Ambler superfund site.