Student Biographies

Class of 2021 


Cassandra Barrett

Cassandra (Lawrence, KS) received her B.S. in Microbiology from the University of Minnesota (2015) and her Ph.D. in Biological Design from Arizona State University (2019). Her doctoral work focused on epigenetic engineering in order to improve genetic medicines. She has extensive research experience with emerging technologies in the field of biological engineering including CRISPR and biosensing. She is an active member of the Engineering Biology Research Consortium, where her experience in technical road mapping inspired her to think about the social and clinical future of biotechnology. She is pursuing further training in genetic counseling with the hopes of developing communication frameworks and best practices for implementing genetic medicines and diagnostics by centering patient needs. Outside of the lab, Cassandra has been committed to opening dialogues about genetics in unconventional spaces. She mentored and taught incarcerated students in a high security facility in the Arizona Department of Corrections for two years. Cassandra has developed multiple curriculums for teaching biology through studio art practice, and has partnered with national organizations including AAAS and NSF to develop outreach materials for the public and lawmakers. She is also a co-founder of the Arizona Science Policy Network, which aims to train young scientists how to engage with policy makers and advocates for science-based legislation. Cassandra aspires to a career building bridges between patients and technology.


Sara Graceffo

Sara (Montville, NJ) received her BS in Genetics & Biotechnology from the University of New Haven (magna cum laude, 2017). She was a member of the Honors Program and completed an Honors Thesis entitled, “The Use of Exosomes to Deliver Doxorubicin to Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Cells”. During her time as an undergrad, Sara also worked as a molecular biology lab assistant and volunteered as an ambassador for the biology department. She was the 2017 recipient of the Herbert E. Wright Biology-Environmental Science Award. Sara also studied abroad in Italy, where she volunteered teaching English to Italian grade-school children. Since graduation, Sara has worked on the Inherited Cancer team at GeneDx. She is responsible for data entry of clinical information and she has been named co-author on the manuscript, “CDH1 Penetrance Estimates are Lower than Once Thought”. She has also been volunteering with Peak Potential, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping children with disabilities rock climb. Sara is interested in inherited cancer and she would like to someday practice in both clinical and laboratory settings. She hopes to increase the accessibility of genetic counseling by addressing financial and geographical limitations of the profession. 


Jessica Hidalgo

Jessica (Los Angeles, CA) received her BS in Biological Sciences from California State University, Los Angeles (2008).  She was co-president of the Chicanos and Latinos for Community Medicine (CCM) while working as a NIH-fellow research assistance at the City of Hope Cancer Center. She obtained her MS in Biochemistry (2012) where she worked on establishing a protocol to isolate and establish primary cell cultures from human bronchioepithelial cells to study the regulation of antimicrobial cholesteryl.  She received her PhD in Genetics from the University of Iowa (2019), where she has mentored undergraduates, worked as a TA in Fundamentals of Genetics and Special Topics in Genetics, and received an NIH F31 fellowship on her research in transcriptional and metabolic regulation of cardiovascular disease. Jessica has helped establish the Association for Multicultural Scientist (AMS), has worked as a crisis center and free medical center volunteer, served meals to those in need, and has been an American Heart Association CPR instructor.  Jessica is excited to join the field of genetic counseling as it merges patient support and advocacy with genetics, science and research.


Alexandra (Lexi) Isaacs 

Lexi (Raleigh, NC) earned a BA in Exercise and Sports Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2016). While at UNC, she was an active member of Alpha Phi Omega – National Service Fraternity, as well as a Buckley Public Service Scholar. Lexi shadowed multiple prenatal, cancer, and pediatric genetic counselors which solidified her interest in genetic counseling. Lexi currently volunteers as a crisis counselor for multiple suicide prevention and crisis intervention hotlines, as a buddy in a baseball league for children and adults with special needs, and provides direct care to survivors of sexual assault as a sexual assault response advocate. She also works in a toxicology lab on a team that is researching the effects of flame retardants on skeletal development of multiple species of fish. Lexi’s interests include research, community outreach, patient advocacy, and ethical considerations regarding genetic counseling.


Nate Kirkland

Nate (West Point, UT) received his BS in Exercise and Sports Science (2016) and his BS in Nutrition (with an AAS as a Chemical Technician and a minor in Chemistry) (2017) from Weber State University, Ogden, UT. As an undergraduate, he volunteered as a research assistant studying the effects of neuromechanical outcomes during body-weight squats. Since graduation, he has worked as a Clinical Research Coordinator in Oncology Clinical Trials for Intermountain Healthcare. His volunteer activities include working as a Crisis Counselor and as a Genetic Counseling Assistant. Upon graduation, Nate would like to work in a clinical setting and has a strong interest in both metabolic and oncology counseling. 


Kaitlyn Mason

Kaitlyn (Mechanicsville, VA), received her BS degree in Genetics from the University of Georgia (2019).  As an undergraduate, she volunteered and worked with a broad spectrum of individuals in the Athens, Georgia area.  Her volunteerism included time at the Athens Homeless Shelter, the Piedmont Athens Regional Hospital, and as a counselor on Crisis Text Line.  Her passion for running also helped connect her with an after-school running club for underprivileged children, where she would spend time each week as a running buddy.  In 2018, Kaitlyn was a founding member and served as the Secretary of the Genetic Education Network and Experience Society (G.E.N.E.S.), a genetics club for undergraduate students.  Her work experience has focused in various roles at Camp Twin Lakes in Rutledge, GA over the past several years.  This camp serves children with different disabilities and illnesses, each group spending a week at the camp where activities like swimming, horseback riding, and rock climbing allowed children to interact with others facing similar challenges.  Her years interacting with children here has fueled her passion to work in pediatric genetics in the future.


Nisha Mathew

Nisha (Portland,OR) received her BA in Biology from the University of Portland (2018). During her undergraduate career, Nisha worked at RISE Inc. where she worked with families that had children with developmental disabilities. Nisha was also a research assistant in a cytogenetics lab, where she worked on various research projects that were presented at regional and national conferences. Her work on the simulation of false positive and false negative rates from noninvasive prenatal testing (NIPT) was presented at ACMG. She also presented her work on different genetic testing modalities in the workup of Myelodyspastic Syndrome (MDS) at the CytoNow conference. After graduation, Nisha worked for over a year as a Genetic Counseling Assistant at ORM Fertility. During that time, Nisha volunteered at a crisis line, offering over the phone support for individuals that were experiencing domestic violence and sexual assault. Nisha has a strong interest in patient advocacy and preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). She is excited to gain experience in both clinical and laboratory/industry roles.


Maria Mills

Maria Mills (Seattle, WA) received her BS in Biology with a research concentration from Gonzaga University in 2015. As an undergraduate, Maria conducted evolutionary biology research and volunteered in the Spokane School District leading weekly science experiments for elementary school students. Maria received her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Washington in 2017. As a graduate student, Maria worked as a Predoctoral Instructor of Writing at the University of Washington and as a Research Assistant in Clinical Genetics at Kaiser Permanente. Most recently, Maria worked in Clinical Pathology at Keck Hospital of USC (Los Angeles, CA) and volunteered as a crisis counselor on the LA Rape and Battery Hotline with the nonprofit Peace Over Violence. She has published her undergraduate research in the Journal of Experimental Zoology, and presented her Kaiser Permanente research on the long-term risk management actions of BRCA1/2 patients at ACMG 2019. Maria is interested in cancer genetics and incorporating her background as a writer into her genetic counseling career.

Class of 2020

Natasha Chadburn

Natasha (Birmingham, AL) received her BA in French, with a minor in Chemistry, from Utah State University (2014) as a Dean’s Scholarship recipient. During her time as an undergraduate, she was President of a pre-health sciences club and worked at Cache Valley Hospital as a Certified Nursing Assistant and Telemetry Technician. She also spent time studying abroad in France at the University of Rennes and the IFALPES Institute in Annecy. Since graduating, Natasha has worked in many clinical health care capacities, most recently as a Genetic Counseling Assistant at the Huntsman Cancer Institute.  Natasha also volunteers as a group facilitator with The Bradley Center for Grieving Children and Families, leading grief support groups for middle school age children who have recently lost a loved one. Her interests include cancer genetics, pediatric genetics, and the ethical issues surrounding genetic testing.


Caitlin Clark-Wiest

Caitlin (Berkeley, CA) received her BS in Genetics and Genomics from the University of California, Davis (2016).  During her time there, she worked in the UC Davis Genome Center as a research assistant in functional genomics; her project was later published in The Plant Cell. After graduation, she worked for two years at the UC Davis Medical Center as a Genetic Counseling Assistant in the Division of Genomic Medicine at the MIND Institute. There she provided support for patients, Genetic Counselors, and Medical Geneticists in a general genetics clinic. She also founded the first Genetic Counseling Club at UC Davis for prospective genetic counseling students. Caitlin was involved in several research projects and presented her research at the UC Davis Human Genomics Symposium, the Northern California Genetics Exchange, and the ACMG Annual Clinical Genetics Meeting. Caitlin is particularly interested in whole genome sequencing, medical ethics, and the impact of counseling techniques in aiding patients’ understanding of genetics. In her free time, Caitlin loves writing on her blog, making jewelry, and exploring the great outdoors.


Christina Dailey

Christina (Sycamore, IL) received her BS in Genetics, Cellular Biology, and Development with a minor in Public Health from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities (cum laude, 2018).  Her thesis was entitled Fatty Acid Trafficking in Brown Adipose Tissue: It’s BAT-y and explored a novel method of lipid droplet breakdown in brown adipocytes.  Christina gained additional research experience in the Mashek lab at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities where she worked for two and a half years studying the biochemistry of lipid droplets.  She also spent two summers as a Product Development Intern studying the stability and precision of test kit components at Diasorin, an immunodiagnostic company in Stillwater, MN.  Christina was a laboratory instructor for an undergraduate biology course where she practiced teaching science to those without a biology background, a skill that she believes will be invaluable as a genetic counselor.  Christina volunteered at Sojourner Project, a domestic violence shelter in the Minneapolis suburbs where she counseled women both over the phone and in person after domestic disputes.  Christina is not sure if she would like to work in a clinical setting after graduation or enter into a lab-based industry role, but she is excited to explore her options!


Melanie Emmerson

Melanie (Toronto, ON) received her BS in Science and Business with a specialization in Biotechnology from the University of Waterloo (cum laude, 2017), where she held positions as a Peer Counselor and Events Director for the university’s peer support program, and worked as a Teaching Assistant for the biology department.  During this time, she also provided pregnancy options support at Planned Parenthood and participated as an actor in their student-run play, aimed at providing sexual health education for youth.  She worked 8 months as a Genetic Counseling Assistant during an undergraduate internship at Sunnybrook Hospital’s Cancer Genetics Clinic in Toronto, ON.  After graduation, she worked as a clinical research student at SickKids Hospital, exploring the role of pulmonary function in asthma development.  She continued her advocacy experience as a crisis text responder for Kids Help Phone, and became involved as an event volunteer for Cystic Fibrosis Canada, Huntington’s Society Canada, and DEBRA (for families with epidermolysis bullosa).  Since high school she has been a part of the Ontario Track 3 Ski Association, teaching children with disabilities to downhill ski.  Melanie plans to work in a clinical setting and has interests in patient education, qualitative research, and rare disease advocacy.


Heather Nick

Heather (Downingtown, PA) received her BS in Biological Sciences from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL (2018) with a full-tuition scholarship. She served as President of The Honors Program, which gave her the opportunity to mentor freshman students. As an active member of Student Government, Heather planned annual “It’s On Us” sexual assault prevention campaigns and assisted in an administrative role for the Student Senate and University Budget Committee. Heather often volunteers with The Ronald McDonald House Charities, local food banks, and organizations that benefit breast cancer research. Her primary interests relate to nutrition, metabolism, and biomedical ethics. Heather studied metabolic pathways through an internship with The Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, FL. She also spent her junior year researching how autophagy genes may regulate the aging process. As a result of her findings, Heather was accepted into the Dr. John Nambu Memorial REU and gave a 30-minute talk. Heather hopes to one day specialize in metabolic disorders, specifically lysosomal storage disorders, and become very involved with the National Society of Genetic Counselors.


Kaylee Ruiz

Kaylee (Fresno, CA) received her BS degree in Kinesiology from California State University, Fresno   (2014).  While pursuing her undergraduate degree, Kaylee studied abroad for a semester in Rome, Italy and a semester in the High Sierras, near Yosemite National Park.  She was a high school science and math instructor at a local high school (3 years).  During her teaching career, Kaylee was introduced to the field of clinical genetics through Valley Children’s Hospital Genetic Medicine and Metabolism department.  Participation with the department in events such as the Northern California Genetics Exchange and Genetic Counselor Awareness Day, further solidified her passion for genetic counseling.  Additionally, Kaylee served as a client advocate at Pregnancy Care Center, a swim instructor for children with disabilities and a junior high school youth group leader.  Kaylee worked at Valley Center for the Blind, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, where she was part of a team assisting blind and visually impaired individuals experience opportunity-filled lives and independence.  Kaylee feels that a profession in genetic counseling will merge her interests in science and education, while allowing her to work in diverse settings and practice compassionate health care.


Amy Whitburn

Amy (Madison, WI) received her BS in Health and Wellness (Public Health Emphasis) in 2014 from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, MN. During her time there, she worked several jobs at her student health clinic, including staffing seasonal influenza vaccination clinics, assisting with biometric health screens, providing students a safe ride home on the “Gopher Chauffeur”, and most notably as an HIV tester and counselor. She was a recipient of the Centennial Scholarship and co-authored the publication Non-Pharmacological Alternatives to Benzodiazepine Drugs for the Treatment of Anxiety in Outpatient Populations which was published in the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing in 2016. She also wrote grant proposals, counseled students, ran educational meetings, and gave presentations to students and staff as a coordinator of the University of Minnesota’s Sexual Health Awareness and Disease Education program. After graduating, Amy took a job at Noran Neurological Clinic in Minneapolis, in pursuit of further patient interaction. She enjoyed her time working with patients and families dealing with neurological disorders and diseases such as Autism, Epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s disease. Amy also has spent her time volunteering as a Health Advocate at the U of M, and through the genetics department through U of M Fairview clinics, integrating pedigrees into electronic health records. She is interested in learning more about metabolic and cancer genetics, as well as incorporating her background in public health into her future role as a genetic counselor.


 Emily Ziegler

Emily (North Branch, MN) graduated from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in 2015 where she earned BS degrees in Biochemistry and Biology with a concentration in Cellular and Molecular Biology and minored in Mathematics and Spanish. Throughout college, she participated in various research projects including mathematical modeling in biology at UWL, freshwater mussel assessments with the National Great Rivers Research and Educational Center, and analytical chemistry method development and validation with the U.S.G.S.-Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center. She also worked as a peer tutor for the McNair’s Scholar Program and the Office of Multicultural Student Services at UWL. She studied abroad in India where she explored community health and in Belize doing marine biology fieldwork. After graduation, Emily continued working for the U.S.G.S. as a Geneticist, focusing on next-generation sequencing applications of environmental DNA. During that time, she volunteered as a Night-Time On-Call Volunteer Advocate with New Horizons, a domestic violence and sexual assault survivor center in La Crosse. She left Wisconsin to sail across the Pacific Ocean and then moved to England where she worked as a Molecular Biologist doing environmental DNA project development for a small company. Personal exposure to genetic counseling as well as a passion for advocacy and empowerment through education have inspired her to pursue a career in genetic counseling.

Class of 2019

Chloe Dugger

Chloe (Spokane, WA) received her BS in Biology from Washington State University (honors, 2015) where she held positions as a student body senator, assistant director of philanthropy and completed an undergraduate thesis project in a veterinary microbiology lab. Chloe minored in German and spent time abroad on a DAAD Summer Course Grant in Berlin, Germany. After graduation, Chloe worked as a Research Assistant in a pharmaceutical sciences lab focused on telomere regulation and mechanisms of human aging. She completed a genetic study examining mechanisms of polymorphic enhancers in the telomerase reverse transcriptase gene. During that time she also served as a crisis response advocate for a sexual assault and trauma hotline, taught dance classes for children with special needs and got involved with a local Huntington’s Disease support group. Chloe’s interest in human genetics and interactions with the disability community led her to pursue a career in genetic counseling. Chloe is interested in advocacy and looks forward to being apart of a profession committed to patient autonomy.


Ambreen Khan

Ambreen (Vancouver, BC) received her BS in Dental Science from the University of British Columbia (2013). She was the vicepresident of the Dental Undergraduate Society and chief site coordinator for the Community Volunteer Dental Clinics. She has worked extensively with underserved and at‐risk populations in both clinical and community settings as a Registered Dental Hygienist. Her passion for public health won her the Canadian Dental Hygiene Association’s Health Promotion Award. She is the co‐author of a literature review in the Canadian Journal of Dental Hygiene (CJDH) titled: “Waterpipe smoking ‐ a ‘healthy’ alternative to cigarettes or a health hazard in disguise,” for which she won the CJDH Research Award for the ‘best literature review’ of the year. Ambreen’s advocacy experience includes being a crisis counselor for Crisis Text Line. Her passion for genetics and her commitment to help others has led her to pursue a career in genetic counseling. She is fluent in Urdu and Punjabi, and hopes to use her background in public health to bring genetic counseling to underserved populations.


Caitlyn Maczka

Caitlyn (Germantown, MD) received her BS in Biological Sciences from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) (cumlaude, 2016). She interned at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, MD, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., and worked as an undergraduate researcher in a developmental biology and genetics laboratory at UMBC. She was also captain of the UMBC Club Tennis Team. She was the recipient of various awards including the Undergraduate Research Award, UMBC Academic Achievement Award, and the Individual Sportsmanship Award (USTA Club Tennis Sectionals Tournament). She was a member of the Tau Sigma National Honors Society, the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society, the Montgomery College and UMBC Honors Colleges, and won first place in the Natural Sciences Category for her presentation at the Beacon Conference in Bethlehem, PA. She worked as a Genetic Counseling Assistant in the Whole Exome Sequencing program at GeneDx in Gaithersburg, MD. She volunteered as a mentor for ArtStream, an inclusive theatre company for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She also volunteered for a crisis and suicide hotline. Caitlyn plans to work in a clinical setting and is specifically interested in disability empowerment and community outreach.


Janessa Mladucky

Janessa (Madison, WI) received her BS in Genetics with a second major in Statistics from the University of Wisconsin‐Madison (2015). While there, she held various leadership positions within the Hoofers Organization of outdoor recreation clubs and worked as an event planner for Campus Event Services. She also assisted in research on the mechanisms of Methyl‐CpG binding protein MBD1 and its role in autism spectrum disorders. Collaboration on this research led to her co‐authorship on a paper published in the Journal of Neuroscience (2016). She volunteered at Agrace Hospice as a companionship volunteer then became a co‐facilitator for children’s grief groups. She also has experience as a helpline counselor for the Rape Crisis Center in Dane County. After graduation, she worked as an SAP Analyst in the Custom Order Manufacturing department at Promega Corp. in Fitchburg, Wisconsin. Janessa has interests in research, public policy, and patient advocacy.


Emily Moody

Emily (Princeton Junction, NJ) received her BS in Biochemistry from Brigham Young University (2014). During her time there, she worked in the Price Lab as a research assistant generating protein stability data. She was also head stockroom clerk for the organic chemistry teaching lab. Since graduating, she has worked as a Variant Specialist at Courtagen Life Sciences and currently at Myriad Genetics classifying variants based on structure, literature, and clinical data. Emily very much enjoys the complexity of analyzing the effect of genetic variants on disease and has experience reviewing and analyzing genetic data. Emily previously volunteered at the Lindon Care and Training Center where she worked with intellectually disabled residents on a weekly basis. She spent a large part of her earlier years volunteering and working in nursing homes coordinating intellectually stimulating activities for the residents. She also spent the last year volunteering as a youth group leader for young women. Emily believes genetic counselors can aid entire families from both the clinical and laboratory side.


Jamie Warner

Jamie (Waukesha, WI) received her BS in Psychology from the University of Wisconsin‐ Eau Claire (cum laude, 2016). While at UW‐Eau Claire she was a student athlete for eight sport seasons between cross country and indoor/outdoor track. She has volunteered with physicians in Nicaragua where she helped provide care for over 400 patients. Additionally, she was a lab research assistant that generated knowledge about Naltrexone as a discriminative stimulus under a variety of conditions and presented this research at the Society for Neuroscience conference. After graduating, Jamie was employed at Genesee Lake School, a residential treatment setting, where she supported children with developmental disabilities, mental health disorders, neurological disorders, emotional disturbances and trauma histories. She has volunteered with genetic counselors at cancer clinics, helped staff a cancer survivorship event, and attended the Wisconsin Cancer Program Network Conference (WICRPN). Jamie is especially interested in cancer genetics, pediatric genetics, and cardiovascular genetics though she is excited to explore a variety of settings.


Rachel Zatezalo

Rachel (Pittsburgh, PA) received her BS in Molecular Genetics, with a minor in Clinical Psychology and Individual Differences, from the Ohio State University (cum laude, 2017). During her time as an undergraduate, Rachel was a resident advisor and peer leader. She also served as a student ambassador providing outreach training for the Ohio State Student Life Wellness Center. In addition, Rachel volunteered with the Columbus, OH, Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio as a crisis counselor. For two years as a student research assistant, Rachel studied mismatch repair proteins by working with bacteria and human cell models, planned experiments to determine the mutation rate of multiple plasmids, and co‐authored a manuscript published in Scientific Reports (2015). Rachel was also a cancer genetics assistant at the Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus. Rachel is excited to be able to empower patients in their healthcare decisions through education and professional support.