Meet the Current Ambassadors

About the Ambassador Program

Past Ambassadors

Ambassador Alliance

The ASPB Ambassador Program is a semi-independent organization within ASPB with oversight by the Membership Committee.  It is  governed by an ad-hoc committee of five comprised of the Chair, Vice Chair, Secretary, Membership Committee (MemCom) Representative, and Outgoing Chair. This group will be called the Ambassador Alliance. Each position will last for one year.  For the 2018-2019 year, as it is the first year, there will be no Outgoing Chair.

Katy McIntyre
Katy McIntyre
Colorado State University

Asia Hightower
Asia Hightower
Vice Chair
Wayne State University

Amina Yaqoob
University of Punjab

Andrew Foudree
Membership Committee Representative

Sunil Kumar Kenchanamane Raju
Sunil Kumar Kenchanamane Raju
Out Going Chair
Michigan State University

Undergraduate and Graduate Ambassadors

Shakeel Ahmad

I completed my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in plant breeding and genetics from University of Agriculture, Faisalabad (Pakistan). During my master, I worked in the laboratory of Prof. Asif Ali Khan where I checked the resistance status of field collected Helicoverpa armigera against different accessions of Bt cotton cultivated in Pakistan under the supervision of Prof. Asif and Dr. Masooma. To fulfill the research thirst in plant biology, I continued my studies and joined Graduate School of Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing in September, 2017 for doctoral studies. Currently, I’m working on rice blast disease in Prof. Hu Peisong’s Lab with the aim and hope to develop blast resistant rice lines with high grain quality using CRISPR/Cas9 system.

Besides research, in my spare time, I love blogging, utilize social media platforms to interact with fellows to get know-how about the things happening around and hang-out with friends. I’m excited being an ASPB Ambassador and I hope to experience this unique opportunity to spread the good work of APSB. I’m looking forward to meeting with professionals working in the field of plant biology so that the interaction and learning will harness benefits for the society!

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I (@aribidopsis) am a graduate student of United Graduate School of Agricultural Sciences, Iwate University, Japan and Graduate student ambassador of American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB). I  translated “My Life as a Plant” into Bengali. My research interest is understanding the hormonal interplay in primary root development of Arabidopsis thaliana. I blog about plant science at

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Twitter: @aribidopsis

I am currently a PhD candidate in the Plant Biology Graduate Program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. My research in the lab of Prof. Elsbeth Walker focuses on understanding the mechanisms behind shoot-to-root iron signaling in Arabidopsis thaliana. In the lab, I use a combination of molecular and bioinformatic approaches to investigate these mechanisms. Before UMass, I had worked with Prof. Iris Finkemeier at the Max-Planck Institute for Plant Breeding in Cologne, Germany for my master’s degree. As a young scientist interested in open-access publishing, I had my first advocacy opportunity as an eLife Ambassador in 2018. I was involved in an initiative to increase the visibility and quality of preprints. To support this initiative, we had incorporated preprints into our journal club series at UMass in 2018 and as a result we have published our reviews on PREreview, a preprint review platform.

The inauguration of Plant Direct and its strong promotion of preprints as part of the manuscript submission process have made preprints a part of ASPB’s message. As an ASPB ambassador, I am planning to focus my efforts on increasing awareness for preprints and help ASPB to strengthen its message on a fair and transparent peer review process.

Max BarnhartI am a first year Ph.D. student at the University of Georgia studying the evolution of stress resistance in sunflowers as a member of the Burke lab. I love solving problems in computational biology and it is a great privilege to study the evolution of life on this planet. As an ASPB Ambassador,

I am very excited to collaborate with with many passionate and motivated individuals to promote plant biology. When I’m not in the lab, you can find me doing martial arts, yoga, or cooking up some tasty plant based meals!

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Ghana ChallaI am Ghana Challa. Currently, I am working as a postdoctoral research associate with Dr. Amy Marshall-Colon at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. My current research is focused on using gene regulatory networks and in silico growth models of plants to understand various aspects of their responses to external stimuli. I received my Doctoral degree in Biological Sciences from South Dakota State University with a dissertation on transcriptome and genome analysis in wheat root development using high-throughput sequencing. I received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Biotechnology from Andhra University in India. I joined the ASPB ambassador program to be proactive in the plant biology community and contribute to the progress as part of it.

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Katherine D’AmicoKatie D’Amico-Willman is a Ph.D. candidate working with Dr. Jonathan Fresnedo Ramirez in the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science at The Ohio State University in Wooster, OH. Her research focuses on aging in perennial plants using almond as a model species. Almond exhibits an aging-related disorder called non-infectious bud-failure, and Katie is working to identify epigenetic signatures associated with the disorder. Prior to coming to OSU, Katie earned a Master’s degree from SUNY ESF in Syracuse, NY and worked for the USDA ARS in Ithaca, NY. She has been actively involved in several outreach activities at OSU including a partnership with the local science center and was co-chair of the 2019 OSU Plant Sciences Symposium. In her free time, Katie loves to hike, play board games, and spend time with her husband and cats.

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Andrew EgesaAndrew is a masters student undertaking biotechnology studies at Kenyatta University in Kenya. He has previously trained in plant science (plant development under stress) and health sciences (Infectious diseases). He plans to study plant development and use this knowledge in crop improvement and biopharming.

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Lindsay ErndweinI am Lindsay (In my lab, I go by LindZea). I am a PhD student in plant and soil sciences at the University of Delaware. Insects have allured me for my entire life. I grew up immersed in the natural world – peeking under rocks, catching butterflies, raising ladybugs, and petting bees. I was fascinated by materials produced by insects and obtained my B.S. in materials science and engineering with an entomology focus from Penn State in 2017. During my undergraduate years, I assisted some of the earliest research on the spotted lanternfly infestation and its impact on the grape industry. This experience intrigued me to further investigate plant-insect interactions. Under the dual guidance of Dr. Erin Sparks of plant and soil sciences and Dr. Ivan Hiltpold of entomology, I study the effects of insect herbivory on the development and biomechanics of maize brace roots.

My ultimate dream is to build a self sustaining tiny house, live in Arizona, and study desert entomology. When I’m not researching, I enjoy visual arts, running, hiking, and being outdoors with my insect friends as much as possible.

As an ASPB ambassador I hope to teach young scientists about the importance of studying plant and insect biology, and collaborate with plant biologists and other scientists across disciplines.

I am a PhD student studying Plant Biology with a specialization in Predictive Plant Phenomics, at Iowa State University in Dr. Justin Walley’s lab. My work focuses on the role of post translational modifications (primarily acetylation) in plant-pathogen interactions. I grew up in Florida and first became interested in plant science in my undergraduate years at Florida State University where I worked in a maize genetics lab. At Iowa State, I am the president of the Graduate Student Organization of Plant Biologists and a Graduate Student Senate Representative for Plant Pathology and Microbiology. Outside of the lab, I enjoy working out, hanging out with friends and playing board games. As an ambassador, I hope to spread the message and the brand of ASPB.

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Md Imdadul HaqI was born and grown up in very small town in Bangladesh. I completed my undergraduate in Botany from University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. After completed my bachelor, I moved to Malaysia for my master’s degree in biotechnology at University of Malaya (UM). During my masters at UM, I investigated the antioxidant and antimicrobial properties of mangrove plants. Currently, I am a third-year doctoral student in Biomedical Sciences program with the concentration of Biochemistry at East Tennessee State University (ETSU).

The project I am working on my doctoral dissertation focuses on the catabolic pathway of N-acyl ethanolamines (NAEs) in an early land pant, Physcomitrella patens. The goal of my research is to understand how fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) catabolize NAEs and its mechanism by which mediate physiological processes if any.

I like outdoor adventure during my free time; hiking, camping, canoeing, caving. Road trip in my hobby; I traveled almost every corner of my country and explored more than 30 states in the United States. I am involved several organizations at ETSU including the President of International Student Association (ISA) at ETSU, as part of ISA, we organize lots of different activities to help engaging international students on campus. I am grateful to be a part of the ASPB ambassador program, and the ultimate goal is to help bring the plant-based research importance to local communities.

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Asia HightowerHi, my name is Asia Hightower I am currently an MS student at Wayne State University. I am interested in the genetic regulation of morphology in dioecious plant species. I love dogs and critiquing films.

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I am going to be starting a PhD program in Fall 2020 and will be studying plant molecular biology. I am most interested in studying gene regulation and epigenetics. My undergraduate experience in Dr. Judy Brusslan’s lab involved studying the transcriptional regulation of leaf senescence and how different developmental events trigger leaf senescence-related signaling in Arabidopsis. I interned with Dr. Alison DeLong to study the role a particular phosphatase plays in regulating Arabidopsis plant size. I am learning piano and American Sign Language (ASL), and I want to eventually become a certified ASL interpreter.  As an ASPB scholar I wrote an article and developed public friendly infographics about GMO safety, and as an Ambassador I intend to continue expanding my scicomm skills to help increase the visibility of plant biology in society

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Md. Shahadat HossainI am a MEXT fellow and 1st year PhD student at Ehime University, Japan. My research focuses on chemical biology approach to protect plants from abiotic stresses. In my current project, I am investigating the effect of acetate, a low cost and nonhazardous chemical, on Lens culinaris in enhancing salt tolerance.

I became interested in plants when I observed the differences between plant and animal. Even though plants do not have any nervous system like animal, still plants can sense the adverse condition and can come up with strategies to survive. Instead of nervous system, plant sense and communicates using different metabolites and ions. Under stress condition, plants change certain metabolites level to activate defense response, as a result they might survive under stress condition. Now, I am trying to activate the defense mechanism in plants using a chemical so that plants could survive under stress condition.

In 2018, I won the 3-minute thesis competition, Hiroshima, Japan. Then, I was invited to a high school to train and inspire students to be involved with science to solve society’s problems. Recently, I realized the importance of science communication because general people are not aware about what scientists are doing. And I feel kind of responsibility to teach or to train our next generation so that they can practice good science. I am planning to make educational video on biology. I am happy to get the opportunity to serve as an ASPB ambassador.

I believe every person in the world has a distinct role to play for the betterment of the society.  Instead of competing with each other, we could collaborate to make a better world.

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Stephanie KleinI am currently a PhD candidate in the Plant Biology Graduate Program and the Department of the Plant Sciences at Penn State University. Working for Jonathan Lynch, my research seeks to better understand how phenotypic variation of maize roots is related to plant performance, particularly focusing on root xylem anatomy. My work integrates the use of physiological, genetic, and computational analyses to quantify these relationships. I also serve as the Graduate Student Representative on the ASPB Membership Committee, a member of the Environmental Ecology and Plant Physiology section Advisory Board, and a scientist mentor for Planting Science. I have always been appreciative of ASPB and its mission since I received an ASPB SURF award as an undergrad at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Now, I hope to continue supporting the Society and the plant biology community in my role as an Ambassador.

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Gretchen KrohI am an NSF Graduate Fellow and a third year PhD candidate at Colorado State University in the Pilon lab studying plant physiology. My graduate research focuses on leaf iron (Fe) homeostasis, specifically, on identifying the cellular mechanisms that are involved in responding to Fe deficiency in Arabidopsis thaliana. As photosynthesis has a high requirement for Fe, Fe deficiency severely limits plant productivity. Therefore, a better understanding of Fe homeostasis can inform methods on fortifying economically important plants with Fe for higher productivity.

I first became interested in this research during my undergraduate internship, and subsequent research technician position, in plant physiology at the USDA Children’s Nutrition Research Center (CNRC). There, I was introduced to the field of plant nutrition and its role in sustaining the human population, especially in developing-world countries. During my time at the CNRC, my research focused on Fe root acquisition in Carya illinoinensis (pecan) and the closely related Carya aquatica.

Apart from my research, I am passionate about STEM outreach and, in addition to serving as an ASPB Ambassador, I am involved in STEM outreach both at CSU and Fort Collins grade schools to get elementary and middle school children excited about plant biology, and STEM fields in general.

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Tyler McCubbinI am a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Plant, Insect, and Microbial Sciences program at the University of Missouri, Columbia. His research focuses on the genetics of source-sink relations in maize and root growth during drought stress. Plants have always fascinated me since I was a child, and internship opportunity as an undergraduate cemented my interest in pursuing research in the field.

The ASPB has been instrumental in the development of my interest in research and career trajectory; the first large meeting I attended was a regional ASPB conference. As an Ambassador, I hope to spread awareness in my community about the tremendous resources available to early career researchers through the Society.

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Katy McIntyreI was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee but moved to Fort Collins, Colorado where I received my Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry with two minors in Molecular Biology and Business Administration from Colorado State University in 2016. During my undergraduate studies, I had little to no experience in plant biology until I received an undergraduate research position Dr. Cris Argueso’s lab where I became fully immersed in plant hormonal signaling involved in plant defense. After I graduated, I received a short term post-baccalaureate research position in Todd Gaines lab where I worked on a TILLING by sequencing project in Sorghum bicolor. I chose to return to Dr. Argueso’s lab for graduate school where I am currently finishing the second year of my PhD program in Cell and Molecular Biology in the Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management department where my research pertains to hormonal crosstalk chromatin remodeling involved in plant defense in Arabidopsis thaliana.

During my first year in graduate school, I was delighted to be a part of the American Society of Plant Biologist’s Ambassador program. Within the last year, I have participated in a few volunteer outreach activities as an ASPB Ambassador in northern Colorado. One of these activities included participating in a STEM night at Shepardson Elementary School in Fort Collins. During this event, I teamed up with four other plant biologists to set up different booths highlighting different areas within plant biology including: plant diseases, where our food comes from, and how photosynthesis works. I also volunteered at Colorado State University’s Agriculture Day I discussed plant pathogens with middle schoolers visiting the campus. During this event, I showed common plant diseases on both fruits and vegetables, and also had an interactive activity displaying the varying ways plant bacteria are able to spread from plant to plant and from farm to farm. This year I also have made an effort to attend and participate in multiple ASPB Skype meetings. This past Spring, I attended the ASPB Membership Committee Meeting where different members of the ASPB community discussed how to increase overall membership, improve the ASPB Ambassador program, hear reports from different regional sections, and plan activities for Plant Biology 2017.

Other than Ambassador activities, I was awarded the Graduate Research Fellowship through the National Science Foundation, Cell and Molecular Biology Program Fellowship, and my university’s departmental Outstanding Pathologist Scholarship. I also have been an elected member of my graduate program’s Student Association for three years where I have served as Secretary, Vice President and now President. I also have served as an elected member of my department’s Student Committee.

I’m looking forward to representing ASPB as an Ambassador in 2018. I plan on attending the annual Plant Biology meeting in Montreal where I will be able to meet fellow ASPB members as well as other Ambassadors. I also want to become a member of the future governing body of Ambassadors. I have recently shifted my career goals to include being highly involved with governmental policy pertaining to agriculture because I believe there is a huge gap in proper communication between plant biologists, the farming community, and the government. As a graduate student in academia, it’s become apparent to me that my academic requirements will not prepare me for a life involved in government. Therefore, becoming involved in an ASPB Ambassador governing committee will be a great opportunity for me to learn and gain experience.

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Katherine MurphyKatherine Murphy is a PhD Candidate in Dr. Philipp Zerbe’s lab at the University of California, Davis. She holds an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Stanford University where she studied maize anther development with Dr. Virginia Walbot. Her current research focuses on the biosynthesis, structure, and function of maize diterpenoids and their influence on the maize response to stress.

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Alexander MeyersI am a Ph.D. candidate entering my final year in Ohio University’s Department of Environmental and Plant Biology in the lab of Dr. Sarah Wyatt. I was born and raised in Upstate New York and completed a BS in Biochemistry at SUNY Cortland in 2013. My research focuses on using big data to better understand the molecular mechanisms that allow plants to sense and respond to gravity. Much of my research utilizes transcriptomic data gathered from plants flown in zero-gravity aboard the International Space Station. I plan to continue this career trajectory using spaceflight as a platform for scientific investigation and public outreach. I am passionate about public science literacy, and in my free time, I enjoy hiking, gardening, and traveling.

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Adenike OyekunleI am a master’s student at Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University. I am currently studying in the center for genomics and biotechnology under the supervision of Dr Yuan Qin. She’s using functional genomics and molecular biology techniques to study the roles of some genes in abiotic stress response in rice and pineapple.

Prior studying at FAFU, I worked for a few years in the agricultural service sector in my home country Nigeria after graduating with a Bachelor degree in general Agriculture. I envisages developing more skills in phenomics and computational biology in the next phase of her study. I also have passion for educational development and food security particularly in developing countries. I joined ASPB in order to learn more about the plant biology community and through communication of the importance of plant biology to young girls in Nigeria and Africa I hope to contribute to the broad vision of ASPB. In February 2019 I was selected as an ASPB ambassador.

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Shawna RoweI am currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Plant Biology at Michigan State University in the laboratory of Dr. Yair Shachar-Hill. My research interests center around the fantastic world of symbiotic interactions between plants and microbes. Specifically, I focus on developing an improved understanding of nutrient exchange between plants and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF). During my graduate career, I have served as Vice President of the Graduate Employees’ Union and worked to help improve working conditions and community for graduate students across campus. I’m excited to work as an ASPB ambassador to help continue building a stronger community of diverse and inclusive plant scientists and spread the good word about all of the wonderful plant science research happening around the world!

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Maria Angélica SanclementeMaria A. Sanclemente (Angélica) was born in Cali, Colombia. There she attended Universidad del Valle and obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in biology. After graduation, she and her family moved to the United States where they have been living for 14 years. In 2010, Angélica started her Master of Science degree in horticultural science at the University of Florida and graduated in spring 2012. Her M.S. research on rehabilitation of avocado trees damaged by flooding was recognized by Miami Dade County for contributions to local agriculture. Immediately after graduation Angélica started her Ph.D. studies in plant molecular and cellular biology in the same institution and graduated in 2018. Her Ph.D. research focused on identifying and characterizing sugar-modulated components of low-oxygen responses in maize. In addition, she characterized a family of NDPKs (Nucleoside Diphosphate Kinases) and identified central roles of these in oxygen stress, carbon partitioning, and growth. In 2019, Angelica joined Utrecht University in The Netherlands as a postdoctoral researcher where she is studying the molecular basis of plant recovery after flooding/submergence stress.

Throughout her graduate studies, Angelica was an active mentor of undergraduate students and often volunteered for the Alachua County public school system. She has participated in different outreach programs through the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) to engage the public in scientific conversations. She was awarded the best business plan at the 2014 UF EWITs (Empowering Women in Technology start-ups) program. She also volunteers as a mentor for students from underrepresented groups studying maize genetics and guides them in science career networking. In 2017, she was inducted into the Bouchet Graduate Honor Society, which recognizes outstanding scholarly achievement and promotes diversity and excellence in doctoral education and the professoriate. 

In the future, Angelica hopes to create an applied research program focusing on crop plant physiology and to work at the interface of industry and academia to improve food security. As part of her commitment to education, she intends to include efforts to expand her mentoring experience to train low-income families in self-sustainability. Finally, she hopes to encourage others, Hispanics and beyond to pursue leadership roles in science and technology careers.

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Lucas Vanhaelewyn

Lucas Vanhaelewyn is a Belgian PhD candidate at Ghent University (Ghent, Belgium). His doctoral research is about the effects of UV-B radiation on plants from fundamentals to applications. Lucas is passionate about knowledge sharing and science communication, he has organized several outreach events as an ASPB ambassador, reaching thousands of people (e.g. the Light festival in Belgium and student outreach in Vietnam). In this spirit, Lucas also joined ASPB-ARN, where he will try to actively promote inclusivity and multi-stakeholder engagement by connecting scientists from emerging economies with an internationally recognized strong science network – such as ASPB. Apart from his research interests, he is heavily involved in Pro Bono and entrepreneurial development work in Uganda, Nigeria and Vietnam. Recently he is a voluntary consultant in Team investment of Entrepreneurs for Entrepreneurs, a director of Ssemu Agrotech Consultants Ltd (Uganda) and a co-founder of The Mobile Plant Clinic (Nigeria). Follow his activities on Twitter: @Lucas_Muzungu_

Jithesh VijayanI am senior graduate student in School of Biological Sciences at University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I study variations in lipid metabolism under nutrient limitation conditions in microalgae. Chlorella sorokiniana, a microalgae, serves as my model organism. Prior to joining the graduate school, I worked as a technician at Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore, India. My undergraduate degree is in Bachelors of Technology-Biotechnology from Anna University, Chennai, India. It was during the undergraduate program that my fascination for algal biofuels began. This fascination towards biofuels has evolved over the years into a curiosity to better understand the life and environmental interactions of these microscopic plants.

I have been a member of ASPB since 2016 and an ambassador since December 2017. My primary interest in the program is to use the resources of the society, primarily its knowledgebase, for outreach activities. In the past, our target audience were school students. We (the working group at UNL and I) are hoping to expand the horizon to include adult audience as well. Morrill Hall museum, at UNL, provides us a great platform for outreach activities. Some of the events that we are planning for immediate foreseeable future include, “Investigate” and “Science café”.  Investigate is a program that has some simple but interesting experiments for school children of the age group of 7-12 on a Saturday morning. Science café is an event to be held in a bar/café in downtown, Lincoln and we are planning to have the focus of our event on GMOs.

I have participated in the Midwest sectional meeting in 2016 (@ South Dakota State University), where I gave a talk and I presented a poster for the 2018 Midwest sectional meeting (@Iowa State University).

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Twitter: @vt_jithesh

My name is Amina Yaqoob and I am serving as secretary-Ambassadors Alliance program for 2020-2021. I joined American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) in December 2017 and served as an ASPB ambassador (2018-2020). I am also mentoring planting science sessions for last two years.  I am a final year PhD student at Center of Excellence in Molecular Biology (CEMB), University of the Punjab, Pakistan. My research focuses are development of transgenic plants with improved traits and their biosafety studies. I have working in Cotton biotechnology for improved fiber quality and insect resistance. Besides research, I love to get involved in different extracurricular activities, scientific writing, outreach programs, social media and public communication. In past, I served at American society of Microbiology (ASM), Gulls association and Pakistan Biological Safety Association (PBSA) as facilitator and mentor.

My role as secretary – ambassador alliance is to strengthen the coordination between the Alliance and ambassadors. I shall be mentoring the ambassadors on different ideas and encouraging them for valuable activities. I believe that a person who feels appreciated will always do more than what is expected.

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Twitter: @AminaYaqoob
Website: for interesting blogs

Postdoc Ambassadors

Anne-Sophie BohrerAnne-Sophie Bohrer is a senior research associate at Michigan State University (MSU) in the Takahashi lab. Her initial work focused on the study of sulfur metabolism in Arabidopsis, with an emphasis on understanding the regulation mechanisms of sulfate uptake and sulfate assimilation in the cytosol and the chloroplasts.

Anne-Sophie is now continuing her postdoc in the Great lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) at MSU and is involved in the project that aims at developing a sustainable production of bioenergy crops by leveraging plant and microbiome traits to promote productivity on marginal lands. Specifically, Anne-Sophie is conducting the metabolite profiling of switchgrass under various stress to identify key factors that promote growth and survival of switchgrass in North America.

Anne-Sophie graduated in 2012 with her PhD in plant biochemistry and molecular biology from the University Paris-Sud (France).

Beyond the lab, Anne-Sophie is also involved in MSU postdoctoral association and will end her 2-year co-chair term in May 2019. She is also the event coordinator for the Fascination of Plants Day outreach event hosted at MSU since 2017.

Twitter: @AnsoBohrer

Anne-Sophie BohrerI am a Postdoctoral Research Associate at The University of North Texas in Dr. Kent Chapman’s lab where I study the N-Acylethanolamine signaling pathway using Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, and Bioinformatics techniques. I am particularly interested in understanding more about the signaling mechanisms and the molecular machinery involved in this pathway. As an ASPB Ambassador, I am looking forward to sharing the ASPB mission and vision with the UNT BioDiscovery Institute and my local community. I hope to encourage early career scientists to join ASPB and become active members in the Society. I am also looking forward to participating in the leadership and scientific communication opportunities.

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I am a Postdoctoral Fellow at Noble Research Institute in Oklahoma. I work with Professor Elison Blancaflor to dissect the transcriptomic changes that occur in root columella cells when they are gravistimulated using RNA-Seq and laser capture microdissection techniques. Prior to my postdoctoral fellowship, I completed my PhD dissertation with Professor Ulrike Mathesius in Australian National University on elucidating how flavonoids protect plants from root-knot nematode infection. I am excited to work as an ASPB ambassador to work on issues pertaining early career researchers provide a community support to other postdocs and graduate students particularly on issues pertaining mental health awareness and job sustainability. Additionally, I hope to encourage scientific participation in local schools by anchoring on ASPB’s education and outreach programs.

My Plantae profile is as following:

I am a postdoctoral researcher at the Donald Danforth Plant Science in St. Louis, Missouri in Dr. Blake’s Meyers’ Lab. My research is focused on studying the transcriptional activities occurring in plant-microbes interactions at a single-cellular level. By pinpointing where in the plant specific genes are active, I hope I’m able to determine how plant cells and microbes communicate and discover novel ways to improve crop yields.

For my educational background, I went to University of Missouri-St. Louis to major in Biology with a minor in Chemistry. After graduating in 2013, I enrolled into graduate school at Texas A&M University to study the molecular mechanisms of a disease on cotton called Bacterial Blight of Cotton in Dr. Libo Shan’s lab. In 2018, I received my PhD in Plant Pathology and started my post-doc at the Danforth Center in January 2019 where I still reside today as a HHMI Hanna Gray Fellow. Outside the lab, I also participate in various outreach activities such as speaking and giving science lessons at primary schools in the St. Louis region.

As an ASPB ambassador, I’m excited to work with ASPB and the other ambassadors on communicating science to other scientists and the general public. One of the ways I intend to do this is making short videos on my YouTube Channel that discusses a variety of science topics in a manner that’s understandable to the general public. Additionally, I am eager to help recruit other early career scientists to become members in the ASPB society. The great community of ASPB has provided opportunities for me to network and grow as a scientist and I would like all scientists to also receive that as well.

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Sunil Kumar Kenchanmane Raju I am a postdoc at the Department of Plant Biology, Michigan State University. In the Niederhuth lab, I study epigenome variation across plant species through an evolutionary perspective using comparative and population epigenomics. I come from the Sahyadri region (the benevolent mountains) in Karnataka, India. I worked on developing molecular markers for orphan legumes and identifying disease resistance QTLs in maize before joining Sally Mackenzie lab at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln (UNL) for a Ph.D. in Genetics and Plant Breeding. My dissertation work provides valuable insights into the potential use of induced epigenetic variation in breeding for yield and stability related traits. I did a short postdoc in the James Schnable lab at UNL, where I expanded my research interests and worked on comparative gene expression analysis across multiple panicoid grasses and their response to low-temperature stress.

I have been an active member of American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) since 2012 and currently am a postdoc ambassador. I have published an ASPB-Luminaries article on Dr. Marja Timmerman in the 2017 Jan/Feb issue of ASPB-News ( As ASPB ambassador, I have been volunteering in ASPB Midwest meetings in 2017 and 2018, promoting  membership and explaining the need and benefit of supporting scientific societies. I also helped in the organization of ‘Fascination for Plants’ day on May 18, 2017, in which more than 100 invited high school students participated in fun plant science activities organized by faculty from Plant Science Innovation and Department of Agronomy and Horticulture, UNL.

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Mariana SchusterMariana Schuster is a Postdoc at the Department of Plant Sciences of the University of Oxford. She was born in Colombia, in a family of German descent, and finished studies in Biology both in Colombia and Germany. Mariana received a PhD in plant-pathogen interactions from the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology and the Philipps University in Marburg, Germany. Mariana studies the plant immune system and currently investigates the role of cysteine proteases in immunity.

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Diwaker TripathI am working as a research associate at the University of Washington, Seattle. My research is focused on studying DNA damage in organelle DNAs of Maize plants. I am also interested in understanding the structure and function of DNA during different development stages of maize plants.

I did my master’s in biochemistry from the East Tennessee State University, TN, where I discovered the molecular functioning of chemical inducers of plant defense. I completed my Ph.D. in molecular plant sciences from Washington State University (WSU, Pullman) in 2014. During my PhD, I investigated the protein-protein interactions between economically important tospoviruses. After my PhD, I joined the department of Plant Pathology, WSU as a postdoctoral researcher. My postdoc research involved an understanding of plant defense mechanism induced by extracellular ATP. I showed that extracellular ATP interacts with plant hormones to enhance defense against pathogens.

I have been an ASPB ambassador since 2017. As an ambassador of the largest plant community, I get the opportunity to communicate and connect with other scientists. Some of my duties are to educate people about the ASPB and to encourage them to join the ASPB membership and participate in ASPB meetings. As social media plays an important role in promotion, outreach and networking activities, I frequently share the ASPB related posts/blogs on Twitter and Facebook. In 2017, I had an opportunity to interview Dr. Keiko Torri (University of Washington, Seattle) for a luminary article. Later, this article was published in the ASPB newsletter. In 2018, I represented the ASPB at the western section meeting.

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Professional/Industry Ambassadors

Andrew FoudreeMy background in Plant Science started at Iowa State University in Ames, IA. I have lived in Iowa for several years and enjoy biking, hunting, and spending time outdoors. I currently work at Corteva Agriscience within the Trait Discovery group. As part of a team, I work to develop, evaluate, and advance new trait leads into our pipeline. A specific part of my role involves evaluation and tracking of new transgenic and edited mutation events. By joining the ASPB Ambassadors program, I hope to be part of their mission to promote ASPB through networking and development of leadership in science.

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Xiaoyu (Grace) LiuGrace Liu is a Research Scientist in Bayer Crop Science in St. Louis. She finished PhD training in plant molecular biology focusing on plant immune response at University of Alabama at Birmingham. By joining the ASPB Ambassador program in communicating ASPB’s mission and recruiting new members, I hope to further develop my leadership and communication skills.

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Rishi MasaliaI am a biologist and bioinformatician by training, my area of expertise is candidate gene identification through genetic mapping and RNA expression techniques using cultivated sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.) as a model. Hailing from the Arizona desert, I have a passion for water and choose to focus my research efforts on understanding the genetic mechanisms governing crop-water relations, specifically identifying candidate genes conveying an increase in drought resistance while minimizing growth or yield penalties. Thus far, these identification efforts have been successful and through collaborations with other researchers and breeders, my work is informing sunflower breeding programs.

A passionate science communicator, I am an active citizen in the Athens, GA science community where I live, and have dedicated my free moments to increasing the public understanding of science and technology through numerous outreach and education efforts. In 2013, I co-founded the Athens Science Café with other University of Georgia staff to facilitate a science dialogue between the university and the community. These science café events are free to the public monthly lectures covering a diversity of topics by a diversity of scientists, which encourage attendees to ask questions directly to knowledgeable authorities. Two years later, I, along with other graduate students at the University of Georgia founded the Athens Science Observer, a blog community, as a way to train both graduate and undergraduate students on how to communicate their science effectively to public audiences. This organization has since grown to one of the largest science oriented student groups on campus, with writers from almost every science department on campus. In 2016, I became a finalist in the University of Georgia 3-minute thesis competition, and was asked by the graduate school and various departments to help promote the event and train students. Within this last year (2017), I co-founded UGA SPEAR with other students to increase student involvement in science policy, and served as the graphic artist for the Athens, GA March for Science. I also work with university, local, and federal science professionals to facilitate networking opportunities and increase community relationships across various science sectors in Athens, GA. Finally, I use my artistic background to create educational animation videos and infographics, some of which have been adapted in University of Georgia curriculum. For all of this, I was named a national K. Patricia Cross Future leader in 2018.

Nationally, I have worked with the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) as a graduate student ambassador and to help run science communication workshops, facilitate discussions on Plantae, and conduct interviews with plant biologists around the world. Serving as an ambassador since 2015, I have been featured in the ASPB luminaries and lend my science communication services to ASPB conferences, including the annual meeting and Phenome. I hope to continue this work as a post-doctoral ambassador to make plant biology more accessible for not only people within the plant community but also the general public as well.

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Twitter: @RishiMasalia, @AthSciCafe, @ScienceAthens

My journey in the field of plant genetics started in India, where I did my Master’s in the field of plant breeding and genetics. I did my PhD at Washington State University, where I worked on understanding the evolution of chromosome pairing control in wheat. I have recently joined as a research scientist, where I am working to develop a targeted method of alien gene transfer. By joining ASPB’s ambassador’s program, I hope to play my role in ASPB’s mission. I hope to further develop my professional network and improve my leadership skills. I strongly feel that communication and training play a critical role in improvement in any field of science, so I will do my best to promote ASPB’s long-term goals and engage next generation of plant scientists.

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