Meet the Current Ambassadors

About the Ambassador Program

Undergraduate and Graduate Ambassadors

Ghana Challa

South Dakota State University

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Md Imdadul Haq

I 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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Gretchen Kroh

I 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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Sandeep Kumar

My name is Sandeep Kumar and I am from Sri Muktsar Sahib, Punjab, India. I have completed my Bachelors at Punjab Agricultural University. Thereafter, I joined as Junior Research Fellow at the ICAR-Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi for my Masters in Biochemistry. Presently, I am PhD second-year student in the Biochemistry Division at the same Institute as a CSIR- Research Fellow. My thesis work focuses on utilization of beta-glucosidase for increasing the bioavailability of isoflavones in soybean. The long-term aim of our lab is to increase the consumer acceptability of soybean as a food crop. For this, we are trying to decrease/inhibit the generation of compounds responsible for off flavour generation and improve the nutritional quality of soybean.

Other than my thesis work, I love studying online and have completed some courses in plant biology and others subjects. My hobbies are trekking, theatre and bird-watching.

I am very thankful to ASPB for providing me with an opportunity to be a part of Ambassador Programme. I hope to gain a lot by interacting and working with brilliant brains in the area of plant biology.

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Kathryn McIntyre

I 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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Kai Rasmussen

My name is Kai Rasmussen and I am an undergraduate researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I work in the NASA funded Gilroy Lab studying the effects of spaceflight on the model organism Arabidopsis thaliana. I am interested in the peroxidase family of enzymes, as they are differentially expressed during spaceflight. In addition to my research, I love to help with outreach. I manage,, and I also host “The Astrobotany Show” on YouTube, which aims to communicate space plant biology to the public. I am thankful for the opportunity to be an ambassador for ASPB and use their 12 principles of plant biology as guide when I perform outreach, such as the Wisconsin Science Festival. Let’s grow plants in space.

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Jithesh Vijayan

I 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

Amina Yaqoob

I am a young researcher in the field of Plant Biotechnology. I belong to University of the Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan. I did my Masters degree in Microbiology from Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics (MMG), University of the Punjab, Lahore in 2011. I commenced one-year research and submitted a comprehensive thesis entitled “Isolation and characterization of Azospirillum spp. from rhizosphere of some grasses”. Here, I conducted lab experiments on soil microbiology and plant-microbe interactions. I proceeded to the Centre of excellence in Molecular Biology (CEMB) where I obtained her MPhil degree in 2015 and did research work in “Risk assessment of Bt-cotton in non-target Soil microbes”.  I also worked as a Research Officer at Plant Biotechnology lab (CEMB) in a project entitled “Biosafety of Genetically modified crops”, 2015. I further advanced my studies in Plant Biotechnology as a PhD researcher at CEMB, University of the Punjab, Lahore where I conducted research work in cotton transformation for enhancing the cotton fibre quality. My research objective is to provide a disease resistant cotton seed which can produce a better quality fibre and will ultimately benefit the economy state of Pakistan.

I have been the first author of three publications in reputable local and international academic journals. These include; (1) Risk assessment of Bt crops on the non‐target plant‐associated insects and soil organisms. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 2016, (2) Effective treatment strategies against Ebola virus. Advancements in Life Sciences. 2015 and (3) Auxin production by Azospirillum: Role in growth promotion of Triticum aestivum L. and Lens culinaris Medik. GJSR Journal. 2013. I have also co-authored three more publications in renowned journals i.e. (1) Molecular Approaches for High Throughput Detection and Quantification of Genetically Modified Crops: A Review. Front. Plant Sci. 2017, (2) Management of Biotic Stress in Cotton, The ICAC Recorder, International cotton advisory committee. 2017 and (3) Bt crops proved to be harmless for non-target insects and soil organisms; A risk assessment approach. Information Systems for Biotechnology News Report. 2016.

I also took part in an oral conference presentation at the 1st National conference on Recent trends in Microbiology, University of Abbottabad, 2016. Moreover, I have delivered a talk at a national event of “Cross-talk on Diversity in Microbiology” University of the Punjab, 2015 where the title of my presentation was “Plant Microbiology”.  I have presented my research work through poster presentation in South Asian Biosafety Conference held at Hyderabad, India, September, 2016 as well as four other international conferences held at Pakistan. I have been nominated for participation in Global Young scientist summit, 2018 held at Nanyang Technology University, Singapore where I interacted with more than 200 international doctoral researchers and 14 Noble Laureates.

Besides academic activities, I have volunteered for Pakistan Biological Safety Association (PBSA), GULLS association, Congress of Molecular Biology (CMB), Pakistan and American Society of Microbiology (ASM). I obtained a professional training and International certification in Bio-risk management (IFBA certification) and worked as a Biorisk master trainer in PBSA, Head Biorisk training group in GULL’S association, co-organizer in ASM events at Pakistan and a social worker at CMB. I have organized a number of educational events not only at University of Punjab but also in different universities of Pakistan. I love  to serve others and strongly believe in self-confidence. My message for the readers is “knowledge increases by sharing”.

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Yoav Yichie

I am a third year PhD candidate at The Faculty of Agriculture, Sydney University in the field of plant genetics.

I bagged my first degree in plant science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where I specialized in plant breeding and biotechnology. After which, I conducted my Master’s degree under the supervision of Prof. Dani Zamir, investigating population genetics and QTL mapping. Part of my Master’s research was published in Nature Genetic journal in 2014 (co-authored) and I got the Dean’s excellence award.

With my great passion of using wild relative to overcome today’s challenges, I use in my PhD studies genetics and genomics tools to explore the Australian wild rice species in the aim of finding genetic sources for salinity tolerance.

As an ambassador, I promote the ASPB community to my colleagues and researchers companions in Australia in order to strengthen the Australian plant science community by collaborating with the American one.

In 2018 I am going to organize a  local outreach showcase event to undergraduate students in The University of Sydney and to promote and educate scientists about ASPB and about the importance of being part of a cross-pollinating community such as The American Society of Plant Biologists.

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Arif Ashraf

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

Stephanie Klein

Pennsylvania State University

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Postdoc Ambassadors

Narender Kumar

Purdue University

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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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Rishi Masalia

I 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

Christos Noutsos

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

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Subramanian Sankaranarayanan (Subbu)

I am working as a post-doctoral research fellow at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New York. I investigate the molecular mechanisms of how a plant perceives and successfully adapts to its environment. Before moving to CSHL, I worked at the Institute of Transformative Bio-Molecules, Nagoya University, Japan. At ITbM the focus of my research was to understand the molecular mechanism of competency control of the pollen tube by female tissues, which is critical to understand the process of pollen tube guidance in plants. I earned my Master’s degree in Plant Biotechnology from the Centre for Plant Molecular Biology (CPMB), Tamil Nadu Agriculture University, India and my PhD in Plant Developmental Biology from the University of Calgary, Canada. I have published several papers in reputed International journals like Nature Plants, PNAS, Current Biology, Trends in Plant Science, Plant Physiology and Molecular Plant. I am a recipient of several awards and fellowship like the JSPS post-doctoral fellowship, Gene Huber award for the best PhD thesis, Eyes High International Doctoral Scholarship to name a few. Since 2016, I have been an ASPB ambassador. I enjoy promoting plant science by delivering talks to high school students, interviewing plant scientists, and organizing events like the plants day celebration.

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Prateek Tripathi

The Scripps Research Institute

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Diwaker Tripath

I 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

Kelly Gillespie

I am a scientific leader at Monsanto with experience setting project strategy, aligning key decisions with the right project experiments and setting the budget to execute on the scientific strategy. In my current role, leading the Biotechnology Corn Yield-Improvement Product Development Platform, I work across the company to align project goals, de-regulation, commercial product definition & launch strategies.

I am an active participant in the Monsanto WiSE (Women in Science Exchange) network, is an advocate for diversity and a peer leader in culture management and expanding the understanding of unconscious bias. External to Monsanto, I am a member of the Women in Plant Biology ASPB committee, the Plantae Steering Committee and an ASPB ambassador where I advocate for leadership skill development and career mentoring. I resides in St. Louis, MO with my family, where I am an active volunteer in the community and in missions work with my church.

I received my B.S. from Knox College in Galesburg, IL with a Department of Energy research internship. I received my Ph.D. from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a DOE Graduate Research Fellow, studying genomic, biochemical & physiological responses of soybean to future climate change. Concurrently, I authored the chapter on crops response to ozone pollution for the EPA. Following postdoctoral research in algal photosynthetic improvement for biofuel production at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, I joined Monsanto as a Research Physiologist in 2011 and has taken roles of increasing responsibility in Biotechnology focusing on corn & soy yield improvement, where I have developed discovery & product development strategies with clear research milestones to define success. In 2017, I was inducted into Monsanto’s Fellow’s program as an Associate member recognizing my outstanding scientific expertise, leadership & outreach.

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Yao Luo


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