Alumni Spotlight “Round-Up”

The Emory University Department of Chemistry is fortunate to have an outstanding group of alumni with diverse career trajectories in academia, industry, and beyond. Here’s what a few of them are up to…


Susan Richardson

With over 20 years of experience, former research chemist at the Environmental Protection Agency, Dr. Susan Richardson shares her insights about working at a government agency.

 


Shana Topp

After earning her doctorate degree in chemistry from Emory and completing a post-doctoral fellowship at UC-Berkeley, Dr. Shana Topp shifted her focus from bench science to consulting with the Boston Consulting Group.

 


Yang Liu

At Emory, he developed a method for visualizing mechanical signaling now used in labs across the country, earning him the Quayle Outstanding Student Award. Dr. Yang Liu works as a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Dr. Taekjip Ha at John’s Hopkins University Medical School.


Chris Curfman

Once a determined graduate student in the lab of Dr. Dennis Liotta, Dr. Chris Curfman has capitalized on his passion for science with a career in intellectual property law and has been recognized as a “Rising Star” in the legal profession in Atlanta.

 


Kristoffer Leon

Upon earning his undergraduate degree in chemistry and completing his honors thesis with notable acclaim, Kristoffer Leon enrolled at the University of California, San Francisco where he is pursuing his MD/PhD.

 


Kornelius Bankston

With a deep-rooted passion for innovation and impact, Kornelius Bankston was motivated to develop a career at the intersection of science and business. As the Director of Bioscience Ecosystem Expansion with the Metro Atlanta Chamber, he is helping to enhance the diverse scientific ecosystem in Georgia.


Brian Hays

Dr. Brian Hays, recipient of the American Chemical Society’s Astrochemistry Dissertation Award, is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Purdue in the lab of Dr. Tim Zwier, where he works on chirped pulse microwave spectroscopy.

 


Xiaohong Wang

As a software engineer with Snap Inc., makers of the popular “Snapchat” app, Dr. Xiaohong Wang capitalizes on the skills she gained during her graduate work at Emory to contribute to the development of a platform for digital communication and storytelling.

 


Anthony Prosser

Strength in communicating scientific information won Dr. Anthony Prosser the Three-Minute Thesis Competition while at Emory and is now benefitting him as a Patent Agent with Knowles Intellectual Property Strategies, LLC.

 


Carolyn Cohen

At Emory, Carolyn Cohen explored chemistry in the lab and abroad as a participant in the popular Summer Studies in Siena study abroad program in Italy. Today, she is a PhD student in the lab of Noah Burns at Stanford University.

 


 

Alumni Spotlight: Kornelius Bankston, From Bench to Business

Kornelius Bankston

When reflecting back on his graduate work with the Emory University Department of Chemistry, Kornelius Bankston remembers his scientific endeavors with the Lynn Group to be ambitious. “I had this grandiose idea to develop a therapeutic using amyloid fiber sequences that self-assemble into tubes,” says Kornelius. “That was my big vision statement.” This “think big” mentality and enthusiasm for progress led him to seek opportunities that would couple science with business. “I enjoy innovation and have been able to navigate towards roles that really help express that part of my interests.”

After graduation, Kornelius worked for a startup company led by Dr. Dennis Liotta, where he got the chance to truly experience the interface between science and business.  From there, Kornelius took on a project manager role with the Georgia Department of Economic Development, where he worked to bring large scientific companies, such as Baxter Pharmaceuticals, to Georgia. During his time with the department, Kornelius refined his business acumen and developed invaluable professional networks, but he missed the scientific and technical aspects that motivated his interest in business to begin with. To bring the scientific context back to his business ventures, he opted to go to business school at Georgia Tech to study management of technology.

With his MS in biomolecular chemistry and his MBA in management of technology, Kornelius was equipped with the training to pursue his professional goals. He worked at Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) as Program Manager for the Office of Translational Technologies. During his time in this position, he developed the first marketing campaign for MSM’s intellectual property at the 2012 BIO International Convention, developed and implemented protocols for licensing of the intellectual property, and negotiated the first industry sponsored clinical trials in the Division of Industry Collaborative Research.

Now, Kornelius is involved in several business ventures. He started a campaign called “I AM YOUR” to bring awareness to communities that lack engagement in healthcare regarding men’s health and prostate cancer. In addition, as the Director of Bioscience Ecosystem Expansion with the Metro Atlanta Chamber, he is helping to enhance the diverse scientific ecosystem by seeking funding opportunities to retain, recruit, and grow companies in Georgia. He is a member of several boards including the Innovation Crescent Regional Partnership (ICRP) for publicizing Georgia as a life-science hub and the Georgia Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) board focusing on the health-IT community in Georgia.

Although his educational and professional history is full of diverse experiences, there are two clear themes that have steered him along his path: community engagement and scientific progress. He explains that he wants to 1) show that science can be fun and exciting and 2) improve the health of people through technology and therapeutics. “I enjoy innovation,” says Kornelius. “Hopefully, one day, I will get to lead a company around this whole concept of developing a therapeutic or technology, and taking it to the next level so people can actually utilize it on a broad spectrum.”

While Kornelius gathered the skills necessary to be successful in the realms of science, technology, and business through academic experiences and professional training, he lends credit to Emory for his problem-solving skills. “The graduate school experience helped my problem-solving ability across sectors, across disciplines. To look at a problem and say, ‘Okay, this is a problem’ and ‘How do I address this problem in a systematic way?’” This skill has proven to be indispensable in his current pursuit of a diagnostic for prostate cancer, where he is motivated to solve the problem of healthcare access for minority men in a way that is engaging and effective.  Kornelius also emphasized the importance of networking during the process of transitioning into the workplace.  He explains that, while it can sometimes feel a bit unnatural to initiate new relationships with people in the field, the ability to communicate effectively to people across a spectrum of familiarity with the science is vitally important. To connect with people in this way allows one to share ideas, learn from others, and potentially open doors to new and exciting opportunities.

Overall, Kornelius wants to encourage students to listen to their guiding internal voice when deciding a career path. “One of the things that I would like students to know is to not be afraid to challenge the norm,” says Kornelius. “Take all the advice and feedback people give you, but also be true to yourself and what you are really led to do.” He explains that he always had an innate interest in business, but the opportunities to engage with people and learn how business operates would have been missed had he not listened to his internal voice and challenged the idea at the time that academia was the best path. “Be true to what you are passionate about because I think it will always pull you back.”

Alumni Career Seminar: From Science to Snapchat

Xiaohong Wang

On Friday, September 29th, the Department of Chemistry welcomed back one of our distinguished alumni, Dr. Xiaohong Wang. Since earning her PhD in Chemistry, Dr. Wang has been working as a software engineer with Snap Inc. During her talk entitled “First Impression of Working in Industry- From Chemistry PhD Student to Engineer at Snap Inc.”, Dr. Wang outlined her professional journey and gave us a peek into her life as a Snap Inc. software engineer.

Dr. Wang earned her Bachelor’s degree in chemical physics from the University of Science and Technology of China. From there, she joined the Emory community and completed both her Master of Science in computer science and her Doctor of Philosophy in computational science in the Bowman Group before taking up her position at Snap, Inc.

Snap Inc.—makers of the popular “Snapchat” app—is a camera company founded in 2011 that believes “reinventing the camera represents our greatest opportunity to improve the way people live and communicate.” Snapchat is used by over 150 million people every day to connect with others all around the world. The company is constantly working to build and develop the best platform for communication and storytelling. Software engineers like Xiaohong contribute to this vision by evaluating the technical tradeoffs of decisions, performing code reviews, and building robust and scalable products.

The transition from chemistry to computer science, although seemingly a major change in profession, turned out to be quite a natural one for Dr. Wang. During her graduate studies in chemistry, she received training in numerical techniques, data analysis, programming, writing, and problem solving. These skills have proven to be invaluable for her engineering position with Snap, Inc., and she credits much of her success as a software engineer to the training she received during her time at Emory. For instance, during the interview process, Dr. Wang was asked to write a program on her own computer—something that came naturally thanks to her PhD work.

Perhaps more difficult than the change in profession was the transition from graduate school to industry. “There are many things we need to learn, like new techniques, how to communicate with managers and colleagues, and how to adjust our expectations,” Dr. Wang said. She explained that her current position relies heavily on teamwork and maintains a fast working pace in a way that is very different from graduate school. Xiaohong also shared that she is the only woman on her particular team at Snap, Inc. Overall, she finds the environment welcoming and has developed relationships with fellow women in tech.

Overall, while this transition from graduate school to industry required her to acquire a new set of skills and adapt to a new environment, Dr. Wang has hit her stride with the company. Having spent several months working on the company’s first piece of hardware, Spectacles that let users take photos directly from the frames, Dr. Wang said, “The launch of the product is really exciting for the whole team, the whole company, and I feel very proud to be part of it.”

The Emory Department of Chemistry is fortunate to have an amazing group of alumni who have gone on to pursue impressive careers in a variety of fields. The successes of these individuals remind us how capable we are of reaching our own goals and motivate us to continue chasing our dreams. Thank you to Dr. Wang for taking the time to visit Emory and share her journey with us!

This special seminar was made possible via support from the Emory Laney Graduate School Alumni Office.

Previously:

Event Report: ChEmory Alumni Career Panel

On Wednesday evening, April 12th, ChEmory held their inaugural alumni career panel in Atwood Hall 360. The event was well attended by both undergraduate and graduate students.

Featured alumni guests were:

Dr. Vicky Stevens (American Cancer Society)

Vicky Stevens received a B.S. degree in Chemistry and her Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Emory University and then did a postdoctoral fellowship at Merck Research Laboratories in the area of lipid metabolism.  She returned to Emory to begin her independent research career in 1990 and was subsequently promoted to Associate Professor in the Division of Cancer Biology in the Department of Radiation Oncology.  While at Emory, Dr. Stevens’ research focused on glycolipid metabolism and its role in regulating folate transport.

In 2003, Dr. Stevens joined the American Cancer Society in 2003 as a Research Scientist in the Department of Epidemiology and Surveillance. In 2006, she became the Strategic Director of Laboratory Services and in 2008, assumed responsibility for the Biospecimen Repositories for the Cancer Prevention Studies

Dr. Holly Carpenter (Aeon and HiQ Cosmetics)

Dr. Carpenter earned her doctorate in chemistry at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia in the area of peptide and protein engineering. With over 10 years of experience at the highest levels of academic scientific research in protein materials, Holly leads the research and development division of Aeon as well as coordinates projects in University Partnership initiatives and business development. She has recently launched a new company and venture in skincare and cosmetics.  HiQ Cosmetics leads the market in offering all-natural, high-performance luxury skincare products.

After graduating from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, Holly accepted a tenure-track faculty position at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega, Georgia, where she achieved a status of tenured Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Holly regularly taught courses for undergraduates in biochemistry and medicinal chemistry, as well as introductory chemistry courses.  For over 7 years, she conducted academic research with competitive national grants from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund in the area of protein engineering. Holly has also served as a reviewer for competitive grants at the national level for the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Nelly Miles (Georgia Bureau of Investigation)

Nelly Miles earned her Chemistry degree from Emory University in 1999.  In her undergraduate career, she served as a New Student Orientation Captain, President of the NAACP, and was a member of the Omicron Xi Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

Upon graduation, she began working as a Forensic Chemist for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI).  After six (6) years, she was promoted to Assistant Manager of the unit.  A year later, she was promoted to the Forensic Chemistry Manager where she oversaw the daily operations of GBI’s Forensic Chemistry Unit for the next nine (9) years.

After 16 years with the GBI, she transitioned to the Public Affairs Office where she now serves as GBI’s Public Affairs Director.  In this role, she works with the media to communicate information to the public about the GBI.  Additionally, she serves as a legislative liaison to Georgia’s legislature and the Governor’s Office on behalf of the agency.

Mrs. Miles is a current member of Atlanta Metropol, the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors and holds past memberships in the Southern Association of Forensic Scientists and the American Chemical Society.

Mrs. Miles’ most significant role is that of wife and mother.  She resides in Stockbridge, GA with her husband, Cleveland Miles, and their three children.

The fourth panelist was current graduate student (and future alum!) Allyson Boyington who talked about graduate school as a career path. Ally is a second year PhD candidate in the Jui Group at Emory. She received her B.S. in chemistry and environmental science from Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA.

The panel was spearheaded by ChEmory freshman rep Ashley Diaz (with help from PACS and Emory development representatives Robin Harpak and Michelle LeBlanc.) “I had a lot of people say that they didn’t even know some of those career paths were options. There was a lot of excitement about the possibilities,” said Ashley. “We have to do this again!”

Thank you to our alumni guests. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for our current students

 

 

Emory Chemistry Alum Named Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins University for Pioneering Health Equity Research

Lisa Cooper. Photo by Mike Ciesielski for Johns Hopkins University.
Lisa Cooper. Photo by Mike Ciesielski for Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Lisa Cooper (EC ’84) has been named Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins University. Previously, Dr. Cooper was a recipient of Emory’s Distinguished Alumni Award. Additionally, she is an elected member of the NAM, a MacArthur Fellow, a Fellow of the Commonwealth Fund, a Harold Amos Scholar of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a fellow of the American College of Physicians, among other honors.

Dr. Cooper’s work focuses on treating medical conditions in the context of factors such as the patient’s socioeconomic status and life stressors. Her new role will allow Dr. Cooper to pursue her longtime goal of establishing a unified Institute for Equity in Health and Healthcare at Johns Hopkins, working toward innovative practice and training solutions for at-risk populations.

Read more about Dr. Cooper and her research in this article from Johns Hopkins’ news HUB.

Congratulations, Dr. Cooper!

Alumni Spotlight: Chris Curfman’s Transition from Science to Law

Chris Curfman. Photo by Yuan Chang.
Chris Curfman. Photo by Yuan Chang.

By: Yuan Chang (Salaita Group)

When Chris Curfman (00G) entered Emory, he could not have imagined where he would end up two decades later. After completing a PhD in chemistry, Chris shifted his focus away from academic research to pursue a career in intellectual property law. Since then, he has been named a Georgia Super Lawyers “Rising Star” by Atlanta Magazine and became a founding member of Meunier Carlin & Curfman, which has since evolved into one of the largest intellectual property firms in the Southeast. In a climate where more PhD students pursue careers outside the professoriate, Chris’ story is an inspiration. “While we are all united by our intellectual curiosity and our love of science, this common drive can diverge into various fulfilling careers,” says Chris. From his trials and triumph with his research at Emory to his self-discovery and transformation into the rising star that he is today, Chris has accumulated a vast wealth of memories and insight, which is highlighted in this edition of Alumni Spotlight.

During graduate school, Chris joined the lab of Dennis C. Liotta, who would have a profound impact on his trajectory. Chris undertook a particularly difficult thesis project working with sphingolipid analogs. The process of constantly overcoming challenges instilled in him the crucial lifelong value of perseverance that would later prove pivotal outside of the lab. This determination was also critical in prevailing over another personal challenge. While Chris had always fostered a passion for teaching, he grappled with a fear of public speaking. As one of the graduate qualification exams, he was required to present his research in front of the entire Department of Chemistry student body. He recalls that he would “enter the conference room when it was empty and practice over and over again.” He went on to deliver a successful talk. Invigorated by this positive experience and his innate passion for teaching, Chris began to actively seek out opportunities for public speaking, which paved his way to standing on the podium of Emory law school as an adjunct professor.

Nonetheless, Chris’s time at Emory was not “all work and no play.” Chris has fond memories of his time as the president of the Pi Alpha Chemical Society. He recalls organizing graduate events, such as movie nights and picnics, to promote social interaction and collaboration amongst graduate students. To him, “It was a fun and great environment. It was a place where you could set aside the work and just talk and socialize.”

During Chris’ last year of graduate school, his advisor began to take notice of his skill at technical writing and public speaking, as well as his proficient interpersonal skills. Realizing that Chris’ skill set complemented the profession of patent law, Liotta catalyzed Chris’ foray into the world of patent law by inviting him to events where he could network with established lawyers. It was at one of these events that Chris had a fateful meeting leading to an interview offer. That was an electrifying time in Chris’ life. Within the span of that final summer in graduate school, Chris managed to simultaneously complete 3 milestones: defending his PhD, gaining acceptance into law school, and receiving a job offer working in a law firm.

After Chris completed his J.D. at Georgia State University, he practiced several years at a small intellectual property firm. However, that firm was acquired by a much larger general practice and Chris found himself at a crossroads. Chris felt that the large firm business model did not align with his own passions and goals. Chris wanted to retain the close relationships with his clients and have the opportunity to devote more time and attention to their needs, yet he found this more difficult in a large general practice firm. It was at this pivotal moment that Chris received a life-changing phone call from a former colleague who shared a similar vision. That initial conversation ultimately blossomed into a group of eight like-minded patent lawyers who pooled together their resources and brought their vision to a new company. When asked about his emotions at this time, Chris said, “this was both a thrilling and terrifying period in my life. I had to invest everything I had into this venture, including putting my life savings on the line, but I could finally do what I had originally set out to do.” At long last, he had the autonomy to become the champion he had dreamed of becoming for clients who must navigate the treacherous waters of patent law.

It has been nearly two decades since Chris made that decision to transition from lab work to law, but all the lessons he learned during graduate school still serve him well today. Chris says that he finds his current profession to be fulfilling and fun, and he feels fortunate to be involved in a career that allows him to intersect science with people, especially being in a position to be able to help others achieve their goals. When asked what words of advice he would give to current graduate students, he implored encouraged them to “never give up, finish their Ph.D., practice public speaking and effective writing, and network whenever you can.” Chris’ journey serves as an inspiration for the next generation of students looking to apply their doctoral studies to broader society.

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Yuan Chang

Yuan Chang is currently a graduate student in the lab of Dr. Khalid Salaita. She entered Emory in 2011 and has been studying live cell tension using molecular tension fluorescent microscopy (MTFM).

Erin Schuler (Dyer Group) Featured by Laney Graduate School

Erin Schuler. Photo by Emory University Department of Chemistry.
Erin Schuler. Photo by Emory University Department of Chemistry.

Erin Schuler (Dyer Group) is featured in a recent “Alumni Spotlight” on the Laney Graduate School website. Congratulations, Erin!

From an early age, Erin Schuler knew that she wanted to have a positive impact on the world, and her interests drew her to science.

As an undergraduate, Schuler worked at St. Elizabeth’s Youngstown Hospital, a community hospital in Youngstown, Ohio. There, she conducted clinical research while also conducting bench-top research at Youngstown State University. From these experiences, Schuler knew that she was interested in translational research, bridging fundamental science with applied science. “It’s very rewarding to see how fundamental science can be used to develop new tools or to understand real world problems from the ground up,” says Schuler. When she made the decision to pursue the PhD, the desire to do translational research led Schuler to the Laney Graduate School’s chemistry program.

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Emory Chemistry Alum Authors Textbook

Emory Chemistry alum Dr. Benjamin E. Blass has authored a textbook, Basic Principles of Drug Discovery and Development, published this April by Elsevier. Blass graduated from the college in 1990 with a degree in chemistry and went on to earn his PhD in Organic Chemistry from the University of Rochester. He designed the text “to provide graduate students, college seniors/juniors, and early career professional with an understanding of the drug discovery industry.”

Lanny Liebeskind recalled Blass’s accomplishments during his time at Emory:

“Benjamin Blass was an excellent undergraduate chemistry major at Emory.  He discovered his passion for chemistry in the Atwood laboratories at Emory and pursued it with a strong PhD at the University of Rochester and then beyond to his current position on the faculty at Temple (he is now an expert in medicinal chemistry, drug discovery and development, and intellectual property pertaining to drug discovery).  I remember well his great enthusiasm for our science and his easy (and big) smile.“

Blass is currently an Assistant Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the Moulder Center for Drug Discovery Research in the Temple University School of Pharmacy.

Alumni Spotlight: Shana Topp (04C, 09G)

Shana Topp. Photo provided by Shana Topp.
Shana Topp. Photo provided by Shana Topp.

Shana Topp is an Emory Super Alum. Inspired by the research experience she began as an undergraduate in the Gallivan Group in 2002, Topp stayed at Emory for her doctorate, which she received in 2009. After completing a post-doctoral fellowship with Prof. Carolyn Bertozzi at University of California-Berkeley, Topp shifted her focus away from chemistry research to pursue a job with The Boston Consulting Group.

Like many entering graduate students, Topp started her doctoral program without a clear sense of her career trajectory. Though she began exploring different options during graduate school, she graduated thinking she would stay in academia. During the two and half years of her post-doc, she continued learning about different professional paths, taking advantage of Berkeley’s proximity to biotech companies, and talking with peers about their own job searches. While thinking about how to narrow the focus of her research for academic job applications, Topp realized it was strategic thinking rather than the benchwork she found most fulfilling, and she wanted a job with broader scope and variation in content.

This realization led her to pursue consulting. She was attracted to the rate at which consultants work on new projects, often in entirely new industries, gain new clients, and rotate teams. The opportunity to experience working with such a broad range of businesses and intellectual challenges excited Topp. She joined The Boston Consulting Group in August 2012 where she works with clients who have identified particular problems or areas of focus they want to improve or change. Though business and consulting communication differ significantly from scientific communication, Topp recognizes important similarities in her new work environment. The processes of analysis and problem solving bear many similarities to those used in chemistry research: being able to take an ambiguous problem and break it down into manageable pieces to approach from various perspectives.

Shana became more aware of the ways in which graduate school had prepared her for a range of careers after gaining some distance from her specific PhD research projects. Though Topp will work with some healthcare and pharmaceutical clients (to whom she can bring unique subject knowledge) she finds the process of determining recommendations for companies quite similar to solving scientific problems. The primary difference is the pace at which these decisions are made. Business teams do not consider every single option; rather, they choose the most feasible and focus their attention without second-guessing. This observation has led Topp to wonder how quickly people could finish their PhDs if this model were used in the academy. Of course, perfectionism would have to find a new home.

When asked what she would tell herself as a beginning graduate student, given her experiences of the last few years, Topp’s words of wisdom stem from the realities and results of her job search. She emphasizes the importance of networking and finding avenues for meeting people and learning about different career options whenever possible. Particularly at scientific meetings, where conversations focus on the science, there are also occasions for gaining insight and exposure to different paths. The more information you have about different professional directions, the easier it is to identify priorities and goals for the future and the more likely you are to find career options to explore and/or pursue.

Chemistry Hosts Alumni Reception at ACS 2013

A reception was held at the Sofitel Hotel in Philadelphia on Monday August 20th during the Fall ACS Meeting. In attendance were Dean of the Laney Graduate School, Lisa Tedesco, numerous current students, staff and faculty members. We were especially happy to catch up with Benjamin Blass (90C), Anne Gorden (96C), Hao Li (09G), Philip May (10C), Brooke Rosenzweig (03C), Renee and Jonathan Zung (91G), David Primer (12C), Geraint Davies (12C), Stephanie Ovalles Hansen (11G) and Jorn Hansen (10G), Dave Stockwell (10G).