Staff and Trainees

Mara Cowen

Mara Cowen is a Neuroscience Ph.D. student at the University of Pennsylvania working in Mike Hart’s lab. She received her Bachelor of Science in Developmental Neuroscience from the University of South Carolina, where she conducted research on the molecular mechanisms of rare neurodevelopmental disorders using human induced pluripotent stem cells. In the Hart lab, Mara is studying the effect of mutations in the autism-related gene, Neurexin, on social behavior, stress response, sleep, and neuronal morphology in C. elegans.

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Holly C. Dow, B.S.

Holly C. Dow, B.S., is a Research Specialist and Laboratory Manager at the University of Pennsylvania. She has 17 years of research experience working for Dr. Brodkin. Holly’s work has focused on the neurobiology of social behaviors in mouse models related to ASD. Currently, she has completed training as a Clinical Research Coordinator and has been working as part of the ASPE Study Recruitment Team.

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Maria Fasolino, Ph.D.

Maria Fasolino, Ph.D., is the Program Director for ASPE. She obtained her Ph.D. in Neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania under the mentorship of Zhaolan (Joe) Zhou, Ph.D., where she studied the molecular consequences of patient-associated mutations in MECP2 that cause Rett Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder with autistic-like features. Maria continued her training as a postdoc in the laboratory of Golnaz Vahedi, Ph.D., at the University of Pennsylvania, where she investigated the etiology and pathogenesis of type 1 diabetes, a complex autoimmune disease. Prior to joining ASPE, Maria was a preclinical and clinical product manager for a neuromodulation device company. Maria applies her training and experience to coordinate the various aspects of ASPE to ensure that program objectives are met.

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Brielle Gehringer

Brielle Gehringer is a Clinical Research Coordinator on the ASPE Study. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2018 with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology. While at Penn, Brielle worked as a Research Assistant at the Center for Autism Research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where she studied cognition, linguistics, and communication in children with ASD.

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Arpita Ghorai, M.S.

Arpita Ghorai, M.Tech., is a Data Analyst for the ASPE study. She completed her Bachelors in Biotechnology and Masters in Bioinformatics in India.  Under the supervision of Drs. Bucan and Almasy,  she is involved in the analysis of sleep-related traits, heritability estimates and  also in the application of several pipelines for the analysis of Whole Genome Sequence.

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Rebecca Kalik

Rebecca Kalik is a lab technician in Mike Hart’s lab. She graduated from Emory University in 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience & Behavioral Biology as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology & Linguistics. During her time at Emory, Rebecca studied the neural basis of social behavior in gerbils. In the Hart Lab, Rebecca works with C. elegans to study the impact of autism linked mutations on stress, sleep, and neuronal plasticity.

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Kyra Levy, M.S.

Kyra Levy, M.S., is a Neuroscience graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania working towards her Ph.D. in Tom Jongens’ lab. She previously received her Bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University, and her Master’s degree in Neuroscience at Drexel University where she studied the involvement of the orexin/hypocretin system in cocaine self-administration in rats. In the Jongens lab, Kyra will be studying how mutations in Neurexin may affect sensory responses, sleep and circadian rhythm, and social behaviors in Drosophila melanogaster.

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Marjorie Risman, M.A.

Marjorie Risman, M.A., is a Senior Research Coordinator & Project Manager at the University of Pennsylvania. Her responsibilities have included recruiting research study participants; creating, managing and querying study databases using a variety of software; and interacting with university regulatory offices. She previously served in similar capacities at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston and at the University of Utah School of Medicine.

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Zoe Smernoff

Zoe Smernoff is a Clinical Research Coordinator on the ASPE Study. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience. While at Penn, Zoe worked as a Research Assistant in the Brodkin Lab where she studied quantitative autistic traits and their interactions with various psychological constructs.

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Samantha Steeman

Samantha Steeman is a Clinical Research Coordinator on the ASPE Study. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2021 with a Bachelor’s degree in the Biological Basis of Behavior. While at Penn, she worked in the Brodkin Lab on the ASPE team, studying the heritability of autistic traits and ways to best describe the spectrum of social functioning. She also worked at CHOP Neonatology, where she studied the impacts of prematurity and respiratory interventions on neurodevelopmental outcomes.

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Ellie Tarlow, Ph.D.

Ellie Tarlow, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Dr. Tom Jongens at the University of Pennsylvania. She received her bachelor’s degree in Biology from Washington University in St. Louis and subsequently obtained her PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology from the University of Pennsylvania. For the past decade, Ellie has been studying the influence of metabolism and mitochondrial function on behavior and cognition in genetic models of ASD.

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Sara Taylor

Sara Taylor is a Neuroscience graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience at William and Mary, where she studied how attention, social cognition, and implicit bias related to autistic behaviors. In the Brodkin Lab, she plans to study at the intersection of neuroscience and genetics by relating social behaviors to genetic pathways implicated in ASD.

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Sophia M. Villiere

Sophia M. Villiere is a Ph.D. trainee in the Neuroscience Graduate Group at the University of Pennsylvania in Michael Hart’s laboratory. She received her Bachelor’s of Science in Biology at CUNY Medgar Evers College. As an undergraduate, she studied respiratory abnormalities, specifically central and obstructive apneas in epilepsy. She did a post baccalaureate at The Ohio State University where she studied cell adhesion molecules in the zebrafish model. In Michael Hart’s laboratory she is studying how autism associated gene mutations affect neuron morphology and behavior.

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J. Dylan Weissenkampen

J. Dylan Weissenkampen (van Kampen), Ph.D., is a postdoctoral researcher working with Dr. Maja Bucan to study the genetic underpinnings of ASD and the sleep disturbances frequently experienced by these individuals. He obtained his Ph.D. in Neuroscience while researching data integration methods for multi-ethnic GWAS of smoking addiction.

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Jing Zhang, MHS

Jing Zhang, MHS, is a PhD student in Epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania.  She received her Master of Health Science in Epidemiology from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2016. She works on human genetics projects about autism spectrum disorders (ASD).  Jing is interested in genetic epidemiology research in ASD and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

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