The Leadership Team

Michael Mullowney is an NIH NRSA postdoctoral fellow in the Kelleher and Thomson labs within the Department of Chemistry as well as the founder and co-chair of SPOT. Michael’s research is fundamentally motivated by a desire to provide evidence for the value of the natural world through applications of natural product compounds as medicine. As such, his work has inherent connections to policy as it relates to the natural environment and human health – legislative decisions that affect (or ignore) stewardship of the natural world and climate change impact the availability of natural sources for new drugs and affect the incidence of disease. In general, Michael finds the recent trend of politically expedient false claims taking precedence over evidenced truths cause for great concern and a significant call to action for all scientists to improve the communication of their research findings and advocate for evidence-based policy making.




Louisa Savereide is a 5th year PhD student in the Notestein lab, within the department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, and co-chair of SPOT. Her research focuses on creating and understanding new types of catalysts that could be used as low-cost alternative materials for catalytic converters, particularly in the developing world. Louisa is most interested in international science policy and development policy, after experiences conducting research at the Technische Universität Kaiserslautern and working at the Academia Nacional de Ciencias of Costa Rica. This could include how research collaborations can lead to better relationships between countries, how building the internal research capacity of less developed countries can lead to economic growth, and how already developed technology can be more effectively utilized to improve the global standard of living (and protect the environment).



Jamie Neely is a 2nd year PhD student in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. For his research, Jamie focuses on earthquakes and the dangers that they pose to society. His research is primarily driven by two fundamental questions: what controls the size of earthquakes and how often are large, destructive earthquakes likely to occur. A better understanding of the processes that drive earthquakes is pivotal for building more resilient communities.

Jamie’s interest in science policy work stems from his belief that scientists should have a seat at the policymaking table. With so few scientists in political office, it’s imperative that scientists engage with policymakers to communicate the importance of their work. Jamie serves as SPOT’s Treasurer.



Suyog Padgaonkar is a second-year PhD student in Hersam and Weiss research groups in the chemistry department. He graduated from the University of Miami with degrees in chemistry and music, and he is currently working to understand ultrafast processes within light-sensitive materials for optoelectronic and photovoltaic applications.

Outside of the lab, Suyog has taken an active interest in bridging the gap between science and the public. He helped to start USolar, a nonprofit designed to bring interactive demonstrations with solar models to students, in Miami, and he is working to expand it to Chicago. Within SPOT, he is the Community Outreach Coordinator and has partnered with senior centers in the area to bring together graduate students and senior citizens to discuss ongoing research projects and their applications. He hopes to provide a credible voice for science to make reliable voters aware of issues in science and policy.



Ryan Mayers is a 1st year student in the Masters of Biotechnology Program. His research focuses on neurodegenerative diseases, particularly ALS. Previously, Ryan studied gene expression in Parkinson’s Disease as an NIH post-bacc. As the global population continues to age, he believes that these illnesses will continue to become a greater public health priority.

Ryan’s interest in science policy has been fostered by scientific mentors, and he was previously involved with a science diplomacy group at the University of Pennsylvania. In SPOT, Ryan is continuing to explore the role of science across borders as Science Diplomacy Chair, as is working to launch project collaborations between the organization and Chicago-area diplomatic missions and NGOs.


Sarah Schlossberg grew up in Palto Alto, California, just south of San Francisco. Both of her parents are engineers in the tech industry, which afforded her early opportunities to explore engineering and its intersection in human life. She received her bachelor’s degree at the University of California, San Diego, in Chemical Engineering, with a minor in History. She became interested in policy in high school, as she examined the news and history past, present, and future. She enjoys cooking, biking along Lake Michigan, hanging out with her cat, and reading nonfiction.




Chamille Lescott is a second year Ph.D. student in Materials Science. As a member of Professor Dravid’s lab, she studies the synthesis, characterization, and assembly of nanomaterials. Originally from Washington, D.C., she completed her bachelor’s degree in Biological Engineering at MIT. She is interested in using her engineering background to impact the local community, and looks forward to working with the SPOT leadership team.




Jennifer DiStefano is a fourth-year PhD candidate in Materials Science and Engineering. Originally from Pennsylvania, Jennifer graduated from Penn State University in 2015 with a B.S. in materials science. Now as a member of Vinyak Dravid’s lab, she researches the synthesis and structure of new nano-architectures using 2-D materials, with applications in future low-power optical and electronic devices.

Jennifer is particularly interested in nanotechnology policy and the process of examining the great opportunities and potential risks associated with an increasing number of products containing nanomaterials. She joins the SPOT board as Community Engagement Officer, where she is responsible for establishing and maintaining connections with policy-related university and community partners across Chicago.


Kyle Siegel is a second year PhD student in the laboratory of Carole LaBonne in the Department of Molecular Biosciences. He graduated from The College of New Jersey with a degree in biology (and minors in chemistry and English), and currently researches how vertebrate embryonic stem cells make decisions about what cell type they will become.

As SPOT’s webmaster, Kyle is tasked with keeping the SPOT website up-to-date, as well as providing new content for visitors. Kyle firmly supports SPOT’s goal of improving public perception of scientists and their science, and is working to augment the great outreach opportunities already conducted by SPOT.


Additional members of the leadership team:

Amanda Corcos


SPOT alumni

Image result for mike mattei uw madisonMike Mattei was a PhD student in the Van Duyne group. His research focused on interrogating chemical reactions on surfaces at the most fundamental spatial level of single molecules and single surface sites. Understanding how local surface structure dictates chemical activity is critical for improving many devices relevant to current energy, environmental, and policy issues, including solar cells, fuel cells, and batteries. He served as the Treasurer for SPOT from 2017-2018.

Mike’s interest in science policy stems from his view of all publicly-funded scientists as public servants. He believes we have a responsibility not only to ensure a return on investment of tax payer dollars invested in research, but also to transparently and effectively keep the public informed on current advances in the worlds of academia and science policy. His primary interests in science policy are the need for and distinction between science advocates and science advisers, and public trust in the scientific community.


Rohun Palekar was the Chicago campus chair for SPOT from 2017-2018.


Stephen Wilke was involved in SPOT during 2017-2018, focused specifically on advocating for science with religious communities.


Jonathan Pfluger is a fourth-year PhD student in the Materials Science and Engineering Department at Northwestern University. Within the Wolverton Research Group, his research focuses on computational design and optimization of thermoelectric materials. He graduated summa cum laude and with Department Honors, receiving a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from Purdue University. He even found time to earn three minors in Mathematics, Chemistry, and French. Along the way he was involved in many student organizations including Tau Beta Pi, Phi Beta Kappa, and Mortar Board.

He is the internal collaborations director of SPOT. Using the numerous science writing and communication classes he has taken, he works to engage students and the public with tangible, relevant stories of how science impacts our daily lives. By working with other student groups and the University community, we can leverage all of the passion and knowledge present on campus to develop effective engagement methods and impact our community, state, nation, and the world.

Outside of research, Jonathan enjoys road cycling and craft beer. While he has spent countless nights on sidewalks camping for beer releases, he loves to share them with anyone willing.


Kavita Chandra was a PhD student in Material Science Engineering at Northwestern University in Teri Odom’s lab and was a Co-Chair of SPOT from 2017-2018. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in the same discipline at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Now, her thesis research focuses on nanoparticle synthesis with cancer therapeutic applications. While Kavita has developed her technical acumen through rigorous research endeavors, she has continued to hone her science communication skills through programs such as Ready Set Go and the Skills and Careers Science Writing Course.

Outside of research, Kavita has a passion for science outreach and policy, specifically promoting women in STEM fields. Kavita’s personal experience led her to publish an opinion article titled “A formula for women in science” in the Boston Herald. Additionally, she was selected as a Christine Mirzayan Science Policy Fellow in 2016 and interned at the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine in D.C.

In general, Kavita loves traveling around the world, especially to try new food. Additionally, due to Kavita’s food intake, she is an avid runner and dancer!


Laura Olenick was a PhD student in Chemistry and a founding member of SPOT, functioning as the secretary during it’s first year.