2015 Undergraduate Fellows

Biruktawit “Birdy” Assefa

Sophomore Biruktawit “Birdy” Assefa, a Biomedical Engineering major, advanced her interest in women’s health under the supervision of Dr. Sherry McKee, WHRY Deputy Director. Born and partially raised in Ethiopia before moving to Washington, D.C., Assefa gained inspiration from her mother, who conducted public health research as a nurse in Addis Ababa. Birdy completed her fellowship this summer, working collaboratively to explore whether menthol smokers are less likely to quit smoking than non-menthol smokers. She focused on African Americans who are more prone to smoke menthol cigarettes and females who have a harder time quitting.

Ann Sarnak

Junior Ann Sarnak majors in both Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology (MCDB) and History. A native of Princeton, N.J., she also works with Dr. McKee’s team, adding to her growing research and public health resume. Sarnak has conducted a tuberculosis program evaluation in South Africa, helped coordinate the 2014 Uganda and Ghana Forums for Change on non-communicable disease and mental health, developed materials on the Ebola outbreak for the Ghana Medical Association, helped to organize and support global health-related research and trips to Nicaragua and Ecuador as Assistant Director of Student Partnerships for Global Health, and volunteers teaching English to a local refugee family. Starting this month, Ann is learning how to institute and analyze quality improvement measures in an active health care clinic with a focus on gender differences in service and outcomes.

Lillian Bitner

Lillian Bitner, a junior from Westminster, Colo., is working with Dr. McKee at the Forensic Drug Diversion Clinic, an outpatient treatment center serving men and women in the community who are referred by the judicial system for treatment of substance abuse. A member of the Yale Women’s Soccer Team and a Master’s Aide at Calhoun College, Bitner plans to investigate women’s mental health, particularly concerning mood disorders and addictive behaviors, before applying to medical school. In addition, she has expressed an interest in studying nutrition and how public policy can influence obesity. Lillian started over the summer, conducting supervised clinical research at the Yale-affiliated Forensic Drug Diversion Clinic attempting to determine if a history of childhood abuse is associated with treatment outcomes for substance use and how gender influences these outcomes. She plans to continue her work and collaborate on a research paper on the topic this fall.

Benjamin Fait

Junior Benjamin Fait is working with Dr. Mazure in a communications position taking advantage of his role as a science and technology writer for Yale Daily News and work on nicotine addiction that he continues with Dr. Marina Picciotto in Yale Department of Psychiatry’s Division of Molecular Psychiatry. Fait, who majors in both Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry (MBB) and Comparative Literature, has also worked on epigenetics and developmental biology research at Geiseinger Medical Center in his hometown of Danville, Penn. And he has expressed an interest in exploring WHRY’s interdisciplinary research on women’s health. Ben contributes to WHRY’s public awareness video campaign and is writing op-eds for national publication on factors affecting student decisions to pursue a scientific research career.

Laura Gould Goetz

Laura Gould Goetz, a junior from Evanston, Ill., is assisting Dr. Kelly Cosgrove in her lab’s work on the neurochemical and molecular basis of addiction and psychiatric disorders through brain imaging technology. Pursuing a double-major in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry (MBB) and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Gould Goetz has worked on viral RNA structure and stability in Yale Sterling Professor Joan Steitz’s lab, traveled to rural Honduras to investigate how social networks could be utilized to improve maternal and neonatal health care, and currently researches endometriosis in mice in Dr. Hugh Taylor’s lab. In addition, Gould Goetz is analyzing birth records from three hospitals in Argentina to see if there is a difference in timing between when women give birth in indigenous and industrialized populations. She spent the summer in Argentina conducting an independent study on iron deficiency anemia among adult indigenous women after a shift from nomadic hunting and foraging to a more settled industrialized lifestyle. With WHRY, she is studying what brain imaging can tell us about sex differences in various disorders.

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