• Grand Challenges Initiative fellow working with Chapman students
Grand Challenges Initiative

Our People

» Meet the GCI Team

photo of Dr. Javier Espeleta

Dr. Javier Espeleta

Co-Director of the Grand Challenges Initiative
Dr. Espeleta is a clinical associate professor of biological sciences and began as the co-director of the Grand Challenges Initiative in 2023. Espeleta has more than 20 years of experience leading international organizations at the interface of science, conservation, and education. He has previously served as the director of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest Costa Rican study abroad program, the executive director of the Tropical Science Center, and the associate director of the University of Arizona’s Biosphere II. He is passionate about training the next generation of leaders in science and engineering; he has developed undergraduate and graduate curriculum on themes including agroecology, crop management, and global health. Espeleta is broadly trained as a plant physiological ecologist and holds a Ph.D. in plant biology from the University of Georgia, a M.Sc. in horticultural science from University of Florida and an B.Sc. in phytotechnology from the University of Costa Rica.
photo of Dr. Tom Piechota

Dr. Tom Piechota

Co-Director of the Grand Challenges Initiative
Dr. Piechota’s research interests center around the investigation of climate impacts on regional water resources and society using high resolution climate data/information, forecasting of water supply under changing climate conditions, drought and flood impacts in urban stormwater in urban environments, use of remote sensing data and geographic information systems for improved evaluation of hydrology and water systems.

Current Fellows

Every Grand Challenges Initiative team is mentored by a Postdoctoral Fellow. Our fellows are world-class early-career teacher-scholars. They come from diverse research backgrounds, ranging from cancer genetics to atmospheric chemistry. 

What the Fellows all have in common is a desire to share their passion for science and engineering with students. GCI student teams are assigned a fellow at the beginning of each semester.

photo of Dr. Miranda Aiken

Dr. Miranda Aiken

Dr. Aiken is a biogeochemist researching the release of toxic, naturally-occurring soil metals into our groundwater. Her work is highly-interdisciplinary and investigates metal release from individual soil aggregates, all the way up to entire groundwater basins. The goal of her work is to understand the mineral, chemical, and biological controls of metal release and how human activity may impact water quality in the long-term. Ask her about manganese (a personal favorite), chromium, or arsenic! Dr. Aiken holds a Ph.D. from University of California, Riverside.
photo of Dr. Hector Camarillo Abad

Dr. Hector Camarillo Abad

Dr. Camarillo Abad’s research focuses on new interactions aimed at improving human activities. The interaction occurs between users and intelligent systems through wearable devices. During his Ph.D. he developed haptic-based interactions for dance-related applications. His specific interests include human-computer interaction, wearables, ubiquitous and assistive technology, sensing devices, nonverbal communication through technology, motor skills, and sensor-based classification. He holds a Ph.D. in Intelligent Systems from Universidad de las Américas Puebla in Mexico.
photo of Dr. E. Daniel  Cardenas-Vasquez

Dr. E. Daniel Cardenas-Vasquez

Dr. Cárdenas-Vásquez was born in Moyobamba, Perú. He holds a Bachelor’s in chemical engineering from Universidad Nacional Pedro Ruiz Gallo (UNPRG), in Lambayeque, Perú, and a PhD in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering from North Carolina State University, where he conducted research about new functional materials using colloids and hydrogels for biomedical applications as well as exploring novel nucleation prediction methods using computational tools for drug discovery and other pharmaceuticals applications. Additionally, he has a keen interest in the ethics of science, specifically at the interface of organized religious entities and genetically modified foods (GMOs). On the side, he drinks lots of (specialty) coffee while trying to model in-silico its pour over extraction mechanism.
photo of Dr. Kamal Diki

Dr. Kamal Diki

Dr. Diki obtained his Ph.D. in Mathematical Models and Methods in Engineering from Politecnico di Milano where he was a Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellow of the Istituto Nazionale di Alta Matematica (INdAM). His research interest is in (hyper)-complex analysis and operator theory with potential applications in quantum mechanics and time-frequency analysis. Recently, Dr. Diki started exploring new research directions in theoretical machine learning (ML), with particular interest in neural networks (NN) and support vector machines (SVMs). His research in this area consists of investigating new algorithms for NN and developing further properties of some RBF kernels used in SVMs.
photo of Dr. Desiree Forsythe

Dr. Desiree Forsythe

Dr. Forsythe (she/her) has a background in both the biological sciences and education. She is a STEM education researcher and focuses on how to disrupt oppressions in the sciences through the use of critical, feminist, and queer theorizations. Dr. Forsythe has several lines of research including how those with privileged identities in STEM work at incorporating social justice into pedagogical and professional practice and how STEM students with marginalized identities experience and navigate STEM environments (such as classrooms, advising, office hours, etc.). She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Rhode Island.
photo of Dr. Daniel Gardner

Dr. Daniel Gardner

Dr. Gardner is an interdisciplinary scholar, with a background in informatics, human-computer interaction, information sciences and security, social science, and media studies. He studies how the cultural values and systems of authority that manifest in the design of digital games and media can influence or inhibit our experiences. Specifically, his work has looked at how authentication interfaces, physical interfaces, and virtual avatar/character creation systems can govern access to digital games, media, and other domains. His research helps better illustrate the values and structures of power underlying everyday digital technologies. Dr. Gardner holds a Ph.D. in Informatics from University of California, Irvine.
photo of Dr. Ariane Jong-Levinger

Dr. Ariane Jong-Levinger

Dr. Jong-Levinger is an environmental engineer with a background in environmental science (she earned her B.S. in Environmental Science & Policy from Chapman University in 2016). Ari studies how the interactions between wildfire, storms, and flood management infrastructure influence post-fire floods and debris flows. The goal of her work is to co-produce useful knowledge about the impact of climate change on flood risk and water resources with stakeholders to support efforts to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change in Southern California. She holds a Ph.D. in Civil & Environmental Engineering from the University of California, Irvine.
photo of Dr. Lucas  Krusinski

Dr. Lucas Krusinski

Dr. Krusinski is a food scientist with a background in nutritional sciences and chemistry. His work has two overarching themes: food nutrient density and food authentication. Dr. Krusinski's research focuses mainly on the effects of different cattle feeding strategies on the nutritional profile and the gene expression of grass-finished beef. He has expertise in fatty acid analysis and profiling of secondary compounds such as polyphenols found in meat and plants. His findings are directly applicable to consumers and producers by helping them make more informed choices. Dr. Krusinski obtained his Ph.D. in Food Science from Michigan State University.
photo of Dr. Nana Baah Pepra-Ameyaw

Dr. Nana Baah Pepra-Ameyaw

Dr. Pepra-Ameyaw is a food scientist, with a background in chemistry. His research involves studying the interactions between polyphenol compounds and major food components like carbohydrates and proteins. These interactions have applications in the development of novel food products and processes. He holds a Ph.D. in Food Science from Michigan State University.
photo of Dr. Nicole Schwartz

Dr. Nicole Schwartz

Dr. Schwartz is an evolutionary physiologist who uses an interdisciplinary approach to study the evolution of complex behavior (e.g., exercise). Her research examines a broad range of topics, including biomechanics, energetics, and early-life effects. More recently, she has started to investigate other behaviors (e.g., parental care), and the role that hormones and the endocrine system may play in mediating integrated responses to behavioral selection. The goal of her work is to examine behavior as a collection of co-evolving sub-organismal traits, and the influence that genetic background, environmental factors, and their interaction, may have on organismal behavior. She holds a Ph.D. in Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology from the University of California Riverside.
photo of Dr. Indrajit Sen

Dr. Indrajit Sen

Dr. Sen is a theoretical physicist who works in the foundations of quantum mechanics. His doctoral research focused on the question whether there exist alternatives to quantum nonlocality in a single-universe framework. His research interests include hidden-variable models that circumvent Bell's theorem, the relationship between quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity, and experimental and theoretical methods to differentiate various classes of hidden-variable models. He holds a Ph.D. in physics from Clemson University.
photo of Dr. Gabriela Shirkey

Dr. Gabriela Shirkey

Dr. Shirkey is geographer and landscape ecologist interested in the relationship between land use, land cover, and ecosystem processes. Her work evaluates human-nature relationships and their variation across spatiotemporal scales, applying socioecological system approach. In her research, she asks how land management and land use vary spatially and whether we can capture its intensity. Dr. Shirkey completed her undergraduate degree at Michigan Technological University and her graduate degree from Michigan State University. Her goal is to evaluate climate mitigation strategies and inform stakeholders, policymakers, and her community on the complexity between society and the biophysical environment.

Previous Fellows

photo of Dr. Carter Berry

Dr. Carter Berry

Current Position: Research Assistant Professor, Wake Forest University
GCI Fellow 2017-2020
photo of Dr. Robert  de Bruijn

Dr. Robert de Bruijn

Current Position: Lecturer, Biology, Tufts University
GCI Fellow 2018-2020
photo of Dr. Cristhiano  Duarte Silva

Dr. Cristhiano Duarte Silva

Current Position: Postdoctoral Research Associate, Leeds University
GCI Fellow 2018-2020
photo of Dr. José Raúl  González Alonso

Dr. José Raúl González Alonso

Current Position: Data Science Manager at Neustar, Inc.
GCI Fellow 2017-2019
photo of Dr. Brenna Gormally

Dr. Brenna Gormally

Current Position: Associate Director of Project Based Learning, Seventh College, University of California, San Diego
GCI Fellow 2020 - 2021
photo of Dr. Aaron Harrison

Dr. Aaron Harrison

Current Position: Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Austin College
GCI Fellow 2018-2021
photo of Dr. Brian Hoover

Dr. Brian Hoover

Current Position: Principle Investigator, Farallon Institute
GCI Fellow 2019-2022
photo of Dr. Charlene McCord

Dr. Charlene McCord

Current Position: Assistant Professor of Marine Biology, California State University, Dominguez Hills
GCI Fellow 2017-2019
photo of Dr. Crystal  Ng

Dr. Crystal Ng

Current Position: Assistant Professor of Biology, Los Angeles Pierce College
GCI Fellow 2019-2020
photo of Dr. Kenjiro Quides

Dr. Kenjiro Quides

Current Position: Assistant Professor of Teaching, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, University of California, Davis
GCI Fellow 2019-2022
photo of Dr. Anne Sonnenschein

Dr. Anne Sonnenschein

Current Position: Senior Bioinformatics Scientist, Tempus Labs
GCI Fellow 2017-2019
photo of Dr. Mario Stipcic

Dr. Mario Stipcic

Current Position: Preceptor of Mathematics, Harvard University
GCI Fellow 2021-2023
photo of Dr. Zachary Thammavongsy

Dr. Zachary Thammavongsy

Current Position: Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Santiago Canyon College
GCI Fellow 2019-2022
photo of Dr. Shana Welles

Dr. Shana Welles

Current Position: Academic Coordinator, University of California, Riverside
GCI Fellow 2017-2020
photo of Dr. Bingjie Zhang

Dr. Bingjie Zhang

Current Position: Postdoctoral Chemist, Behr Paint Company
GCI Fellow 2019-2022

Interested in Becoming a Fellow?

Our fellows are passionate about inspiring and empowering the next generation of science and engineering students. They strive to learn new teaching methods and work hard to produce world-class research. 

Fellows teach exclusively in the GCI program and collaborate on research with a faculty mentor from the Schmid College of Science and Technology or the Fowler School of Engineering. Fellows have access to work spaces, labs and computing resources in the brand-new Keck Center for Science and Engineering

Fellow appointments begin in late summer and can be extended for up to three years on mutual agreement.


Contact Us

Become a GCI Mentor

The GCI program depends on the contributions of experienced mentors. They meet with students at networking events, provide feedback to teams about the grand challenge they are trying to solve and help identify exciting opportunities outside the classroom. If you are interested in becoming a GCI Mentor, please fill out the survey using the link below.