ASCEND Team Profile Page


Nicole L. Baganz, Ph.D. Nicole L. Baganz, Ph.D.
Research Assistant Professor, Biomedical Science
Director of Community Engagement and Programming, FAU Brain Institute
Director, ASCEND
Bio: Nicole Baganz joined the FAU Brain Institute as its Director of Community Programming in 2016. Dr. Baganz has pursued research into the mechanisms by which chemical signaling in the brain can be impacted by the immune system, with a specific interest in alterations in the action of the chemical serotonin.

Chelsea Bennice, M.S. Chelsea Bennice, M.S.
Assistant to the Director
Bio: Chelsea (aka Octo Girl) is currently finishing her PhD studying what resource partitioning mechanisms facilitate coexistence between two octopus species in a South Florida lagoon. Understanding octopus coexistence is important for biodiversity and because octopuses play an important role in many marine food webs. Chelsea enjoys using underwater photography and videography to explain her research, tell her underwater stories, and to show her passion for marine science- Check our her underwater stories on Facebook: OctoGirl & Instagram: TheOctoGirl.

Talks and Tours

Talk Tours Team Leaders:

Paula Kurdziel Paula Kurdziel, Ph.D
Post-Doctorial Student
Bio: Paula Kurdziel is a postdoctoral fellow in the Biomedical Science Department at FAU’s Brain Institute. She started in the Blakely Lab in 2017 to investigate the intricate connection between our brain and peripheral immune system. She completed her PhD in Genetics at Michigan State University where she studied the epigenetic control of drug-associated memories formed in addiction. There, she was introduced to neuroscience outreach and has found any opportunity to teach people about the brain and neuroscience research. Paula is passionate about instilling an appetite for science in everyone around her.

Peter Rodriguez Peter Rodriguez
Doctoral Student
Bio: Peter Rodriguez’s scientific interests are in understanding some of the molecular basis underlying fundamental properties of the nervous system. In his research, he studies how gene signaling supports the function and viability of dopamine neurons, which has implications in a range of disorders like Parkinson's and ADHD.
Talk Tours Team:

Haylee Trulson Haylee Trulson
Undergraduate Student
Bio: Haylee F. Trulson is a student at the Wilkes Honors College of Florida Atlantic University majoring in Neuroscience & Behavior. Outside of her life as a student she enjoys doing yoga and working as a flight attendant. She hopes to attend medical school after graduation.

Media Mavens:

Media Mavens Team Leaders:

Melissa Borgen, Ph.D.
Post-Doctoral Fellow
Bio: Melissa Borgen is currently a post-doctoral fellow in Brock Grill’s lab at The Scripps Research Institute Florida, studying how neurons (brain cells) form and maintain connections to other neurons in the tiny worm, C. elegans. By learning how certain genes affect neurons throughout the life of the worm, we can learn about our own genes and how they influence our brains.

Serena Sossi Serena Sossi
Doctoral Student
Bio: Serena M. Sossi is a doctoral student part of the IB-NS Program at FAU, working in the Carvelli Lab on elucidating the transgenerational effects of Amphetamine in c. elegans. Coming from Italy and having moved several times within the USA, she was exposed to vastly different education systems, so she has become passionate about spreading the enthusiasm for learning with kids of all backgrounds, through her love of science. She hopes to one day be able to inspire students in a classroom, to always seek wisdom first and follow their dreams.

Annie Nwiloh Annie Nwiloh
Undergraduate Student
Bio: Anita (Annie) Nwiloh, a sophomore at FAU, is a Biology student on the pre med track. As the oldest of 5 children , Annie is very passionate about working with kids and is a part of the Media Mavens of the Ascend Program. She enjoys the idea of being able to apply what she learns in the classroom outside of it by educating children who are just as eager to learn. She intends on pursuing a medical career as an OB-GYN and eventually opening her own Women Wellness Clinic.

Virtual Voyagers:

Virtual Voyager Team Leaders:

Jana Boerner, Ph.D. Jana Boerner, Ph.D.
Managing Director, Brain Institute Cell Imaging Core, Biological Sciences, College of Science
Bio: Jana Boerner manages the Imaging Core Manager that includes the Nikon Center of Excellence Core Facility.

David Cinalli David Cinalli
Doctoral Student
Bio: David Cinalli is current a Ph.D. student in Robert Stackman’s lab at Florida Atlantic University, were he studies how the brain encodes, consolidates, and recalls different forms of memory in laboratory mice. “I learn about how memory systems function can help us to develop treatments for disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. Now if only I could remember where I left my car keys.”
Virtual Voyager Team:

Faakhira Diljohn Faakhira Diljohn
Undergraduate Student
Bio: Faakhira A. Diljohn is an undergraduate student at Florida Atlantic University’s Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, pursuing her Bachelor’s of Science in Behavioral Neuroscience. Having grown up in the Caribbean, she enjoys interacting with people from various backgrounds. Through her endless curiosity and positivity, she thrives by learning and experiencing the world. She intends to use her alacrity and passion for science to encourage others to seek knowledge and achieve their diverse goals.

Katie Meeks Katie Meeks
Undergraduate Student
Bio: Katie A. Meeks is a S.T.E.M. student of the Harriet Wilkes Honors College of Florida Atlantic University, seeking a biochemistry degree within the next few years. Coming from a high school near Tampa, Florida, she was actively involved in numerous environmental restoration projects, as well as running her own science honor society in which she developed an affinity for helping other k-12 students find their own passion through various events, competitions, and seminars. She hopes to one day utilize the power pf science to contribute to the advancement of her own community.

Jennifer Ward Jennifer Ward
Undergraduate Student
Bio: Jennifer "Quin" Ward is a lifelong learner and student of Computer Science at Florida Atlantic University in Florida. Her life passion is to inspire others to re-think and reform conventional education methodologies on a global scale.


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If are you are interested in this program, please call us at 561.799.8559 or email us at and we will be happy to hear from you and assist you.