We've recruited the most passionate PhD students in NYC to mentor. We only take the best and brightest.


Russell Ledet

Role: Co-founder, Board Member, Mentor

Russell Joseph Ledet is a doctoral candidate at New York University in the Molecular Oncology Program of Sackler Institute of Graduate Biomedical Sciences, where he started in June of 2013. He is a recipient of the NIH NCI Molecular Oncology Training Grant, the 2015 Ford Foundation PreDoctoral Fellowship, and is an HHMI Gilliam Fellow. 

He graduated from Southern University and A&M College with a BS in Chemistry (Summa Cum Laude) and a BS in Biology (Summa Cum Laude). 

Prior to attending NYU, Russell was a cryptologic technician First Class Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy for nearly 10 years. He received numerous awards, has traveled the world, and is a proud veteran. 

Russell enjoys reading non-fiction novels about African history, billiards, playing tennis with his daughter, and basketball.

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Julia Derk

B.Sc. Neuroscience and Psychology, M.Sc. Pathobiology and Translational Medicine

Role: Co-founder, Board Member, and Mentor

Julia was born and raised in the Wild West of Greeley, Colorado and has always had an innate fascination in the brain. After her grandmother died of Alzheimer's disease while she was still in elementary school, she began her quest for a cure and became determined to become a brain doctor. Currently, Julia is a 5th year PhD student in Ann Marie Schmidt's laboratory where she studies inflammation in the brain and cellular stress in microglia during Alzheimer's disease. 

Julia co-founded Clear Direction Mentoring with Russell 4 years ago because she's dedicated to doing everything in her power to build a better world. Specifically, her mission is to harness the power of Science and Education to develop better policies, progressive social norms, and to empower herself and others. Whether it's mentoring the future, fighting for more ethical and inclusive practices in STEM, or engaging in lively debate, Julia's never afraid to speak her mind or take on a challenge. Helping to build Clear Direction Mentoring has been one of the greatest honors of her life.

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Phillip Thomas

Role: Board Member and Mentor

My name is Phillip Thomas and I am from Durham, North Carolina. I received my B.S. in Biology from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, North Carolina. After College, I decided to go straight into graduate school, and I made the tough decision to leave North Carolina and attend NYU School of Medicine. I am currently a fourth year graduate student in the lab of Dr. Susan K. Logan studying male infertility. 

Erica Briggs

Erica was born and raised in Buffalo, NY. After graduating from Miami University with a degree in Zoology and Anthropology, Erica taught middle school science in Richmond California with Teach for America (TFA), driven by her passion for providing quality science education to all children. After TFA, she pursued a career in research and worked in antiviral drug discovery for Prosetta Inc, while continuing impact science education through outreach programs NexGenGirls and BlackGirlsCode. Erica is currently pursuing her PhD in the laboratory of Susan Logan, investigating the impact of the LINE-1 retrotransposon in prostate cancer initiation and progression.


Graeme Koelwyn

B.Sc. Exercise Physiology, M.Sc. Clinical Exercise Physiology.

Role: Board Member and Mentor

Graeme was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  His passion for research and discovery began as a student and athlete (speed skating) at the University of Calgary.  He has been a mentor in both science and sport - as a teaching assistant, instructor and coach.

Graeme has a B.Sc. in Exercise Physiology from the University of Calgary and a M.Sc in Clinical Exercise Physiology from the University of British Columbia.  He is currently a fourth year graduate student in Dr. Kathryn Moore’s lab at the NYU School of Medicine. He is interested in studying the interaction between two common diseases: cardiovascular disease and cancer.

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Mary Rossillo

Role: Board Member and Mentor

Mary is from Long Island, New York. She became inspired to pursue a career in science by her AP chemistry teacher; therefore she understands the importance of having a mentor in science. She is currently in her third year of the MD/PhD program, studying mechanisms of chemosensation in the nematode C. elegans in the lab of Niels Ringstad.

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Britney Martinez



Role: Mentor

Britney was born and raised in Pico Rivera, California (Los Angeles area). She was first found her passion for science in her high school AP Biology course and decided to study Molecular Biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the first person in her family to pursue a PhD and is currently studying DNA repair in bacteria. Besides performing experiments, she also enjoys cooking, biking and rock climbing at the local climbing gym.

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Camila Delgado

Role: Mentor

Camila was born and raised in Bogota, Colombia and immigrated to the United States during her sophomore year of high school. She then received her B.S. degree in biomedical engineering from Florida International University. As an undergraduate student, Camila was part of the NIGMS RISE program, which supports minorities in research. This experience was crucial for her to develop a passion for science and ultimately lead her to pursue an MD/PhD at NYU where she studies cardiovascular electrophysiology and arrhythmia mechanisms. Now, through the Clear Direction Mentorship program, she hopes to help inspire the fellows and help them have the tools to successfully achieve their goals.

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Jessica Douthit

Role: Mentor

Jessica was born outside of Philadelphia, PA and received her degree in 2011 from Temple University. As an undergraduate student, she participated in the Minority Access to Research Careers program where she learned the importance of mentorship and extending a hand to those who follow behind you. She is currently a seventh year MD/PhD Candidate in Dr. Jessica Treisman’s lab. Jessica is interested in brain development and genetics.

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Jeff Schneider

Role: Mentor

Jeff is from the DC area. He graduated from Haverford College with a BS in chemistry in 2012 and worked as a research technician at Georgetown University studying Ewing’s Sarcoma before coming to NYU. He is currently a 4th year MD-PhD student. His graduate studies focus on targeting Wnt Signaling in Prostate Cancer.

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Kristen D'Elia

Role: Mentor

Kristen, originally from Long Island, NY, was inspired to study Neuroscience in high school when she realized her passions for literature and Biology were fueled by a desire to understand how the human brain works. The STEM world seemed relatively narrow to her as she entered college with little other than medical school on her radar. It was when she discovered the thrill and wonder of research that she realized STEM fields have much more to offer. She received her BS in Biology, BA in Psychology, and a Certification in Neuroscience from Providence College in Rhode Island. Currently, Kristen is a Neuroscience & Physiology PhD Candidate studying motor neuron fate determination in the zebrafish spinal cord, co-mentored by Dr. Jeremy Dasen and Dr. David Schoppik. Having been a tutor and mentor throughout her high school and college years, she continues to communicate science through various education and journalism outreach at NYU.

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Letitia Thompson

Role: Mentor

Letitia was born and raised in New Jersey. She became interested in science during high school where she first learned you can conduct experiments for a living. She then continued to study biology at The College of New Jersey, where she had her first opportunity to work in a lab through the Gateway to Graduate School in Biology Program. She joined the lab of Amanda Norvell, where she studied the regulation of the gene gurken (grk) to determine whether any aspects of Grk regulation are mediated through alterations in the polyadenylation of grk mRNA. She also spent one summer participating in the Summer Undergraduate Research Program conducting research at Princeton University with Elizabeth Gavis. Here she studied the translational regulation of nanos (nos) mRNA to better understand how unlocalized nos is repressed and what factors may be involved in this process. After receiving her B.S in Biology, she wanted to explore other areas of potential research interest. She worked at the University of Pennsylvania in the lab of Michael Povelones, where she studied innate immunity and pathogen recognition in mosquitoes. Specifically, characterizing complement-like components in Aedes aegypti. She is currently a graduate student in the lab of Ian Mohr at NYU School of Medicine. She is interested in studying how viruses control host machinery to regulate protein synthesis.

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Rachel Ruoff

Role: Mentor

Rachel is a native New Yorker who began her research career as an undergraduate research assistant studying plant ecology at Fordham University. She studied secondary education in graduate school, hoping to inspire her students to go into research. She found she missed the bench and decided to go back to a career in the lab. She is currently a research associate and lab manager in Michael Garabedian's lab, where she studies nuclear hormone receptors and their roles in prostate cancer progression and atherosclerosis.

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Maud Voisin

Role: Mentor

Maud was born and raised in the south of France. She graduated her M.S. in medicinal chemistry and Ph. D. in cancer biology from the University of Toulouse. Maud currently is a postdoctoral fellow in Michael Garabedian’s lab, interested in cholesterol metabolism in cardiovascular disease. The potential discovery of new therapeutics to improve human health is what motivates Maud to be a scientist. She also learned that it is easier to go to college or get a college degree when someone trust in you and encourage you. Now, she would like to help as much as possible Clear Direction fellows.

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Peiheng (Pamela) Shen

Ph.D. Medical Sciences, Infection and Immunity

 Role: Mentor

Pam was born in Beijing, China and immigrated with her mother to Canada when she was 10 years old. Raised by a single parent, she was greatly encouraged by her mother and teachers since a young age to pursue her interest in Science. After completing a Bachelor's degree in Biology and Pharmacology, Pam pursued a PhD in the Medical Sciences Program in Infection and Immunity at McMaster University, Ontario, Canada. Pam believes that the amazing mentors she encountered throughout her education played a critical role in her pursuing a career in Science. Thus she is excited to mentor the next generation of young scholars. Pam is currently a post-doctoral fellow in Dr. Jeffrey Weiser's lab, where she investigates mechanisms of bacterial colonization in the upper respiratory tract.

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Shushan Sargsian

Role: Mentor

Shushan was born in Armenia and moved from Tel-Aviv to Munich to Seattle as a child before finally settling down in Miami, Florida. She attended the University of Miami where she first got involved in research and discovered her passion for microbiology. However, she felt that many students did not always have access to adequate guidance and opportunities to get involved in scientific research. Thus, she made it one of her primary goals as president of the University of Miami Microbiology & Immunology Club to help underclassmen get excited about and find opportunities to do research. She is happy to be a Clear Direction mentor so she can continue to help younger students, especially minorities underrepresented in STEM, get excited about science and have the tools they need to pursue their passions. Shushan is currently a third year graduate student in Ken Cadwell’s lab at NYU School of Medicine where she studies the role of the gut microbiome in inflammatory bowel disease.


Zhiwei li

Zhi-Wei was born and raised in China. She studied physics Peking University as undergrad, in order to appreciate human's greatest discoveries of the universe. Coming to NYU for graduate school, she switched field to neuroscience and cognitive science, hoping to make her own contribution to our understanding of human brain. The transition between different cultures and fields has left her with puzzlement and occassional self-doubts; meanwhile, she is also accumulating experiences in how to find one's true passion and make things happen. She is more than willing to share these experiences and thoughts.

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Luendreo Barboza

Luendreo “Lou” Barboza was born in Sao Paolo, Brazil. At an young age, His Mother emigrated from Brazil to the united states allowing him to become the first in his family to attend college and graduate school. He acquired a bachelor in genetics from Rutgers University and is now a Ph.D. student at NYU’s neuroscience institute. As a first-generation college student from an underrepresented background Lou experienced many of the struggles burdening Latin-Americans in STEM, such as socioeconomic barriers and lack of guidance. He is very passionate in helping other students from underrepresented backgrounds achieve their goals in STEM by providing mentorship through clear direction. 


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Oriana Perez

Oriana was born in Valencia, Venezuela, but grew up in south Florida. After high school Oriana moved to the Northeast to attend college and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology. While living in New Haven, CT Oriana tutored young students and developed a deep passion for mentorship. After undergrad Oriana went on to complete her Ph.D.from the University of Connecticut and now is a a Postdoctoral Fellow in Dr. Boris Reizis' lab at NYU Langone Health.

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Jessica Minder

Jessica was born and raised on Long Island, NY and received her BS. degree from St. Joseph’s College in biology and secondary education. She received her M.S. from Stony Brook University in Biochemistry and Cell Biology. Currently, Jessica is a PhD student in the neuroscience program at NYU. She studies the role of neuropeptides as modulators of synaptic transmission and signaling pathways. Her training as a high school educator has instilled in her a passion for education. Through Clear Direction Mentoring Jessica aims to help all students, regardless of their backgrounds, to achieve their education goals in STEM through exposure and new experiences.


Cristina Castro

Cristina grew up in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. She graduated from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez in 2014 and moved to NYC to pursue an MDPhD degree at NYU School of Medicine where she is currently in her 2nd year of her graduate studies in Bruce Cronstein’s lab studying immunology and inflammation. She is also interested in learning how to be an effective advocate in medicine and science, enjoys traveling and trying new, exciting things whenever she can. Cristina stands on the shoulders of men and women who appreciated her talent as a kid. Her success is the direct result of engaged mentors guiding her every step of the way from a very young age, from shadowing summer camps in high school to the MARC program in college. She deeply understands how impactful mentorship can be, and that is why she’s very excited to work with CDM and its young talented fellows. 


Criseyda Martinez

Hometown: Los Angeles (area), California

Undergraduate Institution and Major : UCLA, Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics

Criseyda mentors because she want to pass on her knowledge and experience to high school students in hopes they have the STEM support system she did not have during high school and early college days.  As a mentor, she enjoys seeing the change in high school students from start to finish. She enjoys watching her fellows see their hopes and dreams slowly become a reality because of their own handwork and determination to overcome obstacles.