The Research Institute’s Trainee Association (RITA)

The Abigail Wexner Research Institute’s Trainee Association (RITA) was created in 2013 to help better train and prepare trainees for their “next steps.” All trainees at AWRI may participate, including graduate students, postdoctoral scientists and fellows. RITA is similar to other postdoctoral associations at universities and is modeled after guidelines established by the National Postdoctoral Association (of which The Research Institute is a member).

RITA’s leadership team consists of trainees nominated and elected by their peers. They receive guidance and assistance from an advisory committee of faculty co-advisors and research administrators who are dedicated to helping trainees.

Click here to download the 2016 RITA Welcome Booklet for new trainees.

Visit the RITA Facebook group!

Steering Committee

Afrooz Rashnonejad

Dr. Afrooz Rashnonejad
Chair
Postdoctoral scientist, Center for Gene Therapy 

As the new chair, Afrooz is committed to keeping all trainees engaged in RITA activities and to ensuring everyone benefits from career development opportunities. Dr. Afrooz Rashnonejad received her doctorate degree in 2017 from the Ege University, Turkey, in Biotechnology with a focus on intra-uterine gene therapy for Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) using AAV vectors. Immediately after graduation, Afrooz started her postdoctoral studies in the Harper Lab in the Center for Gene Therapy. Afrooz has been engaged in RITA since 2018 and served as a center representative for a year and postdoctoral representative officer for two years, since 2019.

In her free time, Afrooz enjoys painting, gardening, traveling, watching movies and cuddling with her two Ragdoll cats, Lilac and Barfi.

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Dr. Anthony Stephenson
Community Outreach Representative Officer
Postdoctoral scientist, Center for Gene Therapy

Anthony served in this position in 2020.

RITA Steering Committee

Randa Breikaa
Resource Development Co-Officer
Graduate student, Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Diseases

Randa served in this position in 2020.

RITA Steering Committee

Jenna Sandala
Resource Development Co-Officer
Graduate student, Center for Microbial Pathogenesis

Jenna previously served as the networking and professional development officer.

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Dr. Robyn Feiss
Networking and Professional Development Officer
Postdoctoral scientist, Center for Injury Research and Policy

Robyn is a postdoctoral scientist in the Center for Injury Research and Policy working under Dr. Ginger Yang. Robyn completed her doctorate in Kinesiology at Auburn University, and her research interests involve the relationships between physical health, mental health and injury in adolescents. Her current focus is the influence of concussive injury on adolescent mental and physical health. Robyn grew up in Wauwatosa, WI. In her free time, she enjoys exercising, traveling and playing with her new Bernese Mountain Dog puppy, Fred.

Supporting research trainees is essential to any research institution's success, particularly one such as Nationwide Children’s. Robyn believes networking and professional development are two of the most critical aspects of a successful research career, regardless of the research area or desired career path. Nationwide Children’s provides research trainees with a unique opportunity to connect with and learn from individuals from a variety of professional and personal backgrounds. As RITA’s Networking and Professional Development Officer, Robyn will strive to ensure that research trainees across the institution can take full advantage of the organization they have chosen to join.

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Dr. Andrea Byrum
Postdoctoral Representative Officer
Postdoctoral scientist, Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Diseases

Andrea is a postdoctoral scientist in the Lessnick Lab in the Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Diseases. Andrea received her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Denison University in 2014, where she was also a member of the women’s soccer team. Andrea went on to pursue her doctorate degree in Molecular Genetics and Genomics at Washington University in St. Louis, in Dr. Nima Mosammaparast’s lab. Andrea returned to Columbus, where she was born and raised, to join the Lessnick Lab, where she now studies the role of ETS transcription factors in Ewing sarcoma.

Outside of the lab, Dr. Byram is an avid runner who loves to train and run races of all distances, especially with friends and with her racing team, the Rogue Racers. She is also a sports fanatic who lives for watching and attending Buckeye football and Columbus Crew Soccer Club games.

Andrea thinks it is important for postdoctoral scientists to surround themselves with strong mentors and a network of colleagues who can offer guidance, support and camaraderie. In her role, she will help fellow post-docs develop these important relationships by helping to plan and advertise networking, career development and social events and will advocate for diversity and inclusion initiatives to be a priority.

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Siddhi Nath Paudel
International Representative Officer
Graduate student, Hematology and Oncology

Siddhi is a graduate student in the Cripe Lab. He moved to the United States to explore his passion for science after completing his undergraduate degree in Biotechnology from Kathmandu University, Nepal.

Most of the incoming international trainees are transitioning from a different social and cultural environment to fulfil their passion for research. This change may bring a range of challenges, including anxiety, personal disorientation and frustration that can impact work life. It is important to recognize cultural shock as a potential problem international trainees might face during this shift. Paudel’s first-hand experience of the transition has equipped him with the expertise to support trainees through a smooth transition to research and create a sustainable environment to harness ideas and knowledge from the global community.

When not keeping busy with research, you can find Siddhi surfing Netflix or hiking. You can always count on him to try different international cuisines around Columbus

RITA Steering Committee

Maura Schwartz
Graduate Student Representative Co-Officer
Graduate student, Center for Gene Therapy

Maura served in this position in 2020.

Nationwide Children's Researcher

Sanjana Rajan
Graduate Student Representative Co-Officer
Graduate student, Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Diseases

Sanjana served in this position in 2020.

Administrative Coordinators

Katie Campbell

Katie Campbell
Director of Research Safety & Training Resources 

Sara Marchionda

Sara Marchionda
Research Education Coordinator