IPREFER Graduate Students, PostDocs, and Fellows

Graduate students make up an important part of our IPREFER research team. Use this page to acquaint yourself with our graduate students, post docs and fellows.

Isaac Goldman 2021 IPREFER Intern

Carol Kiam Assato
Master’s Student, Illinois State University

Skill Set

  • Microbiology (Bacterial & Yeast Analysis)
  • Pennycress Breeding
  • CRISPR Gene Editing

Expected Graduation
December 2023

Carol Kiam Assato was born and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Carol completed her BS in molecular biology at Alcorn State University. She decided to join IPREFER CoPd John Sedbrook’s lab because she wanted to collaborate on making a sustainable impact in the world.

Before coming to ISU, Carol worked as a microbiologist doing bacterial and yeast analysis for three years. Although it was a different area, Carol gained a lot of experience having GLP, following SOPs, meeting TATs, and working independently. Since joining Dr. Sedbrook’s lab, she has collaborated closely with fellow IPREFER grad student Liza Gautam, mainly working with pennycress. As of now, Carol is focused on breeding lines, moving lines forward, and of course, using CRISPR gene editing to integrate the desired traits.

Thesis
“Interrogating and genetically improving drought tolerance in the oilseed winter cover crop, pennycress (Thlaspi arvense).”

Masters’ Advisor
Dr. John Sedbrook, IPREFER CoPD & Professor of Genetics, School of Biological Sciences, Illinois State University

Career Aspirations
After my Master’s, I’m looking forward to working in the biotech industry. My purpose is to find a job where I can apply some of the techniques that I have learned in the lab with the goal of improving sustainability.
Isaac Goldman 2021 IPREFER Intern

Liza Gautam
Ph.D. Student, Illinois State University

Skill Set

  • CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology
  • Teaching (undergraduates & graduates)

Expected Graduation
2024

Liza Gautam is a Ph.D. candidate from Kathmandu, Nepal. Currently, she is working in Professor John C. Sedbrook’s lab in the Department of Biological Science at Illinois State University. She completed her Bachelor of Technology in Biotechnology from Kathmandu University, Nepal, and Master’s of Science in Biotechnology from Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway. After completing her master’s degree, she worked as an Assistant Research Fellow in Nepal Academy of Science and Technology, a leading research station and governmental organization of Nepal.

As a molecular geneticist, Ms. Gautam is currently working on domesticating an oilseed cash cover crop- Pennycress (Thlaspi arvense L.). Her primary focus is implementing CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology to target multiple genes at different loci to increase seed size, reduce glucosinolate content, and increase drought tolerance in pennycress. She is actively involved in many other projects and has good organizational skills in handling large plant populations and samples. Ms. Gautam has also trained multiple students at the graduate and undergraduate levels. These experiences have aided in her academics, leadership ability, and establishing professional relations.

Thesis
“Implementing CRISPR-Cas9 to increase seed size, reduce glucosinolate content and increase drought tolerance in the oilseed winter cover crop Thlaspi arvense (pennycress).”

Doctoral Advisor
Dr. John Sedbrook, IPREFER Co-PD & Professor of Genetics, School of Biological Sciences, Illinois State University

Career Aspirations
After completing her Ph.D. and Postdoc work, Ms. Gautam would like to pursue a career in Research and Development at a biotech company and contribute to the welfare of society through outstanding research work.

Isaac Goldman 2021 IPREFER Intern

Aaron Hauger
Ph.D. Student, University of Minnesota

Aaron Hauger is a Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities (College of Education & Human Development) who works with our Outreach-Extension and Education Objective. His works focuses on the evaluation of our IPREFER Undergraduate Internships (Integrated Plant Systems – Undergraduate Research Experience)

Isaac Goldman 2021 IPREFER Intern

Nikhil Jaikumar
PostDoc, Illinois State University

Nikhil Jaikumar is a PostDoc at Illinois State University School of Biological Sciences. He works with our Breeding & Genetics Objective.

Isaac Goldman 2021 IPREFER Intern

Kaveh Javanshirjavid
Ph.D. Student, Southern Illinois University

Skill Set

  • Agronomy
  • Bioanalysis
  • Molecular biology
  • Plant pathology
  • Strategic planning

Expected Graduation
May 2023

Kaveh Javanshirjavid is a Ph.D. student at Southern Illinois University in the  Department of Plant, Soil, and Agricultural Systems. Kaveh is working on the biocontrol of charcoal rot disease on soybean caused by Macrophomina phaseolina.

Thesis

“Biocontrol of charcoal rot on soybean using Chlonostachys rosea isolates.”

Doctoral Advisor
Dr. Ahmad M. Fakhoury, IPREFER Collaborator & Plant, Soil, and Agricultural Systems, Southern Illinois University.

Career Aspirations
I am interested in working in industry. I am looking for collaboration with agricultural companies to improve soybean yield by focusing on disease control. My ambition is to introduce effective biocontrol agents to control soybean disease.

Isaac Goldman 2021 IPREFER Intern

Nasib Koirala
Master’s Student, The Ohio State University

Skill Set

  • Designing and conducting field research
  • Seed treatments and seed testing
  • Data management and analysis
  • Communicating science

Expected Graduation
May 2022

Nasib Koirala is a second-year Master’s student and a graduate research associate in the Horticulture and Crop Science Department at The Ohio State University. Nasib got his undergraduate degree in B.S. Agriculture from the Agriculture and Forestry University (Nepal). Currently, he is working on a project related to the study of novel seed treatment in oilseed pennycress. This has allowed him to learn about seed treatments including, seed pelleting and testing germination of seeds. Also, he has gained some hands-on experience in field crop research.

Thesis
“Assessment of seed pelleting effects on agronomic characteristics of Pennycress (Thlaspi arvense L.)”

Thesis Advisor
Dr. Alex Lindsey, IPREFER CoPD & OSU Associate Professor at Department of Horticulture and Crop Science.

Career Aspirations
After graduation, Nasib wants to continue his studies and go for a Ph.D. program.

Isaac Goldman 2021 IPREFER Intern

Shahriar Mahmud
Ph.D. Student, Illinois State University

Skill Set
  • Molecular Genetics
  • CRISPR.
Expected Graduation
May 2023.

Shahriar Mahmud was born and raised in Munshiganj, Bangladesh. Shahriar completed his Bachelor’s and Master of Science in Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering at the Islamic University (Kushtia, Bangladesh). After that, he worked as a research assistant at the Institute of Food and Radiation Biology, an atomic energy research establishment in Bangladesh, to conduct his Master’s thesis research on microbial food safety. Shahriar was also involved in discovering plant-based antimicrobial agents. He started his graduate study in the fall of 2021 at Illinois State University, pursuing research under the supervision of IPREFER collaborator Dr. John C Sedbrook.

Shahriar is interested in Pennycress research for oil production and its commercialization as a winter cash cover crop. Working with CRISPR-Cas9 knockout mutation in gene silencing and trait development is of great interest to Shahriar. Discovering high erucic acid-producing pennycress lines is his primary interest in research on pennycress. He hopes to see outcomes from his research before he completes his graduate degree.

Thesis
TBD

Thesis Advisor
Dr. John Sedbrook, IPREFER CoPD & Professor of Genetics, School of Biological Sciences, Illinois State University

Isaac Goldman 2021 IPREFER Intern

Danny Marchiafava
Master’s Student, Illinois State University

Danny Marchiafava is a Master’s students at Illinois State University (School of Biological Sciences) who works with our Breeding & Genetics Objective.

Ryan Meyer

Graduate Student, Illinois State University

Ryan Meyer is a graduate student at Illinois State University who works with our Pennycress Ecosystems Services Objective.

Isaac Goldman 2021 IPREFER Intern

Yesuf Mohammed, Ph.D
PostDoc Associate, USDA-ARS-NCSCRL

Skill Set

  • Cropping systems
  • Soil science
  • Soil fertility and nutrient management
  • Crop diversification and intensification
  • Experimental design
  • Data mining and analysis

Yesuf Mohammed, Ph.D., is a PostDoc Associate (USDA-ARS-NCSCRL) who works with our Agronomy/Crop Management Objective.

Yesuf joins IPREFER,  under the supervision of IPREFER collaborator Dr. Russ Gesch, with experiences in agricultural research and outreach focusing on various crops and environments. Yesuf's background is in Soil Fertility with research and outreach expertise in various cropping system projects.

Career Aspirations

Yesuf is passionate about research, outreach, and teaching in areas that include crop diversification, intensification, and integrated nutrient management to improve yield, qualities, and profitability of agronomic practices while improving soil health and minimizing environmental pollutions.

Isaac Goldman 2021 IPREFER Intern

Matthew Ott

Ph.D. Student, University of Minnesota

Skill Set

  • Experiment/Project Management
  • Managing Plant Breeding Pipelines
  • Phenotyping (KDSmart, ImageJ, Certified UAS Pilot)
  • KASP Genotyping
  • Statistics (Experimental Design, Linear and Non-Linear Regression, R)
  • Teaching

Expected Graduation

January 2022

Matthew Ott earned his MSc at the University of Minnesota by evaluating a cropping system where soybean was relay-cropped into pennycress and camelina. Shifting to plant breeding and genetics for his Ph.D., he evaluated pennycress genotypes with reduced dormancy and developed early maturing camelina varieties. His journal article, "TRANSPARENT TESTA 2 allele confers major reduction in pennycress (Thlaspi arvense L.) seed dormancy," will be published in the December 2021 issue of Industrial Crops & Products.

Thesis
"Improving Agronomic Traits in Pennycress and Camelina"

Doctoral Advisor
Dr. M.David Marks, IPREFER CoPD & UNM Professor Plant and Microbial Biology

Career Aspirations
Matthew is looking for opportunities to work in industry or academia. His priority is finding a role where he can work with a team that shares his goals of improving food and environmental security.

Isaac Goldman 2021 IPREFER Intern

Kathryn Phillips
Ph.D. Student, University of Minnesota

Skill Set

  • Life cycle assessment
  • Systems thinking
  • Spatial analysis

Expected Graduation
May 2023

Kathryn Phillips supports the IPREFER Supply Chain team with her work on understanding the environmental impacts of pennycress agriculture. She is a second-year Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota. Her research interests include sustainable production systems and improving  approaches such as life cycle assessment for modeling complex socio-ecological systems, especially related to agriculture. Prior to coming to the University of Minnesota, Kathryn spent two years in Senegal as a Sustainable Agriculture Specialist with the Peace Corps. She earned an Environmental Studies degree from Carleton College, where she first became interested in food systems and their myriad environmental and social impacts.

Thesis To be determined

Doctoral Advisor
Dr. Tim Smith, IPREFER Collaborator & UMN Bioproducts and Biosystems Science, Engineering, and Management

Career Aspirations
Kathryn plans to pursue a career in research, whether within academia or beyond.  Her goal is to apply her education to reducing and reversing the negative environmental impacts of production and supply chains, especially in food systems.
Isaac Goldman 2021 IPREFER Intern

Lucas Roberts
Ph.D. Student, University of Minnesota

Skill Set

  • Plant Physiology
  • High Throughput Phenotyping
  • Quantitative Genetics
  • Genomics

Expected Graduation
May 2024

Lucas Roberts is a second-year Ph.D. graduate research assistant in the Applied Plant Sciences program at the University of Minnesota.  Through working with UMN’s soybean breeding program, his project focuses on developing new varieties for a winter annual intercropping system. Previously, he completed a master’s degree in Crop Sciences from the University of Illinois. Currently, he is on the officer team for the APS graduate student club and helps organize UMN’s annual Plant Sciences Symposium.

Thesis
“The Genetics and Physiology of Soybeans Traits Relevant to Pennycress Intercropping Systems”

Doctoral Advisor
Dr. Aaron Lorenz, IPREFER Collaborator & Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics, University of Minnesota

Career Aspirations
Aaron’s career goal is to be an industry plant breeder.
Isaac Goldman 2021 IPREFER Intern

Leonardo Rocha
Ph.D. Student, Southern Illinois University

Skill Set

  • Plant Pathology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Nematology
  • Field/Greenhouse Research Planning & Establishment
  • Disease Resistance Screenings
  • Statistical Analysis
  • Next-generation Sequencing
  • Metagenomics and Metabolomics (RNA-Seq)

Expected Graduation
May 2022

Leo Rocha is a Ph.D. candidate in Plant Pathology at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. His research projects focus on plant-microbe interactions, management of nematodes and other soil-borne diseases, with an additional background in weed science and herbicide resistance. Leo has research experience conducting molecular biology and microbiology assays to greenhouse and field trials, covering major row crop diseases.

Thesis
"Improving management of soybean cyst nematode (Heterodera glycines): from field practices to next-generation sequencing approaches"

Major Professors: Dr. Ahmad Fakhoury and Dr. Jason Bond, IPREFER Collaborators & School of Agricultural Sciences - Southern Illinois University

Career Aspirations
After graduation, Leo will look for research/teaching opportunities, emphasizing crop protection (plant pathology/nematology), microbiology, and molecular biology.
Isaac Goldman 2021 IPREFER Intern

Zenith Tandukar
Ph.D. Student, University of Minnesota

Skill Set

  • Plant breeding
  • Molecular Genetics
  • Genomics
  • High Throughput Phenotyping

Expected Graduation
January 2022

Zenith Tandukar is a Ph.D. candidate in the Applied Plant Sciences graduate program at the University of Minnesota. He recently finished the third year of his Ph.D. in pennycress breeding and genetics and is looking forward to defending his dissertation focused on understanding the genetic basis of seed size and seed composition-related quantitative traits.

Zenith has led multiple first applications of advanced genetic and genomic techniques and technologies to create genomic and genetic resources for the pennycress research community at large. As a graduate student, he was awarded the MnDRIVE Global Food Ventures Fellowship and the Hueg-Harrison Fellowship to support his graduate studies. He was recently recognized as an Encompass Fellow by Bayer Crop Sciences.

Thesis

"Advancing food production and sustainability in Minnesota agriculture with high yielding and high oil pennycress."

Doctoral Advisor

Dr. Jim Anderson, IPREFER Collaborator & UMN Agronomy and Plant Genetics

Career Aspirations

In the short term, Zenith is looking forward to pursuing a career in research and development in industry in the agriculture and biotechnology sector upon graduation. In industry, he wants to help optimize the ideas of today and innovate the ideas of the future to help increase agricultural productivity and environmental sustainability. Zenith's long-term vision is to bring these innovative ag technologies to Nepal and other developing countries like it to help uplift farmers from poverty and work towards zero hunger for all.

Isaac Goldman 2021 IPREFER Intern

Mujen (Jack) Wang
Graduate Student, Illinois State University

Mujen (Jack) Wang is a graduate student at Illinois State University (Hydrogeology) who works with our Pennycress Ecosystems Services Objective.

Isaac Goldman 2021 IPREFER Intern

Bethany Wohrley
Graduate Student, Illinois State University

Bethany Wohrley is a Master's student at Illinois State University Department of Agriculture, who works with our Agronomy/Crop Management Objective.

IPREFER Alumni: Graduate Students, PostDocs, and Fellows

IPREFER thanks all our project alumni for their contributions and looks forward to them spreading the word about pennycress as a cash cover crop.

Isaac Goldman 2021 IPREFER Intern

Cody Hoerning
Ph.D. Student, University of Minnesota

Skill Set

  • Proposal Writing
  • Project Planning
  • Experimental Design
  • Teamwork, Management
  • Leadership, Training
  • Statistics & Data Analysis
  • Technical Writing
  • Public Speaking & Presentations
  • Sustainability
  • Local Government
  • Community Building

Expected Graduation
January 2022

Cody Hoerning (he/him/his) completed his graduate work in January 2022 as a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. His research involves investigating soybean cyst nematode development on the new oilseed crop pennycress. Throughout this work, he has been an advocate for agricultural research funding and implementing continuous living cover on Midwest agriculture. In addition to the work he has done academically, he has been involved in the community throughout college, where he has advocated for affordable housing, public safety reform, and food security. Cody has served the University of Minnesota as a community liaison to address issues with off-campus student renters and has served on a local neighborhood organization board for five years. Cody is also committed to the interscholastic community and spends many nights and Saturdays officiating high school and NCAA football. In his free time, Cody enjoys spending time with family, traveling to National Parks, and staying active.

Thesis
"Evaluating the Development of Soybean Cyst Nematode on Pennycress"

Doctoral Advisors
Drs. Senyu Chen, IPREFER Collaborator and Professor, UMN Southern Research and Outreach Center Dr. Donald Wyse, UMN Agronomy and Plant Genetics

Career Aspirations
I am a passionate agricultural scientist with an ambition to work as a plant science researcher within an industry or regulatory setting. I wish to investigate research relevant to new agricultural product development or the regulations governing food production with an organization committed to agricultural sustainability and reducing the environmental footprint of our food system.