Current student bios

Class of 2024

Lindsay Peifer was born in Illinois and raised in Minnetonka, Minnesota. She graduated with High Distinction from the University of Minnesota, Twin-Cities with a B.S. in Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development and a French Studies minor. When she was 18, she discovered the XLH Network and became an advocate for individuals with her genetic condition, X-linked Hypophosphatemia (XLH). After falling in love with research from sequencing her own gene mutation, she joined a lab at the University of Minnesota investigating a possible treatment for Muscular Dystrophy via the differentiation of myogenic progenitors into functional muscle fibers. She also spent time volunteering for the Domestic Abuse Hotline and serving as Vice-President for the Pre-Genetic Counseling Club. After graduation, she worked as a Genetic Counseling Assistant with UT Southwestern Medical Center’s cancer genetics team in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas and supported fellow chronic illness fighters as a Compassion Counselor with the Chronic Illness Hotline. Lindsay continues her role as a community member advisor for the first project examining the psychosocial differences between individuals with familial and de novo XLH. In her free time, she enjoys painting, cross-stitching, boating, and kayaking.

Hannah Zallek

Hannah Zallek grew up in central Minnesota where she enjoyed the many seasons this great state offers. In 2019, she graduated from the College of St. Benedict with a B.A. in Biology and a minor in secondary education. As an undergraduate, Hannah performed research on the genetics of eyes in mice and led local preK-12 students on outdoor field trips. These experiences led her to becoming a high school teacher for three years where she taught physical science, biology, and environmental biology. She loved creating lessons and labs that got her students excited to be scientists. During this time, she also volunteered at Pathways4Youth - a safe space for youth experiencing homelessness to receive help. Her passion for genetics and supporting others led her to shift her plans to pursue genetic counseling. Hannah enjoys baking, reading, nature walks, watching Formula 1, and anything pop culture related!

Ariana Luna grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Human Physiology with a minor in Philosophy from the University of Iowa in 2017. At the University of Iowa, she was introduced to genetic counseling through a genetic basis of disease course and Careers in Human Genetics seminar presented by the Iowa Institute of Human Genetics. After graduating, she worked for Alaska Airlines, Allina Health, and M Health Fairview, promoting customer experiences by working with passengers and patients through stressful situations. Outside of work, Ariana tutored at Mary’s Place in Minneapolis and volunteered as a crisis counselor at the Contra Costa Crisis Center. In 2020, she volunteered as a research assistant through the University of Minnesota Genetic Counseling program. In her free time, Ariana loves traveling, listening to music, re-watching Pride and Prejudice (2005), and spending time with her loved ones and cat.

Trishel Cruzado grew up in Southern California and graduated from the University of San Francisco in 2019 with her B.S. in Biology with a concentration in molecular biology. She first heard about genetic counseling in her junior year of undergrad when a genetic counseling student came to speak at one of her seminars. After graduating, she worked in retail and simultaneously held an internship at the University of California, San Francisco in the Cancer Genetics and Prevention Program. That internship transitioned into a full-time role as a genetic counseling assistant in the same program. As a GCA, she worked directly with the gastrointestinal team, led tumor boards, and regularly met with patients with an active cancer diagnosis to coordinate and order genetic testing. Trishel also volunteered at the Friendship Line, a call line providing seniors and adults with disabilities with emotional support, crisis intervention, and social connection. In her personal life she loves traveling, staying active, listening to live music, cooking and trying new restaurants.

Haley LeBlanc grew up in Medina, Ohio before attending college at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. During her undergraduate career she worked in a microbiology research lab investigating the use of bacteriophages to treat antibiotic resistant bacteria. As an intern at a biopharmaceutical company, she was able to assist on active gene therapy clinical trials for lysosomal storage diseases. After graduating with a B.A in Chemistry and a minor in Biology in the spring of 2020, she began working at a SARS-CoV-2 testing lab and managed a novel environmental surveillance project which tested and sequenced dust samples to determine what Covid-19 variants were present in the area. She was also able to gain experience as an intern at a cancer genetics clinic during this time. Since 2015 she has also been volunteering for Canine Companions, an organization that places service dogs with people who have physical and developmental disabilities, by raising service dogs in training. She has raised five dogs so far and is currently raising her sixth. In her free time Haley loves exploring parks, cheering on the Buckeyes, and trying new restaurants.

Kayla Nelson grew up in the small town of St. Stephen, Minnesota. She graduated from the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities in 2022 with a B.S. in Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development and minors in Spanish Studies and Psychology. Kayla was an active member of the UMN Pre-Genetic Counseling Club throughout her undergraduate career, in which she held a leadership role as the communications coordinator her senior year. She volunteered as a resource advocate for a Minneapolis-based organization, Tubman, connecting people with order for protection and pro-bono family law attorney resources. Kayla also volunteered at The Trevor Project as a crisis counselor working one on one with LGBTQ+ youth to help them navigate difficult times and to prevent suicide. As an undergraduate, Kayla was also a research assistant working with second year UMN GC graduate students on their thesis projects. During her junior year, the project focused on researching the emotional and social support needs of adolescents with alopecia. During her senior year, the project focused on researching the experiences of Black, Indigenous, and people of color genetic counselors in their preparation and taking of the ABGC certification exam. In her free time, Kayla enjoys cooking new recipes with her partner, exploring different restaurants and breweries in Minneapolis, playing all types of games (board, video, & yard), and spending time with her partner’s cat, Mr. B. 

Kara Lane is originally from Western Springs, Illinois. She graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a Bachelors of Science in Molecular and Cellular Biology with a minor in Chemistry, a Bachelors of Arts in Creative Writing, and a Masters of Engineering in Bioengineering where she completed a capstone project constructing a sensory wheel for mice to assist in studying electrical signals in mammalian brains.  Kara wore many hats during her time at U of I including: assisting pediatric hydration and adult cognition research at the Body Composition and Nutritional Neuroscience Laboratory, Master Alchemist (President) of the Zeta chapter of Alpha Chi Sigma the professional chemistry fraternity, organizing open mic nights as president of the Creative Writing Club, and Shakespeare actor.  After graduating with her masters, Kara worked at Epic Systems as a Quality Assurance Specialist for Beaker, Epic’s laboratory application becoming an expert in cross-application testing and creating educational content.  Kara credits her passion for genetic counseling and reproductive rights to the prenatal genetic counselors at Massachusetts General Hospital where she was the head genetic counseling assistant.  In her free time, Kara loves to write science fiction, brew, bake, and pet dogs and cats.

Saneela Ashraf grew up in Pakistan. She graduated in 2020 with a Bachelors of Science in Biology and a minor in Psychology. As an undergraduate, she did research work on how encapsulation of various strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae in hyperglycemic conditions affects the process of invasion, virulence, and evasion from macrophagic alveolar cells. After graduating she worked with the legal and counseling departments at an organization that aids survivors of child sexual abuse and domestic violence. She also interned at a local fertility clinic which helped her understand the inequities and disparities within the healthcare system. She is excited to be able to help the diversification of the field as well as work on how to dismantle barriers of inequity within the healthcare system. Some of her hobbies include painting, swimming, binging Netflix, annoying her cat with cuddles and anything Studio Ghibli.

Vera Swanson grew up in Rochester, Minnesota and spent her childhood on fishing and hunting trips exploring the state’s lands, waters, and wildlife. The connection to nature and her family inspired her to study Environmental Science and Russian at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. In college, she was a research assistant in limnology and grassland ecology labs while also dedicating herself to language learning through the Russian Flagship Program. These activities took her to northern Thailand’s remote rivers and the steppe and mountains of Kazakhstan. After graduation, she worked in botanical translation, communications for an agricultural non-profit, and federal consulting for a variety of government agencies. When contemplating the pursuit of genetic counseling, Vera devoted time as a patient volunteer at Seasons Hospice and as a sexual assault advocate for Victim Services’ crisis line. In Mayo Clinic’s Atherosclerosis and Lipid Genomics Laboratory, Vera also reviewed patient data for contribution to the Familial Hypercholesterolemia Identification Registry (FHIRE). In her personal life, she could spend hours scavenging at estate sales, mountain biking new trails, or identifying native wildflowers every spring.

Lawri Sanders (she/her/hers) was born and raised in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. As a first-generation student, she graduated from the University of Oklahoma in May 2022 with a B.S. in Biochemistry and a minor in Biology. During her time as an undergraduate, she was a resident advisor and was a small group leader for OU’s incoming student orientation summer camp. Through the McNair Scholars Program, Lawri conducted research in a genetics laboratory where she investigated genes that contribute to the development of the posterior lobe in Drosophila melanogaster. In her free time, she enjoys doing nail art, obsessing over Big Brother and Survivor, dyeing her hair fun colors, and making TikTok videos!

Jenna Larson was born and raised in Plymouth, MN. She graduated with high distinction from the University of Minnesota in 2022 earning a B.S. in Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development. As an undergraduate, she pursued a research interest in bioinformatics by characterizing a novel gene, C5orf24, and becoming first author on a publication investigating the impact of pathogenic germline variation within the KMT2 family of genes on infant leukemia predisposition. Jenna also served as a TA for a molecular biology course while continuing to learn more about the field of genetic counseling. Additionally, she valued her roles as a crisis counselor for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Special Olympics volunteer, and sexual violence prevention advocate on campus. In her free time, she loves spending summer days on the lake, crossing off travel destinations on her bucket list, and cheering on the Golden Gophers!

Class of 2025

Megan Grantham

Megan Grantham grew up in Olympia, Washington, and graduated from the University of Washington-Seattle in 2020 with a degree in Biochemistry and a minor in Spanish. As an undergraduate student, she held multiple officer positions in Alpha Epsilon Delta, a premedical honor society. She also volunteered as a COPE Health Scholar at Swedish Medical Center, where she gained experience advocating for patients and their families during their hospital stays. During her time as a student, Megan participated in the University of Washington's chapter of Global Medical and Dental Brigades. She facilitated patient care by assisting healthcare providers across numerous specialties, advocated for community health by organizing educational opportunities for local youth, and addressed public health concerns by assisting locals in building eco-stoves and water canals. After graduation, she worked as a behavior technician, supporting students with autism, and on a crisis phone line that serviced underserved counties in Washington. Before entering graduate school, she spent a year working as a laboratory genetic counseling assistant with the laboratory stewardship team at Seattle Children's Hospital. In this role, she conducted research that investigated common barriers to genetic testing coordination with the goal of improving resource utilization. In her free time, Megan enjoys spending time with her friends and dogs, watching movies and reality TV (her guilty pleasure), exploring nearby restaurants and bars, playing board games, and trying out new recipes.

Liana Cole

Liana Cole grew up in Northfield, Minnesota. She stayed in her hometown to complete her B.A. in Biology at St. Olaf College, with concentrations in Biomolecular Science and Gender and Sexuality Studies. In undergrad, Liana researched pattern formation and metabolism in the model organism Tetrahymena thermophila, and worked as a lab TA. She also gained exposure to qualitative research methods through an internship at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy. Following graduation, Liana worked as a clinical research assistant in the Angelman Syndrome research group at Boston Children’s Hospital for two years, where she was continually awed by the tireless dedication and advocacy of families in the AS community. Liana has served as a crisis counselor for the Crisis Text Line and Trevor Project, and SafeZone Project facilitator to promote an affirming environment for LGBTQ+ patients, families, and staff at BCH. In her free time, Liana likes to read (especially sci-fi, nonfiction, and graphic novels), play word games, draw and paint, and begin exploring the bike trails in the Twin Cities.

Iris Pantovich

Iris Pantovich was born and raised in Rochester, MN. She graduated from the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities in 2019 with a B.A in Biology, Society, & Environment and a minor in Health Psychology. During her undergraduate career, she was an active member of the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority and volunteered in the Blood and Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at the M Health-Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center. As a research assistant for the U, she coded behaviors of romantic dyads making decisions on finances and time spent as a couple. After graduation, Iris worked as a medical scribe at the M Health-Fairview Clinics and Surgery Center before transitioning to a clinical laboratory technologist position at Mayo Clinic’s microarray laboratory. Here, she fell in love with the genetic counseling profession and was able to get connected with and shadow genetic counselors in many different specialties. Outside of work, she volunteered as a crisis counselor for the Crisis Text Line, as well as a Family Activities volunteer for the Ronald McDonald House. Iris will also continue to work as a genetic counseling assistant for the Mayo Clinic during her time in graduate school. In her free time, she enjoys taking workout classes, shopping, spending time with her partner, and pining after cute cats on adoption websites.

Abby Rich

Abigail Rich is from Elk Grove Village, Illinois. She graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a B.S. in Integrative Biology with high distinction in research and a minor in Chemistry. Her undergraduate research in the Kukekova Laboratory focused on determining common haplotypes of the maternally expressed gene 3 (MEG3) in red fox populations and investigating how each one influences tame and aggressive behavior in these foxes. Abigail also co-founded the first genetic counseling interest group at her undergraduate institution and organized group volunteering sessions, professional development workshops, and guest speaker events to provide resources to prospective GC students. She also served as a peer advisor for the School of Integrative Biology and a sexual abuse hotline volunteer at RACES in Urbana, Illinois. During the summer before her senior year, she interned for a reproductive genetics laboratory, Igenomix, where she learned about preconception genetic counseling and pre-implantation genetic testing. In her free time, she enjoys singing/songwriting, staying active, cooking, and exploring local restaurants.

Mili Meredith

Mili Meredith was born in London, England and raised in Arlington Heights, Illinois. She graduated with Honors in Research from the University of Wisconsin - Madison in 2022 with Bachelor of Science degrees in both Genetics and Genomics and Psychology, as well as a certificate in Health and the Humanities. During her undergraduate career, Mili had the privilege of working in a psychobiology lab with non-human primates (NHP) to elucidate the effects of early life stress on long-term health and development. During this time Mili also volunteered at both the Dane County Rape Crisis Center, providing emotional support and resources over the phone to survivors of sexual assault and their support persons, and Gigi’s Playhouse, where she was a one-on-one literacy tutor to a student with Down syndrome. Mili was also an active member of the University of Wisconsin Swim Club (SCUW), for which she served as the social chair. After graduation, Mili worked for a year as a Genetic Counseling Assistant at the University of Utah in the department of Pediatric Neurology in Salt Lake City, UT. In her free time, Mili enjoys swimming, hiking, reading, cooking and spending time with her golden retriever, Sunny.

Emma Garval

Emma Garval grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She earned her B.A. degree in Molecular Biology from Scripps College in 2021. During college, Emma explored different research areas, spending time working in a psychology lab, a chemical biology lab, and as a summer intern in the epidemiology department at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. For her senior thesis project, she worked with the ClinGen Biocuration Core at UNC-Chapel Hill to perform a systematic review on predictors of phenotypic severity for the metabolic disorder VLCADD. After graduating, Emma got a job at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio where she worked as a clinical research coordinator in the hospital's Institute for Genomic Medicine. In this role she worked with a team of research genetic counselors to support several translational genomics studies. In Columbus, Emma also volunteered as a helpline advocate with the Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio (SARNCO) and a side-walker for therapeutic horseback riding classes. In her free time, she enjoys weightlifting, watching reality TV shows, spending time outside, spending time with her partner, and petting cats.

Jennifer Holt

Jennifer Holt was born in New Brunswick, Canada, grew up in Pennsylvania, and moved to Maple Grove, Minnesota in high school. She attended the University of Minnesota, Twin-Cities, graduating cum laude with a B.S. in Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development. As an undergraduate, Jennifer was passionate about engaging with the U’s APIDA community, taking on multiple board positions within the Korean Student Association and serving as an officer for the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers. She also enjoyed working as a teaching assistant for undergraduate biology courses throughout college and mentoring high school interns at the Bell Museum during the summer of her junior year. In her senior year, she conducted research examining the evolution of snake venom alpha-neurotoxin resistance for members of the mammal families Herpestidae and Viverridae. To explore her growing interest in genetic counseling, Jennifer participated in the Johns Hopkins Summer GC Intern program and took a gap year to work at GeneDx as a laboratory genetic counseling assistant. In her free time, Jennifer loves playing board games/video games and spending time with her cats (and meeting new ones).

Marcus Peterson

Marcus Peterson grew up in Chisago City, Minnesota, where he spent many days enjoying the  lakes for which the state is famous. He attended the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, where his time volunteering as a Spanish interpreter at the Phillips Neighborhood Clinic piqued his interest in community health and science communication. After graduating with a B.A. in Spanish and a B.S. in Biology, he spent three years working in the fast-paced world of emergency medicine as a medical scribe, followed by three years working in a Health Information Management role at the Community-University Health Care Center (CUHCC), which provides primary care, dental, and mental health services to low-income families in Minneapolis. Outside of class, you can find Marcus at brewery trivia with his partner, on a brisk walk around his South Minneapolis neighborhood, or engaged in a grim struggle against the weeds in his backyard garden.

Naomi Moresi

Naomi Moresi was born in the Bay Area, California and then moved around during her childhood to Colorado, Arizona, far North Queensland Australia ultimately ending up back in the Bay Area. She graduated cum laude from the University of Washington Seattle with Interdisciplinary Honors and a B.S in Psychology. During her undergraduate career, she worked in a research lab investigating familial relationships and emotional regulation in the context of pediatric cancer diagnoses. Additionally, she worked in a separate genetics and genomics laboratory conducting analysis of variants in budding yeast to study the functions of human genetic variants that contribute to metabolic deficiencies, specifically in relation to caffeine resistance in yeast and TOR signaling. During her time in this lab she was awarded first place for the undergraduate poster awards by the Genetics Society of America's at the 2022 Yeast Genetics Meeting and published a first author paper about “Caffeine-tolerant mutations selected through an at-home yeast experimental evolution teaching lab”. After she graduated in 2022, Naomi transitioned to working in patient care at an IVF clinic where she was exposed to prenatal genetic counselors. In her free time Naomi enjoys going to the gym, baking, hiking and trying to explore the Midwest as she can!

Melanie LeMinh

Melanie LeMinh was born in Neenah, Wisconsin, and moved to Minnesota in 2012. She graduated with High Distinction from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, in the Fall of 2022 with a B.S. in Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development. As an undergraduate, she conducted research in a genetics laboratory in which she studied how cell surface signals affect downstream signaling and the morphology of wing development in Drosophila melanogaster. Melanie also worked as a volunteer Welcome Week Leader and volunteered as a crisis text line counselor. In addition, she worked for ACR homes in which she advocated for people with disabilities and cared for their everyday needs and wellbeing. She developed her passion for genetic counseling by being a member of the pre-genetic counseling club, and attending a summer genetic counseling internship through the Medical College of Wisconsin. After graduation, Melanie volunteered for Alexandra house, an organization whose goal is to help survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault. She volunteered at the domestic abuse shelter and was also a volunteer hospital advocate in which she would meet sexual assault survivors and support them through evidence collection kits and provide resources for mental health, legal services, and counseling. In her free time, she loves outdoor activities, embroidering, playing golf, watching tv shows, traveling, and spending time with friends and family

PhD students

Elise Travis

Elise Travis grew up in Tracy, California. In 2017, she was the first in my family to graduate college from California State University, East Bay with a B.S. in General Biology. After graduation, Elise worked full time as a lab associate at a biotech start up in the Bay area and also worked part time as an advocate at Ruby's Place and A Safe Place Emergency shelter. Elise’s involvement in the genetic counseling community began in 2019 at the NSGC conference in Salt Lake City, Utah where she met UMN genetic counseling alumni, joined the Minority Genetics Professional Network (MGPN), and met many Black genetic counselors who still mentor her today. In 2020, Elise moved to Ohio to attend Case Western Reserve University. In Cleveland, she worked at the VA hospital and completed her Master of Arts in Bioethics and Medical Humanities under the leadership of Dr. Patricia Marshall, Dr. Marsha Michie, and Dr. Aaron Goldenberg. Elise’s capstone research project on Black infant mortality in Northern California was presented at the 2021 CDC Place and Health Conference. In Fall 2021, Elise moved back to the Bay Area and worked at Genentech where she served on the Global Ethics Committee and member of the Oncology Biomarker Development (OBD) DEI Committee. In January 2022, she worked as an IRTA scholar at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) with the Genetic Counseling team in Bethesda, Maryland. In her free time, Elise enjoys traveling, baking, spending time with her King Charles Cavalier, and connecting with other current genetic counselors and prospective genetic counseling students in the GOLDEN network.

Jacque Lyman grew up in Chandler, Arizona and graduated summa cum laude from Northern Arizona University with degrees in Biology and Spanish and a minor in Chemistry. During her undergraduate career, she worked as a researcher in conservation genetics and developed a noninvasive assay to detect environmental DNA of an endangered mammal. She studied abroad for two semesters in Spain at the University of Alicante where she took classes in ocean sports, culinary arts, and molecular genetics. Additionally, she interned in an andrology research lab optimizing gamete selection for assisted reproduction. Jacque was an Honors student mentor, crisis counselor with Crisis Text Line, and a volunteer for children with limb differences. She founded Northern Arizona University’s first multidisciplinary campus organization for Women in STEM to promote inclusion and advancement for underrepresented students. Jacque is an only child, despite being raised alongside a blue and gold macaw named Booboo. In her free time, Jacque enjoys hiking, snowboarding, and petting dogs.

Alana Rodney

Alana Rodney is originally from Baton Rouge, LA. She graduated in 2019 from the University of Missouri with a Bachelor’s in Biological Sciences. As an undergraduate she did research in maize genetics and worked as a mentor for underrepresented students in science. She also completed a Master’s in Animals Science from the University of Missouri, with a focus in genes involved in feline oral squamous cell carcinoma. She is now a dual PhD/Genetic counseling student and works in Dr. Michael Koob’s lab and studies the genetic mechanisms involved in Alzheimer’s. In her free time, she enjoys walking Lake Bde Maka Ska, serving in her community, and listening to live music.