Simons Searchlight Staff

Lindsey Cartner, BS   Simons Foundation

Lindsey Cartner joined the Simons Foundation in 2016 to provide support to Simons Searchlight. Since then she has also joined the SPARK team and taken on increasing responsibilities in Simons Searchlight. She works closely planning internal and off-site events, often coordinating with Simons Searchlight participants. Before joining the Simons Foundation, Cartner worked as an account manager in the marketing industry on experiential brand awareness projects and events. She studied at Virginia Tech, where she earned her B.S. in Management: Entrepreneurship and Consulting from the Pamplin College of Business.

Wendy Chung, MD, PhD   Simons Foundation

Wendy Chung is director of clinical research at SFARI (Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative) and the principal investigator of Simons Searchlight and SPARK. She joined the foundation in 2012, after serving on the SFARI’s Scientific Advisory Board. Her role includes managing the research program in individuals with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders, evaluating opportunities to develop new treatments including medications such as arbaclofen, and developing novel outcome measures to evaluate the efficacy of these treatments. She is involved in identifying novel genes for autism and characterizing the clinical features associated with these novel genes.  Chung delivered a TED Talk, “What We Know About Autism.”

Chung earned her undergraduate degree in biochemistry and economics from Cornell University, her M.D. from Cornell University Medical College and her Ph.D. from the Rockefeller University in human genetics. She completed her residency in pediatrics and fellowships in medical and molecular genetics at Columbia University. Chung is also the Kennedy Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine at Columbia University, where she directs the clinical genetics program and performs human genetics research.

Alexa Geltzeiler, ScM, CGC  Columbia University

Alexa Geltzeiler graduated from New York University in 2016 with a degree in psychology and genetics, and went on to earn her ScM from the Johns Hopkins/National Human Genome Research Institute genetic counseling training program. Alexa’s undergraduate research focused on the effects of emotional support between family members, and her graduate thesis was an examination of how genetic counselors discuss pregnancy loss with their patients. Alexa also works as a clinical genetic counselor at Columbia University Medical Center. In her free time, she enjoys watching baseball, reading, and exploring New York City’s museums.

Misia Kowanda, PhD  Simons Foundation

Misia Kowanda graduated from McGill University with a PhD in Biology, where she was focusing on molecular biology and genetics, with the humble fruit fly being her model organism. Before she went on to get a master’s in genetic counseling from Sarah Lawrence College, she worked on a natural history study for individuals with Peroxisomal Biogenesis Disorders. Her master’s work focused on environmental exposures for individuals with Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy. In her free time, she enjoys running, dancing and hiking.

Chris Lehman, MS   Geisinger Health System

Chris Lehman received a BA in Psychology from The Pennsylvania State University in 2012 and a MS in Experimental Psychology from Saint Joseph’s University in 2016. His undergraduate research focused on discussion of religion and non-religion in group settings while his graduate research focused on Psychological Entitlement and the effects of entitled advertising. After graduate school, Chris worked with Intermediate Unit 17 providing work-based learning experiences to students with disabilities until accepting a research position working with the Simons Searchlight team. In his spare time, Chris enjoys reading, cooking, playing video games, and listening to music.

Catherine Kentros, LGC, MMSc  Columbia University

Catherine Kentros graduated with a BSc in Neuroscience from Bishop’s University. In 2018, she completed her MSc in Genetic Counseling at the University of Montreal. In addition to being involved with Simons Searchlight, she is a clinical genetic counselor at the Children’s Hospital of New York Presbyterian. In her spare time, Catherine enjoys hiking, traveling and spending time with her friends and family.

Rebecca Sheedy, LGC, MS   Geisinger Health System

Becky Sheedy earned her Bachelor of Science in Biology with a minor in Chemistry from Lebanon Valley College in 2017.  She then earned her Masters in Genetic Counseling from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 2019.  During her time at UMD, her thesis focused on the role of genetic counselors in the recognition and prevention of sexual abuse in populations with intellectual disability.  Becky joined Simons Searchlight in 2019 as a genetic counselor, working with variant interpretation and interacting with families to help make meaning from and answer questions about genetic results.  In her free time, Becky enjoys hiking, reading, and learning to play the cello.

Kaitlyn Singer, MS   Geisinger Health System

Kaitlyn Singer earned her BS in Health Science with a Pre-Professional focus from Lock Haven University in 2011 and then completed her MS in Biomedical Anthropology at Binghamton University in 2014. During her time at graduate school, she was involved in research that looked at the effects of modernization on health as well as working on a multi-focus research project that studied Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. After graduate school, she worked as a Oncology and Hematology Clinical Research Coordinator. When Kaitlyn is not working, she enjoys being with her friends and family, trail running or hiking, attending concerts, traveling, reading and attempting new recipes.

Simone Smith, MSc   Geisinger Health System

Simone Smith graduated with a BSc in Biology and Chemistry minor from Green Mountain College in 2013. Embracing her love of travel, Simone moved to London, England to complete her MSc in History and Philosophy of Science at University College London in 2015. Upon returning to the United States, Simone accepted a research coordinator position at Geisinger Health Center, working with the Simons Searchlight team. In her free time, she enjoys relaxing with some guitar playing, taking her horse out for a trail ride, hiking with her dog, and catching up on some podcasts and documentaries.

Jennifer Tjernagel, MS   Simons Foundation

As project manager for the Simons Searchlight, Jennifer Tjernagel is responsible for managing study progress from initiation through data analysis. Previously, she was project manager for the Simons Simplex Collection, working through the University of Michigan. Before her work with the foundation, Tjernagel spent ten years in the pharmaceutical industry as an associate director of statistical analysis and reporting at Pfizer Global Research and Development, and also worked as a biostatistician for the University of Michigan Cardiology Department. She earned an undergraduate degree in mathematics from the University of Notre Dame, and an M.S. in biostatistics from the University of Michigan. Tjernagel joined the staff in 2010.

Lauren Walsh, MA  Geisinger Health System

Lauren Walsh received a BA in Cellular Neuroscience from Colgate University in 2015 and an MA in Psychological and Brain Science from Boston University in 2016. She has research experience on a range of studies from animal models to clinical genomics. Lauren currently works as a project manager at the Geisinger Autism & Developmental Medicine Institute in Pennsylvania, where she works in part on both Simons Searchlight and SPARK. In her free time, Lauren enjoys watching football, cooking, and doing crossword puzzles.

Curtis Weaver, BS   Geisinger Health System

Curtis Weaver graduated from Bucknell University with a degree in Biology in May 2019.  He also obtained a minor in Spanish.  After working with firefly genomes as a senior, he became interested in the applications of genetic research.  He was hired through Geisinger as a Research Assistant for the Simons Searchlight and SPARK projects and is planning on eventually obtaining a graduate degree.  In his free time, he enjoys reading, playing field hockey, and playing video games with friends.