Simons Searchlight Staff
Jamie Atondo, GC, MS Geisinger
Jamie Atondo graduated from Lycoming College with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology with a minor in psychology in December 2018. She then attended the University of Pennsylvania for her Masters of Science in Genetic Counseling degree and graduated in May 2021. Her thesis project focused on parental perceptions and opinions of their child’s genetic testing for hearing loss. Jamie joined the Simons Searchlight team in 2021 as a genetic counselor working on variant interpretation and helping families navigate the complexities of their genetic information and genetic testing results. While not working on Simons Searchlight, Jamie is a clinical genetic counselor in pediatric neurology. Outside of work Jamie enjoys playing with her dog, reading and traveling.
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.
Elisheva Dubin, MS Columbia University
Elisheva graduated Sarah Lawrence College with a Masters in Human Genetics and Genetic Counseling. Upon graduating, Elisheva worked in numerous fields of genetics including but not limited to oncology, carrier screening and cardiology. As she explored a diverse set of specialties, she discovered her passion was connecting with individuals in the neurodiverse community. In her spare time she enjoys spending time with family and friends.
Tamar Forman, MS Columbia University
Tamar graduated from Yeshiva University. After graduating she worked as an IVF coordinator at a fertility practice. Tamar received her masters in genetic counseling from Long Island University. In 2019 she began her career as a clinical genetic counselor at Columbia University Medical Center in the general genetics clinic. In her spare time, Tamar enjoys running, reading, and spending time with family and friends.
LeeAnne Green Snyder, PhD Simons Foundation
LeeAnne Green Snyder is a licensed pediatric neuropsychologist and has been working with families, students and researchers in the field of neurodevelopmental disabilities for over 25 years. She began her studies with the first investigation of oxytocin changes in autism, and went on to work with the Simons Foundation Autism Research initiative on their genetic cohorts, the Simons Simplex Collection and Simons Searchlight, over 10 years ago. LeeAnne helps to manage the collection, care and use of the Simons Searchlight phenotyping data, so that researchers around the world, and ultimately families, will benefit from this resource.
Jane Hong, AB Simons Foundation
Jane graduated with an A.B. in Science, Technology, and Society from Brown University. As she taught music and art to pediatric patients with neurodevelopmental disorders, she found her passion for creating meaningful connections within the neurodiverse community. Prior to joining the team, she worked at Autistar, which is a design company educating and employing artists with an autism spectrum disorder in Seoul, South Korea. Whether she is building Searchlight’s voice through communications and outreach or working with the Geisinger team on data visualization, she is excited to play a part in shedding light on rare neurodevelopmental genetic disorders through Simons Searchlight.
Stanley Jean, MBA Simons Foundation
Stanley Jean joined the Simons Foundation in August of 2020 as a Product Analyst under the SPARK umbrella. Prior to joining the Foundation, Jean worked as a Business Analyst, as well as other technical roles, within the healthcare, insurance, and finance domains. There, he experienced new and upcoming technologies and implemented many large scale projects. Jean obtained his MBA here in New York City at Mercy College with a concentration in Managerial Analytics. During his downtime, Jean enjoys traveling, hitting the gym, boarding with dog (Nova), and having a good time with friends.
Erica Jones, MA Simons Foundation
Erica holds a Master of Arts degree in Communication with Integrated Marketing Communication Concentration from Suffolk University in Boston, MA. Her professional career has been dedicated to the nonprofit, education, and communications industries. Her work has focused on researching, building, and coordinating programs that amplify untapped voices, causes, and stories. She is passionate about how storytelling and targeted messaging can create long-lasting impact and positive change. No matter which hat she’s wearing, her goal is simple — to empower and support organizations and thought leaders to drive measurable results through game-changing outreach campaigns, partnerships, relationship building, events, and strategic communications initiatives. Erica is thrilled to join Simons Searchlight and bring these skills to such a passionate team. When not working, Erica enjoys competitive puzzling, exploring nature, cooking, and traveling!
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.
Misia Kowanda, PhD, MSc, CGC Geisinger
Misia 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 Genetic Counseling master’s project focused on environmental exposures of people with Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy. In her free time, she enjoys running, dancing and hiking.
Alisha Sarakki, MPH Simons Foundation
Alisha Sarakki joined the foundation in January 2023 as a Research Coordinator with Simons Searchlight. She works closely with her team to help coordinate conferences, design data reports, and communicate relevant scientific findings to both the research and participant community. Prior to joining, she worked as a Project Coordinator at Columbia University on several COVID-19 epidemiology studies and telehealth program evaluation. She has also worked on studies related to maternal health, urologic cancer, and dance physiology. Alisha holds a BA from Scripps College and an MPH from Columbia University.
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.
Rebecca Smith, LGC, MS Geisinger
Becky Smith 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.
Cora Taylor, PhD Geisinger
Cora Taylor is an assistant professor and clinical psychologist at Geisinger and principal investigator for Simons Searchlight. Prior to coming to Geisinger, Dr. Taylor completed her graduate training at the University of Tennessee, and a research and clinical postdoctoral fellowship at Vanderbilt University. She has expertise in the diagnostic evaluation of children with a range of developmental concerns. At Geisinger, Dr. Taylor conducts research, and leads the phenotypic battery selection and administration on a variety of current research protocols at Geisinger, with a focus on the phenotypic characterization of individuals with rare genetic conditions. Dr. Taylor has experience in engaging families and family-based organizations for rare genetic conditions in research through online participation that is offered internationally to interested patients and families.
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
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 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 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.