DEI Council Members
The Education & Training Committee supports scientific trainees at the Institute by recommending and implementing strategies to address their needs and promoting the development of an equitable training culture that values diversity.
Hudson Freeze, Ph.D.
The Learning Committee develops and implements initiatives that promote institute-wide awareness of initiatives and best practices in DEI and help foster a diverse, inclusive community at Sanford Burnham Prebys.
The Recruitment Committee strives to create an inclusive workforce at the Institute by developing and implementing equitable recruitment practices to attract talent from groups that are historically underrepresented in STEM careers.
Cancer Center DEI Team
Adrienne Crown, J.D.
Maximiliano D’Angelo, Ph.D.
Cosimo Commisso, Ph.D.
Angelica Rocha, Ph.D.
Angelica Rocha, Ph.D., Diversity Officer and assistant director of Institutional Research and Academic Planning, Office of Education, Training, and International Services, leads Sanford Burnham Prebys’ Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Council. In this role, Rocha works closely with the various DEI committees to integrate DEI efforts at the Institute, leverage resources, drive best practices and goals, and strategize—along with her colleagues—on how to make the Institute a more equitable and inclusive environment.
Rocha is a behavioral neuroscientist completing her Ph.D. in psychology at Texas A&M University, with postdoctoral training in the Department of Neuroscience at the Medical University of South Carolina. Before joining Sanford Burnham Prebys, she was the assistant director for Student Support in the Office for Training, Research, and Education in the Sciences at California State University San Marcos (CSUSM), where she co-founded and was adviser for the first Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science chapter at CSUSM. DEI is Rocha’s passion project. She has been involved with DEI throughout her entire career, bringing experience broadening participation in the biomedical sciences through her work in NIH training initiatives, grassroot community events, and mentorship of primarily underrepresented students in the sciences.
Fabiana Izidro Layng, M.D.
Fabiana Izidro Layng earned her M.D. degree from the State University of São Paulo, Brazil. She completed a three-year residency training program in obstetrics and gynecology, followed by a two-year advanced training program in gynecologic oncology at the Brazilian Institute of Cancer Control in São Paulo. Layng joined Sanford Burnham Prebys in 2018, and currently she is a postdoctoral scholar at the Dr. Nicholas Cosford Laboratory, Cell and Molecular Biology of Cancer Program. Layng investigates the interactions of small molecule compounds with therapeutically significant proteins and cellular signaling pathways that regulate cancer cells’ growth, survival, and resistance to available cancer treatments.
Guy Salvesen, Ph.D.
Guy Salvesen earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry from Cambridge University in England in 1980. He conducted postdoctoral research at Strangeways Laboratory and the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, followed by further postdoctoral training at the University of Georgia. In 1991, he was appointed assistant professor at Duke University. Salvesen joined the Sanford Burnham Medical Research Institute in 1996, where he is now a professor and director of the Apoptosis and Cell Death Research Program, and dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. He also holds an adjunct position as professor in the Department of Pathology at the University of California, San Diego.
Araceli Ambert, director of Research Administrative Services, serves the DEI Council as co-chair of the Learning Committee. Ambert has more than 25 years of experience in public service in various areas of children’s services and the justice system. In her tenure with the Riverside County Department of Mental Health, she was a member of the Cultural Competence Committee for approximately nine years and the chair for a year and a half. Thereafter, she moved to Phoenix, where she served the public as an operations supervisor in the Juvenile Department of the Superior Court of Arizona in Maricopa County. Ambert has also earned a Fellowship with the National Center for State Courts and earned her master's degree in public administration from Grand Canyon University. Araceli’s passion for diversity, equity, and inclusion stems from her personal and professional experiences; she hopes to foster understanding through increased knowledge and positive dialogue.
Rowland Eaden, supervisor of the Procurement and Materials Operations Department, now serves as co-chair of the DEI Learning Committee. Eaden’s passion for DEI stems from personal and professional experiences, and he hopes that his work will add value to the Institute.
Kenny Venegas is the breeding-colony manager in the Animal Resources Department and has had the pleasure of working at Sanford Burnham Prebys for 24 years. As council member and co-chair of the Recruitment DEI Committee, Venegas works with a dedicated team of passionate individuals on important issues. His committee is composed of a team of individuals who are generous with their time, energy, and talent. He became interested in DEI because of its potential to lift morale and overall attitude at the employee level and because it creates an environment that respects and values individual differences at all levels.
Adrienne Crown, J.D.
Adrienne Crown is the director of Compliance and Operations, as well as the associate director, Cancer Center Administration, for the NCI-designated Cancer Center at Sanford Burnham Prebys. She oversees the Institute’s overall compliance program and large cross-departmental projects and initiatives. She is also responsible for the administrative oversight of all Cancer Center–related matters. Crown joined Sanford Burnham Prebys in 2010; she received her B.A. in American history from the University of California, San Diego; and her J.D. from the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego.
Maximiliano D’Angelo, Ph.D.
Maximiliano D’Angelo, who received his Ph.D. from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, is an associate professor in the Cell and Molecular Biology of Cancer Program. He is also the associate director, Education and Training, for the NCI-designated Cancer Center at Sanford Burnham Prebys. D’Angelo’s research focuses on the study of the role of nuclear pore complexes in cancer development, immune regulation, and muscle physiology. In his associate director role, he works to develop and implement programs for minority and disadvantaged high school and undergraduate students from the San Diego area; as well as a full continuum of educational, training, mentoring, and career-enhancing opportunities for trainees, faculty, and staff. D’Angelo joined Sanford Burnham Prebys in 2014.
Svasti Haricharan, Ph.D.
Svasti Haricharan received her B.Sc from Stella Maris College in Chennai, India; her M.Sc from the University of Leicester, UK; and her Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Haricharan completed two years of postdoctoral training at MD Anderson Cancer Center studying the effects of mutation load on breast cancer before moving to Baylor for her second postdoctoral position focused on breast cancer genomics, where she was promoted to research assistant professor. There, she developed a research program studying noncanonical roles for DNA damage repair defects in cancer. In October 2018, Haricharan joined the faculty at Sanford Burnham Prebys as an assistant professor in the Tumor Microenvironment and Cancer Immunology Program. As an Asian woman and an immigrant, Haricharan is passionate about advocating for the wider research community to acknowledge and address systemic bias in academia.
Paula Checchi, Ph.D.
Paula Checchi earned her B.S. in biology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; her Ph.D. at Emory University in Atlanta; and was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Davis. For two years, she was a faculty member at Southern Polytechnic State University—a diverse (>40% minority) institution outside of Atlanta; —and for the subsequent eight years, she was an assistant professor, then associate professor, of biology, at Marist College, a primarily undergraduate institution in Upstate New York. In the summer of 2021, she joined the Office of Education, Training, and International Services at Sanford Burnham Prebys, where she oversees outreach efforts and recruitment for the graduate program.
Tony Ngo, Ph.D.
Tony Ngo was born and raised in Sydney, Australia. He is a first-generation college student and received his Ph.D. in pharmacology from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute. He is currently exploring new molecular mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease progression and identifying suitable drug targets for treating neurodegenerative disease. Outside the lab, Ngo is passionate about volunteering, and is active in supporting community events and outreach. He is also eco-friendly and enjoys spending time with friends and family, hiking, and listening to live music.
Michaela Andrews is a San Diego native—a rarity much like four-leaf clovers. She obtained a B.A. in psychology with a minor in African American studies from San Jose State University, where she served as a mental health ambassador for Counseling and Psychological Services as well as an outreach committee member for the Black Student Union. Briefly thereafter, Andrews obtained an M.A. in strategic communications from National University.
Much like her diverse educational background, Andrews values diversity among peers and colleagues because she recognizes the value in human differences. She enjoys serving on the Learning Committee because it does not feel like work, but rather, a purposeful necessity that lends itself to cultural improvements at the Institute.
Caroline Kumsta is an assistant professor whose research focuses on studying the role of the cellular recycling process autophagy in hormetic stress responses and neurodegeneration in the nematode C. elegans. She received her Ph.D. from the Technical University in Munich, Germany, but her thesis research was performed at the University of Michigan. She joined Sanford Burnham Prebys as a postdoc; and was then promoted to staff scientist, research assistant professor, and now assistant professor.
In addition to her research, Kumsta is passionate about science education, scientific outreach, and cultivating diversity and inclusion in science. This includes giving students of all ages—and especially students from disadvantaged and underrepresented groups— opportunities to learn about scientific research in and outside of the lab and help them make informed choices about careers in STEM fields.
This is Scott McNinch’s first foray into a formal DEI effort. While he has been fortunate to experience rich diversity in life outside of work, too much of his professional life has been spent in rooms filled with people where this is the exception rather than the rule. At Sanford Burnham Prebys, he believes that we are problem solvers, seeking new solutions to address unmet medical needs. Diversity improves the approach to any big problem by increasing the likelihood of asking better questions, developing a more thorough understanding of the issue, and identifying less obvious solutions. McNinch would like to see Sanford Burnham Prebys, and biomedical research in general, improved by better reflecting the diversity in the communities outside of the Institute and by fostering an inclusive environment within the Institute that makes this possible.
Stephen Sakuma was born in a small town in Northern California and attained his bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley. He is now a graduate student in the lab of Max D’Angelo, where his work focuses on elucidating the role of modulating nuclear pore complex composition and assembly at the cellular and organismal level in the context of cancer cell biology. His passion for DEI is rooted in a desire to create a better world for everyone and to make sure that all minority groups are treated fairly.
Jianhua Zhao, Ph.D.
Jianhua Zhao is an assistant professor at Sanford Burnham Prebys. Prior to joining the Institute, he completed postdoctoral training at the University of California San Francisco and graduate studies at the University of Toronto. Zhao comes from an immigrant family and is the first member of his family to graduate from a university. He is working with the DEI Recruitment Committee to improve hiring efforts and remove socioeconomic barriers to scientific research training and education.