SRI Team


Josh Steffen, Ph.D.

SRI Director; Associate Professor Lecturer

Josh Steffen, Ph.D.

SRI Director; Associate Professor Lecturer
Josh received his BA in biology and secondary education from St. Olaf College. He carried his Ph.D. and post-doctoral research at the University of Utah where he studied plant reproductive development with Gary in the lab of Gary Drews. He carried out post-doctoral research in the lab of Richard Clark where he studied natural variation in gene expression. Over the past 8 years he has held faculty positions at Colby-Sawyer College and Utah Valley University where he focussed on undergraduate education. In 2018 he accepted a position in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Utah. Currently, Josh manages the Science Research Initiative (SRI), teaches courses associated with the SRI, and mentors multiple undergraduate research groups. Undergraduates working with Josh are using metagenomic approaches to characterize pollinator foraging behaviors, attempting to identify novel antimicrobials, and carry out genetic analysis of maize mutants.
 joshua.steffen@utah.edu

Heather Briggs, Ph.D.

SRI Associate Director; Associate Instructor

Heather Briggs, Ph.D.

SRI Associate Director; Associate Instructor
Heather completed a M.S. at the University of Michigan (Natural Resources) and a Ph.D at the University of California, Santa Cruz (Environmental Studies & Ecology and Evolutionary Biology). She went on to complete two postdoctoral positions, first at Harvard, then at UC Irvine. Heather now helps manage the SRI where she empowers students to work through hypothesis generation, experimentation, and interpretation. As an evolutionary community ecologist, Heather’s research is motivated by the desire to understand how variation in community context influences the outcome of biotic interactions. Through the exploration of the various determinants of insect behavior, plant ecology, and floral evolution, her research considers the importance of context-dependent interactions from both the plant and pollinator perspectives.
 heather.briggs@utah.edu

Ryan M. Stolley, Ph.D.

SRI Associate Director; Associate Instructor

Ryan M. Stolley, Ph.D.

SRI Associate Director; Associate Instructor
Ryan received his BS in chemistry from Fort Lewis College and Ph.D in organic chemistry from the University of Utah. He then conducted a post-doctoral appointment at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’ Center for Molecular Electrocatalysis. After PNNL, he was a AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow in the US Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies office. Ryan is currently an assistant research professor in the chemistry department where he works with numerous groups as a synthetic chemistry specialist, co-director of the SRI, and chairperson of the Salt Lake section of the American Chemical Society. Ryan’s research is in fundamental organic and organometallic chemistry uncovering new reaction paradigms using underexplored or entirely new functional groups, exotic ligands for rare-earth element coordination, and a variety of exotic conducting materials.
 801-581-6538
 ryan.stolley@utah.edu

Laura Rupert

SRI Program Manager

Laura Rupert

SRI Program Manager
Laura received B.S. degrees in Geography (emphasis in climate change and landscape dynamics) and Environmental Studies (emphasis in air, water and health) from the University of Utah. Her research experience includes undergraduate field work in the Fijian Islands with a focus on water quality in fresh- and saltwater systems. Within the SRI, she coordinates day-to day operations of the program to facilitate collaboration and communication among college leadership, faculty, students, postdocs and staff.
 L.rupert@utah.edu

SRI Fellows

 

Rodolfo Probst, Ph.D.

SRI Fellow

Rodolfo Probst, Ph.D.

SRI Fellow
Rodolfo received his B.Sc. in Biology at the State University of São Paulo and an M.Sc. in Systematics, Taxonomy, and Biodiversity at the University of São Paulo, both in Brazil. He recently obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Utah (Ecology, Evolutionary and Organismal Biology), where he investigated the evolution of ant-plant mutualistic interactions while working in the lab of Jack Longino. His research uses genomic tools, taxonomy, and natural history to understand ant-plant symbioses. He is led by his interest in insect evolution and his passion for tropical fieldwork, teaching the public about bugs and conservation, and exploring the outdoors. When not at the lab or collecting ants, he likes going road biking and hiking around Utah, cooking, and writing poetry.
 rodolfo.probst@utah.edu

Mikhael Semaan, Ph.D.

SRI Fellow

Mikhael Semaan, Ph.D.

SRI Fellow
Mikhael received twin BSes in Electrical Engineering and Physics from California State University, Long Beach, before continuing to the University of California, Davis for his Physics PhD. While at Davis, he taught active learning-based courses geared towards bioscience majors and cultivated a passion for scientific communication between disciplines. His research centers on how pattern and structure emerge in “complex systems:” how do we discover nature's patterns? How do we recognize a forest's structure as intricate, but a coin flip's as simple? Tackling these questions involves a combination of techniques from physics, mathematics, and computer science—applied in such seemingly unrelated areas as finance and cardiology! As an SRI Fellow, Mikhael is most excited to equip students not just with these tools but with the skills to build new ones, so that they might carry them across disciplinary boundaries throughout their chosen careers.
 m.t.semaan@utah.edu

Austin Green, Ph.D.

SRI Fellow

Austin Green, Ph.D.

SRI Fellow
Austin Green is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Utah under the Science Research Initiative (SRI) and one of the leaders of Wasatch Wildlife Watch (WWW). Both the SRI and WWW are all about providing experiential and research-based learning and mentorship opportunities to undergraduate students and volunteer citizen scientists. Austin’s research goals are to help elucidate how human influence affects wildlife distribution and behavior in an effort to apply this knowledge to on-the-ground wildlife conservation. Austin is passionate about teaching and interacting with people, and he firmly believes that the best way to protect the wild lands we all love is to approach it with inclusive community engagement. He is excited to not only contribute to science and conservation on a local level, but it also help provide valuable evidence about human-wildlife interactions across the globe.
 austin.m.green@utah.edu

Kasey Cole, Ph.D.

SRI Fellow

Kasey Cole, Ph.D.

SRI Fellow
Kasey recently received a Ph.D. in Anthropology, with an emphasis in zooarchaeology (the study of animal bones from archaeological sites) and paleoecology, at the University of Utah. As a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Science Research Initiative, she is studying the fossil animal remains recovered from Utah’s high-elevation cave deposits to establish what animal communities looked like prior to anthropogenic climate change. Using this data, her work compares these past records with recent zoological survey data to evaluate whether ongoing climate change has contributed to range shifts or local extinctions, as has been predicted for the region’s montane mammals. Her research is interdisciplinary, incorporating theory and methods from Anthropology, Ecology, Geology, and Climate and Environmental Sciences. As a mentor, she strives to build a collaborative research environment aimed at equipping students with transferable skills and experience with science communication.
 kasey.cole@utah.edu

Robyn Brooks, Ph.D.

SRI Fellow

Robyn Brooks, Ph.D.

SRI Fellow
Robyn Brooks received a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Tulane University in 2020. She was a Visiting Assistant Professor at Boston College from 2020-2023, and in the Fall of 2023, is a Postdoctoral scholar at Brown University at the Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics. Her research interests lie in Algebraic and Computational Topology, including multi-parameter persistence, as well as in Knot Theory, Functor Calculus, and most recently, in using topology to understand feed forward neural networks. As a fellow at the University of Utah, she will continue to research the theory and applications of Topological Data Analysis. TDA can be used to tackle any scientific question with associated data, and has broad applications in finding meaning shapes and patterns within data from any field. As a mentor, she encourages creativity when approaching problem solving, and hopes to build confidence in technical communication and collaboration skills.
 robyn.brooks@utah.edu

Maira Alves Constantino, Ph.D.

SRI Fellow

Maira Alves Constantino, Ph.D.

SRI Fellow