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2022 Presidential Postdoctoral Fellows

New Brunswick

  • Photo of Evelyn Autry in a black and pink floral shirt.
    • Priority Area: Race, Racism, and Inequality
    • Discipline: Latin American Studies, Andean Indigenous Studies, Peruvian Literature, Memory and Testimonial Studies
    • Mentor: Dr. Ethel Brooks 
    • Mentor's Discipline: Sociology & Gender Studies 
    • School: School of Arts and Sciences (SAS)
    • Department: Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies 

    Dr. Evelyn Saavedra Autry’s research creates a conversation between various fields of knowledge, particularly Indigenous epistemologies and pedagogies, literature, cultural studies on (de)coloniality, and gender studies through the analysis of a specific identity experience: Andean women’s identity formation. In her current book project, Race, Gender, and Memory in Narratives of the Andes, Dr. Saavedra Autry constructs a genealogy of gender and sexual violence that offers an in-depth examination of the colonial mechanisms behind the objectification of Indigenous women. This book asks, in what ways do cultural productions configure racialized women? How do traditional and contemporary narratives of gendered violence represent indigenized female bodies? How is knowledge production about Indigenous women’s experiences shaping memory politics and human rights discourses? Aside from working on this monograph, as a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow, she will teach graduate seminars on decoloniality, Indigenous feminisms, and social justice, and will also participate in the RCHA-Repairing the Past Project as a faculty fellow, coordinating the first Andean Studies Working Group at Rutgers. Dr. Saavedra Autry obtained her Ph.D. in Hispanic Studies from the University of Georgia and worked as a Postdoctoral Associate in the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) at Rutgers University. As a scholar committed to advocating for Indigenous studies, she is designing future research that also engages with anti-racist theorizing and decoloniality. Her background as an immigrant from the Andean Global South, the interdisciplinary nature of her work, and her commitment to liberal arts education contribute to diversifying WGSS/SAS curriculum and broadening Rutgers’ diversity and inclusive academic excellence.

  • Jennifer Sun
    • Priority Area: Health Equity and Advancing STEM Diversity
    • Discipline: Biochemistry, Microbiology, Neuroscience, and Entomology 
    • Mentor’s Name: Dr. Yana Bromberg 
    • Mentor’s Discipline: Bioinformatics 
    • School: School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS)
    • Department: Biochemistry and Microbiology

    Dr. Jennifer S. Sun’s research combines her expertise in microbiology, entomology, neuroscience, and biochemistry to investigate how insects’ sense of smell can be altered by the bacteria which reside in their gut. Insects use their sense of smell to locate mates and food sources which, for biting insects, may include human hosts. Internal bacterial composition (endosymbionts) can alter insect behaviors like mating and digestion, but we do not have conclusive evidence that insect olfaction also changes. As a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Sun will employ an interdisciplinary approach to understand if and how endosymbionts enable insect vectors to locate suitable hosts, with the aim of providing better insight into the mechanism of olfaction across species through the study of a highly evolutionarily conserved interspecies relationship. Moreover, Dr. Sun will work on identifying novel mechanisms for keeping biting insects at bay, thereby promoting Health Equity by creating a more healthful physical environment via community-based disease prevention projects. Dr. Sun obtained her Ph.D. in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology from Yale University and postdoctoral training in infectious diseases from Princeton University. As a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow, she will establish a research laboratory and develop a course curriculum based on immersive research experiences. Her years dedicated to teaching and mentoring for the enhancement of minority participation in STEAM, and the overall improvement of high school and college-level students’ prowess, will inevitably be perpetuated in her role as future a Rutgers faculty.

  • Taylor Carmon
    • Priority Area: Advancing STEM Diversity
    • Discipline: Lipid Biochemistry
    • Mentor’s Name: Dr. George M. Carman
    • Mentor’s Discipline: Lipid Biochemistry
    • School: School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS)
    • Department: Institute for Food Nutrition & Health

    Dr. Taylor Carmon is well-versed in microbiological and biochemical techniques. His specific research surrounds elucidating the role of PAH1 in lipogenesis and to study the effects of the loss of PAH1 on the lipidome and transcriptome. Triacylglycerol, commonly referred to as fat, is stored in the lipid droplets of adipose tissue as a highly concentrated store of metabolic energy. It is well known that too much fat results in obesity, which may result in other metabolic disorders that include diabetes and high blood pressure. On the other hand, too little fat results in lipodystrophy, which may result in inflammatory disease and cancer. Dr. Carmon’s research will consist of exploring and further understanding the regulation of fat metabolism, which is a vital process, as it can lead to pharmacological strategies to ameliorate fat-related diseases. Dr. Carmon obtained his Ph.D. with honors in Food Science-Molecular Food Biotechnology from Alabama A&M University, where he worked as a graduate research assistant, studying the PAH1 gene in Yarrowia liplytica and serving as a teacher and mentor to undergraduate students. During his Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship, Dr. Carmon will utilize the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae as a model organism and basis to understand phosphorylation-mediated mechanisms involved in regulating the PAP enzyme. Additionally, he will mentor undergraduate research students in lipid biochemistry and give lectures in the undergraduate course, Food Chemistry.

  • Teona Williams
    • Priority Area: Race, Racism, and Inequality
    • Discipline: Geography, Black Studies
    • Mentor’s Name: Dr. D. Asher Ghertner
    • Mentor’s Discipline: Geography, Political Ecology, India
    • School: School of Arts and Sciences (SAS)
    • Department: Geography

    Dr. Teona Williams is a critical human geographer who specializes in Black and Indigenous Geographies and Black ecologies. Her research and work show how a focus on the histories of rural Black women re-map the contours of antiblackness, the Black Radical Tradition, ecological degradation, and settler colonialism. Dr. Williams’ dissertation, Okay Now: Gender and Ecology in the Black Radical Tradition maps an environmental, spatial, and social history of the Mississippi Delta from the perspective of poor rural Afro-Indigenous and Black women. It focuses on twentieth-century histories of Black geographies, critical disaster studies, and Black Feminist cartographies. Dr. Williams hails from Yale University, where she earned her Ph.D. in History and African American Studies. During her time as a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Williams will work on turning her dissertation into a book manuscript. Okay Now is an exploration of rural Black feminists' interventions on food access, disaster relief, and welfare reform from the 1930s through the 1990s, and the impact of their political practices on contemporary Black feminist writers. Dr. Williams’ work will include conducting archival research in Mississippi and adding new chapters that will focus on Black feminist writers' intervention in ecology.

    Aside from being a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Williams is also a Research Assistant in Food Justice at the Smithsonian Institute: Anacostia Community Museum as well as an Academic and Professional Development Fellow in the Office of Graduate Student Diversity and Development at Yale’s Graduate School.

    Dr. Williams is also a member of the 2022-2024 postdoctoral cohort at the Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice and will be appointed in Geography as a named term chair, a Mellon Assistant Professor in Global Racial Justice, in 2024.


  • Carla Macias
    • Priority Area: Advancing STEM Diversity
    • Discipline: Cognitive Psychology, Developmental Psychology
    • Mentor’s Name: Dr. Kimele Persaud
    • Mentor’s Discipline: Cognitive Psychology, Episodic Memory
    • School: School of Arts and Sciences-Newark (SASN)
    • Department: Psychology

    Dr. Carla Macias' research lies at the intersection of computational methods and cognitive psychology. More specifically, her research surrounds cognitive development and how children and adults use their expectations about the world to guide their attention and memory. Dr. Macias continuously explores how learners decide what information to attend to, keep track of, and encode from their environment for later use.  In her dissertation, she used behavioral methods to examine how expectation-violating events impact learning outcomes in both children and adults. As a Rutgers Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow in the Memory and Computational Cognitive lab at Rutgers-Newark, she intends to further explore the underlying cognitive processes that guide and facilitate better memory for different kinds of expectation-related information (e.g., expectation-violating information) by using both behavioral assessments and computational approaches. In doing so, she hopes to better understand the different factors that contribute to and explain when and why learners better remember different kinds of expectation-related information. Additionally, Dr. Macias is a DEI champion, having worked with the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee at Rutgers University and having been the co-founder of the Black in Psych Organization and other notable groups. She aims to adjust the curriculum for the Rutgers-Newark undergraduate course, Cognitive Processes, to be more inclusive in terms of its selected readings and utilized research samples. Dr. Macias received her Ph.D. in Developmental Cognitive Psychology from Rutgers University-Newark. She also participated in multiple fellowship programs, including the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program and the Rutgers Deans Dissertation Fellowship.

  • Joshua Gills
    • Priority Area: Health Equity
    • Discipline: Exercise Physiology, Gerontology, Cognitive Decline, Alzheimer's disease and related dementia
    • Mentor’s Name: Mark A. Gluck
    • Mentor’s Discipline: Cognitive Neuroscience
    • School: School of Arts and Sciences-Newark (SASN)
    • Department: Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience

    Dr. Joshua Gills comes from a thorough educational and research background that includes exercise and cognitive research protocols, biostatistics and experimental design, and physiology/kinesiology. He is the co-coordinator over an NIA-funded randomized controlled trial examining the effects of aerobic exercise on brain health in older African Americans, where he oversees the study’s day-to-day operations, as well as writes manuscripts and concurrent administrative grant proposals. This trial aims to address the health disparity gap by providing exercise classes and bi-yearly brain health check-ups for African Americans in Newark and surrounding communities, with hopes of improving health outcomes and reducing the risk for Alzheimer's disease and related dementias which disproportionally affect African Americans.

    Dr. Gills obtained his Ph.D. in Health, Sport, and Exercise Science from the University of Arkansas. He has experience as a graduate research assistant on an NIH-SBIR grant within the Exercise Science Research Center, where he conducted high-quality data collection and analyses for a study focusing on lifestyle interventions to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. During his Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship, he will analyze novel diagnostic biomarkers in older African Americans pre- and post-intervention, obtain proficiency in administering novel cognitive assessments, and participate in community engagement to help recruit Black men as research participants to improve representation and diversity, equity, and inclusion in research. Additionally, he will co-teach an Introduction to Neuroscience course with his mentor, Mark Gluck, guest lecture in exercise science classes, and create a seminar course on exercise and brain health.

  • Kareem Willis
    • Priority Area: Race, Racism, and Inequality
    • Discipline: Nonprofit Management and Administration; Philanthropy; Social Equity and Justice
    • Mentor’s Name: Dr. Lindsey M. McDougle
    • Mentor’s Discipline: Voluntarism, philanthropy, nonprofit management, and social inequality
    • School: School of Public Affairs and Administration

    Dr. Kareem K.M. Willis is a social justice scholar-practitioner who explores the underlying social equity and social justice issues defined within public administration, nonprofit management, leadership, and philanthropy. His recent research project, Sustaining Safe Spaces, directly engaged social justice philanthropy to assess how the philanthropic community hinders or advances social justice work. Throughout his Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship, he will actively engage in research that integrates more liberating and emancipatory methods in research (e.g., qualitative methods, community-based participatory research (CBPR), etc.). Using these methods, his research will deploy critical theories to help redress centuries of oppression and reimagine systems that perpetuate injustices for people with marginalized identities and assess how equity and justice can be proactively integrated into Public Administration programs and curriculums.

    His current focus is on critical interrogation of the relationship between grantmaking foundations and their grant recipients to assess how philanthropy hinders or bolsters social justice work. Additionally, as an instructor, he will facilitate courses in the discipline of Public and Nonprofit Administration. This pedagogical engagement will aid his mission to revolutionize the learning environment through his commitment to using culturally responsive practices and critical perspectives to supplement the training offered to those charged with (and aspiring towards) fulfilling the public good, so that they can maximize their impact.

    Dr. Kareem K.M. Willis earned his Ph.D. in Public Administration from Rutgers University-Newark, with concentrations in nonprofit management, philanthropy, and social justice. His extensive professional experience includes work as a graduate fellow and course instructor at Rutgers University-Newark. Additionally, Dr. Willis founded Radically Uncommon Consulting and Advisement Group, which helps organizations assess, conceptualize, and execute policies and initiatives to address systemic racism, inequity, and injustice.