Helen Fellowship

Helen Fellows

Current Fellows

Lillie Schachter

A headshot of Lillie Schachter.

Lillie Schachter graduated from Connecticut College with a BA in Computer Science and spent the subsequent year instructing in Introductory CS and Data Structures courses offered there. During this time she also worked at the ‘mini bootcamp’ Apprentice100, teaching JavaScript through the framework Meteor.  

Working with Dr. Louise Crowley and Dr. Katherine St. John, Lillie lead-teaches and is currently developing the Brown Scholar high school curriculum, wherein students learn Python, SQL, and data visualization tools. Through project-based learning, the students tackle scientific questions such as categorizing influenza DNA, comparing climate change data, and the placement of turtles in the tree of life. Lillie is also the lead CS teacher of the program’s Middle School week-long workshops ‘Coding Climate Change’. She is currently implementing an interactive Python eTextbook for this workshop in an effort to export it to middle school classrooms, fully accessible on any internet-capable device.  

Throughout this fellowship, Lillie has felt particularly empowered by the opportunity to work with CS educators from around the city, seeing the methods and resources she learns in action, thereby empowering the Brown Scholars in turn.


Natalia Rodriguez Nuñez

A headshot of Natalia Rodriguez.

Natalia Rodriguez Nuñez holds a bachelor's degree in Computer Science with minors in Business and English. She has written and tinkered with Co.Labs at Fast Company, as well as authored the course for Sass recently released on Codecademy. She conducts STEM diversity outreach through the Technolochicas campaign and the Anita Borg Institute. 

In addition to collaborating with the Science Bulletins team on new media prototypes tested on museum visitors, her research focuses on building an interactive prototype explaining the ecological regions in the hall of African Peoples.  

Natalia describes her Helen Fellowship as an incredible opportunity to grow both personally and professionally, and to think outside the box and combine disciplines seemingly polarizing in any other role. 


Jessie Contour

A headshot of Jessie Contour.

Jessie Contour is a creative technologist, animator, and designer from San Diego. She received her BFA in digital art and animation in 2013 from Northeastern University in Boston. After graduating, she worked for a year in AAA game development and as a professor at Northeastern University and Lesley University. She received her MFA in design and technology in 2016 from Parsons School of Design in NYC. After graduating she started as a Helen Fellow and is also teaching part time at The New School.  

Jessie is working with Helene Alonso in the Exhibitions Dept. and Daniel Zeiger of the Discovery Room, to redesign the Discovery Room earthquake exhibit. She designed the new exhibit layout, prototyped several physical interactives for production, and is developing a new interactive map of live earthquake data. She is also contributing to the Exhibitions department’s work on the special exhibits ¡Cuba!. She is presenting her work at the Instint Conference in January 2017 in New Orleans.  

During the fellowship, Jessie has valued the opportunity to work with the talented young Brown Scholar women in a close mentoring relationship. She considers it an invaluable experience to become familiar with the type of educator that she wants to embody as she moves forward into a career in higher education.


Abrial Meyer

A headshot of Abrial Meyer.

Abrial Meyer went to Wesleyan University in Connecticut. There she double majored in Biology and Environmental Studies, with a minor in Informatics and Modeling. Abby grew up in Seattle, Washington where she became fascinated with the critters of the intertidal. In college, she focused her studies on ecology and evolution with the aim of asking and answering the huge questions in biology with computational approaches. Her thesis was on human/microbial interactions, specifically the relationship between helminths (parasitic worms) and autoimmune disorders.  

Abby works with Dr. Ward Wheeler on software to improve phylogenetic analysis of whole genome data. With increased ease of sequencing whole genomes comes increased need for robust tools for analysis of sequences in their entirety. Abby is working on aligning mitochondrial genome datasets without prior annotation. The eventual goal is to incorporate a multiple sequence aligner into Dr. Wheeler’s phylogenetic tree building software.  

Outside of research, Abby has found teaching and mentoring to be extremely fulfilling, especially watching the students become passionate about science and research. 


Carolyn Sy

A headshot of Carolyn Sy.

Carolyn Sy grew up near San Francisco and completed her bachelor’s degree at UC Berkeley, with a double major in Computer Science and Molecular and Cell Biology. Carolyn discovered her love for coding during her undergrad, and was fortunate to be able to gain experience in both software engineering and molecular biology research. Since then, she has become interested in how computer science can be applied to the natural sciences in order to answer questions about evolutionary history and to improve medicine and healthcare.  

Working with Dr. Frank Burbrink in the Dept. of Herpetology, Carolyn is studying how mutation rates change among ratsnake mitochondrial genomes, and how this relates to the mitochondrial replication process in snakes and other vertebrates. Primarily using Python and R, she is building visualizations of different models of replication and performing various statistical tests on their hypotheses.  

Carolyn’s favorite part of the Helen Fellowship has been getting to work with the amazing Brown Scholars (high school students) and with the team of other Fellows who share the same passion for science, technology, education, and empowerment. 


Fellowship Alumni


Mali’o Kodis is from a small town on the Big Island of Hawaii called Volcano Village. Her childhood curiosity towards the natural world and passion for science research earned her a life-changing trip to the American Museum of Natural History at a young age as the recipient of the Young Naturalist Award. Inspired by the awe-inspiring displays and world-renowned research at AMNH, Mali’o immersed herself in every opportunity to learn about the natural world and earned her BSc in Geology with a focus on Evolutionary Biology from Brown University. As a Helen Fellow, Mali’o worked with Dr. Mary Blair and Dr. Eleanor Sterling at the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation. She completed a comprehensive review of modeling techniques with applications towards biocultural conservation, an emerging field within conservation biology that works to understand the complex interactions between humans and their changing environment. Mali’o built an ecological niche model using R to determine prime prospective habitat for a key agricultural crop (taro, Colocasia esculenta) in Pacific Island communities threatened by climate change. Mali’o is currently working on a manuscript for this work, which will be submitted to the journal “Ecological Modeling.” 


Jordan Koch worked with Dr. Brian Smith to develop models of speciation across a landscape. She organized a cohesive pipeline of Python scripts to compare simulated evolutionary patterns to empirical data on bird speciation. She also helped build a database containing genomic data of all described bird species. She presented this work at the Evolution meeting in Austin, Texas. She now resides in Norwich, England as a computational biology researcher at the John Innes Centre and is continuing to work remotely with Dr. Smith at AMNH. 


Grace Newman worked with Dr. Ward Wheeler. Her research was to implement a software suite to construct and analyze phylogenetic trees from both genetic and anthropological data. During her time at the museum, she focused on evolutionary distance algorithms.  She is now a visiting scientist in Dr. Wheeler's lab focusing on GPU computing, and is working full time in Silicon Valley as a Server Engineer at Syapse, a precision medicine software company. 


Jillian Bellovary worked with Dr. Mordecai Mac Low, investigating whether migration traps exist within the accretion disks of supermassive black holes (SMBHs), and if so whether they are conducive to the formation of intermediate mass black holes.  She also investigated the repercussions of this phenomenon for gravitational wave detection.  Jillian published one first-author paper on this topic and has several more in progress.  She also presented this research at a conference and as a speaker at Columbia University’s theoretical astrophysics seminar.  Jillian was an invited speaker at “Computing the Universe” in Oaxaca, Mexico in June, and was also invited to give astronomy colloquia at Penn State University and Rutgers University.  She also participated in the Institute for Scientist and Engineer Educator’s Professional Development Program, culminating in the teaching of a 1.5-day inquiry-based workshop on statistics and data analysis at Columbia this August.  Jillian is about to start her first semester as an Assistant Professor of Physics at Queensborough Community College, and will continue as a Research Associate at AMNH.


Emily Carlson worked with Dr. Rebecca Oppenheimer. Her research included data collection at Palomar, data processing at AMNH, and database construction. She is working on a paper that will present the newly discovered binary stars from the Project 1640 survey. She holds a Visiting Scientist position at AMNH with Dr. Rebecca Oppenheimer so that she can continue work on this paper and maintain the database. Emily has just embarked on a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering at Tufts. She is joining Dr. Tom Vandervelde's Renewable Energy and Applied Photonics Lab, and will be focusing fabricating metamaterials to improve solar cell efficiency. She has been awarded a Provost Fellowship, a unique and prestigious award which recognizes the most promising doctoral applicants to schools across the university.