Fellowship Recipients

We love to feature the success of McElroy Trust Fellowship recipients. If you are a Fellowship recipient, we’d love to hear from you. Please email shanlee@mcelroytrust.org so we can share your story.

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Emily Roberts, Ph.D.

As part of my journey in the PhD program in biostatistics in the University of Michigan, I am happy to share I earned my Master of Science degree last April. At the end of my second year, I passed both written portions of my PhD qualifying exam in May 2018 and became a PhD candidate after finishing my course requirements this semester. At this point in my PhD, I am forming my dissertation committee and am working on my dissertation research projects. Some of my favorite coursework in biostatistics this year includes causal inference for dynamic treatment regimes, advanced survival analysis, stochastic processes, cancer research seminar, and controversies and history of statistics. Additionally, I completed a reading course as dissertation preparation about surrogate endpoints and causal inference.

I am passionate about the field of biostatistics because of its potential to integrate mathematics and helping others, play a crucial role in medical research, and promote collaboration with related science fields. After being diagnosed with type I diabetes at four years old, I grew up knowing I would love to be involved with medical research, but I didn’t know how my interests would intertwine until I learned about biostatistics. After being selected as a recipient of the NIH Biostatistics Training Program in Cancer Research fellowship my first year at the University of Michigan, I have worked with several faculty in the cancer biostatistics group on various projects. Working with a research advisor along with pathologists at the University of Michigan, I have collaborated on several projects to quantify cold ischemic time for breast resection specimens to determine what relationship may exist with changes in measured cancer biomarkers, analyzed survival data for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma patients, studied radiation-associated osteosarcoma, and assessed long-term outcomes of head and neck melanoma patients. As a different topic that combines physical and social factors of health, I have been working on a project regarding telomere length and racial disparities moderated by socioeconomic status, and I presented this work at Statistics in the Community’s annual Data for Good Symposium. Working with collaborators on real data has given me opportunity to use what I am learning in a meaningful way, and I am now expanding beyond data analysis with existing methods to methodology development. Over the year, I continued working with one of my research advisors on methodology research to determine the effect of and appropriate cutoff values for ordinal predictor variables for physicians using Bayesian mixture models which I presented at a regional statistics conference. I am also a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow and am currently working on my written dissertation. I am interested in researching causal inference and survival analysis methods that can be applied to the cancer setting but are also widely generalizable. Some might remember from introductory statistics courses that analysis results can be interpreted as correlations but not necessarily as statements about causality. During a clinical trial however, researchers are often interested in knowing how and why a certain therapy works to cure a disease. In a cancer setting, this deeper understanding might require a hypothesis about which pathways cause the treatment to shrink a tumor and help the patient live longer. For dissertation work, I am exploring how we can determine if certain treatment effects may cause longer survival and how we can statistically validate surrogate endpoints in clinical trials.

In addition to the flexibility my support has afforded me to explore my research interests, I have been afforded the opportunity to network and interact in small group settings with various professionals in cancer research. By attending biostatistics department seminars and presentations focused on cancer research, I’ve been introduced to the work of many prominent researchers in the field. In my department, I volunteer during visit weekends and have met with several prospective students interested in the department. I’m involved in organizations including Biostatistics Student Association and School of Public Health PhD Students. I work with our student organization, Statistics in the Community (STATCOM) to create and deliver a Data Analysis in R Workshop Series for the School of Social Work and serve on the leadership committee as well as a project leader for the State of Michigan Commissioner to quantitatively assess and equitably distribute funds to the state’s elderly population. I am involved with Girls Who Code as a volunteer for the Females Excelling More in Mathematics, Engineering, and the Sciences Capstone and as well as becoming a facilitator to teach Python to high school-age women. Through Girls Who Code, I have also introduced biostatistics and presented my own research path to high school girls to encourage them to pursue STEM-related fields in college. Finally, I am still serving as a mentor to first-year biostatistics students as well as for the School of Public Health Undergraduate Mentor Program. I aim to remain engaged in the department and school as well as seek out more opportunities to increase the broader impact of my work and give to the surrounding community. In the future, I would love to work at a research hospital or research center, and I am particularly interested in developing and applying statistical methodology in a cancer or pediatric setting. I am extremely grateful for all that the McElroy fellowship has allowed me to pursue thus far in my graduate school journey. I feel confident that in my final years of my dissertation and in my future endeavors that these experiences I have been granted will be irreplaceable and crucial for my successes.

Laura (Gingrich) Pitts, Ph.D. CCC-SLP, BCS-S

2008 Fellowship recipient.


“With the support of the McElroy Fellowship, I completed doctoral and post-doctoral training in the neurorehabilitation of speech, language, and swallowing at Florida State University and Northwestern University. As a clinical researcher and a licensed speech-language pathologist my research activities to date have focused on improving the rehabilitation of swallowing impairment. 

Swallowing impairment, also known as dysphagia, can lead to negative consequences such as pneumonia and reduced quality of life. Overall, I strive to improve and develop effective therapies to help premature infants, children, and adults eat safely and efficiently. Much of my research and clinic work is focused on working with persons with Parkinson’s disease, stroke survivors, and persons recovering from traumatic brain and/or spinal cord injuries. My dedication to my work stems from the continual inspiration I receive as I witness and help patients return to eating, health, and wellness.

I am currently an assistant professor at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), a clinical researcher at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, and an adjunct assistant professor in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago, IL. I have recently conducted/am completing five grants at Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC)/Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.

These projects are funded by the ASHFoundation, American Heart Association, two Brown Fellowships at RIC, and the Craig H. Neilson Foundation, and are focused on improving the rehabilitation of swallowing after stroke, traumatic brain or spinal cord injuries, and in Parkinson’s disease.  I also am one of the few board certified swallowing specialists (BCS-S) in the state of Iowa. The McElroy fellowship provided the support for my training, which prepared me to lead these projects and to be recognized as the 2013 New Investigator of the Year by the international Dysphagia Research Society.

Now, ten years after the McElroy fellowship, I am still committed to a research career that is dedicated to advancing current therapy practices and training future speech-language pathologists at UNI. At UNI, we continue to collaborate with the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, the Mayo Clinic, and the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. I also currently teach the Neuroscience, Neurogenic Disorders, Dysphagia, and Pediatric Feeding and Swallowing courses in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and also work with patients and supervise student-clinicians at the Roy Eblen Speech and Hearing Clinic on UNI’s campus. It is an honor to work at UNI, alongside outstanding colleagues, as we train speech-language pathologists to be leaders in the field. I’m extremely grateful and honored to be a McElroy Fellow and I’m glad that I can return home and give back to my community here in the Cedar Valley.”


Alicia Rosburg

2006 Fellowship recipient.


 “I am currently an assistant professor of economics at my alma mater, the University of Northern Iowa (UNI). My journey back “home” was both challenging and fulfilling. The financial assistance provided by the McElroy Fellowship was instrumental and allowed me to explore opportunities during graduate school that otherwise would not have been possible.

During my graduate studies at Iowa State University, I had the benefit of working on policy-relevant topics with top researchers in my fields (environmental and agricultural economics). My dissertation focused on the economics of cellulosic biofuel, or fuel produced from grass or crop residues (“biomass”). I have continued my research in this area and currently have research projects on the potential locations and sizes of biofuel production facilities, the economics of different biomass supply methods, and strategies to minimize biomass supply risk. In addition, I have begun to explore other areas in economics such as housing market determinants and the relationship between drug use and labor market outcomes.

Although I truly enjoy my research and the opportunity to be a life-time learner, teaching has always been a passion. My position at UNI has allowed me to cultivate this passion. I currently teach Principles of Microeconomics, Decision Techniques, and Environmental Economics. While I enjoy all my classes, Environmental Economics is special in that it allows me to incorporate my research into the classroom and to work on research projects with students. I look forward to many more years of sharing my passion for economics with UNI students.”


Dallas Wulf

2012 Fellowship recipient.


“My research group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studies X-rays produced in the local galaxy as a means to understanding the environment of interstellar space.  Since these X-rays can’t penetrate very far through air, we use sounding rockets to get our X-ray detector above the atmosphere.

The picture is from our most recent rocket flight, at White Sands Missile Range (New Mexico) in November of 2013. I spent the preceding month working on-site with people from NASA’s sounding rocket program to prepare for the launch.  The seven of us pictured were in charge of the on-board X-ray detector.”


Holly Stessman

2008 Fellowship recipient.

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“After defending my thesis in March 2013 at the University of Minnesota, I moved on to a postdoctoral position at the University of Washington in Seattle.  I am currently working with Dr. Evan Eichler’s group within Genome Sciences screening for mutations in autism spectrum disorder.  By identifying genetic subtypes of autism, we hope to better understand how the disease differs from patient to patient and discover new treatment strategies for more personalized medicine approaches.  It has been exciting working with the latest and greatest sequencing technologies to identify mutations that are significantly contributing to human disease.”


Alice Obrecht

2004 Fellowship recipient.


“I have used my PhD to pursue a career in the aid sector, in a research capacity. I am currently working as Senior Research Analyst at the Humanitarian Futures Programme, at King’s College, London. My role here is to work with organisations with humanitarian roles and responsibilities to improve their capacity to deal with new and evolving crisis drivers. In my primary function I oversee the FOREWARN Initiative, a 3.5 year project which seeks to build institutional capacities for disaster risk reduction across West Africa. As part of this initiative, I recently travelled to Akosombo Dam in Ghana to carry out research on cross-border water governance in the Volta River Basin (see photo).

My approach to issues of aid effectiveness, institutional accountability and poverty reduction is research-focused and analytical.  I would not have this perspective or these skills if it were not for my PhD, and my PhD would not have been economically viable for me without the generous support given to me by the McElroy Trust.”


Annie Bruns

2009 Fellowship recipient.

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“I will be graduating with my PhD in Molecular Biology from Northwestern University this July.  My research focuses on the mammalian cellular response to RNA virus infection.  RNA viruses range from the pesky common cold, to influenza, to life-threatening HIV.  A family of proteins expressed in nearly all cells of our body have the ability to detect RNA viruses, serving as the first line of defense against infection.  Throughout my thesis research I characterized the mechanism by which two of these proteins work together to detect RNA viruses, ultimately warning the cell and neighboring cells that an invader has been spotted.  This allows the infected cell and neighbors to establish a powerful antiviral state, ultimately preventing the spread of the infection.

In addition to my research, I have had the opportunity to both teach and communicate science during my time at Northwestern.  These were invaluable experiences as I aspire to become an ambassador of science to the public, generating admiration and awe of science, nature, and the scientific method. I participated in various science outreach programs for underrepresented populations, including teaching biology in ESL high school classrooms, and mentoring middle school students during a summer science camp. I was also a contributing writer for Northwestern’s Helix web magazine, and created two episodes of my own original science podcast “Science and Awe.”

This past year I also had the opportunity to independently design and teach a new freshman seminar at Northwestern called Storytelling and Science. In this course, students learned the elements of powerful storytelling and applied them to contemporary scientific discourse.  The experience of teaching this course renewed my passion for science communication.  I will be attending a highly competitive science communication conference at Harvard this June, and plan to continue with a career in science communication after completing my PhD.

I am very grateful not only for the critical financial support provided by the McElroy Trust, but also for their belief in me.  That interview was the first time I shared my dream of becoming a “science ambassador” with essentially complete strangers, and their support helped me believe that what felt like only an idea in my mind could become an achievable and meaningful career. ”