Hedley Freake, Ph.D.
Principal Investigator and STRONG-CT Director at the University of Connecticut

Hedley Freake is a Professor at the University of Connecticut in the Department of Nutritional Sciences, with a joint appointment in Molecular and Cell Biology. He is a first generation college student, receiving his B.Sc degree in Nutrition from Queen Elizabeth College and his Ph.D. in Physiology from the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, both parts of the University of London. He moved to the US in 1983 to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship in Molecular Endocrinology at the University of Minnesota. He has been at UConn since 1988. Dr. Freake's research has been funded by NIH and USDA. His laboratory uses molecular approaches to address questions of nutritional significance, currently related to zinc. He teaches introductory nutrition courses to undergraduate and graduate students, as well as an advanced nutrition and gene expression course to graduate students. Hedley has served on the editorial board for the Journal of Nutrition and is active in his professional society, the American Society for Nutrition. He also serves on the University Senate, for which he chairs the General Education Oversight Committee. Dr. Freake is committed to diversity, especially in the area of science, and was recently awarded the Vice-Provost's award for diversity at the University of Connecticut.. Hedley lives with his wife and three sons in an old farm house in Willimantic, which they are gradually restoring.

Lee Aggison, Jr. , Ph.D.
Co-PI of STRONG-CT and Associate Professor-in-Residence in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Connecticut

Associate Dean of the Graduate School

Dr. Lee Aggison, Jr. is an Associate Professor-in-Residence in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and Associate Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT. He is a native of Romulus, Michigan and received his Bachelor of Science degree in Biology & Chemistry from Stillman College (Tuscaloosa, Alabama). He was awarded his Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from Wayne State University (Detroit, Michigan). His doctoral work included investigating the effects of bacterial RNase III phosphorylation by the T7 bacteriophage protein kinase. He conducted post-doctoral work within the Department of Human Genetics at the University of Michigan researching the molecular mechanisms involved in the cellular trafficking of the human blood clotting Factor IX. Dr. Aggison has been a faculty member at the University of Connecticut since 2006 and teaches Fundamentals of Microbiology. Beyond his teaching duties, he is also the Director of the Professional Science Master’s Program, Microbial Systems Analysis. As Associate Dean of the Graduate School he supports the University’s teaching, research and public service mission by managing the day-to-day operation of the Graduate School, developing and implementing University policies, supervises staff and personnel decision-making, and develops long-range planning and academic strategies to create a culturally diverse environment. Dr. Aggison is directly involved with the recruitment, retention and development of under-represented graduate students and implements/administers minority outreach and recruitment programs, services and activities aimed to increase graduate enrollment and retention of a diverse, multicultural student population that is characterized by academic excellence.

Steven Zinn , Ph.D.
Co-PI of STRONG-CT and professor in the Department of Animal Science at the University of Connecticut

Dr. Steven Zinn is a professor in the Department of Animal Science at the University of Connecticut.  Dr. Zinn grew up in southern New York and attended Cornell University.  After graduating from Cornell in 1978, Dr. Zinn became a research support specialist at the Cornell Dairy Teaching and Research Center. He then moved to Michigan State University where he received his MS (1984) and Ph.D. (1989) degrees in Animal Science.  In 1990, after a post doctoral fellowship in molecular endocrinology at the Worcester Foundation for experimental Biology, Dr. Zinn joined the faculty at the University of Connecticut.  Dr. Zinn’s research has focused on the somatotropic axis in growing animals, including cattle, pigs and rats and wild marine (Steller sea lions, harbor seals and beluga whales) and terrestrial (moose and mule deer) animals.  Dr. Zinn is also the Editor-in Chief of the Journal of Animal Science.  Dr. Zinn teaches growth physiology and endocrinology and a writing class for undergraduate and graduate students.  He leads the Animal Science Learning Community teaching FYE classes specifically designed for first year students in Animal Science.  In addition, Dr. Zinn advises preveterinary students.  His teaching and advising efforts have been recognized with teaching awards from CANR alumni association, First Year programs and the University advising award.  Dr. Zinn serves on the University Senate Diversity Committee.  Dr. Zinn lives on a small farm with his wife and two children and their horses, dogs, cats, sheep and chickens.

Marcia Jehnings , M.S.
Co-PI and STRONG-CT Director at Manchester Community College (MCC)
Division Director - Mathematics, Science and Health Careers

Marcia is a first generation college student who attended Quinnipiac University where she received an associate degree in Respiratory Therapy.  She worked as an advanced practitioner and neonatal specialist in respiratory care and began clinical teaching at St. Francis Hospital and Medical center as she pursued her Bachelor’s degree in Health Science from the University of Hartford.  She then became the Program Director of the Respiratory Therapy program at Manchester Community College where she worked for nearly 10 years, during which time, the graduates of the program achieved a 100% pass rate on their national certification examinations.  Marcia continued her education and received a Master’s degree in Allied Health at the University of Connecticut as she moved into an administrative position at Manchester Community College, taking over as the Director of the Social Science and Hospitality division.  From that position, she was able to move back to her “home” division of Math, Science and Health Careers, now as the director.  During her tenure at MCC, Marcia has been involved with General Education and service learning initiatives and is now working with colleagues on issues of sustainability.

In her free time, Marcia enjoys geocaching and camping with her son.  She is an avid reader and frequently does volunteer work in the community.

Diba Khan-Bureau, M.S., Ph.D. student
Co-PI and STRONG-CT Director at Three Rivers Community College (TRCC)
Program Coordinator Environmental Engineering Tech Program

Diba Khan-Bureau is a first generation college student. She is a Professor at Three Rivers Community College and received her M.S. in Environmental Management, Policy and Technologies from Rennsalear Polytechnic. Diba is currently a Ph.D. student at UConn working in Dr. Louise Lewis’ lab researching diatoms (micro algae) as biological indicators of water quality. She is contrasting diatom morphology using light microscopy and DNA sequencing. Diba moved to teaching after working in industry for many years. Prior to teaching at TRCC, she worked as a Senior Environmental Engineer at Electric Boat providing environmental training, overseeing the hazardous waste program, performing inspections to ensure facility compliance, and auditing of other facilities that the company did business with. She was always concerned with the health of the Thames River and provided training to the employees to educate them about the importance of the river and its ecosystem and the consequences of anthropogenic impacts. Diba worked closely with the environmental regulatory agencies. She continues to be trained annually in Occupational Safety and Health, Hazardous Waste and Management, Environmental Laws and Regulations and Department of Transportation Hazardous Transportation Regulations. Diba is Three Rivers Community College's Environmental Health and Safety Advisor.

Diba takes great pride in taking her students out every semester to the Eightmile River, a Federal Wild and Scenic designated river, to perform the Rapid Bioassessment (RBV - insect larvae identification) to monitor water quality. This provides the student with hands-on experience and is a community service helping the local towns of the watershed. All information is provided to the local towns, and the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection.

Diba enjoys running, riding her horse, playing guitar, playing in the river and especially spending time with her two children and family.

Melissa M. Philion, Ph.D.
Co-PI and STRONG-CT Director at Quinebaug Valley Community College (QVCC)
Faculty, Quinebaug Valley Community College

Melissa Philion is a biology instructor at Quinebaug Valley Community College (QVCC). Born in New Hampshire, Melissa received her B.S. in Microbiology from the University of New Hampshire. Melissa is a first generation college student and received a McNair fellowship, similar to STRONG-CT, this program supports first generation and minority student path into graduate programs. Following the completion of her Bachelors, she attended Drexel University School of Medicine and earned her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology. Her research focused on the immunology and genetics of Experimental Autoimmune Encephalitis (EAE), the rat model of multiple sclerosis. While in graduate school, Melissa began her teaching career. She taught in various areas of science at Camden County Community College. Following graduation, she began teaching at Defiance College in Defiance, Ohio. Dr. Philion served as both an Associate Professor of Microbiology and Director of the Honors program. She recently relocated to MA and is now s full time instructor at QVCC. She currently teaches General Biology, Microbiology and Genetics.

Melissa has two sons and enjoys spending time with them. She relaxes by working in her garden, scrap booking and kayaking.

Teshia Levy-Grant, M.S.

Project Coordinator at MCC, TRCC, and QVCC

Teshia is a graduate from Central Connectcut State College and holds a M.S. in Counseling. During her graduate work, Teshia interned at the CCSU within the area of pre-collegiate access services.  Previous to this she earned her B.A. in English following a Pre/Med track from Wesleyan University.  Prior to joining STRONG-CT, Teshia coordinated the diversity initiatives at Saint Joseph College.

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