Member Features

Meet JLLA Senior Ashmi Durairaj


Ashmi Durairaj is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of Biomedical Engineering. She obtained her Master’s in Healthcare Administration from Anna University India and was awarded a university First Holder honor.


Since childhood, Durairaj has been fascinated by the growth of technology and medicine. When it comes to the field of Biomedical Engineering, she strongly believes that the skills and knowledge gained will help her to develop solutions for ongoing global health issues. 


Durairaj has interned at CURA Healthcare, Cosmos Medical Systems, Madras Medical Mission (MMM Hospital), Apollo Hospitals and Universal Medical Instruments (UNI-EM). These opportunities enhanced her comprehensive servicing, assembling and troubleshooting skills on various medical devices and surgical robots. 


As a Ph.D. candidate, Durairaj completed a research study on biomaterials utilized in the production of prosthesis. 3D printing technology allowed her to develop a prosthetic for women post-mastectomy. 


Durairaj is planning to continue her work in the biomedical industry as a Research and Development Engineer. Outside of school she enjoys playing musical instruments, and can speak five languages: Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and English.

Meet JLLA Senior David Etim


David Etim is a PhD candidate in Computer Science and Engineering. His experiences in industry and under the United States Departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy, and Homeland Security have fortified a set of data analysis and technical research skills. 


Etim’s interest in computer science and engineering started early on. By the fifth grade, he could design a website, take a computer apart and piece it back together. Every summer until high school he would attend the Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy (SEMAA) at Winston-Salem State University. 


He obtained his Bachelor’s degree at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical (A&T) State University, where he studied Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, and completed his Master’s degree in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Connecticut. 


Etim has acquired a wealth of experience through varied internship opportunities across the following organizations:


The National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Energy Exemplar LLC, National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Commonwealth Edison Company (ComEd).


These internship experiences have allowed him to implement and expand his knowledge of coding, software engineering, and data analysis, amongst other technical skills.   


Etim also works as a part-time Federal Program Manager at the NNSA, where he oversees the Verification & Validation (V&V) subprogram, the Predictive Science Academic Alliance Program (PSAAP), as well as Advanced Machine Learning and Large-Scale Calculation initiatives within the NNSA Advanced Simulation & Computing (ASC) Program.


In his current doctoral research, Etim examines data extraction techniques and their applicability to various domains, specifically within health care for Electronic Health Records (EHRs). The data is analyzed and surveyed to retrieve relevant information from sources in a specific pattern.  


Etim’s objective in conducting data extraction for EHRs is to enhance the diagnosis process for patients with various health conditions. This data consists of the patient’s vital signs (heart rate, blood pressure, respiration rate, etc.) as well as their regular caloric intake, consumption of food and supplement usage. 


This information is extracted through a specific technique—Natural Language Processing, (NLP)—which uses the software to categorize and predict patterns in speech or text. This is used to guide treatment plans of prospective patients.


Etim hopes to continue his industry work but plans to eventually re-enter academia as a professor with the goal of obtaining tenure. Whether he’s working with students or on his doctoral research, Etim aims to be the best leader he can potentially be.


Etim currently serves as Parliamentarian on the John Lof Leadership Academy (JLLA) Executive Board where he ensures that the official bylaws are being followed in all procedural actions by JLLA Members.

Meet JLLA Senior Albert Tulli IV

Albert Tulli IV is a Graduate Student in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Connecticut. 


As a third year doctoral candidate, Tulli’s research investigates 3D cell cultures in liquid crystalline polymeric materials. 


He works with liquid crystalline polymers (LCPs), a material commercially used in electrical displays, for the benefit of controlling the orientational alignment on a molecular level. 


Tulli is looking to apply this technology to tissue engineering and 3D cell culture as a whole. He utilizes extracellular matrix (ECM), along with the LCPs, to synthetically replicate certain environmental factors. Through these changes, he can determine how cells behave in different conditions.


Before that, Tulli interned for Pfizer, where he worked on small molecule formulation development and drug product design. His project has unique potential in pediatric applications as well as older patient ranges. 


Going forward, he plans to remain in the field of pharmaceuticals, but hopes to shift his focus to biological systems. His preference is to work with biologics and potentially keep a focus on three-dimensional culture or tissue engineering


As John Lof Leadership Academy’s current President, Tulli organizes weekly E-board meetings, as well as events and workshops held throughout the semester. He supervises members of the E-board and maintains correspondence with outside speakers, organizations and faculty.

Meet JLLA Senior Allison Surian


Allison Surian is a second-year Biomedical Engineering Masters Candidate specializing in nanomedicine. 


She obtained her Bachelors in Biology and Chemistry at Roger Williams University, while minoring in Mathematics. At that time, she worked in the Aquatic Diagnostic Lab, where she developed a new assay for detecting a parasite in oysters. 


Surian also has experience as a vet technician at the New England Equine Practice, where she was surprised to learn how vast the discrepancies are between medicine involvement in humans and animals. She hopes to someday work within veterinary pharmaceuticals to combat this. 


Surian’s current research aims to treat diseases like cancer and osteoarthritis through a specialized form of gene delivery. She is working to develop a vehicle which would efficiently deliver drugs to tissues with little vasculature. 


This vehicle should penetrate spheroids of cancer cells, delivering chemotherapeutic drugs directly to cancerous tissue. In this way, healthy cells would remain virtually unaffected, mitigating the harsh side effects of cancer treatment. 


In other words, the broad range of Surian’s research involves gene delivery within hard-to-reach tissue. We call the vehicle behind it all “Janus Base Nanotubes.” 


As Public Relations Director on John Lof’s E-board, Surian has had the opportunity to connect with many different people from a diverse set of backgrounds. 


She recently chaired the Teamwork workshop, where she led all “different types of people, with different schedules and priorities.” When reflecting on this, she remarked, “it was so exciting to see it come to fruition.”



Meet JLLA Senior Uchenna Anene


Uchenna Anene is a final-year PhD candidate in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Her background is multidisciplinary, with an added focus in Chemistry, Biology and Materials Science. 


Her current research uses computational methods based on quantum mechanics and machine learning to model different material properties at the atomic level, such as adsorption and adhesion. These are used to guide and accelerate the design and development of new materials. 


Such facilitates design strategies of metal-organic framework STAM-17-OEt for gas adsorption, as well as an understanding of the properties needed for strong epoxy-copper adhesion to prevent delamination on electronic devices.


Ultimately, Anene’s research implements computational studies to guide new scientific discoveries that improve our health and the way we live.


Outside of research, Anene is active in several communities, including the American Chemical Society (ACS), NOBCChE, Engineering Diversity and Outreach Center (EDOC), and the Learning Community Innovation Zone (LCIZ) Makerspace. The latter provides hands-on learning that assists in creative ideas, problem-solving and prototyping. 


As a LCIZ Makerspace Fellow, Anene works with the undergraduate Maker Specialists to develop workshops that include soap making, laser cutting, sewing, constructing heat pads, masks, and wiring electronics. She enjoys working with undergraduates to “bring them into the space,” and “get them excited about being curious.”


She co-chaired the LCIZ 2021 Women in Making: Global Making Forum, which highlighted the successes and challenges of the Women Maker movement. The forum identified barriers and discussed best practices through an array of panel discussion and skill-building workshops.


She co-developed a seminar for the 2021 Women’s Advance Conference that touched upon the same topics.


Anene has also had a hand in the development and instruction of a course for underrepresented women in STEM, ‘BOSS LADI.’ This acronym is short for ‘Building Our Sistas’ Strength, Leveraging Adversity, Diversity and Intellect.’ 


The course aims to increase retention and ensure the overall success of UConn’s female STEM students by providing the tools necessary to help them develop positive STEM identities, excel as student-leaders and transition to graduate school.


Anene enjoys participating in projects designed to implement positive change and increase awareness of the barriers faced by women. In engaging the UConn community with guest speakers and panel discussions, Anene has helped to provide strategies that overcome these barriers.


Throughout the course of her academic career, Anene has been the recipient of several accolades. One of the more memorable, however, is the George Sideris Student Travel Award that she received during her master’s program at Long Island University to attend the ACS national conference.


This allowed her the opportunity to interact with other scientists from various backgrounds, and gave her the confidence to start applying to PhD programs. 


Last summer, Anene completed an internship with the pharma company Merck, where she utilized computational modeling to determine drug candidates for COVID-19. This computational background blends nicely into Anene’s most recent internship opportunity with Genentech, which applies similar tools to build drug metabolism and pharmacokinetic models. 


As a second-year member of John Lof, Anene has developed greatly as a student-researcher. She maintains that the Academy has helped her to “gather the resources necessary to grow and empower.” She says, “I know how to be effective in whatever I do.”


Meet JLLA Senior Mikayla Moody



Mikayla Moody is a third year PhD student at the University of Connecticut, where she currently engages with biomaterials in the field of biomedical engineering. 


Throughout her academic career, Moody has been the recipient of countless awards, fellowships and stipends. There’s a lot to be proud of. But some of these most memorable moments were never saved on paper. 


At her undergraduate graduation, Moody was selected by classmates to deliver a speech during the ceremony, and was later awarded ‘Most Distinguished Senior’ in the department of Materials Science and Engineering.


She describes of this experience, “It was a shock. I realized that I was capable of doing things I’d never thought possible before…and that maybe I wasn’t giving myself enough credit for all the work I’d done.” 


And work she does. Moody’s current research focus aims to understand how acidosis affects bones structurally and mechanically. This ‘secondary disease’ has been glossed over for some time now, despite its wide-reaching effect.


As a result, she has put together a treatment study of her own creation. By this, Moody plans to analyze the effectiveness of current treatment plans in increasing bone strength. Meaning, she hopes to quantify the effect of bicarbonate on our bones. 


In the future, Moody plans to enter into science policy and communications. She hopes to engage more with politicians and the general public, so as to “create more science-based decisions, and inform on public and climate health decisions.” 


“There’s a lot of misinformation out there, which I want to help with.” Moody’s experience in the lab translates to hospitals and other medical facilities, which can then be communicated to the public, allowing for a safer, stronger future. 


That being said, she didn’t always see herself working in public communication. John Lof strengthened her skills as a leader, helping Moody to make great connections and network with a variety of people and groups.


Now she’s John Lof’s first Social Media Director, where she spends a great deal of time raising awareness of the program, all while connecting with the community. 


She aims to make the Academy visible to communities outside of UConn, in hopes that other universities will develop similar programs for graduate engineers. 


Meet JLLA Senior Sudipta Chowdhury


Sudipta Chowdhury is a third-year PhD candidate whose research combines civil and environmental engineering. 


Sudipta grew up in Bangladesh, where he attended Shahjalal University of Science and Technology to obtain his bachelors in industrial engineering. Not long after, he started at MSU. Following the completion of his Masters in 2018, he joined UConn to pursue his PhD. 


Between his time at MSU and UConn, Sudipta has participated in various research projects across several industries. These includebut are not limited toFedex, the Army Research Laboratory, the Construction Industry Institute, and Eversource


He explains, “I continue to implement these learnings in my current research,” which examines restoration strategies for power grids. 


This idea explores the social impact on power outages resulting from natural and man-made disruptions. These restoration strategies aim to diminish community distress in the aftermath of disaster. 


Sudipta hopes to explore other critical infrastructuresuch as water and chemical systemsand the effect of power outages on them. He explains, “we are not just dependent on power…we rely on so many different structures.” 


Currently, Chowdhury is a member of John Lof, where he served as the Director of Public Relations. He finds it a great way for graduate students to “escape the confines of the lab” while connecting with “same-minded people.”   

Meet JLLA Senior Pierre Fils


Pierredens Fils is a third-year Ph.D. student studying Structural Health Monitoring through civil and environmental engineering. 


Born in Haiti, Fils came to America at a very young age. He grew up learning Creole and English simultaneously and observes each as being structural to his identity.  


His first research experience—at Oak Ridge National Laboratory—was around climate impacted buildings. While there, he focused on re-designing climate zones for the optimization of energy consumption. This gave him a taste for discovering new things, all while getting his hands dirty.  


He finds that the experience “set a foundation for self-learning, as well as navigating computational lab work.” Though he planned to “wash his hands of it and return to design,” he found himself fully engaged in the research. 


Fils currently focuses on damage identification and quantification methods for civil structures. He identifies the undamaged state of buildings or materials to quantify the extent of the damage. Through a collection of parameters and techniques, he looks at developing algorithms using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) sensors to conduct damage monitoring. 


His experience at John Lof has allowed Fils to “step outside of this research while developing other important skills.” As previous Public Speaking Committee Chair and current Financial Director, he finds that he has grown his confidence considerably over the last two years.


He says of the Academy, “it caters to case-specific needs, and really forces introspection.” It’s about pushing the boundaries of comfort and learning to advocate. “There is no better way to help yourself, than to look inward.”

Meet JLLA Senior Mohammed Albayati


Mohammed Albayati is a third-year doctoral candidate in the Mechanical Engineering department and recently received a Graduate Certificate in Advanced System Engineering. He is working as a graduate research assistant at the UTC Institute for Advanced Systems Engineering (UTC-IASE). 


Albayati spent his undergraduate years in Iraq at the University of Tikrit. Soon after, he began a career with the North Refineries Company (NRC) as a project engineer. While there, he worked in isomerization unit installation and was part of the boiler installation team. 


After several years with the company, Albayati was offered a scholarship. He came to America in 2013 to pursue his masters at the University of New Haven. While there, he was given the Certificate of Advanced Level in English Language by ELS Language Centers  and was awarded the 2016 Mechanical Engineering Award for Superior Academic Performance.


Once he obtained his masters, Albayati returned to the NRC in Iraq. He found the culture and environment no longer fit his needs, and shortly returned to America. 


In 2019, he enrolled in the University of Connecticut, where he is currently working towards his PhD in mechanical engineering. His research interest is application of System Engineering and Model Model-Based Systems Engineering approaches for product development and Manufacturing.


Albayati stresses the importance of also “developing skills outside the lab.” As a member of JLLA, he says, “it’s about building confidence in yourself, so you can move on to that next stage.”  


Away from the professional and student life, Mohammed enjoys hiking, playing soccer, gardening, and spending time with family and friends. 


Meet JLLA Senior I’jaaz Muhammad


I’jaaz Sultaan Muhammad is a second-year doctoral student whose current research constitutes biomedical engineering in pharmacokinetics, specifically as it pertains to drug delivery. 


As someone who has been homeschooled all the way through twelfth grade, Muhammad’s first exposure to public schoolat Health Career Opportunity’s  pre-college engineering programprompted his love of helping and mentoring other people.


He explains, “each of my mentees have gone on to do something significant in their lives; to work at NASA, start their own business, become a university scholar…” He says, “they all do what they want to do, and the thought…that maybe I could have helped them to get there…it’s my greatest reward.” 


Muhammad’s academic record deserves its own kind of appraisal. He knows four languages, and has been a Rowe, LSAMP, McNair, and Bridge to the Doctorate Scholar, as well as an active member of the Student Association of Graduate Engineers, the Graduate Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, and Engineering Ambassadors. 


As an e-board member of John Lof Leadership Academy, Muhammad holds the title of Parliamentarian. Within that role, he interviews graduate students prior to induction, and is responsible for advising and directing members under the organization’s various rules and regulations.


JLLA has assisted the development of his “echo-social skills,” or ability to network. While people are always saying that “network gives you net worth,” they never know where to go from there, and he believes John Lof has helped in “filling that gap,” or connecting a person’s network to their net worth. 


Muhammad’s general advice is to always keep your gratitude. He says, “it can be hard…and that’s why we remind ourselves to be grateful for the little things. That’s how you go to war with depression. Count your blessings, not because they could be easily taken away, but because you are experiencing them now.”