Member Features

Meet JLLA Senior Michael Reisert



Michael Reisert is a fourth-year PhD student conducting materials research with an emphasis in electrochemistry and energy systems. He is the VP of John Lof, where he organizes general body and e-board meetings, oversees Mind Garden, and assists with executive responsibilities. 


Currently, his research examines solid oxide electrochemical systems as a means of advancing energy storage, energy conversion and fuel utilization. His focus on dual atmosphere corrosion of stainless steel interconnects assesses the anomalous oxidation of iron and degradation of metallic components in fuel cell systems. Through experimentation, computational studies and simulation analysis, Reisert’s investigation of dual atmosphere corrosion allows us to better understand the role of hydrogen in material degradation within these systems. 


Going forward, Reisert hopes to partition his love of research into an industry-based position. He loves working with clean energy and believes that the hydrogen economy is a viable route for future transitions from fossil fuels. 


As a second-year member of John Lof, Reisert stresses the importance of collaboration as an engineer student: “It’s very lacking in the whole curriculum…working with others, and the ability to develop more advanced leadership skills.” 


In particular, the Academy has improved his ability of articulation, which is one of the more significantyet neglectedaspects of the field. Reisert maintains that this ability makes the information more accessible to everyone, not just engineers. He says, “I want more people to understand what I’m trying to do, and why I’m trying to do it.”   

Meet JLLA Senior Giovanna Fusco


Giovanna Fusco is a second year civil engineering PhD candidate, as well as Public Relations Director of John Lof Leadership Academy. 


Currently, she is working to develop resilience mechanisms for residential buildings under hurricane loads. By calculating the different components of hurricane wear and translating those into a virtual reality model, Fusco can determine which parts of the architecture will fail, and use this information to develop a rounded risk assessment. 


She has also streamlined a user input system, which allows individuals to identify parts of their own building. This allows her to input case-specific information, invariably giving the model analysis greater precision and accuracy. 


This type of work is super applicable given the recent expansion of inclement, tempestuous weather resulting from climate change. Fusco’s experience within the field has advanced her knowledge of coding languages as well as her love of research.


In a deeper reflection of the field, Fusco said, “you don’t even realize it, but civil engineering encompasses things we use every single daylike buildings and transportationso…technically, we can’t get anywhere without it.”


Since joining John Lof almost two years ago, Fusco has developed stronger speaking and presentation skills as a student-researcher. Through the guidance of the Academy, she has truly grown her confidence.  

Meet JLLA Alumni Ayana Ghosh

Ayana Ghosh is a postdoctoral research associate at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. While she obtained her PhD this past summer, she continues to apply machine learning (ML) techniques to various materials science challenges in her research. 


During her PhD, Ghosh constructed traditional ML algorithm-based models in order to better understand the crystallization propensity of molecules as well as the electronic and magnetic properties of functional materials, which have direct usage in several pharmaceutical and technological applications. 


At the moment, Ghosh is engaged in developing ML frameworks with applications in automated experiments. This research attempts to bridge theory and computational data with real-life experimental data.  


She hopes to better understand the nuances of experimental research as combined with the particulars of theoretical and simulated data. The implications of this are large and could change our traditional perception of the sciences. 


As an international student (Ghosh grew up in West Bengal), she was considered ineligible for the bulk of fellowships provided, regardless of qualification or skill. Despite these obstacles, she received the John Tanaka Graduate Fellowship from Phi Kappa Phi for academic excellence and community engagement. While it is awarded irrespective of discipline, this scholarship is quantifiably exceptional in itself. 


Aside from several conference presentation and poster awards, Ghosh was also the proud recipient of the Brian D. Proffer Student Excellence Award, the Student Involvement and Leadership (SIL) Emerging, and other Volunteer-Service awards during her undergraduate career at The University of Michigan-Flint. 


In joining John Lof, Ghosh has had the opportunity to interact with people from diverse backgrounds as well as learn leadership and mentoring skills significant to any line of work. She finds that the JLLA leadership program has enhanced skills which “enable one to become significant within their field.” 


Meet Douglas Hendrix


Douglas Hendrix is a PhD candidate who will graduate this May with a degree in Materials Science and Engineering. 


His current research works with high performance concrete. One such application for this material is the replacement of steel in traditional infrastructure. Through the even dispersion of nanosilica, the concrete is refined in strength and durability, allowing for greater corrosion resistance. 


Hendrix expounds this research in Behavior of Colloidal Nanosilica and Investigation Methods for Characterizing Nanoparticles in Concrete, two co-authored publications. 


He has been the recipient of several honors, the most recent being the GE Graduate Fellowship for Innovation, which enhanced his competency in communication and pedagogy. Though he has no intentions of becoming a professor, Hendrix maintains the concepts as being applicable to any industry position, within the field or outside of it. 


As a second-year JLLA student, he has discerned similarities within the student-led Academy, which allows for the development and maintenance of each members’ own workshop. 


Hendrix has also observed the benefits of John Lof as a student-researcher. In particular, he has found it to be a great “supplement to the soft skills which graduate programs typically gloss over.” The Academy aids in the advancement of technical writing, leadership and team-building skills for its student-members. 

Meet Tori Danis

Tori Danis is a second year PhD candidate in Chemical Engineering who conducts research in The McCutcheon Lab on 3D printed membranes for water treatment. She has responded to COVID-19 by administering NIOSH certified testing on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) materials.


As a member of the feedback skills committee, Danis says having the ability to help others grow with constructive feedback has helped her in her role as Teacher’s Assistant. The past year she has been a TA for a Senior Chemical Engineering lab, where she mentors two undergraduate students. Danis says mentoring others is one of her favorite aspects of her research.  


Danis’ time as a TA and JLLA member has made her realize she wants to pursue a career in academia and educate future engineers. Currently, Danis serves on JLLA’s E-Board as the activities director.


This fall Danis received the General Electric (GE) Graduate Fellowship allowing her to continue being a TA in a senior level chemical engineering course. She says both have been valuable in developing skills for a career in teaching future engineers, which she has been “passionate about since tutoring incoming undergraduate engineers for the BRIDGE program and 8th grade students interested in STEM through the  Pre-Engineering Program (PEP).”


Outside of JLLA, Danis is involved in the Chemical Engineering community at UConn. She is a member of ChEGSA (Chemical Engineering Graduate Student Association) which hosts professional and social events for the chemical engineering department . Danis has also joined the department’s Racial Justice & Equity Committee, to develop specific actions to take within the department toward anti-racism.


Meet Erik Ammermann

Erik Ammermann is a second year chemical and biomolecular engineering PhD candidate as well as president of the John Lof Leadership Academy. Ammermann has been conducting research on Alzheimer’s disease through protein engineering under Dr Yongku Cho at Cho Research Group


After being accepted to the University of Connecticut for graduate school, Ammermann toured the school and met JLLA members. The academy’s student-led approach is what appealed to him in addition to the “networking opportunity between different engineering disciplines, not just chemical engineering.”


Now serving as JLLA’s second president, Ammermann reflected on the opportunity to serve as a leader among  other strong leaders: “ I would say the biggest thing I am learning is that being President is giving me a better sense of when to step up and take charge of something versus letting someone else take the lead, since I can be very hands-on at times,” said Ammermann. “Also, I feel like it is making me a better, more active listener as I try to account for all perspectives before making decisions.”


During his time as an undergraduate researcher Ammermann observed that “technical skills and research abilities will only get you so far, but in order to advance your career you need interpersonal abilities and communication skills.”


His experience with John Lof thus far has helped him fine-tune those transferable skills and translate them into other aspects of his life. Outside of the classroom, Ammermann was heavily involved in the Penn State Dance Marathon (THON), a charitable student-run organization that helps children and families impacted by childhood cancer.


Meet Donyeil Hoy

Donyeil Hoy is a Ph.D. candidate in UConn’s Biomedical Engineering department and a Graduate Research Assistant in the Self-Assembling Functional Nanomaterials Lab under Mu-Ping Nieh, Ph.D..


Hoy’s accomplishments have been recognized by the university as well as a national program. He is a recipient of the prestigious UConn’s Giolas Harriott Fellowship in addition to the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.


Outside of JLLA, Hoy is a demonstrated leader, as a member of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and former parliamentarian in the Graduate Student Senate (GSS). He says inclusivity and diversity are integral aspects of his leadership style.


“One of the reasons joined [JLLA] is that leadership skills are not always prioritized within the engineering community, so we need a space to develop ourselves.”


During his tenure as a student, Hoy says he has met individuals whose skills are endemic to their field, and not transferable. JLLA’s approach is more holistic in that the curriculum is designed to be transferable to any industry or role.


“It is a shame when you see knowledgeable people who fail to mentor students and effectively share their abilities,” says Hoy. “We are more prepared as leaders after going through the JLLA curriculum.”


Some of Hoy’s other talents outside of engineering include gardening, cooking and writing. He especially enjoys being able to incorporate these skills by growing produce he can cook with.

Meet Armin Rad

Armin Rad on Sept. 14, 2017. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Armin Rad received his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Connecticut this past December and is now enrolled in UConn’sMaster of Engineering in Global Entrepreneurshipprogram.


As a former executive board member for the first cohort, Rad said that helping develop the program showed him that “there are no similar academies within the university”. Rad says he was excited by the notion of JLLA’s program when it was founded in 2018, because the curriculum is so unique and accounts for that gap within the engineering education.


Experience is the only practical application to build these skills and become a confident leader. JLLA’s workshops on leadership philosophy and conflict resolution translate into his role as co-founder and CEO of Encapsulate LLC.


“I take my role [as CEO and co-founder] very seriously and am dedicated to advancing my skills for the betterment of my company,” said Rad. “Even though I was trained in Engineering for about 10 years, I never was exposed to the leadership aspect of engineering that is necessary for the industry.”


Now that Rad has a solid foundation of leadership skills, he says he would like to continue working on Encapsulate. Eventually, he would also like to work in academia to give back to knowledge he has acquired. 

Meet Bilal Khan

Bilal Khan is a third-year Ph.D. student in Electrical Engineering and also received his bachelor’s from the University of Connecticut. He currently researches fabrication semiconductor devices in a microfabrication lab.


Khan moved to the US when he was nine-years old from Pakistan. He connects with his Pakistani roots by learning languages endemic to the middle eastern region: Urdu, Dari, Hindi, Farsi and English.


Being multilingual enables Khan to connect with others, just as JLLA helps him connect and work with other engineers.


“It’s refreshing to have other people’s point of views on how you should proceed with a particular problem or how to navigate the world of graduate school.”


Having a space dedicated to personal growth is essential for becoming an exceptional leader. Khan says that helping develop JLLA’s program was a practical application of leadership abilities.


“I feel like it’s going to continue evolving and continue changing into something even better than what it is now, because it’s all a learning process.”

Meet Roman Mays

Roman Mays is a third-year Ph.D. candidate and GEM fellow in Electrical Engineering with a master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania.


As a Senator in the Graduate Student Senate (GSS) and executive board member in the Student Association of Graduate Engineers (SAGE), Mays is a demonstrated leader within his community.


Mays was inducted into the first cohort of JLLA members and says that the first year was dedicated to developing a strong organization.


“It was upon us to build the program and figure out what we wanted to get out of it. So, we created a space where we can better the prowess of leadership within the members of this community.”


Now that he has experienced two years of curriculum, Mays says that practicing different leadership styles have prepared him for his career.


“You get to see other people from different disciplines of engineering with different leadership qualities, and you learn from the leadership qualities through workshops,” said Mays. “You get to see what’s effective, what’s not effective and you get to then better yourself, not only as a person, but as a leader going into graduate studies and into the workforce.”