Rutgers PLDI Alumni Profiles


As Executive Director of the U.S. Botanic Garden (USBG), Ari is responsible for running the national botanical garden, a small federal agency in the legislative branch of government under the administration of the architect of the Capitol. The USBG is the most visited botanic garden in North America with over 1.5 million visitors per year. He also maintains an unpaid research appointment at the Smithsonian Institution Department of Botany in the National Museum of Natural History, and serves on the executive leadership team of the Architect of the Capitol, a larger agency of about 2,300 employees. After completing his Ph.D. in 2012, Ari was hired as the public programs manager at the USBG managing all education, visitor services, outreach and science programs, was promoted to deputy executive director in 2013, and then to executive director in 2014. Ari writes, “I am quite sure that my experience at Rutgers with PLDI is an important part of why I have been viewed as a credible leader for a federal institution. I wanted to thank you for making the PLDI opportunity available.”

Ari received his doctoral degree from Rutgers University in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, where his research focused on plant population genetics, invasive species, plant conservation, horticultural improvement, agronomic risk assessment, beekeeping management, plant evolution, and agricultural economics and policy. Ari has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in plant science and horticulture and received several awards for research, teaching and outreach excellence.

As a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Delaware, Nicole is the research team leader for an extensive project on climate change education. Immediately following her 2013 appointment, she was tasked to plan and organize a week-long professional development session on climate change education for 30 middle and high school teachers. In her position as research associate, she coordinates with a wide range of stakeholders including university deans, and National Science Foundation and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration representatives. Additionally, her work for Maryland and Delaware Climate Change Education Assessment and Research Center includes supporting the professional development of program participants and conducting research on students’ learning of climate science.

Nicole received her Ph.D. in learning sciences from Rutgers University, her master’s degree in molecular genetics from Rutgers University, and her B.A. in biotechnology from Pennsylvania State University. Her research interests include public understanding of science, how students develop mechanistic explanations for complex phenomena, and causal reasoning in the sciences. She is experienced conducting research in science classrooms and in the field. While reflecting on her PLDI experience she writes, “All of the leadership skills I learned in the past 5 years in graduate school have come into play.”

In 2014, Charlene was hired as the Director of Institutional Research for Northern Caribbean University in Jamaica. In her position as director she is focused on improving collaboration among various university departments. Charlene attributes her success in landing this position to the PLDI program, stating that PLDI prepares fellows for leadership positions in institutions of higher learning across the world. She writes, “I interviewed for a (faculty) … position, however, after seeing the PLDI on my CV, I was asked to explain the value of participating in such a program while focusing on a Ph.D. as well as how that experience could assist this university. I was offered the position of Director of Institutional Research and not the position for which I initially interviewed. I am using … resources (to which I was introduced in the program) to advance recommendations for the re-structuring of my new office. I never imagined the class would have paid off so quickly!”

Charlene continues to work toward completing doctoral degree in geography from Rutgers University. Charlene was awarded the Latin America Scholarship Program of American Universities (LASPAU) Fulbright Scholarship from 2010 to 2012 to pursue a Ph.D. in Geography. She received her M.Sc. in government focusing on international relations and public policy; and a second MSc in natural resources management, and her B.A. in geography and social sciences from the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus.

In 2013, while completing her doctoral degree in chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers University, Michelle joined BASF’s professional development. The program provides challenging assignments and offers the opportunity for substantial contributions to BASF, while simultaneously advancing professional growth and development. Michelle writes, “Rutgers University’s PreDoctoral Leadership Development Institute (PLDI) proved integral during my interview process with BASF . . . the program is not only providing effective leaders within higher education, but better preparing graduates for industrial leadership positions as well.”

Michele earned her Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Rutgers University in the department of chemistry and chemical biology where she was also the president of the Chemistry Graduate Student Association. Her research at Rutgers focused on synthesizing, characterizing, and formulating bioactive-containing polymers for cosmetic, personal care, wound-care, and food-based application. She received her B.S. in chemistry from Clemson University

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