I CAN STEM
New Jersey Inductees
The New Jersey STEM Pathways Network honors diverse STEM leaders who have made and continue to make significant contributions in STEM.
2023 New Jersey Inductees
Science Supervisor in East Orange School District
David possesses a PhD in Biomedical Science from Rutgers University, a Masters in Biotechnology from Kean University and a Masters in School Administration from Rowan University. David has over 8 years of experience in the life sciences specializing in immunology and protein characterization. At Bristol Myers Squibb in 2005, David helped validate an isoelectric focusing technique to study the purity of a potential therapeutic agent. Later in 2007, at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s Bone Marrow Transplant lab, he was a member of a team that generated Wilm’s Tumor 1-specific CD8+ T cells for adoptive transfer into a leukemia-inoculated model. As a graduate student, he discovered functional and phenotypic differences between two subsets of human plasmacytoid dendritic cells.
As an educator, David has experience as a High School Science Teacher, Curriculum Writer, Data Coordinator, STEM Trainer, Department Chairperson, Adjunct Professor and District Supervisor of Secondary Science. In 2008, through the American Association of Immunologists, he helped develop a High School Immunology curriculum. In 2016, David was the teacher of the year at East Orange Campus High School and a reciptient of Kean University’s Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2018. As an adjunct in the Biology department at Kean University, he has handled courses taken by Biology majors; Virology, Microbiology, Molecular Genetics and Cell/Molecular Biology. He has facilitated the implementation of successful programs, improved the use of data in decision-making, and implemented inquiry-based instructional strategies in science. He continues to support the implementation of STEM Pathways at the district flagship school, East Orange STEM Academy.
Dr. Sandra Daise Adams
Professor at Montclair State University
Dr.Adams was born and grew up in Savannah, Georgia. She attended the Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools. Upon graduation she enrolled at the University of Georgia, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences. She taught for three years in public schools in Georgia while earning a Master of Education in Secondary Biology Education from Georgia State University. She then earned a Ph.D. in Science Education from the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Adams served on the Education faculty at Birmingham Southern College and West Georgia College for several years before enrolling at Georgia State University to complete a second Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics. Her doctoral research focused on RNA-RNA recombination in rubella virus.
Dr. Adams has served on the faculty at Montclair State University for 22 years and holds the rank of professor in the Department of Biology. She maintains a research laboratory in which various natural products are analyzed for their antiviral properties against Herpes simplex virus 1 and 2, Sindbis virus, and Enterovirus 69. The natural products tested include extracts of polyphenols from green tea, black tea, Embelin, curcumin, and other curcuminoid compounds. Her teaching responsibilities include Principles of Biology I, Virology, and Immunology.
Dr. Adams served as the principal investigator (PI) on a National Science Foundation grant to recruit, prepare and retain biology, chemistry, earth science and physics teachers for New Jersey’s high need schools and was PI on a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to implement a Phage Genomics course in which students conduct an authentic research project to isolate and characterize a novel bacteriophage from the soil. She has secured grant funding as PI of over $1.6 million and as co-PI for approximately $1 million.
Dr. Perry N. Halkitis
Dean & Professor at Rutgers University
Perry N Halkitis, PhD, MS, MPH, is an infectious disease epidemiologist, applied statistician, and public health psychologist. He serves in these roles through his research, teaching, and advocacy and activism.
Dr. Halkitis is currently Dean, Hunterdon Professor of Public Health & Health Equity, and Distinguished Professor of Biostatistics & Epidemiology at the Rutgers School of Public Health. He is also the founder and director of the Center for Health, Identity, Behavior & Prevention Studies (CHIBPS). He holds the status of Professor Emeritus at the College of Global Public Health at New York University.
For three decades, the focus of his research has been on the emergence, prevention, and treatment of infectious diseases, specifically, HIV, HPV, and other sexually transmitted infections, and more recently SARS-CoV-2 and MPV. His program of study has sought to disentangle the biological, behavioral, psychosocial, and structural mechanisms that predispose people and populations to these infectious diseases, and the synergies of infectious disease with mental health burden – including drug abuse – primarily in sexual, gender, and racial, and ethnic minority populations.
Technology Lead Teacher at East Orange STEM Academy
Pedro Azcona teaches at East Orange STEM Academy as a Technology Lead. He has been in the technology field for over 18 years and attained his BS from Rutgers University and MS in Education Media Design & Technology from Full Sail University. Throughout his career, he has written curriculums for robotics engineering as well as Digital Media Design and production for beginners to advanced kids. He’s also been fortunate enough to teach these courses and introduce these amazing subjects to thousands of students. He’s spent his last 13 summers teaching robotics engineering and film editing at the Kean University Upward Bound TRIO program. His motto is “the day I stop learning is the day I will stop teaching.”
Teacher of STEM and Robotics at Warren Hills Middle School
Laura is a 2009 graduate of The College of New Jersey in Pre-Engineering Technology Studies. She has a Masters in Special Education and a Master in STEM Leadership. Laura is also a graduate of the US STEM Institute.
Laura discovered that she loves STEM during her freshman year in high school with her wonderful teacher Mr. Mark Wallace. He ignited the spark for her love of STEM. He has continued to be a mentor and friend to her during her throughout her career.
Laura is currently a Teacher of STEM and Robotics at Warren Hills Middle School. She has been a STEM teacher for 14 years, teaching students from grades 5 to 12 all aspects of STEM such as woodshop, Engineering, Mechanical Movement, Robotics and STEM design.
Rodrigo Sanchez Hernandez
4-H Program Associate at Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Mercer County
Rodrigo Sanchez Hernandez is part of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Mercer County in the 4-H Youth Development Department. He brings a STEM focus to his programming and curriculum development. It is his belief that STEM can act as a pathway to broader learning and community engagement. Most of his work is centered in and around the Trenton area to provide STEM opportunities to an underrepresented community in the field. Prior to his work as a 4-H Youth Development professional, Rodrigo worked in Union County as a STEM high school teacher. His passion for STEM developed early on and he followed that passion through to college earning an engineering degree and then working in industry.
Rodrigo believes that a strong focus on STEM in our youth will help us all combat the challenges our world faces. He is passionate about youth taking part in STEM, developing a strong STEM mindset, and also working toward a more equitable and just system of education and education access to our underserved communities.
Math teacher at County Prep High School
Cassandra Velazquez- Murphy is a math teacher at County Prep High School in Jersey City, NJ. Cassandra has been passionate about STEM ever since she became an educator in 2015. She has been a facilitator for many STEM Camps in Hudson County and STEM Clubs, including Girls Who Code and Women in STEM.
As a child in Union City, Cassandra always loved math and wanted to spread that joy to others. She attended New Jersey City University where she majored in Mathematics and Secondary Education. She then went on to get my Masters at Montclair State University to study Educational Leadership.
Co-founder of Sojorne
Efe Odeleye is a champion for STEM and technology and serves as the co-founder of Sojorne, a digital platform for parents raising children with special needs, disabilities, and chronic health conditions. Efe also is the Lead Founder of Achievers Early College Prep, New Jersey’s first early college middle and high school focused on STEAM education in Trenton, NJ. Before starting Achievers, Efe served as the Executive Director of Freedom Foundation, a Lagos, Nigeria-based foundation focused on poverty alleviation and education.
Efe began her career in education in 2004, as a Teach For America corps member. She taught 7th-grade level English Language and Arts and led her students to achieve significant growth on state exams. In 2008, Efe was elected to the Board of Education in Willingboro, New Jersey, and worked to increase student academic achievement for her district’s 4,500 students. She graduated as a Henry Rutgers Thesis Scholar with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Media Studies from Rutgers University and completed her master’s degree in Government Administration at The University of Pennsylvania, Fels School of Government. Efe is a wife, mother of two wonderful children, Innovation Coach, STEM Education advocate, and a disability advocate.
Operations Supervisor at Thermo Fisher Scientific
Iris Robinson is an Operations Supervisor with the Laboratory Products Group based out of Bridgewater NJ. She has been in the Science Industry for 8 years with an educational background in Supply Chain and Information Management. Iris has also served as the organizer and Chapter Lead for Bridgewater’s African Heritage Business Resource Group (AHBRG) since its inception in 2022. With a passion for Outreach and Engagement, Iris and her AHBRG team led several volunteer events in the local community and beyond. Each event centered around STEM and Thermo Fisher’s commitment to Diversity and Inclusion. Iris believes that inclusion is not only a concept, it is a communal responsibility that everyone must own.
Math and Science Special Ed Teacher at Flemington-Raritan Regional School District
Lisa entered the teaching profession as a second career through the Alternate Route program at Rutgers. After years of coaching her children, volunteering for several organizations and charities, and leading many fundraisers, Lisa entered the classroom first as a sub and then as a new forty something year old teacher in 2016. Lisa found many mentors at Reading Fleming Intermediate School (RFIS) who helped guide her through her math certification, special education certification, and ultimately her masters from Georgian Court University. The sixth grade special education math and science teacher was honored as RFIS as Teacher of the Year in 2020.
Science Teacher and STEM Coordinator at Bergenfield High School
Anu Thadani is an educator and scientist who has been inspiring the next generation of researchers and innovators. Anu currently teaches AP Biology, Forensic Science through the Syracuse University Project Advance program, and Anatomy and Physiology. As a STEM educator she strives to instill an appreciation for science in her students, and encourages them to pursue careers in medicine, research and technology. Anu’s journey in the world of STEM began with her undergraduate studies, during which she gained valuable experience through internships at companies such as Ciba Geigy and Marrow Tech, a startup biotechnology firm. She went on to work as a Research Assistant at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals for many years.
After several years in Biotech research, she felt the need to balance her career with her family life. Anu transitioned into a remote work setting in order to spend more time with her two young daughters. During this period, she trained herself in programming languages such as Java and HTML and went on to develop websites and databases as an independent contractor for corporations such as British Airways, Network Dynamics, and many other companies.
In 2002, Anu Thadani decided to make a significant career shift, from her corporate roles to education. Her desire to share her love for science led her to Bergenfield High School, through the Alternate Route Teacher Certification program.
I CAN STEM
New Jersey Inductees
The I CAN STEM New Jersey Inductees are selected through a nomination process which is reviewed by the NJSPN’s New Jersey STEM Strategic Advisory Board.
By including role models right in our State, students will have the opportunity to meet or hear from them in real life and learn about the various STEM industries that are right here in New Jersey.