The Dr. Mark Smulson and Dr. Zofia Zukowska Awards for Excellence in Thesis Research were inaugurated in 2013. Each year they recognize the outstanding research contributions of two PhD students from Georgetown University Medical Center’s (GUMC) Biomedical Graduate Education programs. Dr. Zukowska and Dr. Smulson were highly respected scientists, beloved colleagues, and treasured professors who mentored many PhD students into independent researchers. A committee drawn from our seven PhD programs selects the awardees from a pool of nominations. Award recipients are recognized onstage at GUMC Convocation.

2018 Smulson and Zukowska Recipients

Max Kushner

Max Kushner
2018 Smulson Recipient
PhD in Tumor Biology Candidate

Max Kushner is the recipient of the Dr. Mark Smulson Award for Excellence in Thesis Research. Currently a fourth year Tumor Biology PhD candidate mentored by Dr. Anna Riegel, he was awarded this year a Ruth L. Kirschstein Individual National Research Service Award and a prestigious Miseltoe Foundation award. He has recently published a review on AIB1 as an oncogene earlier this year and is expected to soon publish a first author paper on his thesis work. Dr. Riegel credits Max’s innovative thinking, pure enthusiasm for science, and dedication to the greater good for inspiring progress in her lab, driving curriculum reform in the Tumor Biology program, and generally enriching the experience of all he works with.


Patrick Malone

Patrick Malone
2018 Zukowska Recipient
MD/PhD in Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience Candidate

Patrick Malone is the recipient of the Dr. Zofia Zukowska Award for Excellence in Thesis Research. Patrick is a fourth year MD/PHD candidate in the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience (IPN) program mentored by Dr. Max Riesenhuber. Patrick published a first-author paper in the Journal of Neuroscience just over a year into the IPN program. A Ruth L. Kirschstein Individual National Research Service Award currently sponsors his thesis work in neural mechanisms of vibrotactile speech perception. Patrick has been invited to give talks at external institutions, has presented posters, and this summer was accepted to the Lindau Nobel Laureates meeting and Neurohackweek Summer School for Neuroimaging and Data Science. His mentor and program director note additionally that Patrick is very dedicated to the IPN community. He founded the Cognitive Neuroimaging Journal Club and is always ready to ‘lend a hand’.


2017 Smulson and Zukowska Recipients

Stephen Devito

Stephen DeVito is the recipient of the Dr. Mark Smulson Award for Excellence in Thesis Research. Stephen is a fifth year PhD candidate in the Tumor Biology program being mentored by Dr. Rabindra Roy, who described him as one of the best students he has come across. He has one first author publication, and it is anticipated that his research will yield another first author publication. In addition he is a co-author in two other publications. He also received an F99/K00 pre-doc/post- doc award from NCI. Stephen has been studying DNA damage, repair and genome instability in the context of inflammation-driven cancers.


Mackenzie Fama

Mackenzie Fama is the recipient of the Dr. Zofia Zukowska Award for Excellence in Thesis Research. She is a fifth year student in the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience, and is mentored by Dr. Peter Turkeltaub and co-mentored by Dr. Rhonda Friedman. Her research aims to understand the cognitive and neural correlates of preserved inner speech in people with language deficits after stroke. In 2015, she received a three-year NRSA from NIH and a New Century Scholars Predoctoral Scholarship from the American Speech-Language- Hearing Foundation. She won first place for oral presentations at this year’s Student Research Day. She has three first author papers, one co-authored paper, and several more papers under review or in preparation. She will defend her dissertation in Spring 2018.

2016 Smulson and Zukowska Recipients

Eric Berens

Eric Berens is the recipient of the Dr. Mark Smulson Award for Excellence in Thesis Research. Eric is a fifth year PhD candidate in the Tumor Biology program being mentored by Dr. Anton Wellstein, who described him as one of the best students he has met. He has three first author publications - two published and one in press - and it is anticipated that his research will yield another first author publication. He also received an F99/K00 pre-doc/post-doc award from NCI. Eric has studied the process of cancer cell vascular invasion, the topic of his first author paper in Oncogene. In his studies, he utilized different cell invasion approaches, leading to another first author publication in the Journal of Visual Experimentation. Another first author paper in the same journal demonstrated cancer cell vascular invasion in zebrafish embryos.


Summer Rozzi

Summer Rozzi is the recipient of the Dr. Zofia Zukowska Award for Excellence in Thesis research. Summer is a sixth year student in the lab of Italo Mocchetti in the Interdisciplinary Program of Neuroscience. In 2014, she received a three year NRSA from the NIH. She has one first author publication and a middle author publication. Her research focuses on the mechanisms by which HIV-1 Tat contributes to neurotoxicity through the impairment of mitochondria.  She is interested in understanding how disruption of mitochondrial dynamics can lead to neuronal impairments, and ultimately cell death, contributing to the impairments observed in HAND.  More broadly, she investigates the role that mitochondrial dynamics and energetics play in both healthy and pathological aging, particularly in neurodegeneration. For the IPN, she co-directed the Drugs, the Brain, and Behavior course for two years and taught in it every year, and she was IPN Summer Course Instructor one year. At GUMC, she was president of MCGSO for two years and vice president for one year. She organized the Student Research Day for two years and has worked every year in our Brain Awareness Week.

2015 Smulson and Zukowska Recipients

Tsion Minas is the recipient of the Smulson Award. She is beginning her 4th year in the Tumor Biology PhD Program under the mentorship of Dr. Aykut Uren. She has been an outstanding student from the beginning and has maintained one of the highest GPAs in the program. Tsion's research focuses on drug development in clinical trials for Ewing sarcoma patients. While in the Tumor Biology program, Tsion already has published 5 papers, one as the first author and has two additional papers are under review. The most recent paper submitted to Cell Reports is an extremely large project involving 6 different laboratories. She also presented her work in two posters at Annual Meeting of American Association for Cancer Research in 2014 (San Diego, CA) and in 2015 (Philadelphia, PA). We are happy to recognize Tsion’s contribution to excellence in research.


Amanda Dibattista is the recipient of the Zukowska Award. She is beginning her 5th year in the PhD Interdisciplinary Program of Neuroscience under the mentorship of Dr. William Rebeck. Amanda has one of the highest GPA in the program. Amanda was on the Neural Injury and Plasticity (NIP) training grant for two years, and then received her own F31 NRSA from NIH in 2015. Amanda has worked on eight publications while in the IPN program, with three as first author. She has currently submitted two more first author papers. Her research investigates the effects of Alzheimer’s disease and the genetic risk factor APOE on normal brain function. This past summer she gave an oral presentation at an Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. We are happy to recognize Amanda’s contribution to excellence in research. 


2014 Smulson and Zukowska Recipients

Tara Gelb is the recipient of the Smulson Award. She is beginning her 5th year in the Pharmacology PhD Program. She has been an outstanding student from the beginning and has maintained one of the highest GPAs in the program. She has also received a PreDoctoral Fellowship from PhARMA Foundation which was renewed for a second year. Her research investigates potential new treatments for metastatic melanoma that involve alterations in glutamate signaling via mGlu1 receptors in melanoma cells. Tara has several first-author papers; one recently published in the prestigious journal Oncogene.  We are happy to recognize Tara’s contribution to excellence in research. 


Laura Erickson is the recipient of the Zukowska Award. She is beginning her 4th year in the PhD Interdisciplinary Program of Neuroscience. Laura has one of the highest GPA in the program. In 2012, she was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Her research investigates multisensory processing, including audiovisual speech and the McGurk effect using meta-analytic and in vivo imaging techniques. These studies have resulted in several first-author papers. We are happy to recognize Laura’s contribution to excellence in research. 


2013 Smulson and Zukowska Recipients

Dr. Lymor Rachel Ringor, who received her PhD in tumor biology from Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center last year, was awarded the inaugural Dr. Mark Smulson Award for Excellence in Thesis Research. 


Dr. Evan Moss Gordon, who completed his PhD through the interdisciplinary program in neuroscience, was awarded the Inaugural Dr. Zofia Zukowska Award for Excellence in Thesis Research.