Eberly College of Science

Five alumni honored with Penn State’s Outstanding Science Alumni Award

The Eberly College of Science at Penn State has selected five alumni to be honored with the Outstanding Science Alumni Award for the year 2015. The Board of Directors of the Eberly College of Science Alumni Society established this award to recognize alumni who have a record of significant professional achievements in their field and who are outstanding role models for students in the college. Receiving this award are:

Donna Bortner, 1984 bachelor of science in microbiology

Alexa Dembek, 1991 doctorate in chemistry

Sudhir Kumar, 1996, doctorate in genetics

Caryl Russo Singer, 1982 bachelor of science in biology

Larry Travis, 1971 doctorate in astronomy

Donna Bortner

Donna Bortner is the chief executive officer at TransViragen, Inc, a company she co-founded in 2009. TransViragen focuses on the generation and analysis of genetically modified cell lines and animal models for scientific research. The company provides a variety of custom services to a growing list of clients in the government, pharmaceutical, biotechnology and academic sectors.

Prior to establishing TransViragen, Bortner worked for nearly twenty years in the pharmaceutical industry at GlaxoSmithKline. She joined GlaxoSmithKline as a postdoctoral fellow in the pharmacology department, where her research entailed the development of animal models to study mechanisms of cancer relevant to human disease. She went on to hold positions of increasing responsibility in the research division, most recently as the head of the company’s transgenics, viral-vectors, and sequencing operations in the United States. In this position, she led a team of scientists in research efforts focused on the development and application of genomic technologies to drug discovery and development, with particular emphasis on genetically modified rodent models. She also served as the chair of the institutional-biosafety and animal-welfare committees.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in microbiology with honors and high distinction from Penn State in 1984, she worked at the National Animal Disease Center until 1987. She went on to earn a doctoral degree in 1992 in microbiology and immunology at Duke University, where she was a National Science Foundation graduate fellow.

Alexa Dembek

Alexa Dembek is the director of Central Research and Development at DuPont.  She is responsible for the development of opportunities involving transformational emerging science.

Dembek joined DuPont in 1991 as a research chemist. In 1995, she took the position of technical manager at DuPont Protection Technologies. As her career progressed, she assumed roles that spanned a range of areas, including supply chain, operations, sales, marketing, and business leadership.

In 2005, Dembek was assigned leadership roles in DuPont Building Innovations, first as a commercial business segment manager and later as the North American marketing manager. In 2006, she transferred to DuPont Performance Polymers. In 2011, she was appointed the regional director of the Americas region. Most recently, Dembek was named the global business director for Dupont’s cross-business Energy Storage venture.

Dembek holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Northern Illinois University. She completed her doctorate in chemistry in 1991 at Penn State.

Sudhir Kumar

Sudhir Kumar is the Laura H. Carnell Professor and the director of the Institute for Genomics and Evolutionary Medicine at Temple University.

Kumar has developed new methods and algorithms for big data, and has translated them into widely used software packages and knowledge bases, such as MEGA and TimeTree.  He uses integrative and comparative approaches to make fundamental discoveries in the fields of molecular evolution, functional genomics, and biomedicine. 

Kumar’s research has been cited more than 90,000 times.  One of his scientific articles was included in the Thomson Reuters Web of Science top-100 most-cited papers of all time and designated the top article of the decade by the Scopus database of peer-reviewed literature. He received an Innovation Award in Functional Genomics from the Burroughs-Wellcome Fund in 2000 and is a fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In 1998, Kumar joined the Arizona State University as an assistant professor and became the Regents professor in 2012. Kumar joined Temple University in 2014 as the founding director of the Institute for Genomics and Evolutionary Medicine, a hub for transdisciplinary research in medicine, informatics, and molecular evolution.

Kumar received his bachelor’s degree in electrical and electronics engineering and master’s degree in biology from the Birla Institute of Technology & Science in India in 1990. He completed his doctorate in genetics at Penn State in 1996.

Caryl Russo Singer

Caryl Russo Singer is the senior vice president for Barnabas Health Corporate Care, a division of Barnabas Health, the largest healthcare system in New Jersey. Singer is responsible for the workers’ compensation program and employee health services for Barnabas Health and its more than 22,000 employees. Russo is responsible for the occupational-medicine services offered through Barnabas Health Corporate Care in six sites located throughout New Jersey.

Prior to joining Barnabas Health, Russo was the director of marketing and communications for First Option Health Plan, a healthcare insurance provider in New Jersey. Additionally, Russo was the director of strategic communications for Enzon, Inc., a publicly traded biotechnology company.

Russo is active with numerous business and civic organizations including the New Jersey Self Insured Association and the Monmouth-Ocean Development Council. She also serves as a member of the Eberly College of Science Biotechnology Advisory Board, the Delta Dental Foundation Board of Directors, and the New Jersey Chapter Board of Directors of the Arthritis Foundation.

After graduating with a bachelor's degree in biology from Penn State in 1982, Singer received her master’s degree from Georgetown University and a doctorate in business administration from Case Western Reserve University.

Larry Travis 

Larry Travis is a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) emeritus researcher at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in the Earth Sciences Division of the Science and Exploration Directorate.  Travis served as associate chief at (GISS) from 1987 until his retirement in May 2015.

Travis joined GISS in 1978. He served as principal investigator for the Cloud Photopolarimeter Instrument on the Pioneer Venus Orbiter Mission and as co-investigator for the Photopolarimeter/Radiometer Instrument on the Galileo Orbiter Mission.

Travis’ research interests include exploration of planetary atmospheres, spacecraft design, and theoretical physics for explaining the transfer of energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation.

He is a member of the American Astronomical Society, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  Travis received the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal in 1980.

Travis graduated with bachelor’s degrees with distinction in astronomy and mathematics in 1965 and earned his master’s degree in astronomy in 1967 at the University of Iowa. He received his doctorate in astronomy from Penn State in 1971.

Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated October 22, 2015