MCB Welcomes Sonam Ahluwalia, Matthew Buechner, and Adrienne Cheng

Sonam Ahluwalia joined the division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) as a program assistant in August 2020.

What is your educational background?

I have an undergraduate degree in biology and a minor in conservation studies. I enjoy teaching the relevance of biological mechanisms in sustainable agriculture, which led me to join the Peace Corps in Madagascar before joining NSF.

What was your first week in MCB like?

My first week was exciting meeting all the amazing staff members. The entire staff shared their warm welcomes and made it easier to onboard completely virtually.  

How has your relocation to the area gone?

This is an interesting question because I have not relocated since NSF staff will be working remotely until further notice. Starting a new position virtually has been an interesting journey! It is a little odd meeting coworkers two-dimensionally. However, it has been pleasant working from home without the stress of moving just yet.

Matthew Buechner joined MCB as a program officer in the Cellular Dynamics and Function (CDF) cluster in September 2020.

What were you doing before you came to NSF?

I am an associate professor at the University of Kansas in the beautiful historic college town of Lawrence, where I taught Microbiology and Cell & Developmental Biology. Micro is fun to teach; there’s a unique sound when 350 voices gasp in unison when you show a slide of some horrible infection, kind of like “the wave” in a stadium.

My research looks at how a single cell changes its shape from a round ball (more or less) to form long hollow tubes, by looking at the genes involved in the tiny (1 mm long) roundworm C. elegans. The results tell us how genes and proteins work together to move parts of the cell around (vesicles and cytoskeleton) to create the wide variety of cells in animals, including the tiny blood vessels and kidney tubules in our bodies.

What attracted you to work for NSF?  

After being on panels, I served at NSF as a Visiting Scientist, Engineer and Educator (VSEE) program officer in the Developmental Biology program in the division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS) from 2015 to 2017, and it was a blast! The excitement of reading so many imaginative ideas was thrilling, and they invigorated my own lab’s research. It was also great to work as a team with so many dedicated staff members at all levels to fund as much of that thrilling research as we could.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about serving as a program director at NSF?

Do it! You’ll learn a lot about your field and on writing grants, get to have fun while working with bright colleagues…and avoid the departmental squabbles over space, funding, and getting grad students, which are inherent to academia.  Running a panel is a thrill like little else:  exhausting, intellectually challenging, and rewarding.

Adrienne Cheng joined MCB as an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Fellow in September 2020.

What is your educational background?

I completed my bachelor’s in environmental studies and biology in 2011, followed by an MPH in environmental health sciences, and I received my PhD in nutritional sciences in 2019.

What was your first week in MCB like?

So far it has been great! I spent the majority of my first week in meetings as well as meeting people in the division.

What are some of the challenges you have faced so far?

Getting to know the office culture and learning all of the software in a virtual manner has been a little difficult, but everyone has been accommodating and understanding. It’s also going to take me a while to remember all of the acronyms….

How has your relocation to the area gone?

As good as it can be! Roads are a little busier than I’m used to, but other than that things couldn’t have gone smoother.


Myeshia Shelby – Myeshia joined MCB in June as an intern through the NSF Summer Scholars Internship Program and the Quality Education for Minorities (QEM) Network.

What is your educational background?
I have a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s in genetics and human genetics.

What were you doing before you came to NSF?
Before being accepted as a summer intern at NSF, I was completing the fall semester of my PhD program at Howard University where I am part of a translational neuroscience research team.

What was your first impression of NSF? Has this impression changed since you began?
I honestly had no idea what took place at NSF, to the point that I asked if research was conducted on premises. After orientation, it was made clear that NSF is a funding entity for research in science and engineering.

What personal goals would you like to accomplish while at NSF?
I plan to use this opportunity to make new professional connections and gain insight as to how NSF fulfills its mission to support scientific research.

Alias Smith – Alias joined MCB in August 2017 as a Fellow sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He transitioned to the role of science associate in April 2019.

What was the highlight of your time at NSF?
The highlight of working at NSF, specifically within MCB, was being able to work collaboratively with great colleagues on a wide array of projects. I have had the pleasure of working with MCB’s division leadership, program directors, and administrative staff, and in all cases I have learned a lot and had the opportunities to have a lasting impact at NSF and in the community we serve.

What is next for you after your time at NSF?
For the next chapter of my career I will remain at NSF, moving from BIO/MCB to the Emerging Frontiers and Multidisciplinary Activities (EFMA) office in the Directorate for Engineering, where I will serve as an associate program director.

What personal goals did you accomplish while at NSF?
My time at NSF began as an AAAS Fellow. At that time, I was exploring career options, primarily deciding whether to stay in academia or move on to federal or private sector work. After working as an AAAS Fellow and subsequently as a science associate in MCB, I decided that remaining in a federal agency would be best for me with respect to personal growth and the lasting impact I could have on the community. For example, I have been able to develop outreach methods that have the potential to reach a diverse set of faculty members from around the country, directly impacting their understanding of opportunities at NSF.

Would you have done anything differently looking back at you time at NSF?
Looking back at my time at NSF, the main thing I would do differently is reach out to more people across the Foundation to learn about their interests and projects. There is a wide range of expertise represented at NSF and I now know there are many mechanisms to tap into that collective consciousness. I am looking forward to the fact that I am remaining at NSF, and I plan to take full advantage of the opportunity to learn as much as I can from the people around me.

Alexis Patullo – Alexis started as a program assistant in June 2016; she transitioned to program specialist in 2017 and is now a management and program analyst.

What was working at MCB like?
MCB was my first “big kid” job right out of college and I could not have asked for a better place to start. Everyone was always supportive and continually challenged me to be the best I could be. MCB is great team environment and I am going to miss working there. I have learned a lot about NSF these past few years, and hope to use my skills as I transition to my new position.

What is next for you after your time at NSF?
I will be staying at NSF as a management and program analyst in the Directorate for Biological Sciences.

MCB Welcomes Dr. Alias Smith, AAAS Fellow

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is an international non-profit organization dedicated to “advancing science for the benefit of all people.” Science and Technology Fellows at NSF partner with NSF staff for a year-long term of service. During that assignment, Fellows assist in the planning, development, and oversight of agency programs. Many also develop projects that both interest them and serve the organization to which they have been assigned. MCB is excited to welcome Dr. Alias Smith as our AAAS Fellow for the 2017-18 term.

Dr. Alias Smith, AAAS Fellow, MCB, 2017-18

What is your educational background?
I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry from University of Missouri, Columbia. Next, I completed my Ph.D. in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics at University of California, Los Angeles, where I studied gene expression in the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis. My postdoctoral training at University of California, San Diego, centered around understanding the life cycle of the parasite Giardia lamblia.

What is your position? When did you start working in MCB?
I began my posting as an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow in MCB in September. As an AAAS Fellow I have the opportunity to carve out my projects within the scope and mission of MCB. I have received great guidance from MCB staff, program directors, and our acting division director in creating my fellowship plan. My primary focus in MCB is on working with the program directors in the Systems and Synthetic Biology (SSB) cluster to develop and align research goals with synthetic biology research interests both within NSF and between NSF and outside agencies.

Additionally, professional development is a major component of the AAAS Fellowship. During my time in MCB, I will learn advanced data analytics skills to conduct a portfolio review of the proposed science submitted to the SSB cluster under past solicitations. I will also become more familiar with the merit review process. The AAAS Fellowship and MCB also provides opportunities for me to work on projects that broaden participation in science and technology education, training, and careers.

What attracted you to work for NSF?
Science education, mentoring, and outreach have been consistent components of each phase of my research training and professional career. Recently, I became curious about the bigger picture: What mechanisms influence STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education and research on a larger scale? I want to learn first-hand how NSF impacts the science-education and the research communities. The AAAS Fellowship has afforded me the opportunity to directly witness the inner workings of NSF and to support the agency’s mission and strategic goals.

What have you learned so far from your position?
I have learned how valuable it is to have a variety of expertise among reviewers and program directors during the merit review and funding decision process. It is impressive to witness how much work and thought goes into reviewing each proposal.


Dr. Steven Clouse is standing in front of green trees.

Dr. Steven Clouse, a Cellular Dynamics and Function Program Director in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences and Professor in the Department of Horticultural Science at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, has been elected a 2016 Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS). Since 1874, the AAAS has bestowed this honor on select members for their “scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.” Dr. Clouse was nominated by peers in the Section on Agriculture, Food, and Renewable Resources “for distinguished contributions to the field of plant biology, particularly for pioneering studies of brassinosterorid signaling and plant receptor kinases.”

After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis and completing postdoctoral work in plant molecular biology at the Salk Institute, Dr. Clouse began his independent research career in 1988 as an assistant professor at San Diego State University. At that time, a class of naturally occurring plant compounds termed “brassinosteroids” had been structurally characterized, but little was known about their molecular mechanism of action. In collaboration with Dr. Trevor McMorris and Dr. Michael Baker, experts in steroid chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego, Dr. Clouse and his students cloned one of the first brassinosteroid-regulated genes and identified one of the first brassinosteroid steroid-insensitive mutants in plants. The launch of this research project was supported by a Small Grant for Exploratory Research (SGER) from NSF – the first of many NSF awards received over a 25 year period that were essential to developing a research program to determine the mechanisms of brassinosteroid action in plant growth and development.

In 1996, Dr. Clouse moved to North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He began a collaboration with Dr. Steven Huber, a kinase biochemist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Dr. Michael Goshe, an expert in proteomics and mass spectrometry at North Carolina State University, to determine the role of protein phosphorylation in brassinosteroid signaling. This work was supported by several NSF grants from MCB, culminating in two large Arabidopsis 2010 program awards that allowed the work to expand dramatically both in terms of the size of the group as well as new research avenues involving high throughput proteomic approaches.

When reflecting on his election as AAAS fellow, Dr. Clouse said, “I was very pleased that my peers considered our 25 year research effort on brassinosteroid action to be worthwhile. The success of the program was the result of hard work by more than 30 postdoctoral scientists and graduate students and being fortunate to have excellent collaborators, particularly Drs. Huber and Goshe. The initial belief of NSF program directors in the importance of our work and the continued and growing NSF support over the years was crucial for the success of the program, both in terms of research and training, and is greatly appreciated. I feel fortunate to be able to serve as an NSF program director near the end of my career, where I can perhaps contribute by identifying new projects that may continue to enjoy the long-term success that we experienced.”

Please join MCB as we congratulate Dr. Steven Clouse on his election to the rank of AAAS Fellow!

This work is partially funded by the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Award #MCB – 1021363, #MCB – 0419819, and #MCB – 0742411.

Meet the Editors


Dr. Reyda Gonzalez-Nieves Presidential Management Fellow

Dr. Reyda Gonzalez-Nieves, PMF

Dr. Reyda Gonzalez-Nieves acquired a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from the University of Puerto Rico in 2003. After graduating with an undergraduate degree she was accepted as a fellow to the Hispanic Association of Colleges and University Fellowship Program. During this fellowship, she worked at the Food and Drug Administration as a microbiologist from January 2003 to December 2003. She was accepted into the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences Molecular and Cell Biology Doctoral program in the fall of 2005, where she completed her doctoral degree in August of 2012. During graduate school, she successfully applied and was selected for the Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF). The PMF program is a highly competitive fellowship for all academic disciplines that focuses in training future government leaders. She started working at NSF on April 07, 2014 and  is currently working as a Biologist in the Molecular and Cell Biology division in the Directorate for Biological Sciences.

Dr. Chloe N. Poston, AAAS S&T Policy Fellow

Dr. Chloe N. Poston is currently a AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, where she plans to work on topics related to broadening participation in STEM and communicating the impacts of science with the public. Prior to her placement at NSF, Dr. Poston was a post-doctoral scientist at Eli Lilly and Company. She earned her masters and doctorate degrees in Chemistry at Brown University where her research interests focused on global proteomic analysis. During her doctoral studies, Dr. Poston served as the graduate representative on the university’s Diversity Advisory Board. In addition, she chaired the planning committee for the Graduate Students of Color Conference from 2010-2012. Dr. Poston is passionate about STEM education and outreach, and taught 9th grade biology for a year through the NSF Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education program. She has also served as a Mentor to undergraduate students through The Leadership Alliance and FASEB MARC Peer Mentors Program at ABRCMS meetings since 2010. Dr. Poston is a proud graduate of Clark Atlanta University and continues her outreach through her blog called The Poston Collective, which discusses relevant topics at the intersection of STEM, policy, education, and diversity.