Student life

Student life

As a graduate student in the Oral Health Research program you will get to mix and work with students from a variety of programs at VCU. We have a diverse community in the VCU Philips Institute for Oral Health; your lab colleague might be an M.D./Ph.D. student or a graduate student from another school. This will help you build a strong peer network for your future career.  Wherever they are from, our students create a sense of community by bringing a strong work ethic and social camaraderie to everyday life at the Philips Institute.

Aside from social activities, our students regularly get together to discuss their research at our monthly Research in Progress meetings, a series of informal presentations by graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. These meetings are a forum for open discussions on troubleshooting scientific problems and discussing latest results.

Journal club topics are linked to the Philips Institute invited seminar series. Following the seminars, students have lunch with the invited speakers where they can discuss their research and get career advice.

At our annual Research Day in April our graduate students present their work in poster format and compete for the “Best Poster Presentation Award”. This award come with a trophy, a monetary prize and support to travel to a conference of their choice.

Class entering 2017

Chris Pham

Chris Pham

I grew up in Irvine, California, and went to the University of Southern California for my undergraduate studies. I received my Bachelor of Arts in Neuroscience at USC. After graduating from USC, I enrolled in a post-baccalaureate program at VCU and transferred into the master’s program in the School of Medicine. I graduated with a Master of Science in Biochemistry under the guidance of Dr. Janina P. Lewis. My experience during my master’s led me to pursue a Ph.D. in Oral Health Research. I believe this program will give me the experience and training I need for my career in science and research. Outside of research, I have a passion for food, photography, music, and bodybuilding.

Class entering 2019

Hannah Lohner

I grew up in the small town of Big Island, Virginia, and I completed my undergraduate studies at Virginia Tech. At Virginia Tech, I held several leadership positions through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and received a Bachelor of Science with a concentration in Microbiology. After completing my undergraduate studies, I worked at VCU for four years as a laboratory technician and manager for Dr. Pin-Lan Li in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in the School of Medicine. During my time in Dr. Li's lab, my love for science and research grew and led me to pursue a Ph.D in Oral Health Research at the Philips Institute. I believe this program will give me the experience and training I need to excel in any future career. Outside of research, I enjoy spending time with family, hiking, fishing, playing volleyball, and singing.

Class entering 2020

Krista Powell


I earned my Bachelor's and Master degrees in Biomedical Engineering at VCU. Under the guidance of Dr. Rebecca Heise and Dr. Anthony Faber, I completed my master’s thesis research examining the role of KRAS in mechanosensing in Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer. During my masters, I worked as a Laboratory Technician with VCU Philips Institute for Oral Health Research focusing on targeted therapies for genetically-defined cancers, and I plan to continue this research during my Ph.D. During my free time, I enjoy hiking and kayaking. 

Febri Gunawan Sugiokto

I grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia and went to Atma Jaya Catholic University of Indonesia for my Bachelor in Sciences in Biotechnology field. After I graduated, I worked for a medical device distributor company for one and a half years and continued to pursue my Master's degree in Microbiology and Immunology in Tzu Chi University, Taiwan and got a scholarship during my Master's degree. In VCU, I hope to join Dr. Renfeng Li's laboratory that focuses on Epstein Barr Virus. I hope I will be an expert in the Microbiology area including viruses and cancer.

Class entering 2021


Alexis Fakunmoju

I grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia and attended VCU for my bachelors in Biology with a minor in Chemistry. During my undergraduate studies, I volunteered with Pharmacology and Toxicology at VCU and studied oxycodone withdraw related research. This allowed me to gain insight on research techniques and handling of mice. However, my   background knowledge as a dental assistant has led me to pursue a masters with the oral health institute of VCU. I believe research in Oral Health is crucial to have a better understanding of educating patients and find new treatments as an aspiring dentist. Outside of research, I enjoy traveling, playing with my dog, and touring Richmond!


Alexandra Galina

I grew up on Long Island, New York before moving to Charlottesville, Virginia during high school. I completed my Bachelors of Science in Biomedical engineering at the University of Virginia. After graduating, I began a Masters of Science in Microbiology and Immunology with a concentration in Oral Biology at the Phillips Institute in Dr. Janina Lewis’ lab. I have been interested in dentistry since I was a young child, growing up in my mother’s dental office. This program will enables me to understand the basic science behind evidence based dentistry. When I’m not in the lab, I like to be outside exploring Richmond with my dog, and spending time with my friends and family.

Collette Creamer

I grew up in Richmond, Virginia and attended the University of Richmond where I did research on a giant virus called Tupanvirus and where I got my Bachelor of Science degree in Biology. I've been fascinated with cancer research since I was in ninth grade, when I first learned about how oncolytic viruses were being studied as a theoretical cancer treatment; my ultimate career goal is to study one of these viruses, Newcastle Disease Virus. I look forward to learning as much as I can while in this program. Outside of class, I enjoy writing, reading, drawing, and playing cello. . 

Colin Hawkes 

I am originally from Yorktown, VA. I attended VCU for my undergraduate studies where I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Bioinformatics along with a concentration in Genomic Science. I have since worked as a technician here at VCU in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the lab of Dr. Daniel Miller. Along with my prior interest in Bioinformatics, my experience studying periodontal pathogens in the Miller Lab led me to a distinct interest in bacteriology and the complex polymicrobial environment of the human mouth. I am excited to pursue a PhD in Oral Health Research here at the Phillips Institute; I believe this program will give me the opportunity to acquire the skills and experience required to answer exciting questions in science. When I am not in the lab I enjoy cycling, live music, and being outdoors.

Alexandria Tyler

I earned my MBA in 2015 and MS in 2019, concentrating my focus in both microbiology and infectious disease while doing research at the National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases working primarily with Yersinia pestis, historically the causative agent of the black plague. From the time I graduated until I joined the Philips Institute for Oral Health Research, I was a part of a research and development team focusing on oligonucleotide gene therapy for novel diseases in the immunochemistry department at a biopharmaceutical company. My interests are immunoengineering, biodefence, and immunology.

Class entering 2022


Ronald Hill

I am from Jessup, Maryland. I attended Randolph-Macon College in Ashland to play football and obtained a BA in Biology with guided research on GPR56 and fertility. After RMC, I worked in the Zachos Lab at Johns Hopkins SOM studying IBS/IBD utilizing enteroids and their physiology. I then went on to work at Precision Antibody while obtaining a MS in Pharmaceutical Sciences from UMB School of Pharmacy. For my capstone project, I focused on optimization of hybridoma development. I am excited to be part of this program and am confident this program will prepare me for a career in science. In my free time, I like to hang out with friends, travel, and play sports.



Katelyn Hustus

I am from a very small town in Maine. As a first generation college student, I attended the University of Maine at Orono and received a Bachelor’s of Science in Microbiology in 2021. After graduation, I accepted a position at Bates College as a postbaccalaureate scholar in Biology. There I continued to research microbiological symbiotic relationships. More specifically, I studied the relationship between the freshwater sponge, Ephydatia Muelleri and its intracellular micro-algal symbionts. Using this new research experience, I was able to gain admission into the PhD Oral Health Research program at the Philips Institute. While here, I hope to contribute to the department’s research and learn as much as I can. Outside of my academic endeavors I enjoy spending time outside: skiing, hiking, fishing, four wheeling, etc.



Yanli Xing

I grew up in Bengbu, Anhui Province, China. I received my Bachelor's degree from Bengbu Medical College in Anhui Province. I completed my Master’s Degree in Surgery at the Anhui Medical University in Anhui Province, then I left my hometown and went to Shanghai, engaged in the clinical work of the department of otolaryngology in the hospital for ten years. For getting a better understanding of the molecular mechanism of the Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinomas' (HNSCCs) progression, then I joined Dr. Yue Sun's lab as an exchange visitor and research scholar at VCU Philips Institute for Oral Health Research in 2019. To further study the molecular immune signaling pathway of HNSCCs, I am excited to pursue a Ph.D. in Oral Health Research here at the Philips Institute. I believe this program will give me the experience and training to better understand the molecular mechanism of head and neck cancer and to do some research to solve clinical problems in the future. Outside of research, I enjoy cooking, spending time with my family, hiking, and reading.


Graduates of the Program

Christian Fontan

I grew up in Leesburg, Virginia and attended the College of William and Mary, where I received a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry. In 2016, I joined the VCU MD-PhD combined degree program. I began my doctorate studies under the mentorship of Dr. Iain Morgan in 2018 where my dissertation focused on molecular pathways important for high-risk human papillomavirus infection and the implications for cancer progression and treatment.  The knowledge and experience gained during these studies has provided me with important skills, and a unique scientific and holistic perspective, which I carry with me as I complete my final years of clinical training at the School of Medicine. In my off time, I enjoy cycling, rock climbing, and exploring the rich food culture that Richmond has to offer.

Richard Kurupi

Richard Kurupi

I worked with Dr. Anthony Faber on identifying subsets of head and neck cancers that are susceptible to either SHP2 inhibition or a combination of EGFR and SHP2 inhibition. Identifying and understanding these pathways should lead to more personalized and therefore more effective treatments for patients. I am currently a Postdoctoral Fellow in Professor Neel’s laboratory on NYU Langone Health.

Erin Mooney 

I am a postdoctoral scientist in Dr Wang’s lab at the Institute of Molecular Medicine in VCU. My works involves characterizing the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying hyperactive FAO-promoted dendritic cell tolerogenicity in the tumor microenvironment.

Apurva Tadimari Prabhakar

Currently, I am a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Morgan’ lab studying the interaction between HPV and host proteins, with an aim to identify therapeutic targets to treat head and neck cancers caused by HPV. The oral health research program at VCU Philips institute played a vital role in giving me direction to my career aspirations and has led me to a place where I envision myself as an oral health researcher with a passion for teaching. My time at VCU has not only shaped me as a researcher but as an individual with leadership and interpersonal skills. Beyond lab, I enjoy spending time alongside the James River as well as explore the vast food scene here at Richmond.

Tanya Puccio

My current role is as a Scientist I at BioAgilytix, a contract research organization in the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina. My role is to test new drugs for safety and efficacy using immunogenicity and pharmacokinetic assays. We develop assays for drugs from multiple clients that will be used to treat or prevent a variety of diseases.