The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Gulf Research Program
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Gulf Research Program Staff

20150701 Elfring photo
Photo credit:
Christopher Michel
Chris Elfringis Executive Director of the Gulf Research Program at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Her role, with guidance from a carefully selected Advisory Board, is to guide the program’s planning and initial implementation, building from the general requirements in the Settlement Agreement to a multi-faceted science program of lasting impact. She is responsible for overseeing all aspects of starting the new program, including strategic planning, community outreach, interactions with the relevant stakeholders and scientific advisors, staff and budget management, and implementation as activities are designed.

Previously, Ms. Elfring was Director of both the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (BASC) and the Polar Research Board (PRB), where she was responsible for strategic planning, project development and oversight, financial management, and personnel. Work under her oversight addressed many aspects of polar science (covering issues in the Arctic, Antarctic, and cold regions, from icebreakers to research priorities in Antarctica) and weather and climate science (covering issues from climate modeling and climate change impacts to weather forecasting and urban meteorology). She provided strategic leadership to the suite of activities known as “America’s Climate Choices.” She was a leader in the planning of International Polar Year 2007-2008, and has a geographic feature in Antarctica, Elfring Peak, named in her honor of her polar science work.

Ms. Elfring has a long-standing interest in the policy dimensions of science and communicating science to non-scientists. She began her career in Washington as a AAAS Science Fellow in 1979. In 2012, the American Meteorological Society (AMS) awarded her the Cleveland Abbe Award for Distinguished Service to the Atmospheric Sciences and she was elected an AMS Fellow.
Jim Banihashemi
Jim Banihashemi is the Senior Financial and Administrative Officer for the Gulf Research Program, and provides financial and administrative oversight to the program. Prior to joining the Gulf Research Program, Jim was an Academies staff member with the Health and Medicine Division (HMD), the Policy on Global Affairs Division (PGA), and the National Academy of Medicine. His work includes providing financial management and training for the Board on African Science Academy Development, a ten year program providing capacity building opportunities for African science academies. Jim also worked with the Academies program Partnerships for Enhanced Engagements in Research (PEER), a competitive grants program for scientists in developing countries. He served as the PEER financial trainer conducting international workshops on US government financial guidelines and best practices. Jim earned a Juris Doctor degree from Widener University School of Law, and is a member of the Pennsylvania Bar and the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.
Mike Banker photo Mike Banker is the Gulf Research Program’s Communications Manager. His role is to lead and manage internal and external communications, outreach, and dissemination activities for the program. Mike’s background spans communications and marketing, grants administration, and environmental policy. Prior to joining the Gulf Research Program, he served as the Assistant Director and communications lead for the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, where he engaged with a broad spectrum of environment, energy, and natural resources topics and issues. Mike has an M.A. in rhetoric and scientific and technical communication from the University of Minnesota and a B.A. in communication arts and philosophy from the University of Wisconsin. His graduate work had multidisciplinary focuses that included environmental rhetoric, conservation biology, and the integration of multi-stakeholder deliberation into environmental risk assessment processes.
Hannah Hoffman photo Hannah Hoffman is the Gulf Research Program’s Project Coordinator – Grants and Fellowships Specialist. She is charged with supporting various Gulf Research Program activities. Prior to joining the Gulf Research Program, she worked in higher education as the supervisor of the telecommunications center for the Office of Admissions at Mount Aloysius College. Ms. Hoffman earned her B.S. in biology with a concentration in pre-health professional studies from Mount Aloysius College. She enjoys spending time with family, kayaking, and learning as much as possible.
Vanessa Lazar smaller Vanessa Lazar is an Associate Program Officer for the Gulf Research Program. Her primary role is to support fellowship and capacity-building activities and conduct a range of program evaluations. Before joining the Gulf Research Program, Ms. Lazar was a staff member in the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, where she contributed to two consensus studies. Prior to joining to the National Academies, she was at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the Division of Behavioral & Cognitive Sciences. At the NSF, Ms. Lazar primarily contributed to science communication activities and supported a number of initiatives that bridged the behavioral and environmental sciences. She holds a B.A. in psychology and an M.A. in marine affairs from the University of Rhode Island. Her graduate research focused on social vulnerability to natural disasters.
20170607_Mitsumori photo Amy Mitsumori is the Gulf Research Program’s Senior Program Assistant, providing support to various Gulf Research Program activities. Before joining the Gulf Research Program, she worked for several non-profit organizations, including one focused on promoting sustainability in the cocoa sector. Ms. Mitsumori earned her B.A. in environmental studies from the George Washington University.
20141020 Olsen photo LeighAnne Olsen is the director of strategic initiatives for the Gulf Research Program of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Dr. Olsen oversees the development of the program’s four core initiatives and she is lead staff for the program’s health and resilience portfolio of grants and other activities. Before joining the Gulf Research Program, she was a staff member of the Institute of Medicine with the Board on Global Health, the Board on Health Sciences Policy, and the Executive Office. She has more than 11 years of experience with program design and management and has served as lead for projects, workshops, and publications on a variety of topics spanning environmental, social, and health systems – including coastal community health and resilience, disaster response and recovery, social determinants of health, ecosystem health, infectious disease research and outbreak response, and clinical effectiveness research. Dr. Olsen first joined the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine as a Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Fellow. She received a Ph.D. in molecular biology from Princeton University and a B.S. from UC Berkeley.
Oksvig photo Kelly Oskvigis a Program Officer for the Gulf Research Program. She supports various aspects of the program’s grant funding processes and also the Advisory Board’s working groups, and also has a key role in other industry and engineering related activities. Prior to joining the Gulf Research Program, she provided operations and engineering development support to the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program. She also worked with Shell E&P to monitor metocean conditions in the Gulf of Mexico and to develop environmental design criteria for offshore infrastructure. Additionally, Ms. Oskvig has experience performing geotechnical investigations in the Gulf of Mexico to determine soil strength profiles for pile capacity and feasibility studies. Ms. Oskvig earned her physical oceanography at Texas A&M University, and her B.S. in Civil Engineering at the University of Texas. She enjoys being a mom and doing anything outdoors during her spare time.
20170508_Rea photo Chris Reais a Gulf Research Program Associate Program Officer focused on human and environmental health-related topics. Prior to joining the National Academies, he was a fellow with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, serving through both the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health and the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education post-graduate programs. During his fellowships, Chris also worked with the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s climate change and human health workgroup. His research work has broadly focused on water quality, infectious agents, and wetland ecosystem goods and services. Additionally, Chris has been involved in various global health projects and is an active member of the American Public Health Association. He holds a Ph.D. in public health (environmental health sciences) and a Master of Public Health from the Ohio State University, as well as a B.A. in sociology from Vanderbilt University.
20170127_Ruggiero photo Karena Mary Ruggierois a Gulf Research Program Associate Program Officer focused on education initiatives as part of the capacity-building and outreach aspects of the program. Prior to joining the National Academies, she was the Director of Education at an international environmental nonprofit based in Washington, DC. Dr. Ruggiero has worked in environmental and climate change education as an informal educator for several years and has conducted research on the development, capacity, and politics of state environmental literacy plans. She holds a Ph.D. in education with a focus on science and environmental education from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, a M.A. in political science from the University of Rhode Island, and a B.A. in journalism and environment & natural resources from the University of Wyoming.
20160722 Showalter photo Lauren Showalteris the Gulf Research Program’s Program Officer in Information Science. In this role, she is primarily responsible for developing the program's data management strategies, advising on data management policies and activities, and ensuring data from the program is available and accessible. Prior to joining the Gulf Research Program, she was the program manager for the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information and Data Cooperative (GRIIDC), where she managed a complex data management system that served to make data from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill available to the general public. She received her M.S. in marine science from the University of Alabama, and her B.S. in biology from Northern Kentucky University. Her graduate research focused on ecotoxicology and marine food web dynamics in the Gulf of Mexico. Ms. Showalter is passionate about the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and ensuring that the information gathered following disasters is available for future generations.
Stephanie Smith Stephanie Smith is the Communications/Media Specialist for the Gulf Research Program. In this role, she supports the planning, development, and implementation of communications strategies and outreach initiatives. Prior to joining the National Academies, she served as the web content manager for the Chesapeake Bay Program, where she applied a user-centered approach to the organization’s print and digital content strategies. With research and analytics, she focused on telling the stories of restoration and resilience that most resonated with target audiences. Stephanie holds an M.S. in sustainable systems from the University of Michigan and a B.A. in professional writing from Purdue University.
20141020 Tang photo Evonne Tang is Associate Executive Director and Director of External Funding Opportunities of the Gulf Research Program. Her primary responsibilities are to provide advice to the Executive Director, develop and implement funding concepts that would have enduring and lasting impact for the program, and oversee the program’s external funding opportunities. Since she joined the National Academies in 2002, Dr. Tang has collaborated with different units and directed over 15 studies and workshops with published reports. She was part of a multidisciplinary team that worked on the America's Energy Future Initiative, designed to provide an authoritative analysis of technology options and their costs and impacts to help make sensible decisions about the nation's energy future. Some of her completed projects include Sustainable Development of Algal Biofuels in the United States (2012), Renewable Fuel Standard: Potential Economic and Environmental Effects of U.S. Biofuel Policy (2011), and Liquid Transportation Fuels from Coal and Biomass: Technology, Costs, and Status (2009). Her sustained outstanding service was recognized by the Academies in 2012 when she received the Distinguished Service Award. Dr. Tang received her B.Sc. from the University of Ottawa, M.Sc. from McGill University and Ph.D. from Laval University, Canada.
Teri Thorowgood Teri Thorowgoodis the Administrative Officer for the Gulf Research Program. Previously, Ms. Thorowgood served as the Administrative Coordinator for several boards within the National Academies, including the Board on Physics and Astronomy (BPA) and the National Materials and Manufacturing Board (NMMB). Before coming to work at the NRC in 1998, Ms. Thorowgood worked as a clinical pediatric oncology social worker at the Cancer Foundation of Santa Barbara, California, doing individual and group therapy with patients and their families. She received a B.S. in rehabilitation counseling and a master's in social work from Virginia Commonwealth University.
20141020 Walser photo Maggie Walseris the Gulf Research Program's Director of Education & Capacity Building. She contributes to strategic planning and leads education initiatives of the program. Since joining the National Academies  staff in 2010, she has worked on a number of weather and earth science studies, including such topics as climate science, weather research and policy, climate change and water security, and Arctic research priorities. In 2008-2009, she was the AGU/AAAS Congressional Science and Engineering Fellow and worked on water and energy policy and legislation with the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Prior to her time on the Hill, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow with the National Council for Science and the Environment. She received a Ph.D. in atmospheric chemistry from the University of California, Irvine in 2007. Her doctoral research focused on the composition and photochemical aging of secondary organic aerosol.
20170112 Windecker photo Laura Windeckeris a Gulf Research Program Associate Program Officer focused on ocean-related topics, including observation and monitoring. She has been involved in oceanographic and coastal research for over a decade with a primary focus on marine phytoplankton and their role in global carbon dynamics. Prior to joining the National Academies, she was a NOAA John A. Knauss Sea Grant Fellow working as Advisor to the Director of the U.S. Committee on the Marine Transportation System, a federal interagency committee, where she served as project manager of a Report to Congress. Laura has a Ph.D. in marine science from the University of California, Santa Barbara, a M.S. in oceanography from the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, and an A.B. in physics and marine science from Bowdoin College. Her first oceanographic research cruise was as an undergraduate aboard the SSV Westward with Sea Education Association.