People

People of I³R

Our leadership, staff and researchers are the heart of I³R. Their collaboratory spirit and work lead change and find solutions.

Ranu Jung, Ph.D.
Founding Executive Director & Endowed Chair

Dr. Ranu Jung is the founding executive director and endowed Chair for the U of A’s Institute for Integrative and Innovative Research, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation, and Distinguished Professor of biomedical engineering. Dr. Jung is one of the world’s foremost researchers in biomedical and neural engineering, with more than $27 million in research grants awarded as a principal or co-principal investigator, more than 100 refereed publications, and 14 U.S. patents. A champion for innovation and entrepreneurship, she develops devices that lead to scientific advances with clear pathways to clinical application.

Ranu and I3R are featured on the University’s "Determined" website, which highlights the people and programs that make a positive difference for the state of Arkansas and beyond.

Ranu also was interviewed for a recent “Short Talks from the Hill” podcast on her vision and dreams for the Institute.

Dean Matt Waller of the Sam M. Walton College of Business interviewed Ranu on his popular "Be Epic" podcast.

Advanced Technology Team

James Abbas
James Abbas
Professor of Biomedical Engineering
Hired by John English and Raj Raghavendra Rao, Dr. Abbas is a Senior Member of the National Academy of Inventors and of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Currently, he serves on the Editorial Boards of the Journal of Neuroengineering and Rehabilitation and Frontiers in Neuroengineering, is an Associate Editor for the IEEE EMBS and Neural Engineering Conferences and is a member of the Steering Committee for the Data Resource Center of the NIH SPARC Initiative. Dr. Abbas received his B.S. in bioelectrical engineering from Brown University and then taught secondary school mathematics and worked on public health projects in Malawi as a US Peace Corps volunteer. He received the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in biomedical engineering from Case Western Reserve University and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia, PA. Dr. Abbas’ research program develops and applies neural engineering techniques in the areas of medical rehabilitation and exercise. His research includes the design and development of neurotechnology, the development and use of computational models, and experimental evaluation of neurotechnology and rehabilitation systems in human subjects.

(BMEG)-Biomedical Engineering

(ENGR)-Engineering

Diego Aguilar
Diego Aguilar
Clinical Trial Support Engineer

Diego focuses his work on providing researchers with a robust framework for the conduct of efficient clinical trials. He maintains study master files and advises researchers with the purpose of guaranteeing that research is conducted in compliance with Institutional Review Boards and granting agencies. In addition, he designs electronic data capture and clinical trial management instruments that simplify the workflow of research operations. Among his most crucial responsibilities, Diego supervises the recruitment, screening, and enrollment of human participants as well as the subsequent collection and archiving of experimental data.

Native to Venezuela, Diego holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Biomedical Engineering from Florida International University, and his experience pulls from a background in clinical research that dates to his very first job during college years. As a researcher, he is motivated by serving at the crossroads of creativity and discovery and takes pride in supporting his colleagues through the visionary endeavors undertaken at the Institute.

(NANO)-AR Inst-Nanoscale Materials Science/Engr

(VCRI)-Vice Chancellor - Research & Innovation

MD Ashfaq Ahmed
MD Ashfaq Ahmed
Courtesy Research Scientist
 

(VCRI)-Vice Chancellor - Research & Innovation

Justin Asbee
Justin Asbee
Post Doctoral Fellow

(VCRI)-Vice Chancellor - Research & Innovation

Tommaso Benigni
Tommaso Benigni
Doctoral Fellow
Tommaso has always had a passion for research that can translate to the market and help people in need. He is one of the first doctoral Fellows of the newly inaugurated Institute for Innovative and Integrative Research and works in the Adaptive Neural Systems lab. During his time in the lab, Benigni has worked on the Neural Enabled Prosthetic Hand project, the first fully implanted neural stimulator designed to provide sensory feedback to individuals with upper limb amputation. Among other things, he helped create the hardware and software to allow a person with an amputation to connect any one of their prostheses and receive sensory feedback. Over the past three years, including during the pandemic, he has taken extracurricular leadership positions mentoring multiple undergraduate and high school students and helping them with their research and academic goals. He aspires to work in a company that makes a difference and provides a necessary service.

(VCRI)-Vice Chancellor - Research & Innovation

Stephanie Calloway-Benton
Stephanie Calloway-Benton
Courtest Assistant Clinical Professor

(VCRI)-Vice Chancellor - Research & Innovation

Srikanth Chavali
Srikanth Chavali
Research Assistant

(VCRI)-Vice Chancellor - Research & Innovation

Ranu Jung
Ranu Jung
Associate Vice Chancellor, Distinguished Professor

Dr. Jung joined U of A in December 2021 and serves as an endowed chair, Distinguished Professor of biomedical engineering, and associate vice-chancellor. Her experience includes serving as interim Dean and Department Chair in a College of Engineering and Computing. Professor Jung’s research is at the cutting edge between engineering and neuroscience, developing devices that lead to scientific advances with clear pathways to clinical application. A champion for innovation and entrepreneurship, her team developed the first wireless, implantable neural-interface system for restoring sensations to individuals with upper-limb amputation and received FDA approval to conduct a first-in-human trial. A Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Inventors, the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, and the Biomedical Engineering Society she holds 14 U.S. patents, has founded a company, and has authored more than 130 publications. She is also appointed to the US National Institutes of Health National Advisory Council for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. Jung received her Doctoral and Master’s degrees in Biomedical Engineering from Case Western Reserve University, USA and her Bachelor’s with Distinction, in Electronics & Communication Engineering from National Institute of Technology, Warangal, India.

(VCRI)-Vice Chancellor - Research & Innovation

Sathyakumar S Kuntaegowdanahalli
Sathyakumar S Kuntaegowdanahalli
Senior Research Scientist

Sathyakumar (Sathya) received his Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, USA and his Bachelor’s degree in Electronics and Instrumentation from BITS Pilani, India. As a Research Engineer in the Biomedical Engineering Department at Florida International University (FIU), Sathya was a key member of a multi-disciplinary team that developed and deployed a fully implantable neural-interface system for restoring sensations to individuals with upper-limb amputation. Sathya has experience with securing FDA approval to perform a clinical trial of a novel implantable medical device. He is also experienced in developing research software for clinical use and conducting research involving human participants. He also has over five years of experience with managing projects involving academic-industry-clinician collaborations. He is currently pursuing his doctoral degree in Biomedical Engineering with a focus on developing fitting procedures for electrical nerve stimulation systems.

At the Institute, Kuntaegowdanahalli supports technology development activities of academic researchers and industry collaborators, with an emphasis on system integration and the full spectrum of regulatory processes and approvals.

(VCRI)-Vice Chancellor - Research & Innovation

Arianna Ortega Sanabria
Arianna Ortega Sanabria
Doctoral Fellow

Arianna is a doctoral student from Venezuela at the Institute for Integrative and Innovative Research. She moved to the U.S in 2018 to pursue a doctoral degree in Biomedical Engineering. Arianna graduated as a Chemical Engineer from Universidad Simon Bolivar, one of the most prestigious universities in Venezuela, in February 2015. She worked for 3 years at Johnson & Johnson where she was able to develop technical and leadership skills. She published one review paper in 2019. She also mentored an undergraduate student who is now accepted at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for postbaccalaureate studies. 

She is currently working with pre-clinical models to determine optimal paradigms for stimulation of nerves to achieve selective activation of nerve fibers. She is working on a National Institutes of

Health Collaborative Research in Computational Neuroscience project along with groups from Arizona State University, Washington University, Université de Bordeaux and Université de Cergy-Pontoise from France.

(VCRI)-Vice Chancellor - Research & Innovation

Andres Pena
Andres Pena
Assistant Research Professor

Dr. Pena focuses on the research, development, and translation of neurotechnology to offset the effects of injury or disease.

He received bachelor’s degrees in Electrical and Biomedical Engineering, and a PhD in Biomedical engineering from Florida International University. He has training and expertise in neural engineering and neuromodulation approaches for understanding neural function and providing rehabilitation after trauma. He also has experience with human subject psychophysical testing and computational modelling. He is currently spearheading efforts to develop a business framework that will facilitate translation and commercialization of novel neurotechnology.

(VCRI)-Vice Chancellor - Research & Innovation

Aliyah Shell
Aliyah Shell
Doctoral Fellow

Aliyah is a fourth-year doctoral student majoring in Biomedical Engineering in the College of Engineering and Institute for Innovative and Integrative Research. She is the recipient of the National Science Foundation Bridge-to-Doctorate Fellowship, Florida Education Fund (FEF) McKnight Fellowship and received an Honorable Mention for the National Science Foundation

Graduate Fellowship Program in 2020. Shell received her bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering at Rutgers University - New Brunswick in May 2019. Her past experiences include holding a position as an Engineering Intern at Nouveau Prosthetics & Orthotics, and two positions at MTF Biologics as a Product Development Co-op and Packaging & Sustainability Engineer. Her research interests include understanding brain function and the use of virtual reality environments to offer rehabilitative therapies for those with neurological deficits. 

(VCRI)-Vice Chancellor - Research & Innovation

Anil K. Thota
Anil K. Thota
Senior Research Scientist

Anil earned a Master's in Biomedical Engineering from Case Western Reserve University. He has been working in the various fields of Biomedical Engineering for more than 15 years and has experience in preclinical and clinical studies. Thota has played key roles in the development of a novel implantable system to interface with peripheral nerves and a one-of-a-kind mobile app as a diagnostic tool (aid) for balance problems in people with sports concussion. The mobile app is being adapted for use in Multiple Sclerosis, Stroke, Parkinson's disease. He is highly experienced in designing experimental protocols and testing processes to ensure the data collection process is repeatable and to obtain reliable outcome measures. Thota was granted two patents (primary contributor) for his creativity in developing processes for fabricating, deploying, and managing neural electrodes. He has published scientific outcomes in 16 peer-reviewed journal articles and conference proceedings and presented research findings at 35 national and international conferences. 

He is currently pursuing his doctoral degree in Biomedical Engineering with a focus on developing technology to simplify the process of implanting electrodes into peripheral nerves. 

At the Institute, Thota supports academic researchers and industry collaborators as they perform acute and long-term studies in pre-clinical models, with an emphasis in the food-tech and healthtech sectors. 

(VCRI)-Vice Chancellor - Research & Innovation

Ana Rodriguez Larrad
Ana Rodriguez Larrad
Visiting Associate Professor

Dr. Rodríguez Larrad received her Physical Therapy bachelor's degree from the University of Salamanca (Spain) and developed her clinical activity for 15 years in the field of neurorehabilitation, focused on the recovery of sensorimotor impairments through a neurocognitive perspective. Then, she got her Master and PhD in Public Health and Preventive Medicine in the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU). She currently is a tenured Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Medicine and Nursing in the UPV/EHU. Her work at the Institute is supported by a grant from the European Union. Her research interests include the design and multi-dimensional evaluation of exercise interventions aimed at promoting active aging, the development and validation of technological tools and robotic solutions for functional training; and the development and validation of lumbar assistance exoskeletons to assist caregivers. She has published 40 articles in international Journals (JCR) and supervised 5 doctoral theses.

(VCRI)-Vice Chancellor - Research & Innovation

Industry & Community Engagement

Andy Albertson
Andy Albertson
Director of Strategic Communications and Engagement

Andy is a two-time winner of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education’s highest communications honor, the Award of Excellence, for both speechwriting and comprehensive public relations campaigns. In his time with the University of Arkansas, he has served as an executive communicator, director of communications for the School of Law, and senior director of research and economic development communications. He was project lead and executive editor of “Determined to Help,” highlighting the U of A’s efforts to solve the issues presented by the coronavirus pandemic and support those affected by it, and currently serves on the University’s UA ENGAGE initiative to support and empower women faculty in STEM. 

He holds a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction from the Programs in Creative Writing at the University of Arkansas, where he was the inaugural winner of the Claude W. Faulkner Award, presented to the outstanding English graduate instructor and scholar.

(VCRI)-Vice Chancellor - Research & Innovation

Laura Fickett
Laura Fickett
Associate Director of Digital and Creative Services, UXC

Laura’s areas of expertise are print, web and digital media design, front-end web development, user interaction and user experience, accessibility, research and analysis, marketing strategy, and visual storytelling. Laura has an A.A.S. in graphic design, a certification in user experience with a specialty in interaction design from the Nielsen Norman Group, and 13 years of industry experience. Research has always been an area of interest and enjoyment for Laura. She began her career at the University of Arkansas in the College of Engineering, working directly with a wide range of researchers on campus to tell the world about their work through the college’s various communication channels. Laura prides herself on her ability to bring large-scale ideas to fruition through collaboration, determination, and always asking, “how can we do this better?”

HighEdWeb Conference 2020

"Creating a color palette for print and web that is accessible and people will actually use"

Nielsen Norman Group UX Certificate 

Specialty certification in Interaction Design 

Certification ID 1024049

(VCRI)-Vice Chancellor - Research & Innovation

Nicole Wegrzyn
Nicole Wegrzyn
Communications and Marketing Assistant

Nicole is a current student at the Sam M. Walton College of Business with a concentration in marketing. Nicole is projected to graduate in 2024, with goals to eventually own her own digital marketing agency. In 2020, Nicole began to work with clients and businesses in Chicago, IL promoting brands and increasing sales through multimedia campaigns. Ambitious and result oriented, she developed her LLC as a senior in high school. Now working with the groundbreaking team, she has been part of building the Institute's presence from the ground up. With a focus on social media and media production, Nicole seeks to blend creativity with strategy. She is driven to revolutionize how digital media and technology are used in business and society today.

(VCRI)-Vice Chancellor - Research & Innovation

Operations

Rahmawati Ashley Chua
Rahmawati Ashley Chua
Finance Manager

Rahmawati (Ashley) oversees all fiscal matters for the Institute, which includes financial analysis, budgeting, reporting, forecasting, and accounting processes. She collaborates with researchers and administrators across campus on financial aspects of Institute projects and program management. She has more than 15 years of higher education experience. Before joining the

Institute, she worked at the School of Human Environmental Sciences, Department of Geosciences and the Small Business and Technology Development Center. Prior to working at the University, Chua worked in a variety of fiscal leadership roles in the private sector with PacifiCare/United Healthcare, John Hancock Financial Services and Office Depot. She graduated from California State University at Long Beach with a degree in accounting.

(VCRI)-Vice Chancellor - Research & Innovation

Mercedes B. Gazaway
Mercedes B. Gazaway
Executive Administrator

Mercedes earned a Bachelor of Business Administration with a concentration in Management from Mississippi State University. She has been with the University of Arkansas for six years. Prior to joining the Institute, she was part of the alumni programs team at the Arkansas Alumni Association working with student programs, alumni groups and collaborating with various members of the campus community. She is tenacious and has experience in project management, volunteer management, budgeting, event planning, providing customer service, relationship building, and strategic planning.

(VCRI)-Vice Chancellor - Research & Innovation

Peg Hart
Peg Hart
Project Advancement Specialist

Peg earned degrees and certifications from three colleges at the University of Arkansas: Arts & Sciences, Business, and Education. Previously, as the grant coordinator for the Biomedical Engineering Department in the College of Engineering, became a Certified Research Administrator. Now, as a member of the Institute, Hart works with researchers from across campus as the Institute submits proposals from collaborative groups and assists with the transfer of grants for incoming researchers.

(VCRI)-Vice Chancellor - Research & Innovation

Julia Menke
Julia Menke
Human Resources Partner

(VCRI)-Vice Chancellor - Research & Innovation