Our Team

A Commitment to Diversity

Our National Resource Mentoring Network-Resource Center team brings together uniquely qualified biomedical and information technology professionals with unmatched expertise and experience in developing, implementing, and testing interventions aimed at improving mentorship and networking among diverse mentees across a wide range of career stages, disciplines and venues. Collectively, our core team has decades of professional experience and engagement in interdisciplinary scholarship related to mentorship and networking. Further, we will connect and integrate our vast network of NIH-funded training programs, minority serving institutions, and other private and public organizations with experience in mentoring URM and non-URM students and professionals.

The National Research Mentoring Network builds on the foundation of trust, inclusion, and collaboration, we welcome partners from across the nation with diverse perspectives to join the NRMNetwork to establish new and improved national networking initiatives and create the capacity necessary to support diverse mentees across the nation. Ultimately, NRMNet is a sustainable network of mentors and mentees widely distributed across disciplines, geography, institutions, and cultural, racial, ethnic groups, and sexual orientation, yet tightly-knit and unified in mission and principles.

Principal Investigator

Jamboor Vishwanatha, Ph.D.

Dr. Vishwanatha is the principal investigator of the National Research Mentoring Network Resource Center. He is also a Regents Professor and Vice President, and Founding Director of the Texas Center for Health Disparities at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth. Additionally, he is the principal investigator of the NIH Specialized Center of Excellence in Health Disparities.
Associate Director

Damaris Javier, MA

Damaris Javier is the Associate Director, Program Management for the National Research Mentoring Network Resource Center.

As the Associate Director, Program Management, Damaris leads the strategic efforts relating to NRMN recruitment, partnership and presence at national conferences and meetings as well as manages project goals and deliverable, fiscal/ reporting matters and day-to-day activities.

Damaris holds a master’s in Higher and Postsecondary Education from Teachers College Columbia University and a Bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education and Mathematics, minor in Economics from the University of Vermont. Prior to joining the National Research Mentoring Network, Damaris worked in Residence Life for 3 years and thereafter served as the Director for the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at Columbia University, Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. In this role, Damaris directed diversity programs for underrepresented populations interested in STEM and health professions and directed recruitment/retention initiatives for underrepresented medical students. Damaris has been blessed with working in communities that support her passion for access, retention, and student success.


Toufeeq Ahmed, Ph.D.

Dr. Toufeeq Ahmed is the co-investigator and an Associate Director for the National Research Mentoring Network Resource Center. He is also Assistant Professor of Biomedical Informatics and directs the Education Informatics program at the Health Informatics Technologies and Services division of the Vanderbilt University
Medical Center.
Web Developer

Jay Johnson

Jay Johnson is the Web Developer for the National Research Mentoring Network’s networking & mentoring platform, MyNRMN.

Jay Johnson is also the Principal Application Developer for Vanderbilt University’s Biomedical Informatics Mentoring Lab. He has led the development effort for MyNRMN for the past 5 years and has been a leader in education technology since 2006. Jay’s creativity and commitment to quality is evidenced in MyNRMN’s many useful features, including the new Guided Virtual Mentorship platform! When he’s not working on elegant solutions Jay can usually be found in his home studio writing and recording his own musical creations.


Erika Thompson, PhD, MPH, CPH

Dr. Erika Thompson is serving in an evaluator role for the National Research Mentoring Network Resource Center. She is also an Assistant Professor in the School of Public Health at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth.
Sr. Application Developer

Zainab Latif, MCS

Zainab Latif is the Sr. Application Developer for the National Research Mentoring Network’s networking & mentoring platform, MyNRMN.

Zainab has a Masters of Computer Science specializing in database systems and software engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, IL. Zainab obtained her bachelor’s degree in computer science from Al-Nahrain University in Baghdad, Iraq.

Zainab is a Senior Application Developer at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in the Biomedical Informatics Department, bringing with her more than 12 years of experience in the programming field. Zainab joined the NRMN Team in November 2019.

Digital Communication Strategist

Johnny Garza

Johnny Garza is the Digital Communication Strategist for the NRMN Resource Center.

Johnny completed his Bachelors in Public Relations with a minor in Marketing at The University of North Texas. Johnny is currently working on his Masters in Communications at Southern New Hampshire University. Johnny spent most of his career in the banking industry for 8 years. In January 2020, Johnny transitioned into the Communications field as a Communications Specialist for Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star.

As the Digital Communication Strategist, Johnny is responsible for managing and analyzing the effectiveness of media campaigns and digital presence. Johnny creates engaging content to publish on various media outlets that highlights NRMN’s mission and resources.

Digital Communication Strategist

Gabrielle Saleh

Gabrielle Saleh is a Digital Communication Strategist for the NRMN Resource Center.

Gabrielle completed a Bachelor of Science in Strategic Communication with a minor in English at Texas Christian University. She is starting a Master’s of Science in Strategic Communication program at Texas Christian University in the fall of 2021. Gabrielle has communication experience with conservation nonprofit organizations, a municipality, and an advertising and public relations agency.

As a Digital Communication Strategist, Gabrielle supports managing and analyzing the effectiveness of media campaigns and digital presence. Gabrielle creates engaging content that highlights NRMN’s mission and resources to publish on various media outlets.

Postdoctoral Training Branch Program Director-NIGMS

Mercedes Rubio, Ph.D.

Mercedes Rubio, Ph.D., is a program director in the Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity, where she handles the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) of the NIH Common Fund Enhancing the Diversity of the NIH-funded Workforce Initiative, the Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Awards (IRACDA), the Bridges to the Baccalaureate, and the Research to Understand and Inform Interventions that Promote the Research Careers of Students in Biomedical and Behavioral Sciences portfolios. She also will serve in the role of program officer in the NIGMS Postdoctoral Research Associate (PRAT) Program.

Before joining NIGMS, Rubio was chief of the Psychopathology Risk and Protective Factors Research Program at the National Institute of Mental Health and was assistant director of that Institute’s Individual Research Fellowship Program. Rubio earned a B.A. in sociology from California State University, Bakersfield, and a Ph.D. in medical sociology from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she also completed postdoctoral training in nursing in the area of HIV intervention and health disparities.

To contact Rubio, send email to rubiome@nigms.nih.gov.

If you’re a reporter wishing to interview Rubio, contact the NIGMS Office of Communications and Public Liaison at info@nigms.nih.gov or call 301-496-7301.

Chief of the Postdoctoral Training Branch Program Director-NIGMS

Michael Sesma, Ph.D.

Michael Sesma, Ph.D., is chief of the Postdoctoral Training Branch in the Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity (TWD), where he oversees postdoctoral programs for research training, postdoctoral fellowships, career development programs, as well as the Innovative Programs to Enhance Research Training (IPERT) and research programs in training interventions. Sesma also is program officer for the Genetics of Behavior and Circadian Biology Research grant portfolio in the Division of Genetics and Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. Sesma began his NIH career at NIGMS in 1994 as a scientific review administrator in the NIGMS Office of Scientific Review and a program director in the Institute’s Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology. He moved to the National Institute of Mental Health in 2002, where he was chief of the Research Scientist Development Program in the Office for Special Populations. He returned to NIGMS in 2012 as a branch chief in TWD.

Sesma earned his B.A. in biology and psychology from the University of California, San Diego, and the Ph.D. in psychology from the University of California, Riverside. He conducted postdoctoral research at Vanderbilt University. Prior to joining NIH, Sesma served on the faculty at the University of Missouri-St. Louis School of Optometry and the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine.

To contact Sesma, send email to msesma@nigms.nih.gov.

If you’re a reporter wishing to interview Sesma, contact the NIGMS Communications and Public Liaison Branch at info@nigms.nih.gov or call 301-496-7301.

Healthcare CEO of Narus Health

Michael Burcham, Ph.D.

Michael is on faculty at the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University, where he teaches Launching New Ventures, Healthcare Innovation and Business Modeling.

A serial entrepreneur, Michael most recently served as Founder and CEO of Narus Health (2015 – 2019), a healthcare solutions firm focused on innovations in care management and population heath. Michael was the founding CEO of the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, serving in that capacity from 2010 – 2015. He served as President of ParadigmHealth from 2000-2007. Prior to ParadigmHealth, Michael was President of Theraphysics, a venture-backed, specialty rehabilitation firm he founded in 1992.

He began his healthcare career at Hospital Corporation of America. Michael began his healthcare career in 1983 after graduating from the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Michael holds an MBA from Belmont University and a Doctorate in Health Administration from the Medical University of South Carolina.

Burcham also serves as an Executive Partner with Shore Capital Partners, a private equity investment from with offices in Chicago and Nashville.

Professor of Biology & Associate Director of California State University Northridge

MariaElena Zavala, Ph.D.

​In 2016, California State University, Northridge biology professor Maria Elena Zavala, Ph.D., was named the first Latina fellow of the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB), a professional scientific society devoted to the advancement of the plant sciences worldwide. Dr. Zavala was named a fellow in honor of her service to the society and her distinguished and long-term contributions to plant biology.

The first Mexican-American woman in the country to earn a Ph.D. in botany, her research focuses on the manipulation of genes as a way to improve plant productivity by enhancing root growth. She’s also studying ways to make beans more nutritious and says plant research is critical in the effort to combat hunger around the world.

Zavala has taught at CSUN since 1988 and plays an integral part in building the national reputation of CSUN’s Department of Biology as a place where students, particularly those from underserved communities, thrive and successfully pursue advanced degrees at top-tier research institutions.

She has served as the director of CSUN’s Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research (U-STAR) program since 1990 and Research Initiatives for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) since 1993. Her work as a mentor and advocate for the countless students who have gone through these programs earned her recognition from the White House. In 2000, Zavala received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring from President Bill Clinton.