Dionne Toombs, Director for the Office of the Chief Scientist
Dr. Dionne Toombs is the Director for the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS). In this role, she provides leadership on a wide range of issues affecting science programs and science policy in agricultural research, education, and economics. She comes to OCS from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) where she was Director of the Division of Nutrition, leading a collaboration of nutrition science leaders across the Department. Under her leadership, the Division provided direction in science policy and program development to ensure the safety of America’s food supply and the availability of healthy food to its citizens.
She served as National Program Leader for NIFA’s Agriculture Food and Research Initiative (AFRI), leading large competitive grant programs to fund research into nutrition, food science and technology, and food safety.
Dr. Toombs received her Ph.D. in Nutritional Sciences from Howard University. She earned her Master of Science degree from Alabama A & M University and her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Bethune-Cookman University.
Richard Derksen, Deputy Director of the Office of the Chief Scientist
Richard (Rich) Derksen is the Deputy Director of the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS). In this role, he provides direction and leadership on a wide range of issues affecting programs in agricultural research, education, and economics. Derksen manages review and product activity, tracks metrics, output, and impacts, and represents OCS on various Federal working groups and committees.
Derksen has over 25 years of direct research experience. He is an internationally recognized expert in crop production and protection engineering. At Cornell University, he held a joint research and extension appointment related to crop protection. In 1996, Derksen joined the Agricultural Research Service as a research scientist with a focus on providing engineering solutions to crop production and protection issues. He has authored over 200 publications, including 78 peer-reviewed journal manuscripts and given numerous invited presentations at national and international scientific meetings. Derksen received his Master of Science and Ph.D. degrees in Agricultural Engineering from the University of Illinois.
Advisors and Staff
Jaime Adams, Senior Advisor, International Affairs
Jaime Adams joined the Office of the Chief Scientist in 2011 as the Senior Advisor for International Affairs. In this capacity, Ms. Adams engages in cross-functional international agricultural science and technology collaboration with all levels of staff and leadership from government and non-governmental organizations. Ms. Adams' portfolio includes management of a multi-million dollar project and management and negotiation of numerous international bilateral and multilateral agricultural science and technology relationships. Ms. Adams manages the U.S. Government (USG) participation in the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) initiative. Ms. Adams has worked on international agricultural issues for over 10 years, having traveled extensively including serving in Afghanistan for over a year, and has supported high-level USG leadership including members of Congress, U.S. Ambassadors, and U.S. Cabinet officials. Ms. Adams earned a Master of Science degree in Agricultural Economics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her Bachelor of Science degree in International, Resource, and Consumer Economics was also from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Neena Anandaraman, Veterinary Science Policy Advisor
Dr. Neena Anandaraman joined the Office of the Chief Scientist in 2014 as the Senior Advisor for Animal Health Production and Products. In this role, she coordinates scientific collaboration and planning on high priority emerging animal health agricultural issues. Her focus is on zoonotic infectious diseases - those that can be transmitted between humans and animals -- including antimicrobial resistance and biosecurity. Her work provides science-based advice to senior leadership to help inform their policy decisions.
Dr. Anandaraman served as Team Lead for the Prevention and Control Team in the Applied Epidemiology Staff in the Office of Public Health Science (OPHS) at the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). She is a veterinary epidemiologist and has been evaluating zoonoses issues for OPHS since 2001, focusing on foodborne conditions, especially Salmonella and antimicrobial resistance for their impacts on pre-harvest and post-harvest food safety. She served as a Supervisory Veterinary Medical Officer in the Office of Field Operations of FSIS in Arkansas before joining OPHS.
Prior to joining USDA, Dr. Anandaraman worked at a mixed animal veterinary practice in Texas. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Texas A&M University, and her Master of Public Health from Tulane University. Dr. Anandaraman is a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine.
Rena Bannister, Administrative Assistant
Ms. Rena Bannister joined the Office of the Chief Scientist in January 2015 as the primary Administrative Assistant. Ms. Bannister advises the Director and team of Senior Advisors of complex administrative processes and provides support in business greetings, executive correspondence, budget matters, procurement, personnel, data processing, travel, time keeping, program record-keeping, and report production. She is an expert on the policies and procedures for the development of issuances and other reports that are important across the Department. Ms. Bannister takes pride in serving as the first point of contact for callers to the Office, who may include Members of Congress, members of Congressional committee staff, White House officials, USDA executives and staff, high level executives from other Federal Departments and agencies, leaders of special interest groups, and members of the public. Ms. Bannister has received numerous awards for her administrative work since her first position in government service in 1984. She attended the University of Maryland University College from 1998-2004 and is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Technical Management from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. Ms. Bannister is passionate about working with others, creating a collegial atmosphere at work, and performing office operations at a high level.
Peggy R. Biga, Senior AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow
Dr. Peggy R. Biga joined the Office of the Chief Scientist in 2019 as the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow. In this role, she hopes to work with USDA representatives to the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) of the White House and to coordinate Department activities related to animal health and production, and supports USDA’s role in policy related to childhood nutrition.
Dr. Biga has a strong interest in developing solutions to issues at the intersection of human nutrition and the environment. She designed and conducted original research in comparative physiology, including studies analyzing the role of maternal nutrition on offspring growth and development. She has worked closely with international scientists, managed student-led science projects, taught biology and evolution to undergraduate and graduate students, and managed a science outreach program devoted to enhancing STEM exposure to underrepresented middle-school kids. Her areas of technical expertise include: comparative physiology and endocrinology, nutritional physiology, developmental biology, aquaculture, and epigenetics.
With a passion for public service and inclusiveness in academia, she has been involved in Women in STEM groups at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and North Dakota State University. She actively engages in science outreach and education, working with diverse audiences through mentorship, publications, and presentations. As a member of the Education and Workforce Training Committee for the Birmingham city Mayor, Peggy helped developed strategies for enhancing access to quality K-12 education and resources for workforce training.
Dr. Biga received her Ph.D. from the University of Idaho, and completed post-doctoral training at the Marine Biological Laboratory and the Great Lakes WATER Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her research in comparative biology has been supported by the National Institutes of Health and the United States Department of Agriculture (NIFA).
Justin Bredlau, Senior AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow
Dr. Justin Bredlau joined the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS) in 2020 as the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow. In this role, he plans to contribute to global sustainable agriculture and emerging biotechnology policies.
Dr. Bredlau has a strong interest in the combined complexities of agriculture, entomology, and economics. His research background is in insect genetics, ecology, and behavior. During his post-doctoral work at the University of Kentucky, he evaluated genetically modified flies intended for sterile insect technique to reduce agricultural pests. He assessed the potential of these insects to suppress genetically diverse populations within the same species. He is an advocate for new genetic technologies that maximize agricultural efficiency while reducing environmental impacts.
As part of his science communication efforts, Dr. Bredlau has led numerous outreach education events focused on insects with community partners and schools. He has directed several short videos on different insects and their biology hosted by the Entomological Society of America. He has taught laboratory courses on entomology, zoology, genetics, and general biology. Dr. Bredlau has built and mentored teams of students for the last decade to accomplish research in both the lab and field.
Dr. Bredlau received his Ph.D. in Integrative Life Sciences from Virginia Commonwealth University. His research focused on patterns of speciation among parasitic wasps, insects that serve as important biocontrol agents of agricultural pests. Before graduate school, Justin worked as a field biologist on projects that ranged from surveying wetland birds in Florida to collecting mosquitoes for West Nile virus testing in DC.
Dominique Carter, Agricultural Science Fellow
Dr. Dominique Carter joined the Office of the Chief Scientist in September 2019. Dr. Carter comes from the National Science Foundation (NSF), where she served as an AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow supporting the Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE) within the Office of the Director (OD). In this capacity, Dr. Carter worked to define the science and technology landscape of select emerging economies in Europe and Africa to better understand the capabilities and infrastructure available to support synergistic international science cooperation and inform strategic partnerships between NSF and foreign counterparts. As a member of the NSF International Strategic Plan Working Group, Dr. Carter worked on developing metrics for prioritizing future NSF international engagement and collaborations. She assisted in the development of AccelNET (Accelerating Research through International Network-to-Network Collaborations), a new NSF program solicitation focused on supporting international research networks. She also provided program management support for the Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) Program in coordination with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and National Academies of Science (NAS). These activities were part of a larger, ongoing effort to develop a new NSF-USAID cooperative working agreement. As such, Dr. Carter coordinated NSF-USAID MOU development strategy discussions with senior leadership participants from both agencies.
In addition to her work, Dr. Carter is also interested in emerging technologies, innovation and entrepreneurship. She was selected to be 1 of 50 Global Innovation Fellows by the U.S. Department of State for the inaugural U.S.-China Youth Forum on Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Economic Opportunities in Shenzhen, China. Accordingly, Dr. Carter is the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) Young Ambassador of Science for the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia area for 2018 and 2019. In this role, she works to promote global partnership and innovation in microbial sciences.
Dominique received her Ph.D. from the Medical College of Wisconsin where she received cross-disciplinary training in Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics and Bioengineering. Her doctoral work focused on systems biology technology development to study viral infection. Dominique is passionate about STEM education and policy, and she is an advocate for transdisciplinary research and for the recruitment and retention of women and underrepresented minorities in STEM fields.
William Goldner, Senior Advisor, Renewable Energy, Natural Resources, and Environment
Dr. William (Bill) Goldner joined the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS) in September 30, 2019 as Senior Advisor for Renewable Energy, Natural Resources, and Environment. Prior to joining OCS, Bill served as National Program Leader for Bioenergy, Bioproduct, and Bioeconomy Systems (B3S), in the Institute of Bioenergy, Climate and Environment, National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), USDA. Bill provided leadership for NIFA’s Bioenergy, Biobased Products and Bioeconomy (B3) portfolio as Team Lead for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), Regional Bioenergy and Bioproduct Coordinated Agricultural Project (CAP) Program. The CAP Program has invested ~$196 M in ten regional public-private consortia projects that focus on facilitating the development of sustainable production systems for biofuels, industrial chemicals and polymers, and biobased products. The approach integrates: research and development; demonstration; education/workforce development; Extension/outreach/technology transfer; and sustainability analysis (economic, environmental, and social). Bill also co-led the DOE/USDA Joint Feedstock Genomics for Bioenergy Program and continues to serve as co-chair of the Federal Alternative Jet Fuel Research Strategic Plan Implementation Interagency Working Group (IWG) and the Biomass Research and Development Board Feedstock Logistics IWG.
Dr. Goldner has a Ph.D. from the Intercollege Program in Plant Physiology from Penn State University. Prior to joining USDA, Bill was a Research Scientist and Project Manager in the forest products industry for Union Camp Corporation’s Corporate Research and Development Division, Princeton, NJ (now International Paper), Technical Strategy Manager for Applied Genetics for American Cyanamid Corporation’s Global Agricultural Products Division, Princeton, NJ (now BASF), and Associate Professor on the off-campus faculty of the Graduate Program in Plant Biology, Cook College, Rutgers University.
Elizabeth Hill, USDA Honey Bee and Pollinator Research Coordinator
Elizabeth Hill is the USDA Pollinator Coordinator for the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS). In this role, Ms. Hill promotes collaboration and communication across USDA agencies, the managed pollinator industry, and relevant USDA grant recipients. Further, she strives to ensure that USDA initiatives support the pollinator health goals set forth by the Pollinator Health Task Force. Since 2016, Ms. Hill has served as Agricultural Economist in the Office of the Chief Economist’s Office of Pest Management Policy, where among other duties, she examines the interface between the needs of agricultural pest management and pollinator protection. Further, in this role she supports development and registration of pest management tools for beekeepers in combatting honey bee pests. Prior to joining USDA, Ms. Hill worked on pest management and pollinator initiatives with the Environmental Protection Agency and on agricultural and beekeeping programs as an Agricultural Extension Agent with the University of Maryland.
Ms. Hill’s primary research interests include Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for managing pests of honey bees and advancements in biological controls to support IPM strategies. An avid beekeeper, Ms. Hill is deeply engaged in the beekeeping community as a producer, educator, and through nonprofit and state beekeeping association board service. She has led educational, outreach, and citizen science initiatives, and has been both a recipient and panelist on numerous research grant programs. Ms. Hill earned a Master of Science degree in Environmental Economics and a Graduate Certificate in Conservation Ecology and Sustainable Development from the University of Georgia, where she focused on conservation land use policy.
Stephanie Morris, Senior AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow
Dr. Stephanie Morris joined the Office of the Chief Scientist in September 2020, as the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow. In this role, she looks forward to working at the interface of science and policy on a range of topics from natural resources management and the impacts of climate change on agriculture to food supply and nutrition.
Most recently, Dr. Morris was a Junior Professional Officer in the Environment Laboratories of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Monaco. She worked to synthesize research on the impacts of climate change on the ocean and fostered connections with international scientists to promote research advances. Prior to that, she served as a NOAA Knauss Legislative Fellow in the Office of Congressman Jared Huffman where her portfolio included natural resources and environment issues. There, she worked with diverse groups of stakeholders and helped craft legislation on public lands management and fisheries economics.
Dr. Morris has a strong interest in understanding how science and policy interact to shape the world we live in as well as how we manage natural resources to satisfy the needs of today and the future. In her research she has used naturally occurring radioisotopes to assess the strength of the ocean’s biological carbon sink, which has implications for global biogeochemical cycles and climate. Dr. Morris received her Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program in Chemical Oceanography with support from a NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship. She obtained her B.S. in Chemistry from Sewanee: The University of the South.
Laura Schreeg, International Affairs Fellow
Dr. Schreeg joined the Office of the Chief Scientist in July 2019. She comes to OCS from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Bureau for Food Security, where she served as a technical advisor and program manager for the implementation of the Global Food Security Strategy (GFSS). Laura worked with field programs, donors, and the private sector to sustainably increase income for small farms. Her work helped to improve nutrition and strengthen food security in developing countries. She coordinated the development of the GFSS technical guidance series and worked with stakeholders to advance evidence-based policy. Her work focused on Africa and expanded the impact of research investments and increased beneficial technologies available to producers, processors and others in agriculture.
Dr. Schreeg was awarded a prestigious Science and Technology Policy Fellowship by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She was a postdoctoral research assistant at Brown University and the Marine Biological Laboratory. She received her PhD in Interdisciplinary Ecology from the University of Florida, with a concentration in Soil and Water Science. Her dissertation research was conducted in Panama with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. She served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Andes of Ecuador after she earned a Master’s degree from Michigan State University and a Bachelor’s degree from Saint Mary's College. She grew up in Indiana.
Suzanne Thornsbury, Senior Advisor for Agricultural Economics and Rural Communities
Dr. Suzanne Thornsbury joined OCS in December 2019 as the Senior Advisor for Agricultural Economics and Rural Communities. In this role, she will advise the Under Secretary/Chief Scientist on policy development and operational planning pertaining to agricultural economics and rural community issues. In addition, she will serve as a liaison and provide oversight and coordination for participation in scientific initiatives related to agricultural economics and rural communities.
Prior to joining OCS, Dr. Thornsbury served as the Branch Chief for Crops in the Markets and Trade Economics Division of USDA’s Economic Research Service where she supervised 16-20 economists and provided leadership for a research and outlook program to assess crop markets and trade. Recent projects included commodity market outlook to support USDA's monthly World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates, economic impacts from implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act produce rule, USDA investments in specialty crop mechanization research, economics of industrial hemp, global price determination for commodity markets, and farm-level food loss and waste.
Dr. Thornsbury has a Ph.D. and M.S. in Agricultural and Applied Economics from Virginia Tech and a B.S. in Animal Science. Prior to joining USDA, she was an Associate Professor of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics at Michigan State University with a research, extension, and teaching program focused on global market and trade analysis for horticulture industries.
William C. Trenkle, Departmental Scientific Integrity Officer (DSIO) / Research Integrity Officer
Dr. William Trenkle joined the Office of the Chief Scientist in January 2018 as the Senior Advisor on Scientific Integrity and Departmental Scientific Integrity Officer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In this role, he will help to develop Department-wide policies on scientific integrity, administer USDA’s scientific integrity program, and provide oversight of responses to resolve scientific integrity concerns. He also serves as the principal advisor to the Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics on scientific integrity matters.
Dr. Trenkle comes to OCS from the Division of Investigative Oversight (DIO), Office of Research Integrity (ORI), HHS, where he was the Acting Division Director for DIO and had previously served as the Acting Division Director the Division of Education and Integrity (DEI), ORI. Prior to ORI, he served as the Director of the Chemical Biology Core Facility in the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), NIH, as a Program Director with the Division of Pharmacology, Physiology and Biological Chemistry in the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), NIH, and was on the Chemistry faculty at Brown University. Dr. Trenkle has expertise in the forensic analysis of scientific imagery and was appointed to the NIST Organization for Scientific Area Committees (OSAC) for Forensic Science as an inaugural member and Vice-Chair of the Video/Imaging Technology and Analysis (VITAL) Subcommittee. The VITAL Subcommittee is working on the development of national standards and guidelines related to the forensic application of technologies and systems to capture, store, process, analyze, transmit, produce and archive images.
Dr. Trenkle was an NIH National Research Service Award (NRSA) postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Irvine and his Bachelor of Science degree from Alma College.
Diane Wray-Cahen, Ph.D., Senior Advisor for Animal Health and Production, and Animal Products
Dr. Diane Wray-Cahen joined the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS) in August 2020 as Senior Advisor for Animal Health and Production, and Animal Products. She joins OCS on detail from the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), where she served as Senior Science Advisor for animal biotechnologies, focusing on scientific and regulatory developments for agricultural innovations and the potential impact of these biotechnologies on U.S. agriculture and trade. Dr. Wray-Cahen has collaborated with U.S. livestock and breeding associations, public and private sector researchers, and with officials in other countries on international educational outreach efforts on agricultural biotechnology issues. She also has coordinated efforts with like-minded countries promoting science- and risk-based regulatory approaches that encourage agricultural innovation.
Prior to joining FAS, Dr. Wray-Cahen spent over 16 years conducting swine and dairy cattle research in the United States and the United Kingdom. Her research career moved back and forth between agricultural applications and development of large animal models, encompassing a mix of basic and applied research, including dairy metabolism research at the AFRC Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research/University of Reading (UK) and swine nutrition and metabolism research at the USDA Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. She developed and worked with swine models for nutrition and biomedical applications at the USDA Children's Nutrition Research Center and the FDA Center for Medical Devices and Radiological Health. She also served as a lead scientist in the US Pandemic Influenza and Emerging Diseases Program within Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. Dr. Wray-Cahen earned her B.S. and Ph.D. in Animal Science from Cornell University.
Paul Zankowski, Agricultural Science Leader
Dr. Paul Zankowski joined the Office of the Chief Scientist in October 2017 as Senior Advisor, Plant Health & Production and Plant Products, where he provided leadership for the USDA plant breeding working group and helped organize several workshops on controlled environment agriculture and industrial hemp research. In his current role he provides leadership on sustainable agriculture intensification for the USDA Science blueprint and domestic engagement for agricultural biotechnology, organizes USDA plant breeding efforts to connect public and private stakeholders, and continues to coordinate USDA’s controlled environment agriculture interests including interactions with NASA that will provide fresh food on future space transit and surface missions.
Dr. Zankowski brings over 32 years of experience in plant sciences from basic to applied. Previously he served as the Commissioner of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service/Plant Variety Protection Office since 2001. As PVPO Commissioner, Dr. Zankowski worked with public- and private-sector U.S. and international plant breeders to protect their new innovative varieties through the U.S. PVP intellectual property protection system. Prior to joining the USDA, Dr. Zankowski held multiple positions including Director of Biotechnology, Vice President of Research, Biotechnology Manager, and Cell Biologist, for Harris Moran Seed Company, working on improving fruit and vegetable varieties since 1988. Paul conducted post-doctoral research in plant biotechnology at Advanced Genetic Sciences and the ARCO Plant Cell Research Institute and received Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in Plant Physiology from the University of California, Davis and a B.S. in Biology from Penn State University.