Principal Investigator

Cissy Ballen, Ph. D.

I am an associate professor of biology education and discipline-based education researcher. My interests in this field largely center on identifying scalable strategies in higher education that improve learning for all, and reducing attrition of excluded groups in STEM fields. Prior to starting at Auburn, I completed postdoctoral research positions in the Zamudio Lab at Cornell University and in the (real) Cotner Lab at University of Minnesota, studying the effects of high stakes assessment, support programs, teaching methods, and classroom culture on student performance and persistence in undergraduate biology. I completed my doctoral degree in evolutionary biology in the Shine Lab and Olsson Lab at the University of Sydney, Australia. Email:

Post-doctoral Fellows

Robin Costello, Ph. D.

I am a postdoctoral researcher interested in identifying classroom interventions that promote equitable and inclusive learning in undergraduate biology education. Specifically, my postdoctoral work evaluates the impact of both discussing how biases shape scientific processes and incorporating diverse scientist role models into introductory biology courses on student attitudes towards biology. Before joining the Ballen lab, I completed my doctoral degree in evolutionary biology in the Brodie lab at the University of Virginia. Email:

Paula Adams, Ph.D.

I am a postdoctoral scholar in the Ballen lab transitioning to discipline-based education research from a background in evolutionary biology. I have a broad interest in researching evidence-based approaches that promote equity and inclusion to improve outcomes in introductory biology courses. Prior to joining the Ballen lab in fall 2022, I completed my doctoral degree in evolutionary genomics and bioinformatics with Janna Fierst at The University of Alabama in 2022 (now at FIU). Email:

Ryan Dunk, Ph.D.

Hey! I am a postdoctoral researcher interested in the intersection of STEM and society. This leads to two major threads of research that I have worked in. First is the identification of strategies to lead to more equitable STEM education, with a specific focus on more just educational outcomes for students from underrepresented identities. The second is work on student acceptance and understanding of scientific topics considered socially controversial, namely climate change and evolution. Prior to joining the Ballen Lab, I conducted biology education research both as a postdoc with Emily Holt at the University of Northern Colorado and as a PhD student with Jason Wiles at Syracuse University. Email:

Ph.D. Students


Jordan Fluker

Undergraduate Research Fellow and Matthew Scholar

Previous Lab Members

Sharday Ewell, M.Ed., Ph. D.

Hello! I am a postdoctoral associate working with Dr. Cissy Ballen in the Department of Biological Sciences at Auburn University. I currently conduct discipline-based education research on biology education and STEM equity. While my interests are broad, I am especially interested in self-regulated learning and identifying strategies that improve the development of these skills for all biology students. Prior to joining the Ballen lab, I was a Teach for America corps member and middle school science teacher in North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. I completed my doctoral degree in neurobiology in the Theibert Lab at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Email:

Postdoc, 2021-2023

Presently Assistant Professor — Biology Education Research, University of Mississippi (

Chloe Josefson, Ph. D.

I am interested in understanding the impact of the COVID pandemic on the undergraduate student experience as well as the impact of perceived self-efficacy among marginalized undergraduates. I am also interested in the physiological costs of reproduction in lactating female mammals. I am currently a NSF-PRFB fellow located in the Skibiel lab at the University of Idaho where I am studying mechanisms underlying variation in maternal investment in lactation and the consequences on milk composition and offspring growth and immune development. Email:

Postdoc, 2019-2023

Presently Assistant Professor — Department of Biology, North Carolina Central University

Todd Lamb

I am a M.S. student who conducts biology education research in Dr. Cissy Ballen’s lab at Auburn University! My work focuses on instructor assessment practices and how they relate to equity and inclusion. I am interested in bettering myself as a future biology educator and working to understand biology education research along the way. Before joining the Ballen lab, I completed my B.S. degree in organismal biology here at Auburn university.

M.S. student, 2019-2021

Presently Biology Instructor — Coastal Alabama Community College

Sara Odom

M.S. student, 2018-2020

Presently Science educator — Huntsville’s Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL

Emily Driessen, M.S., Ph.D.

I am currently a PhD student at Auburn University in the Ballen lab with a passion for equity and diversity in undergraduate biology education. I believe everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, should have the opportunity to achieve and succeed in the subject of biology, and my research focuses on how to best support this achievement and success, recognizing structural barriers and historical racism. My past educational experiences include earning a B.S. in microbiology with a minor in chemistry from North Dakota State University while contributing to research in the McClean Lab as well as earning a M.S. in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics from the University of Kentucky while researching in the Wilhelm lab. Email:

Ph.D. student, 2019-2023

Presently Postdoctoral Researcher — Biology Teaching and Learning, University of Minnesota (

Sara Berk, Ph.D.

Postdoc, 2019-2020

Presently Manager of Instructional Services  — Department of Biology, University of Washington

Ash Zemenick, Ph.D.

Postdoc, 2020-2021

Presently Postdoctoral Researcher — Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan (