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2023 Infinite Mile Award Winners


Group Photo of 2023 IMA Winners

Back Row: Sara Hauptman, Ariane Martins; Margaret Meacham, Carl Twiss, Jintai Cho, Ariana Przybylowski, Melanie Straight, Daniella Stoudenkova 

Middle Row: Francisca Rodriguez, Julie Anderson, MZ, CB, Sarah Kass, Yinghui Ning

Front Row: Natalie Gutierrez, Kayla Cuadrado, Kylie Kelley


Not pictured: David Barnett, Erica Burds, Julien Freeman, Tenzin Ghechen, Nicole Henning, Karine Lopes, Kim Mercer, Shelley Sanrcicca, Tsephel Tenzin Thangpey





David Barnett

Fiscal Officer in the Research Laboratory of Electronics

David was unable to join us today, unfortunately, but I’ll tell you a little about him. As a fiscal officer, he plays a vital role in providing financial information that’s critical to research groups’ decisions.

As one individual remarked, “David Barnett is a superhero.  I cannot imagine how I would have been able to successfully run my group these past years without the incredible, dedicated, and simply put, exceptional level of effort he puts into his work.”

David receives high praise from faculty, staff in Sponsored Accounting, and graduate students. He responds promptly to questions and accounting matters, completing work quickly. Gracious and kind, he works with students, faculty, and staff to solve complicated problems, all while maintaining the highest level of professionalism.

In a job where problems are often dealt with on a reactive basis, David is constructive, building skills and confidence among his colleagues at RLE. He has accommodated urgent requests and last-minute financial emergencies with grace and skill. He has worked on thorny grant termination processes in a manner fair and favorable to MIT, and has shepherded some grant proposals on very short timelines. He is also known for finding opportunities to help and educate colleagues about best practices and about research compliance. His integrity and talent are an invaluable resource to the RLE community.


Erica Burds

Senior Administrative Assistant at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research

Erica started her journey at the Koch in 2018 as assistant to Prof. Angelika Amon. She hit the ground running and immediately stood out as hard-working, professional, and a team player. When Professor Amon passed away in October 2020, Erica was faced with the tough task of closing her lab. It was a hard time for the entire Koch community, but perhaps more so for Erica. She handled the difficult tasks of packing up and relocating equipment, and fielding questions and requests from Angelika’s remaining staff and postdocs with grace and tenacity.

The Koch Institute had been without a Senior Administrative Assistant for over a year when Erica joined the Headquarters team in 2021. Erica took on the challenge, and more. She volunteered to coordinate the Koch’s weekly Friday Focus events, a complicated and time-consuming task. Yet colleagues say she makes it look easy, without complaint. While most people might volunteer to take on just one or two extra items, Erica’s approach is always, “How can I help?” She volunteered to take on just about all the logistics for the faculty search process – scheduling, catering, audio-visual, advertising, you name it.

On top of everything Erica does to support the Koch Institute — organize the scientific retreat, help to organize the logistics of the summer symposium, organize the holiday party, Night at the Museum, and many other successful events — she also keeps the Director of the Koch organized. Her attention to detail, thoughtfulness, and sense of strategy help to keep his calendar manageable and effective. To top it all off, colleagues say she is kind, down to earth, and approachable. She has played a key role in fostering a sense of community for the Institute, particularly as we emerge from the challenges of the pandemic. Erica’s work impacts all her colleagues.


Tenzin Ghechen

Supervisor for Facilities Services in the Division of Comparative Medicine

Tenzin has been a DCM employee for over 20 years, starting as an animal care technician and then Assistant to Facilities Services. In 2021, he was promoted to Supervisor for Facility Services, where he has really excelled. Colleagues say, "He has an extensive knowledge base, but he still takes it upon himself to continually learn and grow in his position.” For example, he has taken classes to further educate himself on HVAC, electrical, and other facility-related areas.

Over this past year, DCM has had a lot going on. They have reorganized several facilities, reassessed and reassigned space, conducted renovations, and managed significant impacts of a nationwide CO2 shortage. These are not quick and simple projects. They all required Tenzin's continual monitoring and effort. When unforeseen circumstances disrupted a carefully planned course of action, he was quick to think on his feet and execute an alternative.

For example, DCM had to ration the CO2 they managed to procure and store it in a centralized location for dispensation across campus. Tenzin worked tirelessly setting up standalone CO2 tanks and regulators. He understood the importance of attending to unexpected requests and went above and beyond to prioritize running a tank wherever it needed to go, even for researchers outside of DCM.

It's hard to describe how much goes into what Tenzin does and what he is able to accomplish. Tenzin has, on many occasions, worked with MIT facilities and outside contractors to be sure DCM standards are met and done so in a timely manner. Tenzin's work ethic is second to none. On top of all of this, he is also a fantastic colleague. He has a pleasant and easygoing demeanor which is instantly picked up on by those who interact with him. He embodies what the Infinite Mile Award is all about.


Sara Hauptman

Reactor Engineer at the Nuclear Reactor Laboratory

Sara has been instrumental in the development of a digital twin simulator for the MIT Reactor. The MIT Simulator is the first simulator of its kind at a university research reactor facility in the U.S., and it is a unique and cutting-edge asset for MIT. Sara is passionate about education and has served as the simulator instructor for a recent IAP class attended by MIT students from four different departments.

Sara joined NRL as a full-time shift supervisor upon graduating from MIT, and she soon became involved with the fuel management program. Her expertise in neutronic modeling provided a seamless transition to the role of Reactor Engineer. She has co-authored several peer-reviewed papers, actively seeks out opportunities to present and showcase NRL’s capabilities and research program at conferences and courses, and is highly regarded by her peers at other institutions.

Colleagues say she finds ways to improve NRL processes, always with a positive attitude. When a challenge presents itself, rather than focusing on the negatives, Sara greets it by asking: “How can I make this good?” Her creative engineering solutions highlight her ability to see the bigger picture while addressing immediate tasks to keep things moving forward. Her upbeat presence and camaraderie invigorate the NRL’s spirit and make it easier for everyone to come together to work as a team, even when conditions are stressful.


Nicole Henning

Ultrasound Research Specialist at the Koch Institute, part of the animal care team

With technical veterinary skills, though no prior experience in animal imaging or ultrasound, in three short years Nicole has become a nationally recognized trailblazer in the innovative use of ultrasound, collaborating with researchers in multiple departments to develop solutions when their studies have hit a wall.

With approaches her colleagues describe as “innovative and unconventional,” Nicole seizes every opportunity to build new and better tools for biomedical researchers. She works closely with each team to understand their needs and come up with a personalized solution for their work.

One MIT graduate student described how Nicole enabled studies on the cardiotoxic effects of chemotherapy drugs, saying: “I can confidently say that this work could not have been completed without Nicole’s unflagging and expert collaboration…. Nicole is an incredibly curious, driven, and effective part of the preclinical imaging and testing core.”  

In another project, Nicole perfected and validated a technique to model the initial stages of cancer in humans. Last fall, she was invited to give an oral presentation of this technique at the largest gathering of professionals concerned with the production, care, and use of animals in research.

Nicole is an extremely talented colleague and a driving force behind some of the most impactful work in her field thanks to her dedication and creativity.


Ariane Martins

Outreach Program Manager, MIT Venture Mentoring Service 

The MIT Venture Mentoring Service plays an important role in supporting startups led by MIT staff, students, faculty, and alumni in Greater Boston – serving more than 4,000 entrepreneurs since 2000.  In addition – and this is where Ariane comes in – the Venture Mentoring Service Outreach Program has trained more than 120 other organizations, in 28 states and 27 countries, on how to create and operate programs based on its model.

Ariane is the driving force behind the program’s success – leading the trainings for 95 universities and economic development organizations – representing large universities, small community-based economic development organizations, and everything in between.

Her outreach alone contributed close to $2 million in funding to the organization.

After the COVID-19 shutdown, Ariane revamped training formats, including an effective webinar format to connect all the organization’s sister programs. It has become a permanent addition, engaging 40+ programs per session.

Undeterred by the challenges the pandemic posed to recruitment,  Ariane was skilled at engaging and retaining volunteer mentors – a community of 200 plus from the Greater Boston business community.

As one volunteer noted: “This can’t be easy, but she makes it work.”  She has earned an excellent reputation – for herself and MIT.

Ariane conducts her work cheerfully, thoughtfully, and enthusiastically - always willing to go the extra mile. The proof is in the number of client organizations that return to the program for further training and refer new clients.


Kim Mercer

Research Specialist, Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research

As a member of the Jacks lab, Kim is a pillar of intellectual, technical, and emotional support for lab trainees of all levels. Kim exemplifies what it means to be a phenomenal scientist – she is thorough, meticulous, and hard-working. A constant source of wisdom, positive energy, and insight, Kim goes out of her way to promote the success of the lab’s experiments and foster the wellbeing of students and colleagues.  She is instrumental in promoting an inclusive and equitable culture across the lab.

One former graduate student shared this story about Kim: “At one low point in my graduate school career, Kim spent a weekend with me helping to reorganize my animal colony, develop better record keeping procedures, and lay the groundwork for more efficient experiment planning. This marked a major turning point in the project and accelerated the pace of my research project by several months. She did this without obligation and without any expectation of recognition. That’s the best part about Kim – she helps and guides people because she really cares about the wellbeing of her colleagues and the work we do in our lab.”  She has worked with scientists in every model that the lab uses, answering questions that run the gamut from cancer genetics to metabolism and immunology. No matter who you are, or when you come to the lab, one thing is abundantly clear: your experience was better because Kim was a part of it.


Daniela Stoudenkova

Manager of Finance and Administration, Environmental Solutions Initiative

Since taking up her post at ESI, Daniela has been a crucial advisor to the director – continually demonstrating a deep commitment to her work and to MIT. Daniela is particularly adept at making sure the new research programs initiated in the last few years adhere to MIT policies and best practices. She responds with energy to tight deadlines and collaborates well with internal and external partners. Her deep experience with federal grant organizations and institutional knowledge are invaluable. She has a clear sense of priorities that allow her to meet the team’s multiple demands related to fundraising, human resources, procurement, and financial administration.

Her extraordinary level of dedication has contributed to the steady growth of ESI.

As one nominator remarked, “Without the level of initiative, innovative thinking, and very real leadership that Daniela has brought to the ESI, I can confidently say we would not have accomplished nearly as much as we have.”  As ESI has grown over the past few years, Daniela has remained a bedrock asset.


Melanie Straight

Senior Fiscal Officer, Haystack Observatory

Financial administration at Haystack is complicated. There are rolling proposal submissions, a wide variety of sponsors, and funding proposals that span multiple fiscal years and feature unique guidelines based on sponsor requirements. Fortunately, Melanie is an expert proposal writer. She translates information from PIs into a full-fledged budget and budget justifications accurately and at super speed.

This past year, Haystack successfully completed an extensive internal audit due in large part to Melanie’s high standards for completeness, her work ethic, and her efforts to train the Haystack staff on the importance of accurate and precise bookkeeping. An innovative force in her office, Melanie created a financial projection tool to provide accurate, timely financial information to the Haystack teams.

In addition, Melanie seamlessly oversees all phases of grant management from proposal development to management throughout the life of the project and close-out.

Always willing to lend a hand, Melanie also assisted with the complicated and time-consuming process of transferring grants to MIT from an outside institution and graciously took on extra work when a colleague left the team. Despite the complexity and heavy load of her work, Melanie maintains her delightful sense of humor and high level of professionalism.

Melanie possesses a treasure trove of detailed in-depth knowledge and is a major asset to the operations of the Observatory and to MIT.


The team of Division of Comparative Medicine Veterinary Technicians.

They are: Carl A. Twiss, Jintai Cho, Yinghui Ning, Sarah Kass, Francisca J. Rodriguez, Julie Anderson, Julien Freeman, Maggie Meacham, Kylie Kelley, Natalie Gutierrez, Kayla Cuadrado, Karine Lopes, Shelley Sancricca, Ana Przybylowski, and Tsephel Tenzin Thangpey.

This team is highly engaged and collaborative and communicates effectively with the many partners they interface with, from veterinarians to husbandry staff to research teams. They bear tremendous responsibility, so today we highlight their dedication to the well-being of the animals under their care. They have an unwavering commitment to balancing research needs with animal welfare in a thoughtful and compassionate way.  In order to be successful – which they are – they keep in close and ongoing communication with investigators, staying beyond normal work hours to assess and treat animals and pursue any opportunities to expand their knowledge.

They are proactive and helpful, enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge and learning new things. I’d like to take a few moments to recognize each one of them by sharing some thoughts from their nominators:

Karine and Kayla are incredibly fast learners. Their uncanny ability to acquire new skills has greatly benefited our group.

Tenzin’s drive and motivation have earned her well-deserved promotions. Her compassion for the animals she cares for is unmatched.

Shelly is always so positive and a joy to work with. Her positivity is infectious. Her ability to acquire new skills has greatly benefited our group.

Ana is always eager to learn new skills, works hard to ensure she’s advancing, and is always there to step in and help her colleagues when needed.

Kylie is extremely knowledgeable, but her patience and effort to transfer those skills to others sets her apart. She is also able to manage several projects simultaneously and effectively.

Natalie is a hardworking, dedicated, and very bright individual. She’s always willing to help, learn new things, and is incredibly devoted to the animals and their care. Her calm and steady demeanor is an asset.

Sarah always goes above and beyond her duties, especially if a colleague needs help. Sarah is very teachable, has a positive attitude, is confident in her skills, and is very respectful toward others – making her an absolute joy to be around and work with.

Yinghui is incredibly eager to learn and always has a positive attitude. She is always such a pleasure to interact with. Yinghui is so attentive, making teaching her new skills or techniques so easy.

Jintai is very hardworking and willing to help colleagues. His diligence, attentiveness, and proactive attitude are all qualities that enable him to be very effective in his position.

Maggie’s commitment to our mission is clear in her daily observations and proactive mentality. Her attention to detail enabled us to identify a problem and take steps to mitigate any potential negative outcomes.

Julien has a very positive and lighthearted personality, which is greatly appreciated on difficult days. Julien’s expertise in animal care, and his integrity and willingness to help others are demonstrated daily through his interactions with peers, supervisors, and investigators.

Julie’s constant positivity and calming demeanor help others keep their enthusiasm at work. She has a natural rapport with lab members and communicates well with them.

Francisca always offers to help. She always has a smile on her face and exudes warmth and happiness, which helps to contribute to a great work environment.

Carl has an even demeanor and handles stressful situations with ease. He shows compassion and empathy towards others and is willing to help whenever needed. He always volunteers to take on more without being asked.