About UM's PNW-COSMOS Personnel

Principal Investigator (PI)

Dr. J. B. Alexander (Sandy) Ross is PI for the PNW-COSMOS at UM. Sandy was recruited for the University of Montana in 2001 as an NSF EPSCoR hire (EPS-0091995) and joined as Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Director of the BioSpectroscopy Core Research Laboratory. Previously, he was Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Co-Director of the Biophysics, Structural Biology, and Biomathematics Training Program at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.  Sandy became Associate Dean of the Graduate School at UM in 2010 and Dean from 2012 - 2015. He was the chair of the Biophysical Society’s Committee for Inclusion and Diversity (CID), stepping down in 2015.

Sandy earned his PhD at the University of Washington in 1976 under the joint supervision of D.A. Deranleau and D.C. Teller, carring out postdoctoral research under the direction of A.L. Kwiram at the University of Washington, L. Brand at The Johns Hopkins University, and P.H. Petra at the University of Washington. He has been a Visiting Professor at the University of Parma, Italy, and a Visiting Scientist at the National Synchrotron Light Source at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

As a physical biochemist, Sandy specializes in time-resolved, excited-state spectroscopy and single-molecule experiments. He is also an investigator in the Center for Biomolecular Structure and Dynamics and the Center for Structural and Functional Neuroscience and also past Director of the Sloan Indigenous Graduate Partnership at the University of Montana (2008-2014).

Sandy has mentored Native American undergraduate and graduate students and previously collaborated with Dr. Michael Ceballos, a former Native instructor at the Salish-Kootenai College (SKC) on the Flathead Indian Reservation, to help teach undergraduates at SKC introductory biochemistry and molecular biology. 

Co-Principal Investigators (Co-PIs)

Dr. Blakely Brown is Co-PI for PNW-COSMOS, working on the development of an Indigenous Mentoring Program (IMP).

Dr. Aaron Thomas is Co-PI for PNW-COSMOS, working on creating culturally appropriate recruiting strategies for Native American and Alaska Native students to graduate programs in STEM. Aaron is currently the Director of Indigenous Research and STEM Education (IRSE) at the University of Montana, in addition to his role as Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry. 

Prior to arriving at the University of Montana in January 2013 as a NSF EPSCoR hire (EPS-1101342), Aaron served the University of Idaho as Assistant and Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering, and Director of the Idaho Space Grant Consortium and Idaho NASA EPSCoR Programs. A member of the Navajo Nation, he earned a BS in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University (1996), and a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Florida (2001). 

Aaron’s research topics include Microfluidics and novel separation processes for gases and biological materials.  The recipient of the prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER and PbioECASE Award given to young faculty in science and engineering, Aaron is committed to increasing the number of Native American and Alaska Native students with advanced degrees in STEM fields.  Accordingly, he has constructed a comprehensive service plan that promotes exciting STEM education activities in Montana’s reservation middle schools and (later) supports their undergraduate and graduate STEM studies at the University of Montana.

Dr. Dusten Hollist is Co-PI for PNW-COSMOS, working on a parallel Social Science Research project to examine how socialization in STEM disciplines is facilitated by culturally congruent approaches to student-faculty mentorship. Dusten is a Professor in the Department of Sociology within the College of Humanities and Sciences at the University of Montana (UM). He is a UM alum; receiving his B.A. (1997) and M.A. (1999) in Sociology. In 2003 he came back to UM after the completion of a PhD in Sociology from Washington State University in Pullman, and is currently in his twelfth year as a UM Faculty.

Dusten is a research faculty in the Social Science Research Laboratory at the University of Montana. His current research focuses on mixed methods approaches to understanding reasons for disproportionate minority contact in the juvenile justice system, developing more accurate and reliable risk assessment instruments for evaluating detention decisions of juveniles, and investigating the process associated with and factors that influence public attitudes toward the police.  

UM grant coordinator

Dr. Raquel Arouca is UM grant coordiantor. Raquel faciliates communication among the seven institutions partnering on the grant, and within UM PNW-COSMOS growing community, coordinating meetings and providing administrative and research support for the PI and Co-PIs. 

Prior to coming to the University of Montana, Raquel earned a BA in International Relations from the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de Minas Gerais (2000) in Brazil. At the University of Montana, she earned a MA in Philosophy (2003), and a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies (2013) under the guidance of Dr. Udo Fluck. She was a Research Assistant for Dr. Gyda Swaney and Dr. Patti Holkup, before joining Dr. Blakely Brown at the Graduate School's Interdisciplinary Graduate Programs in 2012. She was the program coordinator for the Interdisciplinary Graduate Programs from Fall 2014 to Spring 2016.