Alumni and Friends

As alumni of the Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Human and Molecular Genetics, we value hearing about your success and your continued involvement with the department.

Here are a few stories about what some of our alumni are doing today.

  Santhosh Girirajan

Santhosh Girirajan is currently an Assistant Professor in the Departments of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Anthropology at the Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA.

His laboratory studies the genetic basis of human neurodevelopmental disorders including intellectual disability, autism, and congenital malformation using high throughput genomic technologies.

“A major decision in my life was to move to Richmond from Michigan State University along with Sarah Elsea’s laboratory in 2004 and that worked well for me” says Girirajan. “I think that I got an overall education in Human Molecular Genetics at VCU, learning from teachers with varied research interests, both in classrooms and in labs. I was fortunate to be exposed to research in developmental biology (Rita Shiang, Joyce Lloyd), statistical genetics (Ken Kendler, Lindon Eaves, Linda Corey, Brian Riley), Medical Genetics (Walter Nance, Arti Pandya), and model organisms (Mike Grotewiel, Jolene Windle, Jenny Wiley). He then quips, “The candidacy exams were tougher than other places that I have seen”. But quickly adds, “Now, I think that is good, in a way, to raise standards and getting students to meet them!”

Girirajan graduated in 2008 and moved to Evan Eichler’s laboratory at the University of Washington, Seattle, WA, to study the genomic basis of primate evolution and complex human disease. He started his new laboratory in July 2012 at the Pennsylvania State University and attributes his training for helping him handle his new responsibility – “My mentors told me to take everything that I have learned so far and apply it”.

 Gretchen Oswald, M.S.  Gretchen Oswald

Gretchen Oswald is currently a senior genetic counselor in the Pediatric Genetics Clinic at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, Md. She specializes in connective tissue disorders and skeletal dysplasias.

“I graduated from the genetics program at VCU with a master’s degree in genetic counseling,” said Oswald. “During my time there, I feel like the counselors and physicians really helped me to build a strong foundation of counseling and clinical investigation/history-taking skills that has aided me in my current job in an adult/pediatric genetics clinic at the Johns Hopkins University. There was exposure to diverse populations, not only in terms of diagnoses (connective tissue disorders, inborn errors of metabolism, skeletal dysplasias, and chromosome anomalies) but also in terms of the social, emotional and socioeconomic status of the patients.”

In addition to her many clinical duties, Oswald also assists with training of genetics fellows and medical students, serves as supervisor for genetic counseling students from National Institutes of Health/Johns Hopkins, University of Maryland and Howard University genetic counseling programs and is involved in clinic coordination and administrative duties.

“I especially appreciate the ‘behind the scenes’ education I received — learning how to send out labs, run clinics, schedule patients, work with insurance companies,” she said. “These practical skills are a major part of everyday practice and it is invaluable to get exposure to them as a student. The program has a great balance of clinical, educational and research requirements.”


Department of Human and Molecular Genetics Virginia Commonwealth University VCU Medical Center