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Sagan Friant -  Principal Investigator


I am an integrative anthropologist studying the health consequences of human-animal-environment interactions. My research primarily takes place in Nigeria, where I have worked for 15 years. I am the founder and Director of the Cross River Ecology and Health Project and also lead several additional projects focused on zoonotic spillover. Through research and related programs I aim to identify and implement solutions that provide win wins for food, environmental, and global health security.

Postdoctoral Scholars

Katharine “Kate'' Thompson is a presidential postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Anthropology at Penn State University. She received her BA in Anthropology and BS in Community, Environment, and Development from Penn State University, and both her MA and Ph.D. in Anthropology from Stony Brook University. Her research interests include human-wildlife interactions and natural resource use as a form of resilience for indigenous communities. Her dissertation investigates the interconnected


socioeconomic, food-security, and sociocultural factors that drive illegal wildlife consumption in Western Madagascar. At the Risk lab, Kate is currently developing mixed-methods approaches to elucidate how children interreact with wild animals and wild meat In Cross River State, Nigeria. Kate is also developing the first large-scale, cross-disciplinary analysis of the adverse events scientists experience while conducting fieldwork. Kate believes that real inclusivity and equity in STEM fields must include data-informed safety protocols and risk management practices that better protect researchers in urban and remote wilderness locations alike.

Graduate students


I am a PhD student on the Immunology and Infectious disease track in the Molecular, Cellular, and Integrative Biosciences program (MCIBS). My research uses metagenomics and immunological tools to understand emerging infectious disease

I am a PhD student on the Immunology and Infectious disease track in the Molecular, Cellular, and Integrative Biosciences program (MCIBS). My research uses metagenomics and immunological tools to understand emerging infectious disease risks associated with handling bushmeat in Nigeria. Prior to joining the RISK lab, I received my MS in Biotechnology at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and BS in Biology from Angelo State University. I have conducted research on co-infection and viral transmission dynamics (Hudson/Vandegrift group at Penn State), bat field population studies at Big Bend NP and Central America, and cancer immunotherapeutic research. Upon completion of both degrees, I also worked as a government contractor for the U.S. Navy Medical Research Unit-SA (NAMRU-SA) at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, where I worked on a DoD-funded project studying snake venom. In 2018 I accepted a J. Lloyd Huck Graduate Fellowship at Penn State University to pursue infectious disease research for the long term. In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my wife and children, playing basketball, exploring the great outdoors (kayaking, disc golfing, longboarding, bioblitzing), and attending Penn State sporting events.

Christina Harden


The Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences 

The Pennsylvania State University


Twitter: @XtinaHarden

I am a PhD student in the Ecology Program and a J. Lloyd Huck Graduate Fellow. Broadly, my interests lie at the intersection of anthropogenic land use and zoonotic disease emergence. Prior to joining the RISK Lab, I received my MPH in Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases from the Yale School of Public Health, where I conducted 

CHristina HArden.jpg

 research on re-emerging arboviruses and COVID-19. I received my BS from Cornell University in 2016 in environmental science and applied population biology. Previous research areas include Hawaiian forest conservation, Chronic Wasting Disease in Illinois white tailed deer, and population management at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. In my spare time, I enjoy all things that grow, and tend to a large collection of potted plants. I am also a seasonal ski instructor, music enthusiast, and mother to two annoying felines.

Undergraduate students


Emma Petrick
Major: Anthropology & Spanish
Schreyer Scholar
Paterno Fellow

My research activities with the RISK Lab center on understanding the role of wild meat in human nutrition in Nigeria.  I am currently working on constructing a food composition database using data collected from the field and through review of the literature.  I will use this database to evaluate the nutritional composition of local recipes and diets of forest dwelling populations in Nigeria. 

Grace Lemke 

Major: Biology

Minor: Anthropology and Spanish

Schreyer Scholar

I am a senior undergraduate student pursuing a B.S. in Biology with minors in Anthropology and Spanish. I am currently working on my honors thesis within the RISK lab on traditional medicine, and specifically zootherapy, in West Africa. I am pursuing a career in healthcare, and I'm passionate about holistic healthcare, LGBTQ+ inclusive care, and health education. Additionally, I work two jobs at the Penn State Libraries, I'm the president of Schreyer for Women and a student  leader on the Career Development Medical Team, and I volunteer at AIDS Resource Centre County. In my free time, I enjoy hiking, climbing, cooking, and traveling. 


I am an undergraduate student pursuing B.A.s in Anthropology, History, and Classics & Ancient Mediterranean Studies. I am a member of the Schreyer Honors College and am currently working with the RISK lab to study Lassa fever and human-rodent interactions in Nigeria. In my free time, I enjoy traveling, exploring nature, and spending time with my two cats and two dogs!

Matthew Keenan
Major: Integrated Anthropology 

Minor: Astronomy & Planetary Science 

National Veteran's Leadership Foundation (NVLF) Fellow 


I am a fourth year undergraduate pursing a B.S. in Anthropology and a minor in Astronomy & Planetary Science. My research activities at the RISK Lab are focused on geospatially representing bushmeat trading and associated activities in West Africa and conducting analysis on different rodent and human interactions to support a broader understanding of the anthropology of health risks. I am also the inaugural fellow at the NVLF and focus on providing scholarship and leadership opportunities for Penn State Veterans. My current focus is obtaining an opportunity to earn graduate degree in Anthropology, and I enjoy marathon running, rock climbing, and reading in my spare time. 


Field Research Assistants


Wilfred Akonjom Ayambem

University of Calabar


Alobi Obaji Alobi

University of Calabar


Nzube Michael Ifebueme

University of Calabar


Oshama Maria Okoi

University of Calabar

RISK Lab Alumni

Métrey Tiv

Postdoctoral scholar

I am a physician specialized in Public Health and Social Medicine. I have conducted interdisciplinary research in Benin, Ivory Coast, Mali, Thailand and France. My research has focused on illnesses impacting populations worldwide (including HIV, TB, HCV, HPV, malnutrition) and on health policies aiming at reducing health inequalities. My research at the RISK lab investigated how concepts of illness, perceived risks and health seeking behaviors inform our understanding of and ability to control Lassa Fever in Nigeria.


Former Research Students


Undergraduate research students (mentored through the Goldberg Lab at UW-Madison)

Kelsey Brown – microbiology capstone, microbiology major, pre-vet, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Ryan Fuglestad – independent study, biology/zoology major, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Cesar Gutiérrez – independent study, biology/zoology major, pre-vet, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Corrigan Shea - independent study, conservation biology major, pre-law, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Carly Malave – independent study, medical microbiology and immunology, certificates in African studies and global health

Quinn Mallery – independent study, economics major, pre-med, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Mengyao Niu – independent study, biochemistry major, global health certificate, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Julia Purnell – independent study, animal science major, pre-vet, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Mason Saari – independent study, biology/zoology major, pre-vet, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Nick Segel – independent study, biology/zoology major, pre-med, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Julia Slezak – independent study, microbiology major, pre-vet, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Field research assistants

Rosemary Gbegbaje –MSc in Conservation Biology, University of Jos, Plateau-State, Nigeria

Festus Onajde – MSc in Ecology and Environmental Biology, University of Ibadan, Nigeria

Paschal Oshen Odey - MSc in Wildlife Resource Management, University of Calabar, Nigeria

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