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Sagan Friant -  Principal Investigator


College of Liberal Arts Endowed Fellow &

Assistant Professor of Anthropology

Department of Anthropology 

a co-hire of Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences

Pennsylvania State University

Affiliations: Ecology Institute & Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics


Twitter: @saganfriant

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.


David Simons, PhD, MD

Department of Anthropology 

The Pennsylvania State University


Twitter: @David_Simons_UK



I am a postdoctoral scholar primarily working on the SCAPES project. Prior to joining Sagan’s lab, my PhD focused on the association of land use type on rodent ecology and the potential downstream effects on Lassa fever risk in Eastern Sierra Leone. Throughout my work I adopt One Health approaches to better understand zoonotic disease spillover risk into human populations from rodent hosts, drawing on methods from ecology, epidemiology, and medicine. In a past life, I was a medical doctor 

 working primarily in infectious diseases and emergency medicine but have now transitioned towards conducting research that can inform public health interventions to moderate the risk of rodent-associated zoonosis spillover in West Africa.

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 and J. Lloyd Huck Graduate Fellow in the Ecology Program. I received my BS in Environmental Science from Cornell University and my MPH in Epidemiology from the Yale School of Public Health. My research uses a mixed methods approach to better understand contact between humans and rodent


reservoirs of Lassa fever in Nigeria. I'm interested in the ways rural livelihood activities and settlement patterns influence rodent population and infection dynamics. Beyond the RISK lab, I am an avid gardner, skier, and tv watcher who spends far too much time with her cats. 


Matthew Keenan



I am a PhD student in Anthropology with interest in the risk of zoonotic disease spillover in a North American context as mediated by human hunting practices. My research experience prior to joining the Penn State PhD program was in developing geospatial products on 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 additionally have field 

 experience conducting archeological fieldwork in the American Southeast in support of generating deeper understandings of Indigenous livelihoods and sustainability practices. I enjoy marathon running, rock climbing, reading, and supporting my fellow Penn State Veterans and their academic pursuits.

Undergraduate students


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!

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


Sunday Eziechina

Nigerian Centre for Disease Control & Prevention


Helen Ignatius


Diana Marcus

RISK Lab Alumni


Metrey Tiv, MD

postdoctoral scholar

current position: PhD student at Durham University

Grace Lemke

Undergraduate Research Honors Student (Biology, Anthropology and Spanish)


Emma Petrick

Undergraduate Research Honors Student (majors: Anthropology and Spanish)

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