Buscar Close Search
Buscar Close Search
Page Menu

Lab Members

Mary Munson

Mary Munson, Ph.D.

Professor and Vice Chair for Diversity and Inclusion
Assistant Vice Provost for Health Equity

Office: LRB 905
Lab: LRB 970

Tel: 508-856-8318
Mary Munson was a double major in Chemistry and Biology at Washington University (St. Louis), receiving her bachelor's degree in 1989. In 1996, she received her Ph.D. from Yale University in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry. She was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Molecular Biology at Princeton University, where she was awarded both American Heart Association and NIH postdoctoral fellowships. She joined the faculty of Biochemistry and Molecular Biotechnology in 2001. The lab is highly collaborative and currently supported by R35 funding from NIGMS for her exocytosis research and funding from NIAID for the VPS45 project. In 2015, she was awarded the inaugural Bassick Family Worcester Foundation Award for her nuclear export project.

In addition to her passion for research, she is committed to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in academia, as well as training and mentoring the next generations of outstanding scientists. In recognition of her work in these areas, she received the 2022 Chancellor's Award for Advancing Institutional Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion (link), and was appointed as Vice Chair for Diversity in BMB, and as the Assistant Vice Provost in the Office of Health Equity. In 2023, she was awarded the Women's Faculty Committee Outstanding Mentoring to Women Faculty Award (link). 

She is the current faculty advisor for the student SACNAS chapter. She is a leader of the Diversity Action committee in the BMB department, where the new departmental Diversity-Equity Action Plan is being developed. She also organized and leads the GSBS Faculty Focused on Inclusive Excellence (FFIE) community, to engage and educate GSBS faculty to promote diversity, equity and inclusion on our campus, in our labs, and in our broader scientific communities. She is a Trained Facilitator for “Entering Mentoring,” a program sponsored by the Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research (CIMER) to enable her to be a strong and supportive mentor and trainer to enhance mentoring and support mentees to reach their full potentials in exciting and successful scientific careers. She recently became a trained facilitator for Restorative Justice. 

She is a co-leader for the Investigator Career Advancement Program for fostering the success of our tenure-track junior faculty (iCAP). She is also the recipient of several Dean’s awards for her outstanding contributions to curriculum development and student mentoring over the years.

She is currently the co-chair of the American Society for Cell Biology's Women in Cell Biology committee and a co-investigator of the ASCB’s AMP MOSAIC program for select K99/R00 scholars. She was elected in 2022 as a Fellow of the ASCB, and was recently elected to be ASCB President in 2025!

Other Affiliations

Natasha Buwa, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Natasha completed her PhD from IISER, Pune, India before joining the lab as a postdoc. In the lab, she is trying to understand the structure and function of the exocyst complex in exocytosis. Natasha thinks curiosity can only kill ignorance, which is sometimes made to look like a cat. 

Melonnie Furgason, Ph.D.

Senior Research Scientist

I graduated from Spring Arbor University in 2001 with a major in Biochemistry and minor in Math. I earned my Ph.D. In Biomedical Sciences from the UMass Medical School Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in 2009 in the Munson lab studying the role of yeast Vps45p in membrane fusion. I spent 3.5 years as a postdoctoral fellow at Colorado State University in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department. In 2013 I became a faculty member at Kettering College. In October of 2022 I returned to the Munson lab as a Senior Research Scientist. My area of interest focuses on how variants of human VPS45 affect its role in SNARE assembly.

Favorite lab equipment: FPLC (more like a love/hate relationship)
Favorite lab buffer: His Lysis Buffer
Favorite candy: Snickers
Favorite music: Disney and Soundtracks

Narendar Kolimi, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Narendar completed his Ph.D. in the Department of Biotechnology, Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad, India. He recently joined the lab and is interested in working on the structural and functional role of the exocyst complex which plays a crucial role in various biological processes including exocytosis.

Favorite Lab Equipment: PCR
Favorite Lab Buffer: Phosphate Buffer
Favorite Candy: M&M's
Favorite Music: Indian Classical

Interests: Travelling and Rubik's Cube

Kristyn Norris

Kristyn Norris

Graduate Student

I graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a B.A. in Biochemistry (2016). In lab, I work on the VPS45 project, connecting genotype and phenotype on a variety of different levels. I perform characterization and functional analysis of neutrophils and other cell types that have been modified using CRISPR/Cas9. I am also studying the VPS45 protein and how the mutations are affecting it using an array of biochemical techniques to look at function and conformation.

Favorite Lab equipment:  that one pipette aid that actually works
Favorite Lab buffer:  pH 2 Glycine Buffer, I deal out harsh burns 
Favorite candy:  Skittles
Favorite music:  Classic “dad” rock and punk rock 

Helen Magana

Graduate Student

I graduated with my B.S. in Biology and a minor in Chemistry from Rhode Island College in 2020. Specific mutations in VPS45 cause a rare, severe congenital neutropenia. I hope my research can inform us about VPS45 function and regulation in endocytosis and how mutations effect this process.

Favorite Lab Equipment: the rusting microwave and the step stool
Favorite Lab Buffer: KPhos buffer
Favorite Candy: Almond Joy
Favorite Music: soft pop   

Havi Fisher

Research Associate

After completing a B.S in Integrated Biology and Chemistry at The Evergreen State College (2022), Havi was accepted as an NIH-PREP scholar at UMass Chan. They currently work on understanding the function of the exocyst complex in exocytosis. In addition to their work in the lab, they are dedicated to advocating for health equity, diversity, and disability inclusion within medicine and science.   

Rinalda Proko

Postdoctoral Fellow

I completed my Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Biology program at the University of Arkansas. Additionally, I hold a Bachelor’s degree in biology and a Master's degree in Molecular Biology from the University of Tirana in Albania. For three years, I worked as a molecular biologist at the Institute of Public Health in the Infectious Disease Control Department in Tirana, where I focused on monitoring viral diseases and conducting biosecurity risk assessments. Moreover, I am a member of the Postdoctoral and Student Committee at the American Society of Cell Biology, where I am committed to science outreach activities that enhance networking, visibility, inclusivity, and diversity in science.
In the lab, my research interests center on understanding the molecular mechanisms of exocytic vesicle docking and fusion to the plasma membrane.

Favorite Lab equipment: Microscope
Favorite Lab buffer: RIPA lysis buffer
Favorite candy: Kinder
Favorite music: Classic and jazz   

Roey Chen

Undergraduate Student

I'm currently pursuing a B.S. in Biochemistry and a minor in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. I'm excited to learn more about intracellular transport mechanisms as I explore how mammalian VPS45 functions and interacts with its SNAREs.

Favorite equipment: Multichannel pipette (and thin colored sharpies!!!)
Favorite candy: Sour patch watermelon
Favorite music: Pop, R&B, and jazz