Meet the Newest NDSU Assistant Professors

Get to know some facts about the newest NDSU faculty members.


Xudong Rao, Ph.D. / Agribusiness and Applied Economics

What are your primary research and scholarly interests?
Agribusiness management, risk & uncertainty, technology adoption, international development, agri-food policy

Where are you from and where did you pursue your education?
I was born and grew up in China and came to the U.S. for my PhD degree at the University of Minnesota

What excites you about NDSU?
NDSU enjoys a good reputation in agriculture-related research. I am very excited to be able to join this great institution.

What motivates you?
To explore the unknown part of the world and human society.

If you could time travel, where would you go?
To the U.S. one hundred years ago.

If you could have coffee / tea with anyone, who would it be?
Anyone who has the time.

What was your first job?
Assistant professor at a Dutch university.

What does your very best day include?
Reading and thinking.

What’s your favorite quote?
"If you do not aim high, you will never achieve high."


Yuri Montanholi, Ph.D. / Animal Sciences

What are your primary research and scholarly interests?
Beef Cattle Husbandry, focused on energy metabolism, feed ("fuel") efficiency, applied physiology with emphasis on cardiology and theriogenology and general herd management.

Where are you from and where did you pursue your education?
D.V.M. from Universidade do Estado de Santa Catarina - Brazil; M.Sc from Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul - Brazil; Ph.D. from University of Guelph, Canada; PDF from University of Guelph, Canada.

What excites you about NDSU?
The potential of integrating applied research with Extension efforts to support sustainable beef farming in its broad sense.

What motivates you?
Cows are a great motivation, such elegant and expressive animals! Students and farmers are also a great motivation. The same is true to those that are benefited from the beef cattle in industry across the production chain.

If you could time travel, where would you go?
I'd travel to inner England (Shropshire county) in ~ 1760 and help to slow down the Industrial Revolution, or at least, better plan it so Earth could be a better place today.

If you could have coffee / tea with anyone, who would it be?
Johnny Cash

What was your first job?
Egg seller at the farmers' market.

What does your very best day include?
A long walk with my beloved dalmatians.

What’s your favorite quote?
"Houston, we have a problem" - and we got it sorted out together!


Veeshan Rayamajhee, Ph.D. / Agribusiness and Applied Economics

What are your primary research and scholarly interests?
I am interested in understanding individual and collective responses to disasters and covariate shocks. My other areas of interests include climate adaptation, social capital, social entrepreneurship, food security, and environmental externalities.

Where are you from and where did you pursue your education?
I am originally from Nepal. I went to Bryn Athyn College, PA for my undergraduate studies. I completed my Ph.D. in economics from the University of New Mexico with specializations in natural resource/environmental economics and sustainable development.

What excites you about NDSU?
I love that I get to live and work in downtown Fargo. I enjoy interacting with my colleagues in the Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics and the Center for the Study of Public Choice and Private Enterprise (PCPE). I am most excited to work towards developing a new interdisciplinary research program. And next fall, I get to teach a course on New Institutional Economics!

What motivates you?
Field work. Economists work with data and formal theories. That can lead us to reduce human motivations and actions into impersonal data points or some mathematical equations. My interactions with the 'subjects' of study have refined my work and profoundly influenced the way I see things.

If you could time travel, where would you go?
Nowhere. Today is better than yesterday. We don't know what tomorrow will bring.

If you could have coffee / tea with anyone, who would it be?
Elinor Ostrom

What was your first job?
Student-assistant at a language lab

What does your very best day include?
Backpacking in the American Southwest

What’s your favorite quote?
Do no harm


Elizabeth Hilliard, Ph.D. / Health, Nutrition, and Exercise Sciences

What are your primary research and scholarly interests?
Promoting breastfeeding in the workplace. Supporting working, breastfeeding mothers. Maternal, infant, and child health.

Where are you from and where did you pursue your education?
I'm from Dayton, Ohio and earned my B.S. in applied health science with a concentration in dietetics from Indiana University, Bloomington, IN. I earned my M.S. in nutrition from East Carolina University, Greenville, NC and my PhD in exercise science and nutrition from NDSU.

What excites you about NDSU?
I love the collegiality of my coworkers and the relationships that faculty are able to build with students.

What motivates you?
Promoting justice and equality in healthcare and in the work setting.

If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
One day I will go to Great Britain and Patagonia!

If you could have coffee / tea with anyone, who would it be?
Gilda Radner - she had such a great sense of humor and showed bravery, grace, and courage while battling ovarian cancer.

What was your first job?
Working as a student intern for the Montgomery County Prosecutor's Office in Dayton, OH. Back then I wanted to be a lawyer!

What does your very best day include?
Coffee, chocolate, snuggles with my kids and pets, and any Marvel superhero movie! Maybe a good donut too...

What’s your favorite quote?
No one can make you unhappy without your consent.

Ademola Hammed, Ph.D. / Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

What are your primary research and scholarly interests?
Big picture: Food and bioprocess engineering
Specific: Development of new or improved bioprocessing for value added products from bioresources.

Where are you from and where did you pursue your education?
I am from Nigeria Academic. My journey: BSc in Food Science and Technology from the Federal University of Technology Akure, Nigeria; MSc and PhD in Biotechnology Engineering from International Islamic University Malaysia.

What excites you about NDSU?
Research supports and staff development supports.

What motivates you?
True and grounded ideas.

If you could have coffee/tea with anyone, who would it be?
A demoralized student.

If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
The deepest part of the ocean.

What was your first job?
Sailor.

What does your very best day include?
Good food, meeting old friends, getting new research breakthroughs, help at least one person, kids, and success improvement.

What’s your favorite quote?
Whoever strives will achieve.


M. Zubair Malik, Ph.D. / Computer Science

What are your primary research and scholarly interests?
I work in the area of Software Systems and my work focuses on automated program analysis, program repair, and program synthesis.

I want to make programming more accessible. As computing pervades our everyday lives and Internet of Things becomes a reality, we will have to engage many more programmers and make the end users smarter.

Ability to devise plans and think logically is a basic human trait. However, the majority of people are not trained to translate their logic to efficient algorithm and reliable imperative code. I want to enhance the programming tools such that an average person can produce high quality software using unambiguous natural language or declarative specifications. 

Where are you from and where did you pursue your education?
I received my Ph.D. from The University of Texas at Austin in 2014. Subsequently, I worked at the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh as Post Doctoral Researcher and later as a Research Scientist.

What excites you about NDSU?
It is a long list but in short:

  • NDSU has outstanding, bright, and respectful students
  • The staff is extremely warm and friendly
  • The faculty is diverse and world class … I really enjoy various research collaborations I have at NDSU
  • While I still feel like a longhorn at heart, I am truly excited to see the dominance of Bison Football team.

What motivates you?
The joy of discovery is the biggest motivator. We are working on cutting edge problems. The very idea that we might find a solution that can change the whole world is exhilarating.

If you could have coffee/tea with anyone, who would it be?
North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum.

If you could time travel, where would you go?
My childhood ... when I had no worries and the world was full of wonder. My parents were young, beautiful and appeared to know it all. My siblings were full of mischief and we played like there is no tomorrow.

What was your first job?
Software Engineer at IBM

What does your very best day include?
Great time with my wife and two boys!

What’s your favorite quote?
"A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds." ― Francis Bacon


Trung (Tim) Le, Ph.D. / Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering

What are your primary research and scholarly interests?
Data-driven and Sensor-based Modeling, Predictive Analytics, Bio-signal Processing and Bio-instrumentation.

Where are you from and where did you pursue your education?
I am from Vietnam. I got my Bachelors degree from Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology - Vietnam National University and my PhD from Oklahoma State University.

What excites you about NDSU?
Everyone at NDSU always shows their willingness to help out.

What motivates you?
I am motivated by my family. 

If you could have coffee/tea with anyone, who would it be?
I would have coffee with my previous bosses.

If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
I would like to visit South American countries like Argentina, Chile, and Brazil.

What was your first job?
My mom hired me to sell local specialties to the tourists when I was 5.

What does your very best day include?
My best day would include: doing exercise in the morning, having time to interact with students and colleagues, spending time to work on my research interests, securing time to work out, and enjoying quality time with family. I am trying to make every day the best one, but if I can't manage to have it, good sleep at night can make my next day a "best" one.

What's your favorite quote?
If there's a will, there's a way.


Lu Liu, Ph.D. / Computer Science

What are your primary research and scholarly interests?
Bioinformatics, Data Mining, Machine Learning and Computational Biology.

Where are you from and where did you pursue your education?
I am from China and I received my Ph.D. from the University of Texas at San Antonio. 

What excites you about NDSU?
Research and collaboration opportunities. 

What motivates you?
My family.


Jiha Kim, Ph.D. / Biological Sciences

What are your primary research and scholarly interests?
Cancer Biology. My research focuses on understanding complex tumor biology to dissect out novel targets within the tumor microenvironment. I am especially interested in tumor vasculature of pancreatic cancer and breast cancer.

Where are you from and where did you pursue your education?
I grew up in South Korea where I received B.S and M.S in molecular biology. I earned my Ph.D. in Cellular Biology from the University of Georgia.

What excites you about NDSU?
Great opportunities to collaborate with faculty in different disciplines.
Students!!!  
Bison!!

What motivates you?
Getting to know the deadly disease (Cancer) more and realizing we still have a long way to go but at the same time realizing that what we have accomplished is quite astonishing and encouraging! 
Students who want to know the science! 

If you could time travel, where would you go?
Back to college.

What was your first job?
I was an undergraduate research assistant.

What does your very best day include?
A successful lecture + answering all my emails + a decent lunch (not the one on my desk) + taking care of all of my to-do list + going to the gym + eating dinner with my kids + going to bed before midnight!
Which never happens!

What's your favorite quote?
If it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you.


David Bullock, Ph.D. / Agribusiness and Applied Economics

What are your primary research and scholarly interests?
Futures and options markets, over-the-counter derivatives, trading, risk management, agrifinance, Monte Carlo simulation, and Big Data applications in agriculture.

Where are you from and where did you pursue your education?
I am from Lathrop, Missouri.  I received a B.S. and M.S. in agricultural economics from NW Missouri State University, and my Ph.D. in agricultural economics from Iowa State University.

What excites you about NDSU?
The excellent reputation that NDSU has both regionally and nationally in scholarship and educating students.

What motivates you?
I am excited to be back in academics after spending the past 25 years in various positions in government and private industry, and having the ability to share this experience with students at NDSU. I am also excited about the opportunity to apply this unique experience to important industry issues through basic and applied research.

If you could have coffee/tea with anyone, who would it be?
Teddy Roosevelt, who was a very good friend of my distant relative, Seth Bullock.

If you could time travel, where would you go?
I actually prefer the present over the past.

What was your first job?
My first ever job was throwing hay bales for a neighboring farmer. My first job out of college was as an Assistant Professor and Extension Economist at Montana State University in Bozeman, MT.

What does your very best day include?
Getting everything on my daily to do list checked off and then having dinner at the Toasted Frog with my best friend of 25 years and colleague, NDSU University Distinguished Professor Dr. William W. Wilson.

What's your favorite quote?
"We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard...", John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962.


Ryan McGrath, Ph.D. / Health, Nutrition, and Exercise Science

What are your primary research and scholarly interests?
Epidemiology of Aging, Frailty and Health, Disability Prevention, Physical Activity and Health for Aging Adults and Persons with Disabilities.

Where are you from and where did you pursue your education?
I am from Minneapolis, MN. I have a B.A. in Physical Education from the University of Jamestown (ND), M.S. in Kinesiology from the University of North Dakota, and a Ph.D. with an Exercise Science Emphasis from the University of Idaho. I also had a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Advanced Rehabilitation Research Training from the University of Michigan.

What excites you about NDSU?
The opportunity to return to North Dakota and make a positive impact.


Sarah Crary, Ph.D. / Education Leadership

What are your primary research and scholarly interests?
Information Literacy, K-12 Education Change, Post-Secondary Readiness, Leadership.

Where are you from and where did you pursue your education?
I am from Fargo, ND. I received my bachelor's and master's degrees from Minnesota State University Moorhead and my doctorate from the University of North Dakota.

What excites you about NDSU?
I am excited to work at a land-grant university that is focused on making changes to help improve our community.

What motivates you?
I am motivated to educate our future educational leaders so that they are ready for the dynamic world of K-12 education. 


Beena Ajmera, Ph.D. / Civil and Environmental Engineering

What are your primary research and scholarly interests?
Geotechnical earthquake engineering, Static and dynamic behavior of soils and rocks, Static and dynamic laboratory soil testing, Fundamental behavior of geomaterials from mineralogical and chemical analyses, Use of recycled materials in soil modification, ground improvement techniques, and soil and rock slope stability

Where are you from and where did you pursue your education?
I was born and raised in Southern California. I obtained my Bachelors of Science in Civil Engineering, Bachelors of Arts in Applied Mathematics, and Masters of Science in Civil Engineering from California State University, Fullerton and my Ph.D. in Civil Engineering with focus in Geotechnical Engineering from Virginia Tech.

What excites you about NDSU?
I am excited about being in a research institution that is also strongly student centered. I am looking forward to working with my colleagues in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department as well as across campus on new and exciting projects as well as educating and mentoring the next generation of civil engineers.

What motivates you?
I am motivated by doing work that will positively affect lives. This could be through research findings, coaching and mentoring the next generation, or serving on committees making an impact. I am also motivated by the opportunity to learn new things and to improve my own abilities.

If you could have coffee/tea with anyone, who would it be?
Mahatma Gandhi and Leonardo Da Vinci

If you could time travel, where would you go?
The present – the past is history and the future is best as a mystery.

What was your first job?
My first job was a math tutor for an after school intervention program at Sycamore Elementary School in Upland, California.

What does your very best day include?
Time with family and friends, productivity filled with personal and professional development, and a relaxing evening that promises another wonderful day.

What’s your favorite quote?
"You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results."
– Mahatma Gandhi
"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose."
– Dr. Seuss


Jeff Lind, Ph.D. / Educational Leadership

What are your primary research and scholarly interests?
Leadership, organizational behavior, education policy and finance

Where are you from and where did you pursue your education?
I am a native of North Dakota and a recently retired K-12 school administrator. For the past six years I served as the assistant superintendent of schools in Mandan, North Dakota. I earned both my B.S. and M.Ed. here at NDSU, and hold an Ed.D from the University of North Dakota.

What excites you about NDSU?
Being part of the Educational Leadership department that contributed so much to my professional growth as a K-12 educator.

What motivates you?
Envisioning what the future holds for students and leading change.

If you could have coffee/tea with anyone, who would it be?
My mom.

If you could time travel, where would you go?
I'm happy living in the present.

What was your first job?
Farmhand

What does your very best day include?
Family and friends...and maybe a little golf!

What’s your favorite quote?
"You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks."
- Winston Churchill


Bong-Jin Choi, Ph.D. / Statistics and Public Health

What are your primary research and scholarly interests?
Big Health Care Data Analysis, Cancer Research, Data Mining, Machine Learning, Computational Statistics.

Where are you from and where did you pursue your education?
I am originally from South Korea. I earned B.S. in computer science, and M.A. and Ph.D. in Statistics from University of South Florida, Tampa.

What excites you about NDSU?
Students, Faculties, and all other people!

What motivates you?
Finding the best solution for cancer patients and public health issues using statistical approaches.

What was your first job?
My first full time job was a big data specialist at University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, Chapel Hill.

What does your very best day include?
Playing with technology items and computer.

What’s your favorite quote?
“The most important thing is to enjoy your life – to be happy – it’s all that matters."
- Audrey Hepburn


James Caton, Ph.D. / Agribusiness and Applied Economics

What are your primary research and scholarly interests?
I research entrepreneurship, which is the study of action that intended to create value. I am especially interested in the role and structure of innovation and creativity within a competitive environment.

Where are you from and where did you pursue your education?
I completed a B.A. in History from Humboldt State University, an M.A. in Economics from San Jose State University, and my Ph.D. in Economics from George Mason University.

What excites you about NDSU?
I find that the faculty here are open to collaborating, especially in regard to providing opportunities for students. Most professors that I have met are happy to return the favor if you put a good foot forward.

What motivates you?
I think we should take great care in how we model the world and recognize our influence in it. A theory of entrepreneurship brings together these factors, whether the concern is of inherent scarcity of time and resources or of the dynamic structures that arise in the course of local interaction, serving as social scaffolding.

If you could have coffee/tea with anyone, who would it be?
Carl Menger

If you could time travel, where would you go?
I would visit Vienna between 1910 and the early 1930s. Many famous academics came from Vienna at that time, including philosophers Popper and Wittgenstein and economists Mises, Hayek, and Morgenstern.

What was your first job?
I spun and waved signs for local real estate offices. It didn't take me long to learn that I preferred jobs that made use of my mind.

What does your very best day include?
A walk through a wooded mountainside and lunch over a river with my wife Ingrid.

What is your favorite quote?
“In essentials unity, non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.”
- C.S. Lewis


Giancarlo Lopez-Martinez, Ph.D. / Biological Sciences

What are your primary research and scholarly interests?
I am comparative stress physiologist interested in the short and long-term effects of environmental stress on animal performance, longevity, and immunity.

Where are you from and where did you pursue your education?
I am from San Juan, Puerto Rico and earned my PhD from The Ohio State University.

What excites you about NDSU?
The renowned scientists working on interesting questions. There is impressive expertise at NDSU, like in my home department, that ensures a high level of synergy.

What motivates you?
Understanding the natural world and scientific progress.

If you could have coffee/tea with anyone, who would it be?
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. A french naturalist and early proponent of evolution. His theories were not as accepted as Darwin's and Wallace's but in light of epigenetics his work is very relevant now.

If you could time travel, where would you go?
1492 to my Puerto Rico. If I cannot change history at least I can live through it.

What was your first job?
Veterinary technician, at the time my desired goal was Vet school. Turns out I was always more interested in ticks, mites, and mosquitoes than in dogs and cats.

What does your very best day include?
Baked goods, hot chocolate, rain or snow, my children, and my wife. And maybe off in a corner a recently published paper in Nature or Science!

What’s your favorite quote?
"Failure has a thousand explanations. Success doesn't need one"
- Sir Alec Guinness


Alexey Leontyev, Ph.D. / Chemistry

What are your primary research and scholarly interests?
Chemistry education research. I focus on assessment of organic chemistry knowledge, meta-analysis of instructional interventions for chemistry learning, and green chemistry curriculum development.

Where are you from and where did you pursue your education?
I am originally from Russia. I got my Ph.D. in chemistry education from the University of Northern Colorado and my M.S. in organic chemistry from Bowling Green State University.

What excites you about NDSU?
The fact that it is a student-focused, research university. That helps me to select examples that represent research themes of the college for my organic chemistry class.

What motivates you?
Learning and discovering new things.

If you could have coffee/tea with anyone, who would it be?
Myself in 30 years.

If you could time travel, where would you go?
~2500 BC, Egypt. I want to see how exactly the pyramids were built.

What was your first job?
High school chemistry teacher.

What does your very best day include?
Cup of tea and a sense of accomplishment.

What’s your favorite quote?
“Watch your thoughts, they become words; watch your words, they become actions; watch your actions, they become habits; watch your habits, they become character; watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”


Xin (Rex) Sun, Ph.D. / Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

What are your primary research and scholarly interests?
Precision Agriculture, Artificial Intelligence in Food and Agriculture, and Precision Livestock Production.

Where are you from and where did you pursue your education?
I am originally from China, and attended Nanjing Agricultural University.

What excites you about NDSU?
NDSU is a place where everybody is ready to help you; no matter where you came from the people here at NDSU always treat you like a family member. 

What motivates you?
The people at NDSU, and my family.

If you could have coffee/tea with anyone, who would it be?
Jimmy Fallon, Steve Carell, Mark Wahlberg, Jennifer Lawrence (if my wife allows me)

If you could time travel, where would you go?
Nowhere. I have a new job, I am pretty happy now.

What was your first job?
Lecturer in Nanjing Agricultural University

What does your very best day include?
Parents, Wife, Yellowstone

What’s your favorite quote?
From my advisor: Dr. Eric Berg's office door sticker: "Sometimes, you have to give up on people. Not because you don't care, but because they don't."


Trung Bao Le, Ph.D. / Civil Engineering

What are your primary research and scholarly interests?
Hydraulics, Fluid Mechanics, Biofluids, and Multiscale simulation of human physiology.

Where are you from and where did you pursue your education?
I am originally from Vietnam. I got my PhD in 2012 at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities.

What excites you about NDSU?
The ability to pursue multi-disciplinary research with faculty from different departments.

What motivates you?
Saving lives and improving the quality of life for all citizens via engineering solutions

If you could time travel, where would you go?
It is a tough question since my interests are everywhere from Egypt to France, but if I had to nail it down, I would choose Japan. 

What was your first job?
My first paid job was tutoring kids when I was 15. My first unpaid job was selling apples in the farmer market during weekends.

What does your very best day include?
Hiking in State Parks, reading and watching a very good movie

What’s your favorite quote?
"We don't know, we shall never know"


Katie Wissman, Ph.D. / Psychology

What are your primary research and scholarly interests?
My broad program of research focuses on how to enhance student success. In general, I investigate what learning techniques facilitate the long-term maintenance of knowledge and why particular learning techniques help students remember information over extended periods of time.

Where are you from and where did you pursue your education?
I'm originally from Columbus, OH. I earned my B.A. from Kent State University (in Kent, OH) in 2009. I loved it so much that I decided to pursue graduate school there as well, graduating with my Ph.D. from Kent State University in 2016. For the last two years (2016 - 2018), I completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY.

What excites you about NDSU?
The people! Everyone I have come across so far is supportive, friendly, and excited about research.
The resources! I am still wowed by the resources available to me in the Psychology Department.
The collaborative vibe! It's a great feeling to know that there are opportunities to collaborate with people within my department and with people all across campus.

What motivates you?
Thought-provoking questions. In-depth discussions. Learning about other people's research.

If you could have coffee/tea with anyone, who would it be?
Ellen DeGeneres

If you could time travel, where would you go?
To see future me, so that I could assure present me that everything will work out just how it's supposed to in the end.

What was your first job?
An intern at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. I worked in the Transportation Department, which often resulted in getting yelled at by truckers who would call to complain about tickets they received while on the road.

What does your very best day include?
Coffee, a fun conversation, playing a game, sunshine, cuddling with my two cats, and wine.

What’s your favorite quote?
Just one? Okay, I'll give two:
"Find out who you are and be that person. Find that truth, live that truth, and everything else will come."
- Ellen Degeneres
"Happiness can be found in even the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light"
- Albus Dumbledore


Ryan Kota, Ph.D. / Health, Nutrition, and Exercise Sciences

What are your primary research and scholarly interests?
Sport Consumer Involvement, Sport Consumption Behaviors of Ethnic Minority Groups

Where are you from and where did you pursue your education?
I'm from Buffalo, New York and earned my Ph.D. in Sport Management from Florida State University (2018)

What excites you about NDSU?
Collaborative environment within my department, adding to the wealth of quality scholarship, and coming back to a comfortably cold(er) climate.

What motivates you?
I am motivated by knowing I can make a positive difference in the lives of future leaders in the sport industry. 

If you could have coffee/tea with anyone, who would it be?
Hunter Pence (OF - San Francisco Giants)

If you could time travel, where would you go?
Back to the 1970's-1980's so I could experience rock music in person at its finest.

What was your first job?
Stock boy for a local grocery store.

What does your very best day include?
Mountain biking and listening to my favorite tunes.

What’s your favorite quote?
"No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world."
- Robin Williams 

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