Meet Our EvolvingSTEM Team

Vaughn Cooper

Director of EvolvingSTEM

Dr. Cooper is an evolutionary biologist, microbiologist, and genetics/genomics researcher. Research in the Cooper lab is focused on understanding how bacteria adapt to new environments and/or cause disease, particularly for microbes that form biofilms. We use state-of-the-art genomic and bioinformatics methods to identify the mutations that drive adaptation, with the ultimate aim of better diagnostics and therapeutics. We also study the evolution of multicellularity, the evolution of antimicrobial resistance, why genome regions evolve at different rates, and how microbes engineer their environments. Most importantly, the lab has developed a curriculum for early high school students that uses evolution experiments with microbes to teach topics in evolutionary biology, ecology, heredity, and biotechnology. The Cooper laboratory is supported by research grants from the NIH (NIGMS and NIAID), the NASA Astrobiology program, and from the National Science Foundation. For more information, please visit:

Emily Sileo

Research Technician, Outreach Coordinator

Emily is a graduate of Penn State University and is a research technician who studies how bacteria adapt in biofilms in the Cooper laboratory. She has also directed the delivery of our curriculum in the Greater Pittsburgh area, beginning with Peters Township High School.

Emily is working to refine our curriculum, increase its portability, and assess the efficacy of the program and its ability to motivate and spark student interest in STEM. 



Michael Handwork

New Hampshire Regional Coordinator of EvolvingSTEM

Mike Handwork is a biology teacher from Winnacunnet High School in Hampton, New Hampshire and was one of the two teachers that first implemented Evolution-in-Action into their classroom.  Mike thoroughly enjoyed having the program implemented into his high school classroom, and he partnered with EvolvingSTEM during the summer to further develop the Evolution-in-Action program. 

His enthusiasm for the program is evident, as he continues to work with EvolvingSTEM during the academic year as a regional coordinator. Mike visits high schools in his geographic region to speak to the success of the program and help other teachers with implementation into their classroom.