Marisa Ross

Position title: M.P.A/Ph.D. Candidate


Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Undergraduate Education: BS- Biology, BA- Psychology, Minor- Biochemistry; Duquesne University (Pittsburgh, PA) May 2016
Professional/research interests: My dissertation work focuses on studying the impact of early life experience of interpersonal violence and chronic posttraumatic stress disorder on functional neural network organization and downstream effects on learning and behavior.


  • Summa Cum Laude (Duquesne University, May 2016)
  • University Honors Fellow (Duquesne University)
  • Nominee- Outstanding Student in Biology (Duquesne University, May 2016)
  • Undergraduate Research Fellow (SUNY Upstate Medical University, 2015)
  • James V. Donatelli Endowed Fellow (Duquesne University, 2014-2016)
  • NTP Travel Award, 2018
  • Summa Cum Laude, Duquesne University 2016
  • University Honors Fellow, Duquesne University

Expected graduation date: December 2021

Degree/s being sought: MPA and PhD

What experiences shaped your decision to enter UW–Madison’s Neuroscience and Public Policy program?

In the summer of 2013, I had an internship with the Run the Race Club, an organization for inner-city families in Columbus, Ohio. I spent the summer getting to know the families we served and listening to their stories, and I was shocked at how complex and stigmatized chronic poverty was in my community. Importantly, spending time with the families at Run the Race exposed me to the deeply embedded cycle of chronic stress and trauma that was so salient in their everyday lives. I wanted to use my privileged position as a college student receiving a science education to attempt to shed light on and rectify these issues, and the Neuroscience and Public Policy program at UW-Madison was the perfect place for me to do just that. At UW-Madison, not only could I conduct cutting-edge research in the neuroscience of trauma and poverty, but I could also learn the skills to translate that research into conversations with policymakers to create concrete policies to help ameliorate the damage done by exposure to trauma.

What drew you to the N&PP ?

I was initially drawn to the Neuroscience Training Program at UW-Madison due to the interdisciplinary nature of the program and the wide variety of innovative research that NTP trainers were performing. Then I discovered the Neuroscience and Public Policy program and was struck by how perfectly the program seemed to fit my interests and how unique of an opportunity it would be to receive training in both neuroscience and public affairs. Even as an out-of-state student, I was aware of LaFollette’s glowing reputation and the high quality of public administration research conducted here, so I was particularly interested in learning from some true experts. I was also further excited about the N&PP after speaking on the phone with the director (Dr. Mike Koenigs) and communicating via email with current students. Their testimonies about the goals of the program and their experiences in the program made the N&PP all the more appealing to me.

What is your dissertation research focused on? What are you learning, what techniques are you using? What excites you about this research?

My dissertation research is focused on functional neuroimaging methods for classifying neural dysfunction in posttraumatic stress disorder and early life interpersonal trauma. We are using functional neural network and graph theory techniques to create a better picture of the neural correlates of PTSD and their downstream impact on clinical function and behavior. This research is exciting because it adds depth to current conceptualizations of neural circuitry in PTSD and is paving the way for a more holistic view of neural dysfunction in PTSD and its potential applications as biomarkers for PTSD risk and subtypes.

What are your career goals?

I hope to go on to work in transitional science and science policy after finishing my degrees with the N&PP. Specifically, I would like to work with the Institutes for Mental Health or NIH to use my research to evaluate and implement trauma-informed programs at the federal level with the goal of better addressing the needs of trauma survivors through evidence-based policies and social programs.

How have your N&PP experiences set you on the path to meeting your career goals?

My courses with La Follette thus far have given me the tools to analyze and discuss existing policies with both other scientists and public sector scholars. My time with La Follette has expanded my knowledge of basic policy structure in the U.S. and economics, as well as given me the opportunity to critically analyze new evidence-based policies. These tools will be invaluable to my future career goals. Being a member of the N&PP has also given me access to the wisdom of exemplary researchers, especially Dr. Alan Leshner who was willing to help a classmate and myself with a group project following his talk at the N&PP seminar.

What advice would you give to prospective N&PP students?

My greatest piece of advice is to try not to be intimidated by the political science geniuses in your La Follette courses! Coming from a natural sciences background with very little political science/history, I was nervous about the La Follette courses because I thought I wasn’t qualified. I found that my classmates were super willing to help share their knowledge, and as long as I did all the background reading for each class, I was able to participate in meaningful class discussions. Forming friendships and study groups with my classmates was essential to my success in the first year. Do not let a lack of policy experience prevent you from applying to the program and learning more than you ever thought possible!

People would be surprised if they knew …

In high school, I marched in the Rose Parade with the world’s only blind and visually impaired marching band! I was a volunteer marching assistant with the Ohio State School for the Blind’s marching band, and we were invited to Pasadena for the Rose Parade in 2010.