Women’s History Month: NIOSH Recognizes Female Leaders

Posted on by Judi Coyne, MBA, MA; Chris Ellison ; Trudi McCleery, MPH; Jennifer Tyrawski, Ph.D., and Sydney Webb, Ph.D.


March is Women’s History month and last week was International Women’s Day. In honor of women throughout the world, this blog post will highlight five female Division Directors at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Currently, women lead five of the 12 divisions at NIOSH, as well as serving in leadership roles elsewhere across the Institute. Read on to learn more about these Division Directors and how they have inspired those who work for them.


Dawn Castillo, MPH

Dawn Castillo has held a number of roles at NIOSH during her 25-year tenure, including an epidemiologist and branch chief. For the past five and a half years, Ms. Castillo has served as the Director for NIOSH’s Division of Safety Research, which serves as the focal point for traumatic occupational injury research and prevention.

As director for the Division of Safety Research, she oversees the surveillance, analysis, and protective technology branches and their cross-collaboration to ensure widespread adoption and achievement of Division and Institute goals. In addition to her responsibilities as division director, she serves as a Co-chair on the NORA Traumatic Injury Prevention and Transportation, Warehousing, and Utilities Councils. Ms. Castillo is also leading a team that is identifying recommendations for NIOSH to pursue and address rapidly advancing robotics technologies.

Among her many meaningful contributions to the field of occupational safety and health, she received the 2004 James P. Keogh award for her expertise and dedication to the protection of working youth. Beyond this accolade, she is recognized by many of her female colleagues and peers as role model that is second to none. Hope Tiesman shared, “She has taught me a lot, but one thing that stands out is her candor and ease in navigating and addressing sensitive matters to identify the best possible outcome for workers.”

“Her passion for, and commitment to worker safety are unparalleled,” said Jennifer Bell. Yet, praise for Ms. Castillo extends beyond her work at NIOSH. “I admire that she is able to strike a healthy balance between work and life, and that her outside activities are very much a part of who she is and why she is so successful,” added Bell. She is a doting mother and grandmother, not to mention an amazing baker!”

Ms. Castillo received a Master’s of Public Health in epidemiology from the University of California, Los Angeles.


Maryann D’Alessandro, Ph.D.

Maryann D’Alessandro, Ph.D. has served as Director of the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL) since March 2012. Dr. D’Alessandro joined NIOSH NPPTL in December 2003 as Associate Director for Science.  Prior to joining NIOSH, she had a short academic career at the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Bioengineering, and also served 15 years with the U.S. Army in biomedical sensors, communications, and intelligence systems research and development. Maryann holds Electrical Engineering degrees from the Florida Institute of Technology (B.S.), Fairleigh Dickinson University (M.S.), and Georgia Institute of Technology (Ph.D.).

Maryann provides leadership to the NIOSH Personal Protective Technology (PPT) Core and Specialty Program where she serves as the Manager leading the effort to align PPT initiatives with user needs across all workplace industry sectors.  Within the PPT Program, Maryann has served as the catalyst for integrating surveillance, research, standards, certification, outreach and intervention activities to improve workplace safety and health.

She is leading efforts to align the NIOSH and FDA respirator approval and clearance processes and enhance the NIOSH PPE conformity assessment oversight role.  She also led the establishment of the National Academies Committee on Personal Protective Equipment for the Workforce (COPPE).  The COPPE has generated over 15 significant strategic outputs and increased national and international attention of NIOSH’s role related to PPE.  She has enhanced extramural research collaborations and fostered increased collaborations and partnerships to increase the understanding of PPE use and expectations in the workplace.

Not only is Maryann considered an expert in the PPT arena, she is also well-respected among women researchers throughout her organization. Her vision is to create a workplace environment that encourages personal and professional growth while celebrating individual attributes that make NPPTL truly unique.

She has mentored several men and women during her years in Federal and Military service, and many within NPPTL view her as a positive role model as they navigate their careers. Her informal and formal mentoring has helped shape the positive culture based on the quality of work instead of gender of the individual. Here is what some of the female scientists had to say about Maryann.

“The expectations of female scientists and their scientific capabilities may differ from their male colleagues, which can lead some female scientists to feel that they must amend their personality—such as demonstrating assertiveness or over-confidence—in order to be taken seriously. Maryann does not let gender get in the way of challenging and pursuing scientific integrity for the Division, and it is evidence to young female scientists that they don’t have to change who they are to be successful in a science profession.”  Lee Greenawald

“I see Maryann as a passionate explorer in pursuit of excellence. She excels in the collaborative leadership style and welcomes all opinions that will further improve our work, workplace, and lives. Maryann is inspiring and extremely good at motivating the people around her.   She wears a lot of hats like most of the women leaders. She is a scientist, director, mother, fighter, and a dreamer. And she is extremely good at all even under unanticipated circumstances. She is a great example to maintain a healthy balance between work and life. She is extraordinarily thoughtful. She touches the life of each person she works with every single day. I am thankful for the opportunity to be inspired and mentored by Maryann’s leadership.”  Selcen Kilinc-Balci

“Maryann inspires me through her words and actions.  She leads with integrity and honesty and is always willing to listen to input from everyone.  It is a pleasure working for her.” Crystal Forester


CAPT D. Gayle DeBord, Ph.D.

Dr. D. Gayle DeBord is the Interim Director of the Division of Applied Research and Technology (DART) since June 2016. She began her work at CDC/NIOSH in 1987 as a research pharmacologist and U.S. Public Health Service officer.  During her 30-year career, Dr. DeBord has designed, conducted, and overseen laboratory and field research that has not only advanced occupational safety and health knowledge, but has been the foundation for setting Occupational Safety and Health policy and practices. She is a nationally recognized leader and expert in the fields of biomonitoring, exposure assessment, the exposome, hazardous drugs, and direct reading instruments and sensors.

Dr. DeBord holds the rank of Captain in the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service. Prior to her current position, Dr. DeBord was the DART Associate Director for Science where she provided scientific leadership and oversight for the Division staff of 130 researchers and support personnel in scientific quality, planning and integrity for research efforts, publications and policy development in a variety of scientific topics dealing with occupational safety and health.  Dr. DeBord also manages the NIOSH Center for Direct Reading and Sensor Technologies to coordinate a national agenda for sensors, develop guidance documents pertinent to sensors such as validation and performance characteristics and establish partnerships to advance the Center’s goals.  Since 2010, she has also served as Manager of the NIOSH Exposure Assessment Cross Sector Program. In that role, she has led the development of four major initiatives, including one on the Occupational Exposome.  Dr. DeBord represents the NIOSH on interagency committees such as the National Toxicology Program Steering Committee, and is active in several professional organizations, especially those engaged on topics related to exposure assessment and the exposome.

On Dr. DeBord’s leadership, Jennifer Topmiller says, “Gayle is a true servant leader. She wants nothing more than to see her people succeed, and she will do anything she can to help.  She has a bright, friendly disposition and no one works harder.  I have truly found her to be an inspiration.”  Paula Grubb added “Gayle is a humble person who acts with personal integrity, responsibility, commitment to public service, and a strong work ethic.   For this reason, she has been a great role model for how to behave professionally, and she believes strongly in elevating other women in the workplace.   She encouraged me to take on leadership opportunities that I hadn’t seen myself taking on until she convinced me that I was not only capable, but would be good at it and could make a difference.”

Dr. DeBord has a Bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy from Purdue University and a Ph.D. in Environmental Health (Toxicology) from the University of Cincinnati. She began her career at NIOSH conducting research on occupational exposures to chemicals, including carcinogens, and has many publications to her credit.  She has served as a Section Chief and Branch Chief at NIOSH prior to becoming Associate Director for Science in 2010.  She has also served in deployed roles for emergency response for natural disasters including Hurricane Ike and the Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill, and most recently deployed as part of the CDC response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.


Dori Reissman, M.D., MPH

Dr. Dori Reissman is the Division Director and Associate Administrator of the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program, which provides medical benefits to those directly affected by the September 11th terrorist attacks. Over 70,000 members receive health monitoring, cancer screening, and treatment through the WTC Health Program.  The Program also administers a robust registry and an extramural research component, along with engaging several ERC sites as Clinical Centers of Excellence.

Her leadership has established a “research-to-care” paradigm that enables the clinical program to benefit from scientific advancement and engagement from stakeholder communities. This focus helps ensure that members receive the best care possible, which is a vital goal for Dori and her team. “Dori has inspired me to go beyond research and focus on leadership for the researchers and other team members,” said Brittany Rizek. “She has made me realize the importance of identifying how to provide the tools the teams within the WTC Health Program need to fully succeed.”

Dori has a long commitment to disaster response. She worked in the aftermath of the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center site and again in 2001 as part of CDC’s response unit. Dori is a well-known expert in the fields of preparedness and resilience. She has served on numerous panels and has championed integrated strategies to address workers’ safety, health, and resilience into incident management and organizational culture. She has also worked with childhood and community based resiliency and disaster preparedness efforts.  “Dori’s leadership and compassion for the WTC Health Program has driven me to be a better leader for my team members,” explains Chris Ellison. “Our program does so many important things. Dori helps makes sure that all of our teams are working together for the best possible outcomes.”

Dori began her public health career as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer in childhood lead poisoning. She moved to CDC/NCEH Health Hazards, then CDC/NCID as part of the Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Office. She then moved to CDC/NCIPC as the CDC disaster behavioral health SME prior to coming to NIOSH. She began her tenure at NIOSH in 2006 and assumed her role in the WTC Health Program in 2012.

Dori attended Rutgers University and received her master’s degree in toxicology at Columbia University. She conducted her medical training at Albert Einstein College of Medicine with a psychiatric residency and chemical dependency fellowship at St Vincent’s Hospital and Medical Center of New York. She received specialty training in occupational and environmental medicine at the University of Illinois.


Teresa Schnorr, Ph.D.

Dr. Teresa Schnorr started at NIOSH as an Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) officer in 1982. She was fresh out of graduate school having earned a Ph.D. in epidemiology from the University of Pennsylvania and was assigned to the Industrywide Studies Branch in the Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations, and Field Studies (DSHEFS) to conduct research studies on workplace exposures and cancer. Following the 2 year EIS program, she stayed on as a researcher and expanded her research interests to include the effects of work on reproductive health. She served in various supervisory positions before becoming Division Director in 2004.

As DSHEFS Director, she oversees studies of workplace exposures and potential health problems associated with those exposures. The Division also tracks the prevalence of work-related disease and protects the health of emergency responders during emergencies, such as the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, the Ebola outbreak, and the Zika exposures. Dr. Schnorr said, “I am very proud to work with the dedicated scientists who creatively work to reduce the incidence of work-related disease. I continue to be honored to assist the valuable experience and expertise conducted by the division scientists as they respond to major health emergencies throughout the nation and abroad.” This feeling is reflected in how she supports people in her Division. “Terri is incredibly supportive of the work we do in DSHEFS. She really encourages us to seek creative and innovative ways to improve the health of the American workforce,” says Jennifer Tyrawski.  Elizabeth Masterson added “Terri Schnorr has always been kind, approachable and encouraging. She also fosters an environment where new researchers can take on important projects and be recognized for accomplishments.”

Throughout her time at NIOSH, Dr. Schnorr has collaborated both within the Institute and with external partners and has found working with people committed to the science of healthy workplaces to be very rewarding. One particular study she found to be both challenging and rewarding investigated the potential relationship between miscarriage and the use of computers at work. As Dr. Schnorr explains, “In the late 1980s and early 1990s, computers were being rapidly introduced into the workplace, and some women who used these computers had miscarriages. The concern that computers were a cause created a great deal of worry among working women and their managers. Because miscarriages are fairly common (about 1 of every 6 pregnancies), a large study was needed to see if computers were a factor. We were able to conduct a very large, well-controlled study that provided a very clear answer that computers did not increase the risk.” A publication on the study in the New England Journal of Medicine was widely covered by the media and was responsible to calming the fears of many working women who were adapting to changing technologies.


Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all month long as we highlight other NIOSH women in science.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/NIOSH

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/niosh

Instagram: https://instagram.com/nioshusa/


Also, take a look at the related blogs: Women in Science and Black History Month: Recognizing Two Young NIOSH Researchers.


Judi Coyne, MBA, MA, is a Health Communication Specialist in the NIOSH National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory.

Chris Ellison is the Acting Senior Team Lead of the Member Services and Communications Team in the World Trade Center Health Program.

Trudi McCleery, MPH, is a Health Communications Specialist in the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology, Engineering and Physical Hazards Branch.

Jennifer Tyrawski, Ph.D., is a Health Communication Specialist in the NIOSH Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations, and Field Studies.

Sydney Webb, Ph.D., is a Health Communications Specialist in the NIOSH Division of Safety Research.


Posted on by Judi Coyne, MBA, MA; Chris Ellison ; Trudi McCleery, MPH; Jennifer Tyrawski, Ph.D., and Sydney Webb, Ph.D.

2 comments on “Women’s History Month: NIOSH Recognizes Female Leaders”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    Really great article, Glad to read the article. Its useful to all of us. Thanks for sharing such a impressive post.

    Maryann D’Alessandro is a smart woman that we had the privilege to work with back in 2008. She is very knowledgeable in her craft and we appreciate her greatly. Her recognition here is very appropriate.

    Ben Kate

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Page last reviewed: April 1, 2024
Page last updated: April 1, 2024