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Meet the Biology Department Faculty! 

Full-Time Faculty

Arja McCray, Ph.D., Chair
Office: S426
(510) 436-2584

Arja McCray has discovered an amazing and satisfying career teaching biology, anatomy and physiology at Merritt College since 2003. Prior to that, she earned her Bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Berkeley, in the Department of Integrative Biology and her Doctorate degree from the world-famous Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California, San Diego. Between the years of 2001-2005 she assisted many undergraduate students from under-represented backgrounds in preparing for advanced degree programs in science, mathematics and engineering as the director of programs including CSEMS, UCLEADS (UCSD) and Physics Scholars Program/CAMP (UCB). Arja has been the Chair of the Biology Department at Merritt College since 2009 and is proud to have received the Merritt College Leadership Award. Whenever she gets the chance Arja relaxes with her husband and their two adorable sons, and together the family enjoys camping, gardening, raising chickens, and playing video games.

Nancy Rauch, Ph.D.
Office: S427
(510) 436-2616

Nancy Rauch teaches Anatomy and Physiology. Her training started at Brooklyn College where she received her Bachelor’s Degree. She then studied at Yale University where she was awarded a Ph.D. in Biology in the area of Developmental Biology. She has subsequently specialized in Anatomy and Physiology after moving to California by studying at various local California colleges. As a faculty member at Merritt College, she was awarded an NSF grant to computerize its physiology labs. She has been honored as Teacher of the Year and has received the Chancellor’s Recognition Award. She is fascinated by how the human body works and loves transmitting that fascination to her students. She feels fortunate to teach at Merritt College where the students, her colleagues, and the Biology Department have made teaching an exciting, stimulating and very rewarding experience.

Maria Suarez Rodriguez, Ph.D.

Office: S423

Maria Suarez Rodriguez has been teaching Microbiology, Anatomy and Physiology, Human Biology, General Biology for majors, and Genetics at Merritt College since 2015. She has also taught at Laney College and other institutions in the US and abroad. She is a Biologist with majors in Genetics and Molecular Biology with an MSc in Developmental Biology and a PhD in the fields of Genetics and Genomics that she studied in UW Madison. After completing her graduate studies, she did research in Denmark and at UC Berkeley. Throughout her work in many academic institutions she discovered her passion for teaching and empowering young students to be creative and learn how to pursue their dreams to work in the sciences and do research. It is her mission now as a faculty member at Merritt College to “continue sharing the love and dedication I have for the Life and Health Sciences with all students so that they can find their passion and achieve their career goals.” Outside of Merritt College, Maria enjoys hiking traveling, and gardening.


John Rodriguez

John Rodriguez knew he wanted to be a biology instructor after tutoring small groups of biology students as an undergraduate at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He then chose to earn his M.S. at San Francisco State University to simultaneously specialize in cellular and molecular biology as well as biology education. John loves discussing teaching and learning strategies and learning from others every day. This has led John to a stimulating and happy career teaching biology to community college students. John’s non-academic interests include expanding his music library based on student recommendations, playing volleyball and many other games, discovering tasty food from different cultures with his fiancée, watching his dog act silly, and biking when it is a perfect 74 degrees outside. John also enjoys thinking about human health and sustainability through design lenses such as “permaculture” and “biomimicry.”

Steven Scott, Ph.D.
Office: S428
(510) 436-2530




Part-Time Faculty

Brad Balukjian, Ph.D.
Office: S422

Brad Balukjian never grew up. When he was six, he ran around the woods collecting bugs and putting them in jars. Now he does it for a living. Brad teaches Bio 29, “Biology of the Living World,” a course for non-majors on all of the amazing plants, animals, and other organisms that cover our planet, and he will be offering new natural history courses in future semesters. He has a bachelor’s degree in island biogeography from Duke University and a Ph.D. in entomology from UC Berkeley. In addition to teaching at Merritt, Brad is a freelance science journalist and has published over 100 articles in National Geographic, Discover, Rolling Stone, and several other publications. Check out for more information.

Havovi Birdie, M.D.
Office : S422

Dr. Birdie is an internationally trained medical doctor with years of experience in the field of Obstetrics and Gynecology. She is a multiple gold medal recipient with high honors in both M.B.B.S and post-graduate specialty from the Royal College of Obstetrician and Gynecologists. After having practiced medicine for over 15 years, she has now re-focused her energy towards teaching and research full time. Having migrated to the U.S., she wanted to follow her passion in learning new skills especially in the burgeoning field of Genetics and Genomics and pursued a post-baccalaureate course in Biotechnology and Genetics at CSU East Bay for which she also received high honors. Dr. Birdie has thoroughly enjoyed teaching throughout her career, from advising post-graduate and fellowship students while practicing medicine to mentoring young doctors in her free time. She finds great pride and joy in continuing to teach and in encouraging students to develop proficiency in biological skills and critical thinking in the service of their higher goals. She is grateful for the opportunity to support and encourage the future generation of healthcare givers.

Melinda Downing, M.Sc.

Office: S408

Melinda Downing has taught biology at Chabot College and the Peralta Colleges since arriving in the Bay area in 2003. Her BS degree is from the University of Missouri, Columbia, and her MS is from the University of Texas, Arlington, with additional graduate work at San Diego State University. Melinda teaches Anatomy classes at Merritt College.


Brian Rowning,  Ph.D.
Office: S422

Brian Rowning has taught at Merritt since 2011. He is one of the Merritt professors who has taken students and fluorescence microscopes to do imaging in Costa Rican jungles. The Biology Department courses he has taught include Anatomy and Physiology (Bio 20A, 20B and Bio 4), Introductory Biology, and Biotech and Microbiology classes at Merritt and at College of Alameda and Contra Costa College. He is active in Merritt’s Genomics, Microscopy and Histotechnology programs. In addition to teaching specialized classes in those programs and serving as the current Merritt Histotechnician Program director, he is excited about the possibilities for transforming biomedical education, strengthening regional scientific and technological capabilities, and expanding student employment opportunities. He has worked as a Scientist at LBNL and UC Berkeley, and did postdoctoral research at LBNL and UW Seattle/HHML.

Em Segmen, M.Sc.

Office: S422

Em Segmen is an M.Sc. in five areas of biology: Anatomy, physiology, immunology, cell biology, molecular biology and genetics with five mentors. She has gratefully taught anatomy and anatomy-physiology since 1989 at Merritt College and has also taught graduate school anatomy labs. Em Segmen also teaches the exciting Cadaver Dissection course at Merritt College.


Ron Felzer, M.Sc.

Office: S422






Nadia Fouladian Tabriz, M.D.
Office: S408

Nadia Fouladian has taught Anatomy and Physiology courses at Merritt College since Spring 2016. She has also taught Anatomy at the College of Alameda for two years, and at Contra Costa College. She received her M.D. degree from Shiraz University of Medical Science, a well-known medical school in Iran, during a seven-year course of studies, and a thesis in Cardiology. Nadia Fouladian practiced medicine as a general practitioner for eight years in different cities and in different areas of medicine such as family medicine and cardiac care unit, mostly in emergency rooms and rural areas before she moved to the United States. After passing all the medical board exams, and receiving her ECFMG certificate, she decided to continue her service of advocating for the health of people by teaching Anatomy, her favorite subject and one of the fundamental subjects in medicine, to enable students to apply the basics of Anatomy into their practices in any medical related field. Outside of the classroom, she spends time with her husband and her adorable little daughter who teaches her life lessons and surprises her with new skills every day.


Ruhina Najem






Christoph Muehlinghaus
Office cubicle: S406

Since 2005, I have been teaching Anatomy and Physiology at Merritt. For the past few years, I have been focusing on the evening Introduction Anatomy class. My main aim of teaching is to pass on knowledge and help students understand how the human body works so that they can better care for themselves and their family. I am also a chiropractic physician and have a clinic in Oakland on “Pill Hill,” where I help patients reduce their bodily pains.


Edwin Ochong
Office cubicle: S406

Judith Owiti
Office cubicle: S406

Carol Rooker
Office cubicle: S406

Vaishali Bhagwat
Office cubicle: S422

Karen Bloom

Daniel Edelstein

Javier Silva


Hank Fabian

Clytia Curley

Support Staff

Kinga Sidzinska
Lab Coordinator
Office: S407

Rachel Maier
Science Lab Technician
Office: S420

Raytina Lagmay
Science Lab Technician
Office: S420