Meet Our Team

Melissa Witman, PhD
Principal Investigator

Dr. Witman joined the University of Delaware in 2015 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Applied Physiology. She became interested in the field of Exercise Physiology as a collegiate runner and cross country skier at St. Lawrence University. As a result, she pursued her Master’s degree at the University of New Hampshire under the mentorship of Dr. David Edwards and specialized in the cardiovascular responses to exercise.

Following two years as an Exercise Science Instructor and Academic Advisor at the University of New Hampshire, Dr. Witman headed west to the University of Utah for her Doctoral degree. Under the mentorship of Dr. Russell Richardson in the Utah Vascular Research Laboratory, she studied the relationships between vascular function, exercise-induced hyperemia, and the role of oxidative stress in patients with heart failure and heart transplant recipients. Dr. Witman stayed in Utah for her Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the Salt Lake City VA Medical Center where she continued to study those with severe heart failure, including those that have received a left-ventricular assist, in addition to healthy aging and other chronic diseases.

Currently, Dr. Witman’s work continues to focus on the vasculature and how this changes throughout the lifespan and with various chronic diseases in hopes of improving overall health and quality of life. When not in the laboratory, she enjoys spending time with her family, running, skiing, hiking, and almost any other outdoor activity.

Research Associates

Krista Szymanski, MS

Krista is a Research Associate in the Vascular Function in Chronic Disease Research lab. She earned a BS in Exercise Science with minors in Strength & Conditioning and Psychology from the University of Delaware in 2019. She then earned her Master’s degree in Clinical Exercise Physiology also from the University of Delaware in 2020 where she discovered her passion for chronic disease management and patient care. She is also a Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine which she implemented into working within Phase I, II, and III cardiac and pulmonary rehab programs from 2020-2022 in Delaware and Maryland.

Her research interests include the effects of physical activity on cardiovascular functioning as well as preventative medicine. Her interests outside of work include going to the gym, going to the beach, and playing with dogs.

Kayte Restaino

Kayte Restaino joined the University of Delaware as a Research Associate in the spring of 2022.  She graduated from Messiah College with a BA in Sport and Exercise Science in 2005.  After completing an internship in Dallas at the Cooper Aerobics Center, she joined the family business where she worked for her father, Tom Hall, CEO of CardioKinetics Inc. for the next 12 years.  It was there that she gained valuable knowledge in the field of exercise science and preventive medicine.  During her time at CardioKinetics, she was able to obtain a variety of work experience in corporate fitness and exercise testing; however, spent most of her time managing the company’s Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation program.  As a result of her years there, she developed a passion for studying cardiovascular function and health.

 Currently she is also an adjunct instructor at Delaware Technical Community College, teaching Advanced Exercise Testing as well as coaching girls lacrosse at Kennett High School.  When she isn’t working she enjoys spending time with her husband Matt and two children, Rachel and Ryan.

Graduate Students

Michele D’Agata, MS

Michele is a PhD student in the Applied Physiology program under Dr. Melissa Witman. She earned her BS in Sport and Leisure Management with a concentration in Sport Science and Performance in May, 2018 from Eastern Connecticut State University. She completed an Undergraduate thesis where she studied the effects of exercise type and order on performance-related measures. In August, 2020, Michele earned her Master’s degree in Exercise Science from the University of Delaware. The title of her Master’s Thesis was Racial Disparity in Peripheral Microvascular Function Assessed Throughout the Menstrual Cycle.

Her research interests include preventative health and medicine as well as the effects of exercise on cardiovascular function and overall health. Her other interests include playing competitive soccer, coaching, working out, going to the beach, going on scenic walks, and cats.

Undergraduate Students

Bray Fedel

Bray is an undergraduate student in Human Physiology with a minor in Chemistry. She has been a volunteer in the Vascular Function in Chronic Disease Research Laboratory since September 2021. Her roles include assisting with data analysis, with a specific focus on the Arterial Stiffness and Vascular Compliance in Children dataset. She is mainly interested in physical activity and its relation to vascular health as well as its correlation to overall cardiovascular health.

Upon graduation, Bray intends to continue her education in Sports Medicine. She is also a member of the social sorority Sigma Kappa, and in her free time she enjoys going to the beach and reading.

Nicole Mellor

Nicole is an undergraduate student at the University of Delaware studying Medical Diagnostics with a Pre-Physician Assistant concentration. She has been volunteering in the University of Delaware Vascular Function in Chronic Disease Laboratory since February 2022. She also spends her time volunteering in the Emergency Department at the Nemours Children’s Hospital in Wilmington, DE as well as at the Blood Bank of Delmarva in Newark, DE. Nicole plans on graduating in May 2024 with future plans to pursue a master’s degree in a Physician Assistant program.

Alumni

Felicia Berube, MS

​Felicia earned a BS in Exercise and Sport Physiology with a minor in Health Studies in May 2018 from Plymouth State University. In August 2020 Felicia completed her MS in Exercise Physiology at the University of Delaware under the guidance of Dr. Melissa Witman. The title of her master’s Thesis was The Role of Sleep Metrics on Central and Peripheral Blood Pressure Values in Children.

Talia Brookstein-Burke, Undergraduate Fellow

Talia is a recent University of Delaware graduate from the College of Health Sciences. She earned her BS in Health Behavior Science with a concentration in athletic coaching in 2021. Talia currently works as a research associate under Dr. Freda Patterson in the Sleep and Health Research Program, where she studies the impact of sleep quality and duration on chronic illnesses such as addiction, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.

Her research interests include childhood obesity prevention and community interventions utilizing wearable technology devices. Her other interests include competitive running, rock climbing, baking, and journalism. 

Julia Dambly, BS

Julia Dambly graduated from the University of Delaware with a BS in Exercise Science and a minor in Biology. She was an undergraduate volunteer in the Vascular Function in Chronic Disease Laboratory from September 2019 to May 2020. Her main roles consisted of flow-mediated dilation and passive leg movement data analysis for all current research projects. Julia is continuing her work in the healthcare field to get more patient care experience before applying to Medical School.

Katie Herbstritt – Undergraduate Student

Katie graduated from the University of Delaware with a BS in Sports Health. She was an undergraduate volunteer in the Vascular Function in Chronic Disease Laboratory during Spring 2022. Katie’s main role in the lab was nutritional data analysis on the WATCH project. Her interest in the Vascular Function field started after she took an Exercise Physiology class with Dr. Melissa Witman. After graduation, Katie plans to apply to Physical Therapy schools for the upcoming cycle. During her gap year, she hopes to work as a full-time physical therapy aide to gain more experience before starting school. In her free time, Katie likes to cook, hike, and spend time with her family.

Alexandra Hirt, MPH

Alex received her BS in Exercise Science from the University of Delaware in 2016, after completing a summer fellowship in Dr. Witman’s Laboratory. During her undergraduate studies, she volunteered in Cardiac Rehab, which gave her an appreciation for Dr. Witman’s previous experiences with heart failure patients.

Alex worked in the lab as a Research Technician for 2.5 years, helping to cultivate each study in the Vascular Health and Chronic Disease Lab, and she completed her MPH PA degree at Arcadia University.

Elissa Hoopes, PhD

Elissa was a PhD student in the Applied Physiology program under Dr. Melissa Witman from 2016-2020. The title of her doctoral dissertation was Sleep Variability and Cardiovascular Health in Undergraduate College Students. She earned her BS in Exercise Science from Towson University and developed her clinical background earning her M.S. from George Washington University in Clinical Exercise Physiology. She is also a Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine, with experience in various rehabilitation settings. She is currently a post-doctoral researcher in the Behavioral Health and Nutrition department at the University of Delaware working with Dr. Freda Patterson.

Cindy Rullo, BS

Cindy Rullo was an undergraduate researcher in the Vascular Function in Chronic Disease Laboratory from 2019-2020. Her main roles consisted of helping with dietary analysis for all of the lab’s research projects. Cindy graduated in May, 2020 with a BS in Exercise Science as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Air Force. Her exposure to cardiovascular research strengthened her appreciation for patient care and diagnosis. Cindy now attends Monmouth University’s Physician Assistant Program, where she is pursuing her passion for patient care.

Danika Swech, Undergraduate Student

Danika completed her BS in Exercise Science with a minor in Public Health. She was a Summer Fellow in the Vascular Function in Chronic Disease Laboratory from June – August 2021 and has been a volunteer in the lab ever since. Her role consists of NDSR meal logging data analysis for the current projects. Danika’s interest in the lab began when learning about Dr. Witman’s research in her undergraduate Exercise Physiology class. Danika presented her work at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference of the American College of Sports Medicine (MARC-ACSM) in November 2021. She was a Finalist in the Undergraduate Student competition.

Danika is also a member of the Division 1 Women’s Lacrosse team at UD and works as a Patient Care Technician at Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation Hospital. Upon graduation, she plans on applying to Physician Assistant school and getting more healthcare experience, while taking some time to travel!