Our Team

Meet the team behind the Vantuna Research Group.

Dan Pondella

Daniel Pondella

Professor, Biology; Director, Vantuna Research Group
(323) 259-2955

Dan Pondella teaches the biology of marine fishes, biodiversity of marine ecosystems, and biological oceanography.

Chelsea Williams

Chelsea Muñoz Williams

Assistant Director
(323) 259-2618
Chelsea started working with the Vantuna Research Group in 2007 as an undergraduate research assistant and went on to graduate from Occidental College with a B.A. in Biology with an emphasis in...
Portrait of Jeremy Claisse

Jeremy Claisse

Associate Director
Jeremy earned his B.S. in Aquatic Biology from UC Santa Barbara in 2000. He later joined the Vantuna Research Group in 2009 as a post-doctoral researcher after earning his M.S. and Ph.D. in...
Jonathan Williams

Jonathan Williams

Research Scientist
(323) 259-2891
Jonathan has been working for the VRG since 2006, originally as a Research Associate, and now as a Research Scientist. He got his B.S. from UNC Wilmington and M.S. from CSU Northdridge. He has...
Zoe Scholz

Zoe Scholz

Research Assistant
Zoe started working with the Vantuna Research Group in 2018 as a full-time Research Assistant. She received a B.S. in Marine Biology and a B.A. in Art from the University of California, Santa...
Research Associate Erin Jaco

Erin Jaco

Research Associate
(323) 341-4212
Erin began working as a Research Associate with the Vantuna Research Group in 2019. She received a B.S. in Biology from Oregon State University in 2014 and an M.S. in Biology from California...
Portrait of Jacob Eagleton

Jacob Eagleton

Research Associate
(323) 259-2676
Jacob started working for the VRG in 2018 as a volunteer scientific diver and was subsequently hired as a Field Research Assistant. In 2021, he was hired as a Research Assistant. He received his...
Brian Cohn

Brian Cohn

Research Associate
Brian began working for the VRG in 2021 as a Research Associate. He received his B.S. in Marine Biology from California State University, Long Beach in 2016 and his M.S. in Biology from...
Daniel Ramirez

Daniel Ramirez

Research Assistant & Larval Fish Taxonomist
Daniel started working as a research assistant focusing on larval fish taxonomy for the VRG in 2016. He graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a B.S. in biology and emphasis in zoology in 2018....
Gary Jordan

Gary Jordan

Larval Fish Taxonomist
Gary Jordan has been associated with the Vantuna Research Group since April 1976.  In that year, Gary supervised the identification of larval fish collected from the various waterways of King...
Jenny Wong headshot

Jenny Wong

Outreach Coordinator
Jenny joined the VRG as Outreach Coordinator in 2020. Jenny currently is overseeing outreach for projects funded by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management including "Supplemental Data Regarding...
Laurel Zahn

Laurel Zahn

Field Research Associate
Laurel received her B.S. in Marine Biology from UC Santa Cruz in 2005. She began working for the VRG in 2008 as a Research Assistant while working on her M.S. degree at CSU Long Beach. After ...
Bill Power

Bill Power

Field Research Assistant
Bill has been diving with the VRG since 2007 but only recently joined as a staff member in 2020. Bill graduated from UCLA in 1986 with a B.S. in Geology and a focus in Paleobiology. He then...
Adam Obaza

Adam Obaza

Field Research Assistant
Adam started officially working with Vantuna Research Group in 2016, though has collaborated on various dive and research activities since 2012. He previously worked with NOAA Fisheries on...
Portrait of Aaron Sugimoto

Aaron Sugimoto

Field Research Assistant
Aaron began working for the Vantuna Research Group in 2015 as an undergraduate research technician. He received his B.A. in Biology from Occidental College in May 2017. As an undergrad abroad in...
Portrait of Austin Pyles

Austin Pyles

Field Research Assistant
Austin started working with the VRG in 2018 as a research diver. He received his B.S. in Environmental Biology from Cal Poly Pomona. As an undergraduate he assisted with California native...

Sigfrido Zimmermann

Field Research Assistant

Erika Nava

Field Research Assistant

Undergraduate Research Assistants

Allison Smith - Lead Research Assistant
Cole Ivie - Lead Research Assistant
Matthew Klein  - NSF Marine Biodiversity Collection Research Assistant
Sean Choe
Greyson Hutchinson
Michela Imperiale
Alexa Ligon
Julia Lindemuth
Kelsey McKenna
Margot Murphy
Penelopi Perez
Katie Placiensia
Juliette Ruaux


Rachel Ann Arias (Crescenta Valley High School)
Lorenzo Blanco (Polytechnic School)
Madi Valiente (Crescenta Valley High School)
Camilla Connor (Westridge School)
Mac Power (UC Santa Barbara)
Dylan Gould (Occidental College '26)
Katie Lam (University of Washington '21)
Affiliate Researchers
Doc Stephens

John S. Stephens, Jr.

Founder, Executive Director
Dr. John Stephens, Jr. is an Emeritus Professor of Environmental Biology (1959-2003). He recieved his B.A. from Stanford University and his M.S. and Ph.D. from UCLA. He founded the Vantuna...
Professor Amanda Zellmer

Amanda J. Zellmer

Associate Professor, Biology
(323) 341-4995

Amanda Zellmer’s research focuses on the utility and development of computational methods for studying spatial ecological and evolutionary processes, particularly in the context of conservation biology.