Staff Bios

Donna Phillips, MD

NYU Grossman School of Medicine Assistant Dean of Simulation Education

Dr. Donna Phillips leads the New York Simulation Center for the Health Sciences (NYSIM) as the Assistant Dean of Simulation Education at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. In addition, she serves as the Director of Graduate Medical Education (GME) Quality and Safety for NYU Langone Health. Her focus areas are High Reliability Organization transformation and ensuring that NYULH meets the Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) expectations for house staff engagement in quality, safety, communications, and teamwork. Dr. Phillips has developed curricula in communications skills, professionalism, and clinical reasoning that incorporates simulation and workplace assessments for orthopedic residents. Dr. Phillips is working toward integrating simulation into all levels of education across the NYU Grossman School of Medicine as well as the City University of New York to increase quality, safety and patient experience.

Dr. Phillips is a Clinical Professor of Orthopedic Surgery and Pediatrics, specializing in Pediatric Orthopedic Surgery. She completed medical school and two years of general surgery at Baylor College of Medicine. She completed her Orthopedic Surgery Residency at Indiana University and a Pediatric Orthopedic Fellowship at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital. Dr. Phillips came to NYU in 1995.

Daniel M. Lugassy, MD

Medical Director

Dr. Lugassy is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine, he obtained his medical degree from State University of New York SUNY Downstate College of Medicine in Brooklyn, NY. After finishing a residency in Emergency Medicine at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, MD he completed a fellowship in Medical Toxicology at the NYU School of Medicine/New York City Poison Control Center. He has stayed on to be part of the NYU Emergency Medicine faculty since 2010, working clinically in the emergency departments of NYU-Langone Medical Center, Bellevue Hospital, the Manhattan Veteran’s Administration Hospital and is consultant to the New York City Poison Control Center.

Grace Ng, PhD, MS, CNM, RN

Health Professions Director

Grace Ng, PhD, CNM, RN is the Nursing and Health Professions Director. She developed a passion for simulation since 2008, when she started using simulation for obstetrics interprofessional team training. Since then, she expanded her work to using simulation to transform culture in healthcare through experiential learning, debriefing, and reflective practice. Her current teaching focus is faculty development for simulation educators. She has taught extensively in simulation instructor courses in the US and overseas, and serves as part-time faculty at the Center for Medical Simulation in Boston, Massachusetts since 2011. Grace has authored multiple articles on teamwork and simulation. Her most recent research interests are focused on examining the role psychological safety in nursing clinical practice, as well as debriefing approaches of novice debriefers. She currently serves as an Associate Editor at Simulation & Gaming: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Theory, Practice and Research. She also serves on the Editorial Board at BMJ Simulation & Technology Enhanced Learning.

Grace has been a nurse for 21 years. Prior to devoting her work full time to simulation, she served as a professional development nurse educator at NYU Langone Health. She obtained her Nursing and Nurse-Midwifery degrees from Columbia University, her Post-Master’s Advanced Certificate in Nursing Education from Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing at The City University of New York. In 2019, she completed her PhD in Nursing from the Graduate Center at The City University of New York.

Joanne Choi, MPH

Administrative Director

Ms. Choi has more than 10 years’ administration experience in healthcare institutions in clinical programs including cardiology, heart transplant / ventricular assist devices, and endoscopy. She started her career at Columbia University Medical Center while obtaining her MPH in Health Policy & Management at the university’s Mailman School of Public Health. Her expertise revolves around the design, analysis, and implementation of minor and major program and business strategies, and facilities projects.

Sondra Zabar, MD


Sondra Zabar, MD is the Director of the Primary Care Internal Medicine Residency Training Program at the NYU School of Medicine. She is the Director of the Program for Medical Education Innovations and Research (PrMEIR), established in 2006 with the mission of advancing medical education scholarship at NYU and instituting best practices for patient-centered, evidence-based medical education through research, faculty development, and internal grants program.

Jeffrey A. Manko MD

Director for Graduate Medical Education


Tom Vongbandith

Senior Systems Analyst

Mr. Vongbandith has more than 15 years’ experience in the IT industry. At NYSIM he supports all technical aspects of the center, including the A/V equipment used for recording and reviewing simulation sessions; all computerized simulators; and the online educational management system. He started his career specializing in software training and support for companies in the retail industry, and has worked as a systems consultant for Avaya Communications, formerly part of Lucent Technologies. Prior to joining NYSIM, he worked as an IT customer support specialist for the Department of Surgery at New York University School of Medicine.

Gene Mamaril

IT Systems Analyst 1

Mr. Mamaril graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering from New Jersey Institute of Technology. He has 3 years of experience in designing smart homes with theaters, media rooms, distributed video and music systems, and advanced automation controls for security and lighting. He also has 6 years of experience in medical simulation systems from Education Management Solutions. During these 6 years, he has designed, installed, and serviced the A/V behind the online component of these systems nationally and internationally. As an analyst at NYSIM, he is part of a team that supports the technology of the center, which include A/V, the control system, and advanced patient simulators.

Virginia Drda

Simulation Faciitator

Ms. Drda has more than 14 years’ experience merging the art of theatre with the art of medicine. At NYSIM, she is facilitator of NYSIM’s “standardized patients” program—in which trained actors play the roles of patients, a technique used to train medical students how to enhance their communication and listening skills when meeting with patients. Ms. Drda acted, directed, and managed educational theatre programs with Kaiser Permanente Health Maintenance Organization, where she co-wrote and developed live interactive encounters portraying both patients and medical professionals. She has also acted in an array of standardized patient and health care provider roles in the New York City area. She served as Associate Program Manager with the Clinical Competence Center of New York (C3NY), for 6 years before coming to NYSIM.

Alexandra Mack

Program Supervisor

Alexandra Mack had her first experience in the field of Simulation in Healthcare during high school when she was a Standardized Patient at Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine. She reconnected with Simulation in 2015, but this time taking a role from an operational side as a Simulation Operations Specialist at NYSIM. In her current role she is a Program Supervisor, overseeing the operations of the Standardized Patient Program at NYSIM. Prior to this working at NYSIM, Alex worked as an Office Manager at a private practice for a Integrative Oncologist and Primary Care Provider in Maine.

Crysandy Marte

Program Supervisor

Mr. Marte graduated from Saint Michael’s College with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. He gained three years of managerial leadership while continuing education as a Graduate Assistant at Saint Michael’s College. During that time, he acquired pre-requisites in pre-health and worked at the Clinical Simulation Laboratory at The University of Vermont Larner College Of Medicine where he served as a Standardized Patient and Simulation Specialist for Immersive Simulations. Crysandy moved back to New York City and continued his journey in the field of medical simulation by joining the NYSIM staff in 2016. He is currently the Senior Simulation Operations Associate who supports the Assistant Director of Operations as well as the daily immersive simulation programs at NYSIM.

Cynthia Reyes

Simulation Operation Associate

Ms. Reyes had professional training as a Licensed Practical Nurse and participated in specialized coursework in the field of nursing during her high school years. In 2014, she received her Bachelor of Art in Psychology at CUNY Hunter College. During her time at CUNY Hunter College, she had the opportunity to work as a Simulation Facilitator for Hunter’s Nursing Department. Working as a Simulation Facilitator allowed her to collaborate with nursing educators and prospective nursing students. She currently works as a Simulation Operations Associate who supports daily immersive simulation programs at NYSIM.

Jason Rukavina

Simulation Operation Specialist

Jason joined NYSIM in 2019 as a Simulation Operations Associate. His prior experience spans across a diverse set of research, non-profit, and healthcare environments. This includes a role working on youth violence prevention initiatives, another in research administration at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, as well as a more recent clinical research position within an audiology research center at the Portland (OR) VA. Jason earned both a B.A. and an MPH from the University of Michigan.

Errol Ansalone

Per Diem Simulation Operation Specialist

Errol joined NYSIM in December of 2019. He got his start in TV Video production after graduating from Hofstra University. After 12 years in the field he went back to school for a degree in special education. He currently works as a simulation operations associate.

Maria Olivero

Administrative Assistant

Maria Olivero, B.S. (IONA College) has 20+ years of administrative experience. She joined the Simulation Center in December 2016 as an administrative assistant. She began her career at NYULMC Department of Radiology where she supported 3 Vice Chairs. She also worked in the Office of the Dean and CEO supporting the Chief of Staff, the Dean and CEO and the Vice President for Policy and Administration.

Soma Roy

Program Manager


Lawrence Pontrelli


Larry Pontrelli, B.S. (Fordham University) joined NYSIM in 2019 as an Advanced Cardiac Life Support and CPR Trainer. He has been teaching American Heart Association certification courses for over 20 years. He also worked as a paramedic and an EMS Lieutenant with FDNY, retiring from city service in 2014.

Rebecca Pertab

Simulation Operations Associate

Ms. Pertab, MPH joined the Simulation Center in March 2017 as a Simulation Operations Associate. She has a diverse background with over 5 years of experience in clinical office procedures, office administration, and research at NYULMC. She currently assists the Program Supervisor in supporting the Standardized Patient Programs at NYSIM.

Ryan Zurich

Program Coordinator

Ryan C. Zurich joined NYSIM in 2016 as a Simulation Operations Specialist. Ryan is currently pursuing their master’s degree in Psychology and Theology at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. They earned their B.A. from Hunter College in Psychology, Studio Art, and Religious Studies through the CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies. At NYSIM, Ryan supports daily immersive simulation programs, as well as standardized patient programs. Ryan is also currently active in developing NYSIM’s Basic Life Support (BLS) program in partnership with NYU Winthrop and the American Heart Association. Outside of NYSIM, Ryan works in Clinical Psychology research at Teachers College, Columbia University, is a practicing painter, and a life-long swimmer.

Porsche Scott

Project Associate

Ms. Scott is an administrative professional with 7 years of experience coordinating administrative functions and supporting leadership. Prior to joining the NYSIM team, Porsche worked as an office administrator for a non-profit organization where she was responsible for general office and leadership support, preparing reports, creating and distributing correspondence, and creating graphic design work.

Emery Olson

Administrative Coordinator

Emery joined the team in May 2019 after studying economics and film studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. At UMass, she was a part of the executive board for UMass For The Kids, a student organization that fundraises for a local children’s hospital. Through her collegiate work, she discovered a passion for helping further the medical field. At NYSIM, Emery will be working closely with the rest of the administrative team to ensure the center’s successful operation.


Organizational Table