Virtual Reality Symposium Biographies and Contact Information

Course Directors

Dr. Rory A. Cooper

Distinguished Professor, FISA/PVA Chair, Department of Rehabilitation and Technology, University of Pittsburgh 
Director, Human Engineering Research Laboratories
VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Center of Excellence fore Wheelchairs and Associated Rehabilitation Engineering
Pittsburgh, PA

Contact Information
Human Engineering Research Laboratories
VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System
6425 Penn Avenue, Suite 400
Pittsburgh, PA 15206
(412) 822-3700 

Rory A. Cooper, PhD received the BS and MEng degrees in electrical engineering for California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo in 1985 and 1986, respectively. He received the Ph.D. degree in electrical and computer engineering with a concentration in bioengineering from University of California at Santa Barbara in 1989. He is FISA & Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Chair and Distinguished Professor of the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology, and professor of Bioengineering, Mechanical Engineering, Physical Medicine & Rehab, and Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Cooper is Founding Director and VA Senior Research Career Scientist of the VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Center of Excellence in Pittsburgh. He is also the Co-Director of the NSF Quality of Life Technology Engineering Research Center, a joint effort between the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.

He is the Editor of the journal Assistive Technology and the AT Research Book Series of IOS Press. Dr. Cooper serves or has served on the editorial boards of several prominent peer-reviewed journals in the fields of rehabilitation and bioengineering. He has received multiple prestigious awards to include the Olin Teague Award, Paul Magnuson Award, U.S. Army Outstanding Civilian Service Medal, James Peters Award, Maxwell J. Schleifer Award,DaVinci Lifetime Achievement Award, Veteran’s Leadership Program Veteran of the Year, and a member of the inaugural class of the Spinal Cord Injury Hall of Fame. Dr. Cooper has authored or co-authored over 200 peer-reviewed journal publications. He has ten patents awarded or pending. Dr. Cooper is the author of two books: Rehabilitation Engineering Applied to Mobility and Manipulation and Wheelchair Selection and Configuration, and co-editor of An Introduction to Rehabilitation Engineering, Care of the Combat Amputee, and the Warrior Transition Leader Medical Rehabilitation Handbook. Dr. Cooper is an elected Fellow of the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE), and the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES). Dr. Cooper has been an invited lecturer at many institutions around the world, for example the National Academies of Sciences Distinctive Voices Lecture, and was awarded Honorary Professor at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and Xi’an Jiatong University. He has also been elected to Eta Kappa Nu, Tau Beta Pi, and Sigma Xi honorary societies.   

Dr. Cooper is a former President of RESNA, and a member of the RESNA/ANSI and ISO Wheelchair Standards Committees, and IEEE-EMBS Medical Device Standards Committee. In 1988, he was a bronze medalist in the Paralympic Games, Seoul, Republic of Korea. He was on the steering committee for the 1996 Paralympic Scientific Congress held in Atlanta, GA, and the Sports Scientist for the 2008 U.S. Paralympic Team in Beijing, China. In 2009, Dr. Cooper was featured on a Cheerios cereal box for his many achievements. He has been a member of theU.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services – Medicare Advisory Committee, Steering Committee of the Academy of PM&R on Research Capacity Building. and Chair of the National Advisory Board on Medical Rehabilitation Research, National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, and National Academy of Sciences Keck Foundation Initiative on Human Health Span Steering Committee. Dr. Cooper is a U.S. Army veteran with a spinal cord injury and a Director of the Paralyzed Veterans of America Research Foundation. He currently serves as a member of the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Prosthetics & Special Disability Programs Advisory Committee, U.S. Department of Defense Health Board Subcommittee on Amputation and Orthopedics, and the Board of Directors of Easter Seals. Dr. Cooper has actively collaborated with the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre on increasing access to quality services and devices for people with disabilities in India and throughout developing countries.

COL Paul F. Pasquina

Chief, Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center
Consultant to the Office of the Surgeon General for Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Center of Excellence fore Wheelchairs and Associated Rehabilitation Engineering
Pittsburgh, PA

Contact Information
Walter Reed National Military Medical Center
Orthopedics Department Room 2157
8901 Wisconsin Ave.
Bethesda, MD 20889 

Colonel Paul F. Pasquina, MD is the Chief of the Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the Director of the Center for Rehabilitation Sciences Research (CRSR) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS). He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and USUHS. In addition to being board certified in Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (PM&R), he is also board certified in Electrodiagnostic Medicine and Pain Medicine. He completed a fellowship in sports medicine and remains interested in all aspects of musculoskeletal medicine, especially as it relates to individuals with disabilities. He is the specialty consultant to the Army Surgeon General for Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation and a Secretarial appointee on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Advisory Committe for Prosthetics and Special Disabilities Programs. 

Dr. Pasquina has authored multiple book chapters, journal articles, and policy papers. He has served as the PM&R Residency Program Director and Medical Advisor to the North Atlantic Regional Medical Command for quality healthcare. He has received multiple military awardsm as well as awards for teaching and mentorship, including the U.S. Army's "A" Proficiency Designation for academin excellence, the Order of Military Medical Merit, and Honorary Fellow of the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA).

Dr. Michael A. Boninger

Professor and Chair, Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
Associate Dean for Medical Research and Professor, School of Medicine
University of Pittsburgh
VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Service
Pittsburgh, PA

Contact Information
Human Engineering Research Laboratories
VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System
6425 Penn Avenue, Suite 400
Pittsburgh, PA 15206
(412) 822-3700 

Michael L. Boninger, MD is professor and chair in the Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation and the Director of UPMC Rehabilitation Institute. He also serves as medical director of Human Engineering Research Laboratories and holds secondary appointments in the Departments of Rehabilitation Sciences and Technology and Bioengineering.  Dr. Boninger is also the director of the University of Pittsburgh Model Center on Spinal Cord Injury, a National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research Center of Excellence, and Medical Director of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories.

Dr. Boninger received a mechanical engineering degree and Doctorate of Medicine from the Ohio State University. Dr. Boninger has authored over 100 peer-reviewed publications and numerous abstracts, proceedings, and book chapters. Dr. Boninger, who holds three patents, is on the editorial board of the Journal of Rehabilitation Research and the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Dr. Boninger has been an invited speaker on assistive technology, wheelchair biomechanics, spinal cord injury rehabilitation, and secondary prevention of disabilities around the world. In 2003, he was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE), reserved for the top 2% of biomedical engineers.

Guest Faculty

Erik J. Wolf

Erik J. Wolf, PhD
Director, Center for Performance and Clinical Research
DoD-VA Extremity Trauma and Amputation Center of Excellence (EACE)
Walter Reed National Military Medical Center


Erik J. Wolf PhD is currently the Director of the Center for Performance and Clinical Research (CPCR) in the Amputee Service at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.  He received his doctoral degree in Bioengineering from the University of Pittsburgh in 2006.  His specific area of interest for his doctoral work involved the evaluation of harmful whole-body vibration to powered wheelchair users during driving.  Following his arrival at Walter Reed in 2007 he has worked to conduct research focused on the rehabilitation of Service Members with lower extremity trauma and amputation.  Walter Reed is very fortunate to house a state-of-the-art Biomechanics Lab and Virtual Reality Lab, which includes the CAREN.  His research focus includes maximizing functional performance and mitigating long term injury of Service Members with lower extremity trauma.

Emily A. Keshner

Emily A. Keshner, PhD
Professor and Chair
Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
College of Engineering, Temple University
Adjunct Professor, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Feinburg School of Medicine, Northwestern University

Emily A. Keshner is Professor and Chair of the Department of Physical Therapy, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Director of Research Strategy in the College of Health Professions and Social Work at Temple University. She is Director of the Virtual Environment and Postural Orientation (VEPO) Laboratory, which was developed for both experimental and clinical testing of postural reactions within a simulated dynamic visual environment. Her NIH funded research focuses on compensation and adaptation of postural responses during natural dynamic visual disturbances in healthy individuals and in patients with neurologic disorders. Dr. Keshner is former President of the International Society for Virtual Rehabilitation and President of the International Society for Posture and Gait Research.

Edmund LoPresti

Edmund LoPresti, PhD
Adjunct Professor
School of Health and Rehabilitation Science, University of Pittsburgh


Dr. Edmund F. LoPresti is adjunct faculty in the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology at the University of Pittsburgh. Through the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. LoPresti provides clinical rehabilitation engineering services at the Hiram G. Andrews Center (HGAC) in Johnstown, PA. At HGAC, Dr. LoPresti performs evaluation and training related to cognitive assistive and computer access technologies; supports clients in practicing their cognitive skills by playing the video game The Sims within the framework of a Cognitive Skills Enhancement Program; and conducts trials of telerehabilitation approaches to computer access and augmentative communication assessment.  In addition to his work with the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. LoPresti is president of AT Sciences, LLC, where he is developing rehabilitation technologies in the areas of cognitive assistance and therapy motivation.  Dr. LoPresti received his Bachelor’s of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and his PhD in Bioengineering from the University of Pittsburgh.   Dr. LoPresti is a past chair of RESNA’s Cognitive Disabilities Special Interest Group and Technology Transfer Special Interest Group and a Senior Member of IEEE. 

Albert "Skip" Rizzo

Albert “Skip” Rizzo, PhD
Associate Director; Research Professor
USC Institute for Creative Technologies
Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences
USC Davis School of Gerontology and USC Keck School of Medicine


Albert "Skip" Rizzo, PhD received his PhD in Clinical Psychology from the State University of New York at Binghamton. He is an Associate Director at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies (Medical Virtual Reality) and has Research Professor appointments with the USC Dept. of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and at the USC Davis School of Gerontology. Dr. Rizzo conducts research on the design, development and evaluation of Virtual Reality (VR) systems targeting the areas of clinical assessment, treatment and rehabilitation. In the psychological domain, the Virtual Iraq/Afghanistan project has focused on the creation of a VR exposure therapy application for combat-related PTSD with OIF/OEF service members and veterans. He is also involved in the creation of artificially intelligent virtual human patients that novice clinicians can use to practice skills required for challenging diagnostic interviews and for creating online virtual human healthcare guides for breaking down barriers to care in psychological health and TBI. Some of his past research has involved developing and testing VR applications that use 360 Degree Panoramic video for role-playing applications (anger management, etc.) and for journalism studies and digital media art creation. In the area of Gerontology, Dr. Rizzo has served as the program director of the USC Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and has conducted a VR study of visuospatial and wayfinding ability with persons with Alzheimer’s Disease.

He is the associate editor of The International Journal of Virtual Reality, is Senior Editor of the MIT Press journal, Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, is on a number of editorial boards for journals in the areas of cognition and computer technology. He recently received the “American Psychological Association 2010 Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Practice of Trauma Psychology” and the MMVR Satava Award for excellence in the use of VR for therapeutic applications. In his spare time, he plays rugby, listens to music, rides his motorcycle and thinks about new ways that VR can have a positive impact on clinical care.

Audrey N. Schoomaker

Audrey N. Schoomaker, BSN CPT RYT
School of Recreation, Health, and Toursim, George Mason University


Audrey N. Schoomaker, BSN CPT RYT received the BS in Nursing from Boston College.    Ms. Schoomaker is adjunct faculty at George Mason University as a professor of Yoga and is the Project Coordinator for Integrative Medicine, Defense and Veteran’s Center for Integrative Pain Management through the Henry M. Jackson Foundation.  Ms. Schoomaker is also a certified Yoga therapist and registered instructor and honorably served our country as a CAPTAIN in the United States Army.  Ms. Schoomaker has diverse experience in the field of healing arts – first as a nurse and mother, and additionally through the practice of Yoga and Mind Body Medicine. 

Nancy Chiaravalloti

Nancy Chiaravalloti, PhD
Kessler Foundation


Nancy Chiaravalotti, PhD is Director of Neuropsychology/ Neuroscience and Traumatic Brain Injury Research at Kessler Foundation, Associate Professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of NJ-NJ Medical School, and a licensed psychologist in NJ and NY.  She is Project Director of the Northern NJ TBI Model System, funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR). Dr. Chiaravalloti is the recipient of funding from the NIH (RO1) and NIDRR to conduct randomized clinical trials (RCTs) examining the efficacy of a behavioral memory rehabilitation intervention to improve new learning and memory in persons with MS and TBI, respectively, utilizing pre- and post-intervention neuropsychological assessment, virtual reality and neuroimaging to evaluate outcome.  She also recently received NIDRR funding to conduct a RCT of a Processing Speed behavioral intervention in persons with TBI.  Her research has also been funded by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the NJ Commission on Brain Injury Research, and the National Stroke Association. Dr. Chiaravalloti has a record of over 60 peer-reviewed publications and has served as a grant reviewer for NIDRR, NIH, NMSS, and the Italian MS Society.  Dr. Chiaravalloti also holds a grant from NIDRR that supports a post-doctoral training program in Neurocognitive Rehabilitation. She has served as a guest reviewer for numerous peer-reviewed journals and is on the Editorial Board of Frontiers in Neurotrauma.   Dr. Chiaravalloti has been the recipient of several early career awards including the National Academy of Neuropsychology’s (NAN) Early Career Award for Contributions to Clinical Neuropsychology (2005), the Rosenthal Early Career Award for significant contributions to research in Rehabilitation Psychology from the APA, Division 22 (2007), and the APA Division 40 Early Career Award for Contributions to Clinical Neuropsychology (2009). A leader in the neuropsychological assessment of clinical populations, Dr. Chiaravalloti is a member of the NIH Toolbox Cognition Team.  She is a key contributor to the development of the VR Office, a collaboration between the University of Southern California Institute of Creative Technologies and Kessler Foundation.

Deepan C. Kamaraj

Deepan C. Kamaraj, MD
Research Fellow
Human Engineering Research Laboratories, University of Pittsburgh


Deepan C. Kamaraj, MD is a research associate at the Human Engineering Research Laboratories. He is interested in translational research, particularly studying the applications of virtual reality on rehabilitation, and developing devices for implementation of such technology early in the course of rehabilitation. His current research work is focused on developing a power wheel chair driving simulator for power wheel chair driving assessments and training.

He graduated with a medical degree from J.N. Medical College in Belgaum, India in 2007, and was in clinical practice in India until 2010, when he started as a research fellow with the Human Engineering Research Laboratories. He completed his Master’s program at the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology at the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, and is currently furthering his research work as a Doctoral student with the same department, under the mentorship of Dr. Rory Cooper and Dr. Brad Dicianno.

Harshal Mahajan

Harshal Mahajan, PhD
Post Doctoral Researcher
Human Engineering Research Laboratories, University of Pittsburgh


Harshal Mahajan, PhD received his BEng degree from University of Mumbai in 2004 and MS degree from Mississippi State University in 2005, both in Biomedical Engineering and PhD in Rehabilitation Science from the University of Pittsburgh in 2012. He is a post-doctoral researcher at the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. His research interests include using sensor networks for improving independence and functioning of people with cognitive impairments and developing virtual reality applications for wheelchair users. He was also involved with human computer interaction projects for people with disabilities. He served on the student leadership council of the Quality of Life Technology Engineering Research Center. He also served on the coordinating bodies of an IEEE EMBS student chapter. 

Maria T. Schultheis

Maria T. Schultheis, PhD
Research Associate Professor
The Applied Neurotechnologies Lab, Drexel University

Dr. Maria Schultheis receiced the BS in Biological Sciences from Rutgers University, the MA degre from Temple University in Biological Science, and the PhD in Clinical Psychology from Drexel University. Dr. Schultheis is a Research Professor with appointments in the Department of Psychology and the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems. She is also the Director of Clinical Training of the Graduate Clinical Psychology Program at Drexel.

Dr. Schulthies’ clinical and research experience have been focused on the rehabilitation of cognitively impaired populations, including traumatic brain injury, stroke and multiple sclerosis. Specifically, she has specialized in 1) the application of technologies to clinical, research and educational aspects of psychology and 2) studying the demands (physical, cognitive and behavioral) of driving following neurological compromise.  This includes research focusing on the application of Virtual Reality (VR) technology.  Dr. Schultheis' work has been funded the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS).  She has over 50 peer-reviewed publications and has published the book entitled “The handbook for the assessment of driving capacity”.

Elizabeth Whipple

Elizabeth Whipple, BS
Graduate Student
The Applied Neurotechnologies Lab, Drexel University


Elizabeth Whipple, BS is a student at Drexel University’s graduate program in Clinical Psychology. Recently, she completed her Master’s thesis research which focuses on the driving habits of OIF/OEF veterans with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Elizabeth is interested in neuropsychological rehabilitation and outcome after brain injury, particularly in military populations.


Faculty for this activity have been required to disclose all relationships with any proprietary entity producing health care goods or services, with the exemption of non-profit or government organizations and non-health care related companies.

No significant financial relationships with commercial entities were disclosed by:
Nancy Chiaravalloti, PhD, Guest Faculty
Shelly R. Brown, MEd, Course Coordinator
Deepan Kamaraj, MD, Guest Faculty
Emily A. Keshner, PhD, Guest Faculty
Edmund LoPresti, PhD, Guest Faculty
Harshal Mahajan, PhD, Guest Faculty
COL Paul F. Pasquina, MD, Course Director
Albert “Skip” Rizzo, PhD, Guest Faculty
Audrey N. Schoomaker, BSN CPT, Guest Faculty
Erik J. Wolf, PhD, Guest Faculty

The following information was disclosed:

Michael L. Boninger, MD, Course Director. Patent: Held by the University of Pittsburgh; Board member: Data safety monitoring board of stem cell study.
Rory Cooper, PhD, Course Director. Patent Agreements: AT Sciences; Three Rivers Holdings.
Maria T. Schultheis, PhD, Guest Faculty. Grant:  Council on Brain Injury.
Elizabeth Whipple, BS, Guest Faculty. Grant:  Council on Brain Injury.


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We gratefully acknowledge the support of The Paralyzed Veterans of America for this symposium.