Board of Directors


Melissa Chaikof, President and Director

Melissa Chaikof has worked as Donor Research Analyst since 2002 for Nonprofit Leadership (NPL), LLC. She was a contributing author on the topic of “English Language Acquisition of Children with Cochlear Implants” for the book written by Tom Bertling entitled Communicating with Deaf Children. Prior to her work at NPL, Melissa worked as Outreach Coordinator for the Auditory-Verbal Center of Atlanta and as a systems analyst at the MITRE Corporation in Bedford, MA.  She is a past board member of the Usher Syndrome Coalition, the Gift of Hearing Foundation, Cochlear Implant Association, Inc. (CIAI), The Auditory-Verbal Center of Atlanta, and served as contributor and associate editor for Contact, the publication of CIAI, for six years.   Melissa holds a M.S. in Engineering from Johns Hopkins University and a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in applied math. She has three children, two with Usher Syndrome type 1F.


elliot_chaikof_head_shot_oct_2014Elliot Chaikof, MD, PhD, Vice President and Director

Elliot Chaikof, MD, PhD, is Chairman of the Roberta and Stephen R. Weiner Department of Surgery and Surgeon-in-Chief at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC). He is the Johnson and Johnson Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering.  Prior to his current position at Harvard Medical School, he held the John E. Skandalakis Chair of Surgery at Emory University, serving as Chief of Vascular Surgery and also served as Adjunct Professor of Chemical Engineering and a member of the Biomedical Engineering faculty at the Georgia Institute of Technology.  Dr. Chaikof earned BA and MD degrees at the Johns Hopkins University and completed a residency in General Surgery at the Massachusetts General Hospital.  While a surgical resident, he received a PhD in Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and subsequently completed additional training in Vascular Surgery at Emory University.  He has three children, two with Usher Syndrome type 1F.


bio-frank-gentile-lg (1)Frank Gentile, PhD, Treasurer and Director

Frank Gentile, PhD, serves as Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Third Rock Ventures, where he focuses on research and development opportunities. He also serves as an adjunct professor of pharmacology and biotechnology in the division of biology and medicine at Brown University. Prior to joining Third Rock Ventures, Dr. Gentile served for 12 years as Senior Vice President, Research, Tekla Capital Management LLC, where he oversaw and executed biotechnology and healthcare investments in public and private companies in the areas of oncology, cardiovascular, infectious diseases, rare diseases, medical devices and diagnostics and discovery tools. Prior to Tekla, he was Vice President, Technology Program Management at Millennium Pharmaceuticals.  Prior to joining Millennium, he was Vice President of Product Development at Curis, Inc., a biotechnology company in Cambridge developing products in the area of Regenerative Medicine. From 1997 to 2000 he was Director and then Vice President, Program Management at Reprogenesis, Inc. From 1990-1997 he was employed at CytoTherapeutics, Inc, where he held several scientific and management positions.  Dr. Gentile received a B.E. degree in Chemical Engineering from The Cooper Union and a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from MIT.  He has written over 120 peer reviewed publications and holds 30 US patents in the area of biotechnology.


Rachel Root, Secretary and Director

Rachel Root has dedicated her life to helping children with special needs. She has been a special education teacher in New York’s inner city public schools. She is also a chapter leader and consumer mentor for Advanced Bionics, a leading provider of cochlear implants, where she passionately helps newly diagnosed families navigate this difficult diagnosis. She is an active member of the Alexander Graham Bell Association of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Since her son Zachary was born profoundly deaf, Rachel has immersed herself in fundraising and awareness including the Hearing Loss Association of America and Summit Speech School, where she is co-chair of Family Fun Night. She is a board member of the early childhood center of Congregation Agudath Israel in North Caldwell, NJ. She holds a B.A. from the University of Michigan and an M.S in Special Education from Touro College, where she graduated at the top of her class. She is married with two children, one of whom has Usher Syndrome type 1F.


Joshua-HerzJoshua Herz, Director

Joshua Herz is the President of Associated Agencies, Inc.  Associated Agencies is a full service insurance brokerage firm based out of Rolling Meadows, IL, serving clients throughout the United States.  Josh regularly extends his business acumen to his community and charitable work.  He has been heavily involved in The Jewish United Fund, where he sat on the Young Leadership Divisions executive committee for three years.  Josh currently is on the board of directors of The Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.  Josh is a graduate of The University of Arizona.  He and his wife Jennifer live in Highland Park, IL with their three Daughters Madison, Julia and Emma.


Julian Seewald (1)Julian Seewald, Director

Julian Seewald has been a practicing pediatric dentist in Brooklyn, New York, for the past 35 years. In his practice, he treats many special needs patients, as well as the general pediatric population. Dr. Seewald is currently Chairman of the Board of Kingsway Jewish Center, as well as one of its past Presidents. He also sits on the Board of Counter Force, a local social service association, and has volunteered with the Family Crisis Intervention Unit of Guardians of the Sick, a local charity. A graduate of New York University School of Dentistry, Dr. Seewald is married, with 5 adult children and 12 grandchildren. His daughter, Tzila, the mother of two young sons and a practicing Social Worker, has Usher 1F.


Laurie Shapiro (1)Laurie Shapiro, Director

Laurie Shapiro very recently became the president of her late husband Gary’s company, Optical Expressions.  Located in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Optical Expressions has been providing quality eye care in the Phoenix metro area for over 50 years. Prior to her current position, Laurie was a realtor with Coldwell Banker for over 25 years.  She has served on numerous board’s of local non-profit agencies, including Council for Jews With Special Needs, Kivel Campus of Care, and Woman’s Philanthropy of the Phoenix Jewish Community Association.  She has also served on the Board of Trustees for her synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel.  Laurie holds a MBA from Arizona State University and a BA from University of Arizona with an emphasis in Journalism.  She has two grown children, one of whom has Usher Syndrome type 1F.


Matt Shulman, Director

Matt Shulman is the CEO and Managing Partner of the Ardent Companies, a real estate investment and asset management company.  Ardent has invested in over $1 billion in real estate assets since forming in 2012 with offices in Atlanta and New York City.  Prior to forming Ardent, Mr. Shulman was a Managing Director with Rialto Capital.  Prior to Rialto, Mr. Shulman was a founding partner at Fairway Capital Partners in New York, a real estate distressed debt firm he co-founded in 2007. Mr. Shulman received a degree in political science from the University of Arizona and a masters in real estate finance from New York University. Mr. Shulman was also an adjunct professor of real estate finance at New York University.  Mr. Shulman actively serves on the boards of the Atlanta Real Estate Collaborative (AREC), whose focus is to end homelessness in Atlanta, the ELC board at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and he is an active supporter of the Epstein School.  Matt and wife Karen are the proud parents of Jake and Sara.


Lijun+Sun (1)Lijun Sun, PhD, Director

Lijun Sun, PhD, is the Director of the Center for Drug Discovery and Translational Research at BIDMC.  Prior to joining BIDMC, he oversaw drug discovery at Synta Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (Lexington, MA) as Vice President of Chemistry and at Theracrine, Inc. (Cambridge, MA), as Vice President of Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Sciences.  Dr. Sun has more than 100 awarded US patents that include drug discoveries related to cancer, autoimmune and inflammatory disease, allergy and asthma, and diabetes.  He has taken four of his drugs to phase 3 clinical trials.  Dr. Sun received his M.S. in Chemistry from Georgetown University in 1992 and his Ph.D. in Chemistry from Emory University in 1995.