Undergraduate commencement was held on the Quad South Lawn on a cool Saturday morning on 6 May 2017. Chancellor Robin Cummings welcomed the audience, and commencement Speaker Judge James E. Lockemy encouraged the graduating class to approach life with passion. More than 65 Biology majors walked the stage, including members of the Honors College, the RISE Program, the COMPASS Program, and the Psi Lambda Chapter of TriBeta. The Department of Biology wishes all its graduates much success in their future endeavors.
Alumna Anna Sanford now teaches in the public school system in Hamlet, North Carolina. Having earned three degrees from UNC Pembroke, Anna has strong ties to the University, and the University has helped shape her career path. She earned a B.S. degree in Physical Education (1991), a B.S. degree in Environmental Science (2014), and a M.A.T. in Science Education (grades 9-12) (2017) before entering the public school system. Anna describes her educational journey in the text below.
I am a native of Richmond County, North Carolina. I come from a family of educators with my mother, sister, husband, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law all teaching in public schools in North and South Carolina. I have cousins who are retired professors of education at Middle Tennessee State University. You could say that education runs in the family! I attended Richmond County Schools until the 11th grade when I had the opportunity to attend a school in Leesburg, Virginia (Westmoreland Davis Equestrian Institute), that was a training ground for Olympic equestrians. Before leaving for Virginia, I had to complete high school. The only option was to take the GED, so I guess you could say I was a high school drop-out. I remember my mother telling me that the only way she would let me pursue my equestrian dream was to promise I would return and get a college degree. I did just that three times over! Between my husband (James), myself, and my son (Ethan Sanford) we have six degrees all together, each one from UNCP. My son is currently at Cornell University, pursuing a Ph.D. in Biochemistry, Molecular, and Cell Biology (BMCB).
I loved every minute of UNCP classes and learned so much from such wonderful professors who know their students by name and are willing to help whenever needed. I was fortunate to work with Dr. Lee Phillips on a Carolina Bay project, and Dr. Patricia Sellers on a limnology project in my own backyard. These research projects were invaluable to me in so many ways. The research process that I learned from Drs. Phillips and Sellers served me well when I was ready to embark on graduate level research. I served as a field lab technician for the Biology Department for two years, which was another experience that taught me so much about field lab techniques. I was able to go out with Dr. Jernigan’s ornithology classes and Dr. Roe’s field lab classes and assist with bird identification, set-up of equipment, maintenance of equipment, and assistant for all field trips. It never seemed like a job because I enjoyed myself so much!
At the present time, I am a ninth-grade earth and environmental science teacher at Richmond County Ninth Grade Academy in Hamlet, NC. I am finishing up year two, so I am still quite the rookie. My final course for my Master’s degree was a project that aimed to change environmental behaviors of high school students by teaching in an outdoor setting and exposing them to nature. As it turned out, the students loved going outside and exploring the natural environment around the school almost as much as I did. This project allowed me to use some of the techniques I learned from Drs. Jernigan and Roe. I found that the students were very engaged when we were outside, and it carried over into the classroom.
I plan on staying in education for the long haul, but I would enjoy working with older students. At UNCP you can earn a Master’s degree and earn 18 additional hours in a concentration of your choice so you can be qualified to teach at community colleges or even UNCP. Through its rigorous graduate courses that stand up to any university around, UNCP has prepared me to teach any level that may come along!
Web manager's note: Anna Sanford's poster, "Nature Deficit Disorder: Changing Environmental Behaviors of High School Students Through an Ecology Unit Taught in an Outdoor Setting," won second place at the UNCP Annual Graduate Research Symposium, which was held on 14 April 2017.
Alumnus Ethan Sanford has the distinction of having been one of the University's youngest (enrolling at 14 years old) and most accomplished students. He received the Biology Department's 2016 Faculty Award and the University's Outstanding Senior Award. He was active in the Esther G. Maynor Honors College and in TriBeta while conducting research in the RISE (Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement) Program, and he spent a year studying abroad in Wales. Shortly after graduation in May of 2016, he joined the doctoral program in Biochemistry, Molecular & Cell Biology (BMCB) at one of the nation's foremost research universities -- Cornell University. Ethan has been kind to share his first-year experiences at Cornell in the text below.
Have you chosen a laboratory for your graduate research?
I have! I will join Marcus Smolka's Lab at the end of this semester (~ May 10). I am currently finishing up a third rotation with Eric Alani, who studies mismatch repair in yeast. Marcus is interested in the mechanisms of genome maintenance with a focus on DNA lesion detection and signaling. The lab uses quantitative mass spectrometry in combination with genetic and biochemical approaches to elucidate the organization, dynamics and regulation of DNA damage signaling in yeast and mammals. My project will initially focus on the role that Sgs1, a helicase, plays in mediating checkpoint-independent maintenance of genome stability (The lab showed, in what I think is a very elegant 2015 Molecular Cell paper, that many Mec1/ATR phosphorylations occur independently of canonical Rad53-mediated checkpoint signalling). Sgs1 seems to transduce this signal. I intend to use mass spec in combination with yeast genetics and biochemistry to elucidate this novel role of Sgs1. Why is this important? Sgs1 is related to BLM and WRN in humans, and mutations associated with those genes yield remarkable susceptibility to cancer, as well as hypersensitivity to mutagens.
Which courses have you taken? Have you met any famous scientists on campus?
Graduate courses tend to be quite specialized but very interesting. In addition to full-semester courses, our department also offers short, intensive courses on things like microscopy and R (a programming language popular among biologists; I took the R minicourse this year). So far I have taken: Protein Structure and Function, The Nucleus, and Functional Organisation of Eukaryotic Cells.
As for famous scientists, I have been very fortunate to attend two talks given by nobel laureates in my field. William Campbell, who discovered Ivermectin while at Merck and subsequently convinced his superiors to use it for the greater good of humanity rather than for pharmaceutical profiteering, gave a seminar to our department. Additionally, Michael S. Brown gave this year's Racker Lecture. (He, along with Joseph Goldstein, elucidated cholesterol regulation and in doing so uncovered receptor-mediated endocytosis.) The 2015 Racker Lecture was given by Jennifer Doudna! She is credited with discovering the genome-editing capabilities of the CRISPR-Cas9 system, which has taken the molecular biology world by storm.
There are also a few notable members of our department, though I'm not sure anyone outside of the field would know of them. Scott Emr, a Schekman lab alum, directs the Weill Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology and is credited with discovering ESCRT proteins. John Lis is also rather famous in my field, having invented several well known techniques (ChIP, PRO-seq, GRO-seq, etc.). John has studied transcriptional regulation for a long time and has made many important contributions. He teaches The Nucleus, a class I'm taking right now.
How is life at Cornell?
In short, life at Cornell is everything I had hoped it would be and more. I am absolutely in love with this place, and each day I am beyond grateful that I was admitted to the field of BMCB. Cornell has a wealth of resources for its students, including a plethora of student organisations (1,106 for the 2015-2016 academic year). It is a pleasure to spend time on campus, and most days I try to spend around 12 hours here, doing a combination of studying and lab work.
Cornell is much different than UNCP. While it does ask more of its students, I think it also offers more in the way of support for us, so it's kind of a trade-off. Still, I loved my time at UNCP and can't complain -- I ended up here!
One thing I love to do here is to attend the Cornell Chimes concerts at McGraw Tower when I can (there are three each day). It's very relaxing, and the view from atop Libe Slope is great. The bells are played by undergraduate students called "chimesmasters." They play both classical and popular music on the chimes -- ranging from Bach to Taylor Swift. The Harry Potter theme is one of the most commonly requested tunes.
While I can't speak for the undergrads or for other departments, I will say that my department is not competitive, at least not in the sense that there's any competition between students. We try to cultivate a collaborative, supportive atmosphere. The program is definitely intense. I love the intensity of it, though, because I think that's the key to building a good career in science -- you've got to feel constantly overwhelmed, constantly under pressure to learn new things and to challenge your thinking. And, of course, you've got to be constantly fascinated and curious. That being said, work:life balance is critical. When I'm not doing science related things, I try to work exercise and social activities into my schedule.
What advice can you offer UNCP students who wish to pursue graduate school?
I'll start by saying that I love graduate school. I was pretty determined to get here, and once I got here I kind of realized that this is exactly what I was destined to do. I know there are quite a few people like me at UNCP, and I've met some of them. To those people I say, yes, go to graduate school. To people who are maybe unsure of what they want to do, I would say, save your time. Unless you're deeply passionate about science, you probably won't enjoy graduate school.
I also would advise people to aim high. Despite the NIH and NSF's bizarre desire to produce even more Ph.D.s in STEM, the reality is that science is a really competitive field, and you're likely wasting your time if you have to go to a "safety school" for your Ph.D. Instead I would say that if you don't get into one of your top choices, get a job as a lab tech or do a post-bacc. Ph.D. programs at schools like Cornell look very kindly on those experiences and will try to recruit you after a year or two in the workforce.
The other reason I say to aim high is that most good graduate schools provide their students with a tuition waiver and a livable stipend (~$34,000 at Cornell). Graduate schools that are not top ranked are unlikely to provide their students with stipends > $20,000, which is almost unlivable. They also have less funding for cutting-edge instruments. Ultimately this means that your Ph.D. will take longer, or that you won't produce as much data.
I want to end on a good note, though. UNCP's motto is, I think, absolutely true. Education changes lives -- it certainly changed mine. UNCP students are perfectly capable of getting into great graduate programs and doing great things -- they just might have to try a little harder than students coming from R1 schools. Passion for your work is all you need to be successful, and to be passionate it doesn't matter where you did your undergrad.
When Dr. Harold David Maxwell first joined the Biology faculty at UNC Pembroke, he was just 22 years old, and the year was 1967. He likely had no idea, at the time, that his ties to the University would span 50 years. The native of Cooksville, Tennessee, had studied fisheries back home, earning both a B.S. and M.S. degree from Tennessee Polytechnic Institute before taking the faculty position at what was then Pembroke State College. Not long into his position, the college would undergo a name change (Pembroke State University), and he would leave temporarily to earn a Ph.D. in reproductive physiology at North Carolina State University.
Dr. Maxwell is dedicated to his profession, and with nearly a photographic memory and sharp wit to match, he is well versed in the subjects he teaches. Anatomy & Physiology, Animal Physiology, General Biology, and Vertebrate Zoology, have been among his more frequent course offerings. In 1996, the University formally became the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. One year later, Dr. Maxwell was recognized for his excellence in the classroom by way of an Outstanding Teaching Award (1997-1998 academic year). For more than a decade, he ran the Minorities Access to Research Careers (MARC) program, during which time he led multiple student trips to science conferences. He chaired the Department of Biology for 14 years, stepping down in 1997, when Dr. Bonnie Kelley assumed the position. Dr. Maxwell entered phased retirement in 2003, but he resumed teaching at the University after a mandatory reprieve.
The Biology Department and colleagues from across campus treated Dr. Maxwell to a surprise party on May 1st to commemorate his remarkable 50-year journey with the University. Few individuals have contributed more to the Department and to "Changing Lives Through Education" than has this southern gentleman.
These days, Dr. Maxwell is invested heavily in teaching Anatomy & Physiology in the Health Sciences Building, where he holds office hours five days a week. The students he has taught during the last half century likely number in the thousands.
Tonya Locklear is creative and has a clear talent for writing. While her "day" job as Administrative Professional for the Department of Biology is important and demanding, outside the office, Tonya is pursuing her love of the written word -- especially the experiences and histories of American Indians -- and her love of the visual arts. Tonya and Prof. Margie Labadie of the Art Department have partnered to form Earth Women Arts. Margie's skills in digital design have transformed Tonya's poems into intriguing visual works of art.
Tonya's poetry and their collaborative works of art were exhibited on 6 April 2017, during the 13th annual Southeast Indian Studies Conference (SISC), which was held in UNC Pembroke's Museum of the Southeast American Indian. Their exhibit was featured during the third session of the all-day conference. Dr. Mary Ann Jacobs, Chair of UNCP American Indian Studies, introduced the conference, Chancellor Robin Cummings welcomed the participants, and Dr. Craig Womack of Emory University gave the keynote address. The SISC is the only conference in the United States that is dedicated exclusively to the unique cultures and history of American Indians of the Southeast.
Tonya exhibited their poster "Creative Collaboration Exhibition & Book: A view through the Indigenous lens" on 10 April 2017, during the first annual UNCP Research and Creativity Showcase in the Livermore Library. Works from across the disciplines and from both faculty and staff were featured during the afternoon showcase. The program and abstracts of the presentations can be viewed by clicking here. Earth Women Arts will be displayed this summer in the Imperial Arts Center in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.
Tonya and her family ("Lakota John & Kin") are well known locally for their musical talents and community connections. They have given numerous live concerts, in state and out of state, including a recent performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Tonya helps other people foster their writing skills through workshops in creative writing. Look for her writings online in the Journal of Creative Arts and Minds.
Click on the photos to see high resolution images.
TriBeta Vice-president David Pedersen is on the right in each photograph.
TriBeta students and new inductees (2017)
The Psi Lambda chapter of Beta Beta Beta (TriBeta) added a new twist to its annual induction ceremony. Four TriBeta students (Camille Colvin, Ereny Gerges, David Pedersen, and Caleb Smith) exhibited posters of their research and service learning projects during the ceremony. In an oral presentation, Katherine Rentschler described her research in Dr. Ben Bahr's Alzheimer's Disease Laboratory. Nearly two dozen students were inducted during the evening ceremony, which took place in the University Center Annex on 27 April 2017.
TriBeta President Jacklynn Hunt gave opening remarks, and Dr. Jeff Frederick (Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences) welcomed the attendees. In addition to TriBeta students and candidates, guests included family, friends, faculty, and staff.
Several of the guests mingled with the student poster presenters to ask them about their work. TriBeta students not only work hard in the classroom to achieve high GPAs, but many of them are actively engaged in scientific research through off-campus internships, independent study, and through UNC Pembroke programs -- RISE, COMPASS, and PURC.
Following the student research presentations, TriBeta officers Jacklynn Hunt and Natasha Wells read biographical sketches of the TriBeta candidates. Officer David Pedersen recounted a history of the Psi Lambda chapter and described the meaning of the TriBeta symbols, and Jacklynn Hunt gave the charge to the candidates. Jacklynn Hunt, Natasha Wells, and David Pedersen presented certificates to the new inductees. Honor cords, bearing the TriBeta colors of red and green, were bestowed upon inductees who will be graduating in May.
During his concluding remarks, Dr. Dennis McCracken (faculty advisor of TriBeta) remembered Prof. John McDonald, former and long-time Biology faculty member at UNC Pembroke who had just passed. TriBeta is a national honor society for students, particularly undergraduates, dedicated to improving the understanding and appreciation of biological study and extending boundaries of human knowledge through scientific research.
COMPASS group (from left to right): Ereny Gerges, Dr. Maria Santisteban (Director of Compass), Adrianna Oxendine, Kelsey Leigh,
Katherine Rentschler, Kaila Chavis, Quaison Gilchrist, Naveen Issa, and David Pedersen
Photos of individual inductees receiving their certificates can be viewed by clicking here.
Kids in the Garden (KIG) have been quite active this spring. On February 18th, the Kids in the Garden hosted a booth at the North Carolina Regional Science Fair at UNC Pembroke. Three of the "Kids" -- Madison Rogers, Larry McCallum, and Swathi Gadipudi -- entered a high school biology research project they completed while in the KIG program, and they received first place in Biology and the best poster in Biology award for their work. All the "Kids" attended the Regional Science Fair, and they ate in the University cafeteria, which was fun!
On March 24th, Dr. Martin Farley (Department of Geology and Geography) with Ashley Allen (UNCP MAT Science Education) and David Wimert (Middle School Science Teacher and former UNCP MA Middle Grades student) and two "Kids" -- Edgardo Lara and Daniel Zavala -- presented a research poster on KIG honey and pollen studies during the annual meeting of the North Carolina Academy of Science, which was held at High Point University.
On March 25th, Madison Rogers, Larry McCallum, and Swathi Gadipudi presented their joint project at the NC State Science Fair at Meredith College, and they placed second in the Senior Biology Division A. They will now go on to the International Science Fair Competition in Los Angeles, California, in May.
On March 28th, "Kid" Madison Rogers and the KIG program hosted a bee and pollen booth (pictured above) at the STEM family night at Union Chapel Elementary School from 6:00-8:00 PM.
The “Kids in the Garden" is a STEM project for middle school and high school students and is funded by a Burroughs Wellcome Trust. The Students, which are from Robeson, Bladen, Richmond, and Cumberland counties in North Carolina, are learning about bees, pollination, pollen and their interrelationships. Through up-close encounters with a variety of plants and insects in their local environment, participants are studying ecology and conservation.
Article Submitted by Dr. Rita Hagevik, Director of the Kids in the Garden Program
COMPASS students presented their research at the 11th Annual PURC Symposium (from left to right): Dakota Lee, K'Yana McLean, Cheyenne Lee, David Pedersen, Tenisha McLean, Katherine Rentschler, and Jeison Valencia. Dr. Maria Santisteban (center) is Director of the COMPASS Program.
Biology research factored prominently at the Eleventh Annual UNC Pembroke Undergraduate Research and Creativity (PURC) Symposium. Two of three oral presentations (Katherine Rentschler and Cary Mundell) and more than 20 of the 70 research posters were given by Biology students. The symposium began at 8:30 AM on Wednesday, 12 April 2017, in the University Annex, with greetings from Chancellor Robin Cummings and Dr. Ryan Anderson (Director of PURC).
The Sandefur Lab had the largest showing of posters -- focused mostly on the antimicrobial properties of Lumbee medicinal plants. Students in other labs presented work in Alzheimer's Disease, box turtle ecology, genomics, ant-mite interactions, and floristics.
For many students, the PURC Symposium is a first opportunity to formally present their work and to see other students' work, and they do so in an atmosphere that is both friendly and collegial. Creative projects in the Arts and Humanities were also on display.
Biology research was funded by three UNCP programs: PURC, RISE (Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement) Program, and COMPASS. Program opportunities can include faculty mentorship, workshops, travel to conferences, and preparation for graduate school. Program directors (Drs. Ryan Anderson of PURC, Bob Poage of RISE, and Maria Santisteban of COMPASS) were on hand to encourage students and to inquire about their research.
The symposium concluded after Dr. Margaret D. Bauer's keynote address at 11:30 PM. Dr. Bauer is the Rives Chair of Southern Literature and Harriot College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor, East Carolina University, and editor of the North Carolina Literary Review.
A digital program of the PURC symposium, containing the schedule and list of student presenters (and their abstracts), is available by clicking here (PDF file). High resolution photographs of the images on this page can be seen (and downloaded) by clicking on the images.
During the past year, Dr. Conner Sandefur has mentored a large team of undergraduate researchers in his lab. Thanks to Mark Locklear, their research will soon be featured in UNCP in the News. Mark and University photographer Willis Glassgow visited the lab to interview Dr. Sandefur and his student Cheyenne Lee and to photograph students in action. Cheyenne is the recipient of an Exceptional Research Opportunity Program (EXROP) award that will enable her to conduct research at Yale University this summer. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute sponsors the prestigious EXROP program.
The Sandefur Lab is often the center of intensive investigation. Several students are studying antimicrobial properties of Lumbee medicinal plants. Among these students are Anthony Arrington, Frederick Feely II, Cheyenne Lee, Dakota Lee, and K’Yana McLean. Last summer the students collected medicinal plants from the wild, and back in the laboratory, they isolated the plants’ DNA, and they designed primers and amplified the genes by using known plant sequences from the NIH genome database. Ultimately, Dr. Sandefur aims to identify genome sequences that are responsible for the transcription of medicinal compounds. Other students in his lab are using modeling programs to study biological mechanisms. Lonzie Hedgepeth, for one, is modeling the gal induction system on eukaryotic transcription factors.
Dr. Sandefur has mentored numerous other students in a variety of research projects, tapping into his own expertise in computer modeling and his advanced knowledge of molecular genetics and genomics. His students have presented their work in several venues, including the Pembroke Undergraduate Research and Creativity (PURC) symposium, the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) End-of-Summer Student Research Presentation, the annual meeting of the North Carolina Academy of Science (NCAS), and the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS). Several of his students are Fellows in the RISE Program. Two of his earliest students, Ethan Sanford and Marcus Sherman, are now in Ph.D. programs at Cornell University and the University of Michigan, respectively.
Dr. Sandefur joined the Biology faculty in the fall of 2015, after completing a three-year postdoctoral fellowship in the Seeding Postdoctoral Innovators in Research and Education (SPIRE) program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. When not in the research lab, he is busy teaching genetics and microbiology, facilitating the Critical Analysis of Scientific Literature club, promoting community causes, and spending time with family and friends. You can learn more about his research interests by visiting his website.
Web manager's postscript: click here to read the UNCP in the News article.