Mentors profiles

Dr. Deborah Hanmer

Dr. Deborah Hanmer, Associate Professor of Biology, is a Plant Pathologist specializing in sustainable agriculture. Since 2010 she has taught Principles of Biology and lab, Botany, Mycology, Plant Physiology, Natural History of Costa Rica, Pest Management, and Principles of Sustainable Agriculture. Dr. Hanmer was the leader to develop the Sustainable Agriculture track within the Environmental Science degree in fall 2012. Since 2008 she has formally mentored 6 undergraduate research students and informally mentored several others.

Dr. Maria Pereira

Dr. Maria Pereira, Associate Professor of Biology, is a geneticist with agriculture expertise. She has been at UNCP since 1998 where she has been teaching Principles of Genetics and Biotechnology (with labs) every semester. She has been the director of the Interdepartmental Biotechnology Degree Program since its inception in the Fall 2005. UNCP was the first university in the system to offering a B.S. in Biotechnology. She also teaches Principles of Biology, Development Biology, and Environmental Science. A big portion of her career has been around curriculum development as well as university and community involvement. She created the Biofuels Project that she directed for two years. Three areas composed that project, Outreach, Research and Biodiesel production. She was also involved in the implementation of the Recycling Program at UNCP. She was also a participant in the creation of the new B.S. in Sustainable Agriculture. Dr. Pereira is heavily involved in green systems such as sustainability, energy conservation and biodiesel production. She has been researching combinations of biodiesel production byproducts and plants, and more recently she has been involved in Aquaponics as Sustainable Model. As part of the Biotech program, Dr. Pereira has been involved in facilitating internships for 17 students in the program. She has mentored 9 students in undergraduate research.

Dr. Robert Poage

Dr. Robert Poage, Associate Professor of Biology, is a neurobiologist. His research involves ion channel function, primarily voltage-activated calcium channels. He is currently investigating the role of the presynaptic environment on voltage-gated calcium channel function using the frog neuromuscular junction as a model system. Dr. Poage is the PI of the NIH-RISE grant. He teaches Neurobiology, Human Anatomy and Physiology I and II, and Animal Physiology. He has mentored 5 undergraduate students in research.

Dr. John Roe

Dr. John Roe, Assistant Professor of Biology, studies wildlife interactions with their habitat, with the aim of helping to guide natural resource managers and conservationists in maintaining biodiversity. He uses reptiles and amphibians as model organisms. His current research focuses on examining turtle responses to prescribed fire in the longleaf forests of the North Carolina Sandhills region. Dr. Roe teaches courses in Zoology, Ecology, Field Techniques, and Environmental Science. He has mentored eleven undergraduates at UNCP, and several postgraduate students at The University of Canberra and Purdue University.

Dr. Conner Sandefur

Dr. Conner Sandefur, Assistant Professor, is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, a southeastern American Indian tribe now located in south central Oklahoma. He investigates COPD and diabetes - diseases with high incidence in rural communities - through mathematical modeling and 'big data' analysis. He teaches Microbiology lab and Genetics lecture and lab. In his free time, Dr. Sandefur can be found fishing and spending time with his family and friends. You can visit his website at

Dr. Rachel Smith

Dr. Rachel Smith, Associate Professor of Chemistry, is a synthetic organic chemist; total synthesis of natural products and developing synthetic methods for pharmaceutical synthesis is her background. She teaches Organic Chemistry I and II, General Chemistry I and II and Chemistry for Health Sciences I and II (for nursing majors). She has mentored 12 students in undergraduate research over 12 years of teaching in higher education and served as academic advisor for more than 50 at UNCP

Dr. Meredith Storms

Dr. Meredith Storms, Associate Professor of Chemistry and Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, is an analytical chemist. She teaches General Chemistry I and II (with the labs), Chemistry for the Health Sciences I and II, analytical chemistry, DNA analysis, and forensic chemistry. She has mentored over 25 undergraduates in research projects related to the analysis of pharmaceuticals in dosage form and biological fluids.

Dr. Cornelia Tirla

Dr. Cornelia Tirla, Associate Professor of Chemistry, is an organic chemist. Her research focuses in the synthesis of organic molecules with biological activity. The objectives of this project are to identify possible drug candidates. This project is realized in collaboration with the biology department. Dr. Tirla teaches Organic Chemistry I and II, Health Science, Scientific Literature and General Chemistry. She has mentored 11 undergraduate students in research.

Dr. Erika Young

Dr. Erika Young, Lecturer, is a marine scientist. She has taught General Biology, Human Biology, Biodiversity, Human Anatomy and Physiology labs and General Zoology. Her background includes exploring the ecosystem services of salt marshes and trophic interactions of oysters, fish, and birds. She has also studied freshwater ecosystems and insects. She has taught at UNCP for a total of 8 years and was an undergraduate at UNC-P. She also serves as an academic advisor.

Mrs. Meg Zets

Mrs. Meg Zets, Lecturer of Biology, teaches introductory biology lecture and lab for biology majors as well as non-major courses. She has been a full-time lecturer since 2007. Although she does no research herself, she does try to link her COMPASS students to other researchers or internship possibilities.