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David J. Pedersen


Student Degree


Student Major


Student Hometown

Honolulu, HI


My interest in science started early in life. In fact, it was more of a general curiosity exhibited by most young children. Thankfully, my parents encouraged my need to know how things worked and why they worked. Growing up I enjoyed watching Mr. Wizard (revealing my age now...), a television show about a scientist performing various experiments for school-aged children. As I transitioned to junior high school, I discovered a deeper love for science while dissecting frogs. Then in high school I enrolled in an honors biology course where I learned more about biological processes with more dissections.

While traveling down my academic road, I met a few detours, many of them near graduation. I took the scenic route for about 15 years, as I worked diligently in the automotive industry. It was over the course of those years that I rediscovered my interest in science and found that my contribution for society lay in the field of medicine.

After trading a surfboard for a TI-84 calculator, I packed up my belongings and boarded a plane for California. A month prior I had shipped my truck to Los Angeles. Upon landing in LA, I loaded up my truck and drove across America. My mom still lived in North Carolina, and she asked me to move back in with her. She has been my number one supporter!

I started my college experience at Fayetteville Technical Community College. It was a nice place for a non-traditional student to ease back into the rigors of education. I spent one year there adjusting to the atmosphere: learning how much the Internet has transformed schooling. It was a welcome break from working 70 hours per week, but being a full-time student required some lifestyle changes. Thankfully my zoology professor, Mr. Martin, shared a flyer with me about COMPASS at UNC Pembroke. Joining this research-based program would grant me privileges to a vast network of scientific communities. Almost equally important, it would fund the remainder of my undergraduate years!

Transitioning from FTCC to UNCP was exciting, but it brought a set of new challenges. With the guidance and support from Dr. Santisteban, the Principle Investigator for COMPASS (and a passionate biology professor), I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience here. Dr. Poage, my COMPASS mentor as well as a biology professor, has provided me with sage advice over my semesters in Pembroke.

Why did you choose to attend UNCP?

It has small class sizes and is close to home. Plus, my sister Ginger loved her experience at UNCP!

What do you like best about UNCP?

The professors express sincere interest in helping students succeed.

Please comment on your research experiences.

I spent 10 weeks at The Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) this past summer. This experience was priceless as I was able to work with MDs and PhDs from abroad and from America. They were polite and professional as they helped me apply the concepts I learned at UNCP. This hands-on pedagogy reinforced my education from the labs and classrooms. With all of the challenges opposing organ transplants, stem cell therapy and bioprinting organs appear to be the best alternative strategies available. I feel that I made a meaningful contribution to the lab at WFIRM and trust that the research I performed will promote the advancement of these novel ideas to improve the quality of life for people around the globe.

What are your post-graduation plans?

I will attend a physician assistant (PA) program after graduating from UNCP. I began studying paramedicine in January 2014, and I have been working as a paramedic with Hoke County EMS. The more patients I treat in the prehospital environment underscores the need for educating our neighbors on the importance of their health. My dream job would allow me the flexibility to see patients in a primary care setting while continuing my research on stem cell therapies and bionics. I view the role of a PA as a utility player in the arena of healthcare. I will be called upon to perform a variety of services from psychology to surgery. I want to prepare myself and my team to provide preeminent care to patients in our community, our country, and beyond.

David Pedersen and researchers at Wake Forest

From left to right: Nima Pourhabibi Zarandi, MD, David Pedersen, Dr. Maria Santisteban (Director of the UNCP COMPASS Program), and Hooman Sadri-Ardekani, MD, PhD, at the 2016 research presentation for Summer Scholars at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine

Mentors profiles

Debby HanmerDr. 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.


Maria PereiraDr. 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.


Robert_PoageDr. 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. Hi teaches Neurobiology, Human Anatomy and Physiology I and II, and Animal Physiology. He has mentored 5 undergraduate students in research.


John_RoeDr. 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. 


Conner_SandefurDr. 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 http://sandefur.oshehomaproductions.com/.


Rachel_SmithDr. 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.


Meredith_StormsDr. 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.


Cornelia_TirlaDr. 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.


Erika_YoungDr. 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.


Meg_ZetsMrs. 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.

Brandi Guffey: A Day in the Life of an Elephant Intern

Brandi Guffey and elephant at Zoo Atlanta Brandi Guffey and Kelly (African elephant) at Zoo Atlanta

Fortunately, this past summer I was granted the opportunity to work as an intern at Zoo Atlanta within the elephant department.  This included the care of elephants, warthogs, and meerkats. The internship lasted from the first week of May to the first week of August. I worked four, eight-hour days every week. This was an unpaid internship, but the experiences, knowledge, and networking that I gained this summer were more than I could have ever asked for.

My internship consisted of the maintenance and care of these animals: Kelly and Tara (both of whom were 33-year old female African elephants); Shirley (a 10-year old female warthog) and Eleanor (Shirley’s two-year old daughter); Prince (a 14-year old male meerkat and the father to the other meerkats); Scurry, Sniff, and Scarlett (all female meerkats); and Blaze (a male meerkat).

Each morning, the other elephant keepers and I would clean the exhibits, put out food, and set up enrichment activities to keep the animals active during the morning hours. Cleaning the elephant exhibit took the longest time because it was the largest exhibit. Not only did the waste from the yard and the barn have to be hauled out in wheelbarrows, but also these entire areas had to be raked, swept and hosed.  I normally had an orange tint on my legs first thing in the morning from raking red clay dirt.

Prince the meerkat warthogs
Above (from left to right): Prince (meerkat) and Shirley and Eleanor (warthogs)

Enrichment was always one of my favorite things. Enrichment activities within zoological facilities are vital to the well being of the animals. Meerkat enrichment was always a lot of fun because it usually involved changing around their zoo habitat or giving them crickets/mealworms inside an object, which they must manipulate to get to these insects. Warthog enrichment involved filling up their wallows with water. During the hot summer days, this was important because warthogs lack sweat glands and are unable to cool themselves. The warthogs wallow in the mud to cool themselves, and they coat themselves in mud, which acts as sunscreen/bug repellent. Elephants also lack sweat glands, so they wallow and throw mud on themselves as well. I helped with the popular enrichment activity of bathing the elephants to clean them and to cool them down. They especially loved getting bathed with a fire hose. During “elephant cardio,” two keepers would go outside of the exhibit with food and call the elephant back and forth across the yard. The elephant then received a treat of cut up celery, rutabaga, apple, carrot, etc. This was a good way to get the elephants engaged, exercised, thinking, and moving. Enrichment was great in building positive relationships with the animals, and when I could actually see the animals enjoying these activities, it made it worthwhile.

Each day was a different experience and not a single day was ever the same. One of my favorite activities was working with the elephants and giving them directions. This was usually done by verbal commands and body language. Both elephants knew about 65 different commands and signals that were used in their husbandry and care. Everything we required of the elephants was completely voluntary; we never forced them to do anything. It’s important to give them choices, given their high cognitive abilities. Cleaning and scrubbing their feet was messy, but fun and important.  Weighing the elephants twice a month was an interesting task, and it was fun to see the reactions of zoo guests when they realized just how much four-ton elephants weigh.  Both elephants were included in several research studies conducted by students from Georgia Tech and Emory University, and I was fortunate enough to help out in these studies.

One of my favorite summer activities was informing the public about the importance of each zoo animal, especially the elephants. I loved getting to talk to young kids who were fascinated by the animals. To see their faces light up when I talked to them about the animals reminded me of a young version of myself and what inspired me to be as passionate about the conservation of animals as I am today.

The best part of this past summer was probably the relationships I made.  The zoo staff were so willing and eager to help young college students such as myself to learn. I was able to network within the zoo. I was thankful to meet privately with the Director of Research, the Curator of Mammals, and one of the Associate Veterinarians. I could not recommend this internship any more highly to other people. I wish everyone could experience and learn all that I have learned. Elephants are in danger of going extinct in the future because of the ivory trade and poaching. I wish more people could witness their intelligence, individuality, beauty, and their importance to this planet.

Brandi Guffey and elephant at Zoo Atlanta Tara the elephant
Above (from left to right): Brandi giving an elephant a treat, and Tara loves to swim, and if we give her the right treat she will gladly go for a dip in the pool. This is bran mash in the tub, one of her favorites.

Kelly the elephant's painting

One of the enrichment activities we would do with the elephants is allow them to paint. This was a picture that I had Kelly paint. She held the brush in her trunk and moved it in a stroke-like motion. The splatters were made by using a wire siphon with paint on it and having her blow on the siphon to create a splatter appearance.

Watch Zoo Atlanta Youtube videos of meerkat diet preparation (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pnnq1IWdKXg) and elephant diet preparation (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M192U98M2CM)

Web manager's note:  Brandi Guffey is in the UNCP COMPASS program. You can read more about her by visiting her "spotlight" on the home page for the Biology Department website.

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Prof. Erika Young Earns Ph.D. (Phinally Done) Degree

Dr. Erika Young 

The last five years have been quite busy for Prof. Erika Young.  She has dedicated her time and energies to teaching General Zoology, Principles of Biology, and Exploring Life’s Diversity for UNC Pembroke’s Department of Biology.  Between teaching full time in the classroom, prepping lectures and labs, advising students, attending University functions and faculty meetings, she has little time to spare.  And writing a doctoral dissertation is no easy task.  But on Tuesday, 2 August 2016, while many of us were just beginning to think about the start of the fall semester, Prof. Young successfully defended her dissertation --- miles away from Pembroke at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City. 

It could be said that Dr. Young’s journey to a doctoral degree began in 2009 when she moved to Morehead City to undertake laboratory and field studies full time at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences. During the next two years she studied the effects of bulkheads on salt marshes in three distinctively different regions of North Carolina’s coastline.  Bulkheads and other shore stabilization structures are popular with property owners because they do a great job of protecting valuable ocean front property by holding back the sea. Dr. Young’s research demonstrated that these structures, unfortunately, contribute to the loss of salt marsh vegetation and to the concomitant reduction in habitat quality for shore birds.  These effects will only become worse as sea levels continue to rise and bulkheads prevent marsh vegetation from migrating inland. After completing her doctoral research, Dr. Young chose to return to UNC Pembroke to teach.

Erika Young first joined the Biology faculty in 2005, shortly after completing a Master’s degree at Western Carolina University (WCU).  Her thesis research at WCU focused on dragonflies --- Observations on the Odonata of a Stream Bog Complex in Panthertown Valley, North Carolina.  In May 2008, she resigned her position at UNCP to pursue a predoctoral fellowship in marine sciences at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City, which was sponsored by the Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP). After receiving a Native American Incentive grant in the fall of 2008, she promptly began doctoral coursework in the Marine Science Department at UNC-Chapel Hill.  It was upon completing this coursework in spring 2009 that she relocated to Morehead City to take up doctoral research.

In a real sense, Dr. Young’s journey to a doctoral degree began in the UNCP Department of Biology.  Before marriage, before graduate school, the young Pembroke native and Native American (Lumbee) -– Erika Yates -- earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology (with tracks in Zoology, Botany, and Environmental Biology) from the Department in 2000.  Her first ever plane trip, bound for Bermuda, was in connection with the Department’s Marine Biology course, which was taught by Drs. Bonnie Kelley and David Zeigler.  She spent a week snorkeling among Bermuda’s coral reefs and colorful fishes.  The seeds for a career in marine science were planted.

Dr. Erika Young has come full circle, and the Department is fortunate to have her on the faculty.  In addition to teaching introductory courses in biology, she is poised to assume upper level courses, including courses taught by her former mentors in the Department.  Congratulations, Dr. Young, on earning a doctoral degree, and congratulations on a journey well done!

Dr. Erika Young and large fish
Click here (PDF file) to read the abstract from Dr. Young’s dissertation defense -- Influence of Shoreline Stabilization Structures on Nekton and Avian Assemblages in Salt Marsh Habitats.

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David Pedersen Completes Summer Scholars Program in Regenerative Medicine

David Pedersen

I discovered The Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) during an exploratory visit through my home university -- The University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNCP). At UNCP I am a COMPASS Scholar where I participate in research and training opportunities funded by the National Science Foundation. The rigorous coursework and passionate professors have helped to prepare me for a future in the medical field. After completing a tour of WFIRM, I became incredibly interested in the healing potential of their projects. The physical harm caused by extensive burns or the loss of limbs or organs is itself a tragedy. However, few can grasp the gravity of the far-reaching damages one can suffer emotionally, socially, and financially, as a consequence. I appreciate the resources Wake Forest is investing into healing therapies, and I was honored to be part of the program this past summer. 

The Principal Investigators were Hooman Sadri-Ardekani, MD, PhD (physician-scientist in the field of male reproductive medicine) and Anthony Atala, MD, (Director of WFIRM and a pioneer of modern regenerative medicine).  My project at WFIRM this summer focused on proving the feasibility of transporting human testicular tissue from a battle site or a medical center to central banking at WFIRM. The stability of testicular cells, specifically spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs), after transportation and freezing-thawing is the main challenge of the project. Male infertility is a problem worldwide and can wreak havoc on families. Preserving SSCs may provide brighter futures for many boys and men at risk of infertility. This includes, but is not limited to, cancer survivors, injured soldiers, and civilians. 

Nima Zarandi, MD, and Guillermo Galdon, MD, (post-doctoral researchers at WFIRM) were my laboratory mentors with whom I worked daily. I performed a battery of tests to confirm and quantify male reproductive cells. Patients ranged widely in age from pediatric to geriatric. Young boys who are diagnosed with cancer may receive radiation and chemotherapy. While these methods have proved to be successful in attacking cancer cells, they can also destroy SSCs. Therefore, some of the SSC samples we received were from children whose parents had the foresight to protect the future privilege of their sons to have their own children. Other tissues were donated after the patients died (brain dead organ donors). The data we procured will be instrumental in advancing the concept of a central bank where patients’ samples can be received and maintained until the day they need them. 

This fall I have entered my last year at UNCP. After graduation I plan to earn my Master’s degree in physician assistant (PA) studies at a program in North Carolina. In 2014 I became a paramedic and I work in Hoke County for Cape Fear Valley Health System. To gain more experience, I shadow and volunteer at Cape Fear Hospital and The Care Clinic in Fayetteville. As a PA I want to enjoy time at the bedside as well as at the lab bench. My ultimate goal is to combine my clinical skills with the research knowledge gained at WFIRM to provide my patients with preeminent healthcare.

David Pedersen
Above: Nima Pourhabibi Zarandi, MD (standing on the left), and David Pedersen at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine
David Pedersen and researchers at Wake Forest
From left to right: Nima Pourhabibi Zarandi, MD, David Pedersen, Dr. Maria Santisteban (Director of the UNCP COMPASS Program), and Hooman Sadri-Ardekani, MD, PhD, at the 2016 research presentation for Summer Scholars at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine

Dr. Kaitlin Campbell Joins Biology Faculty

Dr. Kaitlin Campbell in the field

The Department of Biology recently hired Assistant Professor Kaitlin Campbell, who received her PhD degree in Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Dr. Campbell developed a keen interest in insect biodiversity since she was old enough to turn over the rocks in her back yard, and her love of little things continues to drive her interests today.

While completing her B.S. degree in Zoology at Ohio State University, she became fascinated by the incredible diversity of mites and the strange niches they inhabit on the bodies of other animals, for example: the ears of moths, faces of humans, tracheae of bees, and nostrils of birds. These two interests merged when she began her M.S. degree in Entomology at Ohio State University studying the diversity of mites associated with ants in Ohio and Arizona. She continued her work on the ant-associated mite system at Miami University for her PhD degree by expanding her spatial scale to incorporate principles of community ecology, landscape ecology, and restoration ecology. During her PhD research she worked as the program coordinator for the National Science Foundation funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program, a program geared toward encouraging students from underrepresented groups to continue in STEM fields. Following completion of her PhD program, she continued at Miami University as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow studying ants in temperate tree canopies.

Her broad interest in diversity at multiple spatial scales has also been the foundation of several mentored undergraduate research projects on animal and plant communities including earthworms, butterflies, lady beetles, prairie plants, and birds. She is excited to experience a whole new variety of insects and mites now that she has migrated southward. Her current research projects include: 1) effects of an invasive shrub (Amur honeysuckle) and deer on ant biodiversity, 2) ant diversity and function in crop fields and temperate tree canopies, 3) historical and future shifts in lady beetle communities due to climate change, 4) elevation gradients and ant and mite diversity in Costa Rica, 5) mite communities associated with an invasive ant and termites in North Carolina and Japan, and 6) a citizen science biodiversity and invasive species monitoring project in Daniel Boone National Forest (KY, TN), and 7) mites associated with local fire ants. Students wishing to get involved in these projects are welcome to email or visit her in her office.

This fall she is teaching Environmental Science, Sustainable Pest Management, and Entomology. In her free time she immerses herself in the outdoors as a hobby beekeeper, insect collector, and avid gardener. She welcomes interested students to contact her at Kaitlin.campbell@uncp.edu or visit her in her office (Oxendine 2243).

Dr. Kaitlin Campbell and ant mound

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Brandi Guffey


Student Degree


Student Major

Biology with a Zoology track

Student Hometown

Canton, NC


Ever since I was young, I have always had a passion for science and the world around us. This came mostly as a passion for animals and making a better life for them.  After working as a veterinary assistant for two summers in a small animal practice, I decided that my career interest was with zoo animals. Even though I have changed my career path a few times, UNC Pembroke (UNCP) has always helped me make these changes. 

Fortunately, I was given the opportunity to be in the first cohort of the COMPASS Scholarship Program at UNCP.  This program offers many resources and out-of-classroom opportunities in which I am able to participate. Opportunities include visits to other university labs across the state, attendance at scientific conferences that feature the research findings of students and their labs, access to a faculty mentor within the Biology Department, and monetary support.  This scholarship program has opened my eyes to fields of research that I originally never considered. Thanks to my phenomenal mentor and the other Biology faculty, I am comfortable in changing my career goal from zoo veterinarian to the field of animal behavior research. I was lucky to have earned an internship this past summer with Zoo Atlanta working with elephants, meerkats, and warthogs. This internship further increased my love and passion for exotic animals. My main goal is to find ways to improve their lives and, through conservation, to lessen our impacts on them. I am excited to see where this year takes me and where science takes me. I learn more each day and with this, I know I am never going to tire of learning more within science.

Why Did I Choose UNCP?

They always say that when you first step onto a college campus that you’ll know where you are meant to be. I’m from western North Carolina, where most people have never heard of Pembroke.  They often give me a confused look when I try to tell them where the small town of Pembroke is situated in the state. I was anxious knowing that, if I went to school at Pembroke, I would be almost five hours away from home. From the moment I stepped on campus, I knew this was where I was meant to be.  It felt like home and everyone I met was so welcoming. Another perk that drew me to Pembroke was the small class size and the small student-to-faculty ratio.  It’s not at every college that you get the same professor for multiple classes, as well as professors who actually know your name and your future goals. I didn’t want to be just another number in the classroom, which is often how large universities seem.

What Do I Like Most About UNCP?

There are few universities in which you can walk down the hallways and have conversations with your professors on a daily basis. The focus on individuals within the classroom and on campus is a vital part of student success at UNCP. The small class sizes and dedicated faculty play a large part in this.  The professors go above and beyond in making sure that their students succeed. Coming into college, I did not expect this much support.  If I ever needed extra help or guidance within a course, the professors were always more than happy to assist me in any way they could. It’s important coming into college knowing that you are not going to be great at every class, and the professors here understand that. College can be difficult at times, but with supportive faculty who engage their students, success is obtainable.

What are My Post-Graduation Plans?

I will graduate from UNCP in the spring of 2017. I will be applying to graduate school programs in the coming months, and I am excited to see where science and the field of biology take me. I am hopeful that I will find a program that suits me and one in which I can succeed, as I have here at UNCP. If this option is not open at the time, then I plan to focus on post-baccalaureate programs that will further narrow down my graduate school research interests.  I hope someday to return to Zoo Atlanta and possibly do research at their facilities as a curator with a PhD degree in neuroscience and animal behavior.

meerkat at Zoo AtlantaBrandi Guffey and elephant at Zoo Atlanta
Meerkat (left photo) and young elephant with Brandi Guffey (right photo) at Zoo Atlanta

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Sandefur Lab Explores Genetics of Medicinal Plants (2016)

 Dr. Conner Sandefur and his undergraduate researchers

Dr. Conner Sandefur (third from left) and his undergraduate researchers (left to right): Anthony Arrington, K’Yana McLean, Nick Chavis, Tiffany Smart (kneeling), Desiree Cain, and Frederick Feely explore Sampson's Landing (in Pembroke) for medicinal plants.  Joining the Sandefur lab for the day was Joshua Oxendine (in wide-brim hat).

This summer, students in the Sandefur lab worked to extract DNA from a variety of medicinal plants. Combining his molecular genetics and computational biology training, Dr. Conner Sandefur is working with students to explore the use of medicinal plants by Southeast American Indians. The project is an investigation into the cellular mechanisms of the efficacy of medicinal plants to address two main research questions: (1) has a decline in the use of traditional medicines resulted in the removal of positive health benefits that and (2) do interactions between currently used traditional medicines and western therapies contribute to health disparities in American Indian communities?

A group of six undergraduates representing sophomores, juniors, and seniors in both Biology and Chemistry visited Sampson’s Landing in Pembroke to collect the plants. Dr. Lisa Kelly led the field excursion. Back in the lab, the team cut the plant leaves up into fine pieces, then used a series of reagents to lyse the cells and isolate the DNA. They then used known plant genome sequences from the NIH genome database to design primers and amplify the genes. The group will continue the isolation process throughout the fall to work toward a deeper understanding of the impacts of the use of these medicinal plants.
Dr. Conner Sandefur and his undergraduate researchersDr. Conner Sandefur (center) and his undergraduate researchers present their research at the 2016 RISE End-of-Summer Student Research Presentation.

Web manager's note:  Dr. Sandefur joined the Biology faculty at UNC Pembroke in 2015 after completing the SPIRE Postdoctoral Fellowship Program at UNC Chapel Hill.  In addition to mentoring students in undergraduate research, he teaches Microbiology and Genetics.  You can learn more about him by visiting his website or by clicking here.

Article Submitted by Conner Sandefur

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