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TriBeta Banquet Showcases Research (2017)

Inductee Photos

TriBeta inductees and officers (2017)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.

 Dr. Jeff FrederickKatherine Rentschler
Above (from left to right): Dr. Jeff Frederick and Katherine Rentschler

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.

Camille Colvin Caleb Smith
Ereny Gerges David Pedersen
TriBeta poster presenters (top row from left to right): Camille Colvin and Caleb Smith, (bottom row from left to right): Ereny Gerges and David Pedersen

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.  

David Pedersen, Natasha Wells, and Jacklynn HuntTriBeta officers (from left to right): David Pedersen (Vice-president), Natasha Wells (Treasurer), and Jacklynn Hunt (President)

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.

 Dr. Dennis McCracken Jianna Pereira and Dr. Velinda Woriax
From left to right: Dr. Dennis McCracken, Jianna Pereira, and Dr. Velinda Woriax (Biology Department Chair)

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.      

TriBeta officers
TriBeta officers (from left to right): Christian Ryckeley (Historian), Natasha Wells (Treasurer), Jacklynn Hunt (President), Amber Watkins (Secretary), and David Pedersen (Vice-president)

TriBeta inductees (2017)
Newly inducted TriBeta members

COMPASS students and Dr. Maria Santisteban
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

TriBeta cake

Photos of individual inductees receiving their certificates can be viewed by clicking here.

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Kids in the Garden Engage Science (2017)

"Kids" booth at NC Regional Science Fair
"Kids in the Garden" booth at the NC Regional Science Fair at UNC Pembroke

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!

"Kids" present research project"Kids" Madison Rogers (left) and Swathi Gadipudi present their research project during the NC Regional Science Fair

"Kids" present research project"Kids" Edgardo Lara (left) and Daniel Zavala present a research poster during the annual meeting of the NC Academy of Science

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.

Kids in the Garden booth at STEM family night 

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.

KIG regional science fair poster

Article Submitted by Dr. Rita Hagevik, Director of the Kids in the Garden Program

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Biology Prominent at 2017 PURC

COMPASS students and Dr. Maria Santisteban 
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).

Dr. John Roe and Joseph Nacy Dr. Conner Sandefur and Cheyenne Lee  
Sheldon Brown and Dr. Kaitlin CampbellMaria Chavez

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.   

Caleb Smith  Whitney Pittman
Camille Colvin and Ayanna Edwards Dr. Conner Sandefur and Lonzie Hedgepeth
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.

Robbie JuelKelsey Leigh
Austin LocklearDakota Lee
Frederick Feely II and Dr. Conner Sandefur David Pedersen

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.

Kailey GodwinTyler Scoville
Dr. Robert Poage and David Pedersen Kamaria Elliott
Tenisha McLean Jeison Valencia

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. 

Ereny Gerges

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.

K'Yana McLean and Dr. Conner Sandefur

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Sandefur Lab to be Featured in UNC Pembroke News (2017)

Sandefur Lab Researchers
Dr. Conner Sandefur (standing) and his undergraduate research team

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.

Mark Locklear and Conner Sandefur
Mark Locklear interviews Dr. Conner Sandefur

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.

Lonzie Hedgepeth Cheyenne Lee, Frederick Feely, and Athony Arrington

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.

K'Yana McLean Dakota Lee
Anthony ArringtonFrederick Feely II

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.

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Robbie Juel Presents Research Poster at Regional Conference

Robbie Juel

Joining hundreds of biologists from across the Southeast, Robbie Juel presented his undergraduate research poster at the 78th Annual Meeting of the Association of Southeastern Biologists.  More 370 posters and 160 oral presentations were presented during the four-day meeting in Montgomery, Alabama, which ran from 29 March to 1 April 2017.  Robbie’s poster was entitled, “Defining plant communities and the vascular flora of Sampson’s Landing, Robeson County, North Carolina.” 

Sampson’s Landing is a protected area on the Lumber River in Pembroke.  During the past year, Robbie has spent countless hours identifying plant specimens collected from Sampson’s Landing in 2011.  Last summer, he used GPS coordinates and reconnaissance to delineate the plant communities of the 16.5-hectare (41-acre) site.  He generated summary statistics and graphics based on natural history characteristics of plants collected from the site during 2010 and 2011.

Robbie Juel

Robbie presented aspects of his research at the 2016 annual PURC (Pembroke Undergraduate Research and Creativity) symposium, the 2016 annual meeting of the North Carolina Academy of Science, and the 2016 SNCURCS (State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium).  As curator of the UNC Pembroke Herbarium, he identifies plant unknowns, updates an Excel database, pastes dried specimens, and files vouchers.  Robbie is the recipient of the Biology Department’s 2016 Robert Britt Award, which carries a cash award and is given to students who demonstrate exceptional interest in the plant sciences.  A second-degree student and a veteran of the army, Robbie is planning to pursue graduate studies in plant systematics. 

Robbie Juel in conference hotel lobblyTop two photos: Robbie Juel in conference exhibit hall in Montgomery, Alabama.  Bottom photo: Robbie Juel in lobby of conference hotel.

Cheyenne Lee Awarded Exceptional Research Opportunity

Cheyenne Lee in Sandefur LabBiotechnology major Cheyenne Lee will be headed for Yale University this summer (2017) as she takes part in the prestigious Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP).  Cheyenne was one of 400 students nominated for the 10-week, paid program, sponsored by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).  The program is designed for talented undergraduate students from disadvantaged backgrounds who have potential to both excel in graduate school and in academic science.  Upon Dr. Maria Santisteban’s recommendation, Sarah Elgin, a HHMI Board member, nominated Cheyenne for the position last November.  Cheyenne was notified in January of her EXROP award.

Cheyenne will be joining Dr. Christine Jacobs Wagner’s research laboratory at Yale University.  Working 40-hours per week in the lab, Cheyenne’s research internship will focus on cell regulation.  The EXROP experience includes research conferences at the HHMI headquarters in Maryland, in May of 2017 and 2018, where Cheyenne will have opportunities to present her research, learn about other research programs, and network with her peers and with HHMI scientists.

Cheyenne is a sophomore who has joint appointments with the UNC Pembroke RISE (Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement) and COMPASS Programs.  She is also a first generation Native American student from the Pee Dee tribe of South Carolina.  During the past year, she has been doing research in the Sandefur Lab exploring the antimicrobial properties of Lumbee medicinal plants.  The Biology Department wishes her the best in the exceptional research opportunity that awaits her at Yale University.

Cheyenne Lee in Sandefur Lab

Cheyenne Lee collecting medicinal plants
Top two photos: Cheyenne Lee in the Sandefur Lab.  Bottom photo: Cheyenne Lee collecting medicinal plants with members of the Sandefur Lab.


Glaxo Scholars Attend GSK Women in Science Meeting

Dr. Ben Bahr  Katherine Rentschler Taylor Felton
From left to right: Dr. Ben Bahr, Katherine Rentschler, and Taylor Felton

Dr. Ben Bahr and two UNC Pembroke undergraduate researchers, Katherine Rentschler (Biology major) and Taylor Felton (Chemistry major), attended the exciting NC GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Foundation Women In Science Scholars Annual Meeting. The meeting was held on Friday, 3 March 2017, at the Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club in Durham.  The GSK Foundation is celebrating its 30th anniversary in North Carolina this year. 

As Glaxo Scholars, Katherine and Taylor (and their undergraduate research mentors) were invited to attend the annual meeting.  Katherine has been working in Dr. Bahr’s Alzheimer’s Disease Laboratory, and Taylor has been working in pharmaceutical research with Dr. Meredith Storms of the Chemistry Department.  Dr. Bahr holds joint appointments with the Departments of Biology and Chemistry & Physics.  Katherine and Taylor also receive mentored opportunities through the UNCP COMPASS Program.  The annual meeting is a student-centered event, providing Glaxo Scholars opportunity to interact with their GSK mentors and to learn about GSK employment opportunities, including opportunities abroad. 

The students and Dr. Bahr met incredible mentors.  Lauren Matise, PhD, MBA (Business Development Manager, Metabolic Pathways & Cardiovascular, Worldwide Business Development of GSK) was happy to pay it forward, and she shared how mentorship helped her career.  She offered to provide career direction and entrepreneurship/licensing.  Last fall, GSK appointed Emma Walmsley as chief executive, making her the first woman executive of a global pharmaceutical company.   Dr. Bahr is hoping to invite a GSK recruiter as well as one or two GSK mentors to speak at UNCP in the near future.

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Dakota Lee


Student Degree


Student Major

Biology with Biomedical Emphasis

Student Hometown

Cheraw, SC


My name is Dakota Lee, and I am currently a sophomore attending UNC Pembroke. I am also a member of the UNCP research program RISE as well as COMPASS. I am from the small town of Cheraw in South Carolina, and I aspire one day to aid in the development of more advanced and easily accessible prosthetics and bionic devices.

Why did I choose to attend UNCP?

I chose UNCP because it is close to my own hometown while offering amazing research and educational opportunities.

What do I like best about UNCP?

I enjoy how close the community of UNCP is. Many colleges are large and the people are hardly connected, if at all so.  However, there are many friendly faces here and helpful people who have made my stay an enjoyable and productive one.

What are my research experiences?

My current research is in RISE alongside Dr. Conner Sandefur, with the goal of determining the antimicrobial properties of local plants traditionally made into teas by Native American peoples of the Pembroke region.

What are my post-graduation plans?

After graduation I plan to go to graduate school and possibly get a master’s degree in biomedical engineering.

Dakota LeeDakota Lee

Cheyenne Lee


Student Degree


Student Major


Student Hometown

Cheraw, SC


I am a first generation Native American student from the Pee Dee tribe of South Carolina.  I come from a mostly blue collar background with one grandfather being a construction worker, another being a farmer, and my own father being a mechanical engineer by experience.  My mother was a cosmetologist until she could no longer use her hands to do her work; yet she is still one of the most hardworking people I know.  I live just across the North Carolina and South Carolina border in Chesterfield County, where I attended an impoverished high school with little research opportunity.  My family and I have had to work quite hard to be able to afford my schooling at UNCP. I worked at the INA Bearing factory in Cheraw for my first summer, as a rising sophomore, just to be able to help pay for one semester.  Despite living nearby, I have to pay out-of-state tuition, and I have a twin brother who also attends UNCP, making our costs double.  Thanks to my interests in biomedical research, I was able to apply to both the RISE and COMPASS programs on campus and am extremely grateful to be a part of both, as they have served to lift and guide me towards my ultimate goal of one day earning a PhD degree and being called “Dr. Lee.”  Without the guidance of crucial UNCP faculty, I honestly would have no idea how to accomplish the goals I have set for myself.  I hope they know how grateful I am to them.

Why did I choose to attend UNCP?

I chose to attend UNCP to further myself as a scientist.  I heard people say that UNCP had great faculty who would be extremely willing to help one-on-one with students who really wanted to learn, and they were definitely not wrong.  The University is also close to home, and family is extremely important to me so I love being nearby.

What do I like best about UNCP?

Honestly, I like the UNCP faculty the best.  I am heavily biased toward the Biology Department because of the immense amount of kindness the faculty has shown me, but I have also had great experiences in departments outside of my own field of study.  Most of the professors are extremely patient with my constant questions.  Without the help of the science professors, I would not be able to attend UNCP.

What are my research experiences?

I work in Dr. Conner Sandefur’s Lab, where I am currently researching the antimicrobial effects of Native American (Lumbee) teas made from plants around the area.  We hope that this research may lead to a way to control the gut microbiota in diabetic patients, and result in a treatment for diabetes.  Research has been extremely valuable to me, even during the one semester I have worked.  Already I am able to see how techniques I have learned in a real lab, instead of a classroom, have helped me excel in my actual lab courses, no matter the field of science.  I will hopefully have some off-campus research experience come the summer of 2017, and I am excited to see how the additional experience will reflect in my lab courses.

What are my post-graduation plans?

After graduation, I plan to do research!  Somehow, someway, somewhere hopefully in graduate school, I will be researching something important that will trickle down through the population and into high school textbooks, keeping the upcoming populations smart and ready to battle the next big disease that rears its head.  Hopefully I will be working in some kind of immunology or microbiology lab, but currently I am shopping around for potential graduate schools, and am not ashamed to say that I have no idea where I will end up.

Cheyenne LeeCheyenne Lee

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