About Us

Josh 2015Joshua Hall, PhD
STaD Team Leader
Director of UNC PREP and Science Outreach

Josh joined the Science, Training and Diversity group in January 2010. Since then, he has served as the Director of the NIH-funded Post-baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) at UNC.  The goal of UNC PREP is to prepare talented post-baccalaureate students from under-represented (UR) groups in the sciences who desire to pursue a biomedical research PhD for entry and success in top graduate programs. During his time as Director, UNC PREP has transitioned 42 UR postbac scholars into top PhD programs across the country including Stanford, UCSD, Washington (Seattle), Wash U (St. Louis), Vanderbilt, Wisconsin-Madison, Duke and UNC Chapel Hill.  

In addition, Josh also serves as Director of Science Outreach initiatives aimed at informing high school students (and especially students from underserved populations) about careers in science and demystifying science as a career path to students who have not met a scientist before. He has directed North Carolina DNA Day (ncdnaday.org) since 2010; an initiative that annually sends over 130 scientists from North Carolina research institutions into high school classrooms statewide. Since 2007, NC DNA Day has impacted over 50,000 NC high school students. Most recently, Josh is building nationwide collaborations to extend the successes and outcomes of NC DNA Day to other states.

Josh's graduate and postdoctoral training as a microbiologist, his experiences mentoring students at the undergraduate, post-baccalaureate, and graduate level, and the pedagogical training he received as an IRACDA (SPIRE) postdoctoral fellow have made him well suited to direct diversity initiatives like PREP and advise scholars from an array of backgrounds who are interested in pursuing biomedical research careers. His primary professional interests are to empower and encourage students from all backgrounds and at all stages of the pipeline to pursue and succeed in science and research careers. His personal interests include playing guitar and singing in a folk band and trying to make the perfect cup of coffee.

In February 2015, Josh began serving as Team Leader for the Science, Training and Diversity (STaD) Group to oversee the many Office of Graduate Education initiatives aimed at enhancing graduate student training and professional development and impacting diversity at UNC School of Medicine and the biomedical workforce.

Contact Josh:  LinkedIn

patrickPatrick Brandt, PhD – Director of Career Development and Training 

Patrick brings a sincere desire to help all graduate students take control of their future professions and succeed in whatever path they choose. He directs career awareness and professional skills development programming through TIBBS, in conjunction with Rebekah (see below), and is co-PI on the Immersion Program to Advance Career Training (ImPACT). Initiated in 2006, TIBBS is UNC's professional development program for life science graduate students. Funded by an NIH BEST grant in 2014, ImPACT is UNC's career exploration, job shadowing, and internship program that serves close to 1000 graduate student and postdoctoral trainees in the life sciences.

Patrick also directs the Certificate Program in Translational Medicine, which started as an HHMI funded program in 2006. He developed the Summer of Learning and Research (SOLAR) undergraduate research program and was SOLAR director from 2009 through 2013. Patrick also developed and oversees RCR training for first year PhD students who enter through BBSP.  Patrick has a track record of grant writing success and was instrumental in securing $5.4 million in grant funding from HHMI, NIH, BWF, and NCBC to fund career development, outreach, and training initiatives.

Patrick grew up in Upstate NY.  He attended 2 community colleges, and lived in Central America for 2 years before figuring out exactly what he wanted to do with his life. He transferring his credits to Brigham Young University and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry. He earned his PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Rochester School of Medicine where he studied the enzymes involved in lagging strand DNA replication and a related DNA repair pathway. After a short postdoc at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Patrick joined the Office of Graduate Education in 2008. In his spare time Patrick loves spending time in the outdoors and has been known to commute to UNC on his mountain unicycle.

Patrick welcomes your input on professional development programming and is eager to discuss your career development options with you.

Contact Patrick:   LinkedIn | 919.843.9342

Ashalla FreemanAshalla Magee Freeman, PhD –Director of Diversity Affairs
Ashalla received her BS degree in Chemistry from Tougaloo College and her PhD in Microbiology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her dissertation research focused on the genetics of Streptococcus pneumoniae virulence and pathogenesis in animal models of infection.

Ashalla came to UNC in 2004 as a postdoctoral fellow in the SPIRE (Seeding Postdoctoral Innovators in Research and Education) Training Program for additional training in biomedical research and to further develop her preparation in science education and teaching. As a SPIRE fellow, she has been afforded the opportunity to conduct research at one of the premier institutions in the US and teach undergraduates at a historically minority university. The focus of her research is the elucidation of the molecular mechanisms of bacterial signal transduction using chemotaxis in Escherichia coli as a model system (in the lab of Professor Robert Bourret, PhD, Department of Microbiology and Immunology). Specifically, she is working to understand the regulatory mechanisms that control the dephosphorylation activity of the phosphatase in the chemotaxis system. For the 2006-2007 academic year, Ashalla taught General Microbiology lecture and lab (for non-majors) and Microbiology lecture and lab (for majors) in the Department of Life Sciences at Winston Salem State University (WSSU), Winston Salem, NC. In addition to teaching, she served as Co-course Coordinator for the General Microbiology course and on the Planning Committees for the WSSU Undergraduate and Senior Research Symposia.

Ashalla has a long-standing interest in and commitment to enhancing science education and career development at all (high school, undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral) levels. Evidence of these commitments include her service as a tutor for high school mathematics and SAT preparation, mentor for the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) Minority Mentoring Program and ASM Science Education Network, review panelist for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program, consultant for the ASM Graduate and Postdoctoral Education Committee, and advisory board member for the UNC Postdoctoral Association.

Ashalla is excited about joining the Office of Biomedical Graduate Education in June, 2009, as the Associate Director of Minority Affairs. In this position, she will continue to develop and enhance the professional development and training, academic and personal support, and community available through the Initiative to Maximize Student Diversity (IMSD) Program. Ashalla welcomes your input and assistance, so please fee free to contact her by email at ashalla@unc.edu

Jessica NewJessica Ragas Harrell, PhD– Director of Academic and Career Excellence (ACE) Program

Jessica has always been fascinated by the logic of science. Wanting to understand how the world around her works, Jessica earned her B.S. in Biochemistry from Louisiana State University. Realizing that she wanted not only to learn but to contribute to the understanding of the processes of life, she embarked on her research career. She began first doing research as an undergraduate at LSU and continued as a research technician at Tulane University. She then entered graduate school at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, earning her Ph.D. in Cell & Developmental Biology in the lab of Bob Goldstein, PhD. Her graduate research interests led her to focus on understanding the internalization of diverse cells during C. elegans gastrulation, a terrific model for gaining insight into how proteins may interact to regulate developmental processes in higher organisms.

As a graduate student, Jessica discovered a passion for education while using C. elegans as a teaching tool. She found it to be great fun to teach others how cool science is, hoping to inspire a new generation of scientists. She balanced her research with teaching assistant duties and guest lectured both at UNC Chapel Hill and neighboring colleges. She also participated in a number of science outreach activities, which included assisting with the development of NC DNA Day. Upon graduation, Jessica was a Visiting Lecturer in the Biology department at UNC Chapel Hill and taught Genetics and Developmental Biology courses to undergraduates.

With her experience teaching science at numerous levels, Jessica joined the STaD team in January 2011. She directs the Academic and Career Excellence program at UNC Chapel Hill, with the goal of having all BBSP students achieve academic success. In this position, she works closely with students to ensure they excel in their graduate work at UNC Chapel Hill, offering support for skills such as critical analysis of research, writing, and oral presentations.  Jessica can be reached at jessica_harrell@med.unc.edu.

Beka imageRebekah L. Layton, PhD – Director, Training Initiatives in Biological and Biomedical Sciences (TIBBS) and Assistant Director of Professional Development

Rebekah’s enthusiasm and determination will help trainees build upon their passion for science to expand that into exciting professional opportunities ahead. This evolution is a collaborative effort in which Rebekah assists trainees in connecting their interests and skills with a world of possibilities to choose from. She is available to help guide the trainee through the decision-making process, set professional goals to build skills and experience, and to help trainees to find and use relevant resources, take advantage of training events, and get the most out of networking opportunities to support their development as scientists and professionals. 

Preparing for a career can seem daunting, but with Rebekah’s thoughtfulness and passion to help others, she seeks to inspire each individual to walk confidently down the path of their own choosing, which may even include roads one may not have known were there. She helps each trainee make the most out of traditional academic experiences in addition to exploring new experiences that may be outside “the norm,” merging the trainees’ talents to extend into a world of opportunity to connect with an extensive network of career possibilities.

Rebekah brings to the team experience in academic professional development for teaching and research as well as non-academic professional experience. Rebekah works with trainees in individual consultations as well as providing programming through the NIH-funded TIBBS and ImPACT programs, along with Patrick (see above). Her professional interests include teaching, mentoring, and professional development preparedness. She is excited to be working with trainees to help them find and prepare for engaging, rewarding, and fulfilling careers that best match their personal goals and priorities.

Rebekah is a behavioral scientist with a research focus in self-control and goal-setting, with additional research interests in physical fitness activity, emotion, and mindfulness. Most recently, Rebekah began her time here at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with post-doctoral training in health psychology at the Thurston Arthritis Research Center in the School of Medicine. Prior to that, Rebekah’s graduate training was completed at the University at Albany, State University of New York (Muraven Self-Control in Life Lab), including a Ph.D. in Social and Personality Psychology and M.A. in Psychology. She received her B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania for Psychology and History & Sociology of Science, where she began her research career working with the founder of the Positive Psychology movement (Seligman).

Rebekah is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom where she served as a Military Police Officer in Baghdad, Iraq. As a paratrooper, she was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and completed her active duty service in Seoul, Korea as a Captain in the US Army. In her free time, Rebekah enjoys rowing with Carolina Masters, as well as volunteering as an advisor for the Songwriting With:Soldiers program which uses song-writing to connect with others and transform veterans’ often troubling experiences into strengths.

Contact Rebekah to get more information about upcoming TIBBS training opportunities, to be added to the TIBBS listserve, or to set up one-on-one career counseling sessions. 

Contact Beka:   | LinkedIn | 919.843.9342

Sausyty Hermreck – Business Services Coordinator, Office of Biomedical Graduate Education

Sausyty is responsible for the financial and grants oversight of the office. In that capacity, she manages the day to day business operations including payment of all expenses, management of various funding sources and communications with all other business units and external business partners. She is also in charge of pre and post award grants management in an administrative and financial capacity. Finally, she is responsible for the administration of the payroll for students enrolled through the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program. She works with every member of the office to execute business functions in service to the overall mission of the Office of Graduate Education. She can be reached at sausyty_hermreck@med.unc.edu.