About Us


patrickPatrick Brandt, PhD – Director of Science, Training, and Diversity
Patrick brings a sincere desire to help all graduate students take control of their future professions and succeed in whatever path they decide upon. He is responsible for the TIBBS career awareness and professional skills development programming. He also directs the programming for the HHMI-funded Med-Into-Grad translational research program. Patrick has served on the NIEHS/EPA career fair planning committee, and he has taught grade school, high school, college, and university students on a range of scientific issues.

Patrick received his MS and PhD degrees in Biochemistry at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in Upstate NY. As a graduate student he studied the enzymes involved in lagging strand DNA replication and a related DNA repair pathway known as long patch base excision repair.

Patrick was in postdoctoral training in the molecular and genetic epidemiology group at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, NC. While there, Patrick studied how single nucleotide polymorphisms found within DNA repair genes affect the DNA repair capacity of human cells.

Patrick welcomes your input on professional development programming and is eager to discuss your career development options with you. You can contact him by email at pdbrandt@email.unc.edu, by phone at (919) 843-9342, or by campus mail at CB #7108. You can read more about Patrick’s professional background on his LinkedIn page  www.LinkedIn.com/in/PatrickDBrandt.

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

Josh HallJosh Hall, PhD – Director of PREP and Science Outreach
As an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary, Josh became interested in how microorganisms cause disease and was introduced to the wonders of laboratory research by his first research mentor, Dr. Mark Forsyth. He studies how the human stomach pathogen, Helicobacter pylori, is able to sense its environment and adapt to colonize a human host. Josh completed his BS in Biology in 2002 and set his sites on graduate school.

Josh enrolled in the IBMS program (precursor to BBSP) at UNC Chapel Hill and completed his PhD in the Microbiology and Immunology Department under the direction of Dr. Tom Kawula. There he became interested in how bacterial pathogens interact with host cells during pathogenesis. Specifically, he studied the interaction of Francisella tularensis with cells of the lung.

After graduation, Josh joined the SPIRE Postdoctoral Training program at UNC where he could cultivate his interest in teaching as well as strengthen his skills as a researcher. In the lab of Dr. Virginia Miller, using the budding yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Josh studied the function of proteins secreted by the intestinal pathogen, Yersinia enterocolitica. Further studies examining the role of protein secretion in Yersinia were conducted using Drosophila (fruit fly) cells.

Josh joined the STaD office as Associate Director of Pre-Graduate Programs and Science Outreach in 2010. Currently, Josh is directing an NIH-funded Post-baccalaureate training program called UNC PREP (UP). In addition, Josh is organizing various Science Outreach initiatives that take the cutting-edge research of the UNC community out to our broader community through building relationships with local K-12 schools. He is involved in the leadership of ongoing programs, such as NC DNA Day, as well as the development of new programs such as a summer workshop for at-risk high school students.

In many ways, Josh’s position in STaD is a culmination of his interests, experiences, and skills. Josh is thrilled about his role in teaching, inspiring, and empowering the next generation of scientists! Josh welcomes your questions, input and vounteering spirit. You can email him at jdhall@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.

Erin Hopper, PhD– Director of Training Initiatives in Biomedical and Biological Sciences (TIBBS) and Assistant Director of Academic and Career Excellence (ACE) Program

Erin became hooked on science when she first learned about enzyme activity as an undergraduate at UNC. She was fascinated by the complexity and diversity of proteins, but she did not realize she wanted to pursue science as a career until she learned about the role of laboratory research in improving human health. She decided to participate in undergraduate research in the laboratory of Professor Mark Schoenfish, and this experience convinced her to begin her graduate studies in chemistry.

Erin switched to a darker shade of blue for a few years while pursuing her doctorate at Duke University. Working under the supervision of Professor Michael Fitzgerald, she used hydrogen/deuterium exchange and mass spectrometry to evaluate the thermodynamic stability of proteins and to quantify the strength of protein-ligand interactions. At the same time, Erin began exploring the various career options that are available to Ph.D.’s in the sciences. She joined the planning committee for Women in Science and Engineering, where she gained her first experience in implementing professional development activities for graduate students.

After earning her Ph.D. in chemistry, Erin became a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Kenneth Tomer at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). As a postdoc, she used chemical labeling techniques coupled with mass spectrometry to probe protein structure and protein-ligand interaction surfaces. While at NIEHS, Erin took advantage of a variety of opportunities to gain experience in program management and science education/outreach. She served as chair of the NIEHS Trainees Assembly Steering Committee to bring educational activities to the trainees at NIEHS, and she helped to organize the 2010 NIEHS Biomedical Career Fair. She also became active in education and outreach activities.

Erin joined the STaD Office in November of 2011, and she is very happy to be back at UNC, where she looks forward to sharing her enthusiasm for science with graduate students. She will be directing TIBBS and will be working closely with Jessica in the Academic and Career Excellence program. Erin welcomes input on improving professional development programming and can be reached at erin_hopper@unc.edu.

JohnnaJohnna M Frierson, PhD - Postdoctoral fellow in STEM Program Director Postdoctoral Fellowship

Johnna, a native of South Carolina, received her BS in Biology from Furman University in Greenville, SC in 2005. After participating in the Initiative to Maximize Student Development (IMSD) postbaccalaureate program at Vanderbilt University, Johnna went on to continue and complete her graduate studies at Vanderbilt and earn her PhD in Microbiology and Immunology. She conducted her graduate research in the laboratory of Dr. Terence Dermody where she used mammalian reoviruses to gain a better understanding of mechanisms of viral attachment (specifically, how reovirus binds to its coreceptor sialic acid) and the function of sialic acid-binding in reovirus pathogenesis in the central nervous system.

While at Vanderbilt, she was involved in many activities that went beyond her research interests, aiming to better serve the needs of underrepresented groups at Vanderbilt and the urban Nashville community. Participating in a wide range of activities from judging science fairs, serving as a peer mentor for students in the Vanderbilt Initiative to Maximize Student Diversity (IMSD) program, and traveling to conferences on behalf of Vanderbilt to recruit underrepresented students to the biomedical PhD program fostered her desire to pursue a career as a program director of an undergraduate or graduate STEM program. She learned the impact that information, exposure, and personal connection to students can have in helping guide life-changing educational decisions, and is passionate about helping others realize their full academic potential.

She is excited to start this new phase of training as a fellow in the STEM Program Director Postdoctoral Fellowship at UNC and looks forward to contributing to the mission and efforts of the STaD office.


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

Sausyty moved to North Carolina from Wyoming in 2003 to attend UNC Chapel Hill as an undergraduate. She liked the area so much that after graduating in 2005 that she decided to stay here permanently. She spent 8 years working in student services for the Curriculum in Genetics and Molecular Biology and the Curriculum in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology before joining the STaD team in May 2013. Sausyty is loved by the students and faculty she served in the GMB and BCB curricula and she is excited to get to know more students and faculty in this new role.

Sausyty is responsible for the organization and execution of the daily business operations of the STaD office, including budget oversight, grants administration, and general office management.  She can be reached at sausyty_hermreck@med.unc.edu.