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Family and guests attending the 9th Annual Graduate Student Welcome Event

The Department of Microbiology & Immunology at UNC Chapel Hill held their 9th Annual Graduate Student Welcome event on May 20th, 2022. The program commenced with a symposium where new students presented on their chosen research projects. Families and guests of the students were invited to tour the Microbiology & Immunology facilities and attended an orientation to learn about life as a graduate student, UNC Chapel Hill, and the MCRO Ph.D. program. The event ended with a reception, held at the Carolina Club, where the new students received their white coats for the first time.





New Microbiology & Immunology graduate students reading their oath.

After receiving their white lab coats, embroidered with the department logo, the 13 new students recited a graduate student oath, which they collectively wrote and agreed upon:

  • Caroline Yu, Damania lab
  • Steve Longworth, Damania lab
  • Kyle Shifflet, Dittmer lab
  • Megan Perkins, Dittmer lab
  • Melina Richardson, Moody lab
  • Jaclyn Higgins, Baric and Heise labs
  • Anfal “Fulla” Abdelgadir, Gralinski and Heise labs
  • Sarah Bennett, Vincent lab
  • Jamie Liu, Lai lab
  • Morgan McCullough, Mock lab
  • Leslie Kent, Tamayo lab
  • Cynthia Thomas, Duncan lab
  • Ben Darwitz, Thurlow lab

Their oath was recited as follows:

“I, [NAME], have entered the serious pursuit of new knowledge as a member of the community of scientists in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. As I embark on my Ph.D. training, I willingly pledge the following:
I will contribute constructively to the culture and well-being of the department and larger community;
I will foster an environment where everyone feels comfortable being their full selves, including, but not limited to disability status, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, race, and ethnic background;
I will strive to ensure that the results of my research and other scientific activities ultimately benefit humanity and cause no harm;
I will endeavor to always be ethical and moral, conducting myself with scientific integrity and intellectual rigor in my research and professional life with an uncompromising respect for truth;
I will convey these scientific principles in my chosen profession, in mentoring, and in public debate;
I will actively participate in outreach and community-building to engage the next generation of scientists;
I will seek to clearly communicate my work to increase public understanding of science, including scientific principles, and its humanitarian goals.
By pronouncing this Graduate Student Oath, I declare my commitment to these professional standards and goals.”


Shane Falcinelli receiving his award from program director Dr. Bob Bourret.

Senior MCRO students were also celebrated at the reception with the announcement of awards and graduated students:

The 2022 Graduate Education Advancement Board Impact Award was awarded by the UNC Graduate School to Suruchi Shrestha (Lai lab). A Transportation Grant, also awarded by the Graduate School, was given to Jake Dillard (Heise lab).

Two awards were awarded from the UNC Department of Microbiology & Immunology: the 2022 G. Philip Manire Graduate Student Excellence in Research Award to Shane Falcinelli and the 2022 D. Gordon Sharp Graduate Innovator Award to Ashelyn Sidders.

In addition, Drake Philip (Lazear lab) was acknowledged for the rare achievement of receiving an Honors Grade on his Written Preliminary Examination. Drake also had received a National Institutes of Health Individual Predoctoral National Research Service Award (F31) in Fall ‘22.

Ashelyn Sidders receiving her award from program director Dr. Bob Bourret.

Leslie Kent (Tamayo lab) received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in Fall ’21.

David Aponte Diaz (Cameron lab) was welcomed into the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Graduate Diversity Enrichment Program in Spring ’22.

Three current students received ImPACT Awards to fund internships and explore possible careers:

    • Sarah Barr (Bourret lab), White Labs Brewing, Asheville, NC
    • Taylor Tibbs (Whitmire lab), Education & Training Systems International, Chapel Hill, NC
    • Mercedes Warren (Tamayo lab), Becton Dickinson, Durham, NC


The following students earned their Ph.D. degrees in academic year 2021-22, and their immediate career plans follow (*students with pending graduation in Summer 2022):

  • Kenny Dinnon (Baric lab), postdoc with Nobel Laureate Charlie Rice at Rockefeller University
  • Chris Genito (Ainslie lab), postdoc with Lance Thurlow, UNC Chapel Hill
  • Alexi Van Ess (Shank lab), Associate Manager of Laboratory Operations, Q2 Solutions, Durham, NC
  • Lacey Lopez (Arthur lab), Medical Writer, Education & Training Systems International, Chapel Hill, NC
  • Andy Hale (Moorman lab), Scientist, TorqueBio, Durham, NC
  • Jenna Beam (Conlon lab), Senior Research Associate at Arcaea, Boston, MA
  • LaKeya Hardy (Burks lab), Assistant Director of Postbaccalaureate Programs and Scientific Outreach, Office of Graduate Education, UNC School of Medicine
  • Becca Casazza (Lazear lab), postdoc with Carolyn Coyne at Duke University
  • Hyejeong Kim*, (Cameron lab), active duty in the South Korean military
  • Claire Johnson*, (Garcia-Martinez lab), postdoc with Gregory Smith at Northwestern University
  • Calvin Yeager*, (Cameron lab), dental school to prepare for research on oral pathogens
  • Jada Suber*, (Burks and Iweala labs), postdoc with Daniel Dwyer at Harvard Medical School


Faculty, family, and guests celebrating MCRO student achievements at the event reception.