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June 3, 2024 – July 26, 2024



Morgan McCain

Morgan McCain is a 2024 Mauricio Castillo Diversity and Inclusion Scholar joining the Department of Anesthesiology. Morgan grew up in Newport, NC and pursued undergraduate studies in biology at UNC-CH. She was born in China and moved to the US when she was adopted as a baby. She has always been interested in science and the intricacies of the human body but became interested in medicine, particularly anesthesiology, after watching how her mother’s anesthesiologist was able to provide comfort and peace of mind prior to her mother’s breast cancer surgery. This specialty has since captivated her with its blend of hands-on skills and in-depth knowledge of pharmacology and its immediate effects. She continues to foster her interest in Anesthesiology through her role as Co-Leader of the Anesthesiology Interest Group and participating in the Anesthesiology Preceptorship Enrichment Program (APEP). Morgan is also interested in diversity, community service, and research. She nurtures her interests through her roles as VP of Logistics of F1rst Gen Fellows, volunteering at the Student Health Action Coalition (SHAC), and working on multiple research projects. She enjoys traveling, trying new foods, snorkeling, spending time with her friends, and caring for her pet turtle in her free time.

Diagnostic Radiology

Jasmine Kimber

Jasmine Kimber is from Alleghany County, NC, and is a Mauricio Castillo Scholar, joining the Department of Radiology. Jasmine is a first-generation high school and college graduate and will be the first doctor in her family. Growing up in rural Appalachia, Jasmine noticed health disparities such as limited access to healthcare and health literacy, and a distrust of medical professionals. She has particular interests in individuals with manual labor backgrounds and chronic pain management. Jasmine aims to build trust in the medical community through quality and compassionate care with every interaction.

Prior to medical school, Jasmine volunteered as a first responder and EMT with Alleghany County and South Orange Rescue Squads for a culmination of six years and served as a Lieutenant. She has also worked as a CNA with a home health agency. Additionally, Jasmine worked as a medical assistant at a family medicine clinic, urgent care and a free medical clinic, where she took on an additional role as assistant clinical coordinator.

Jasmine is a mentor for the UNC Rural Medicine Pathway Program, which provides support to undergraduates from impoverished and rural backgrounds who want to attend medical school. Outside of medicine, she enjoys creating art and was recently selected for the juried Carolina Roots Art exhibition in Raleigh. She also loves to crochet and spend time with her husband and pets.

Emergency Medicine

Grace Burud

Grace Burud is a Mauricio Castillo Scholar joining the Department of Emergency Medicine. Her passion for medicine first began in childhood as she accompanied her father to cancer appointments, and grew tenfold upon her start in EMS. Her six years as an EMT solidified her desire to pursue medical school and fostered a newfound interest in the impactful field of emergency medicine, which enthralled her with its acuity, variety, and patient connection. In particular, she recognized the wide health disparities that exist among our communities and valued the opportunity to help others in their most intimately hard times. During college, she also grew an appreciation for research while working on a longitudinal project that analyzed the evolving physiological and physical effects of sexual assault. Additionally, as a part of the LGBTQ+ community, Grace has found further purpose in providing guidance and education to fellow providers about compassionate and informed care, while hoping to provide valuable representation in the next generation of medical providers.

Grace currently serves as Co-Social Chair for UNC SOM’s Medical Student Pride Alliance and is a member of the Emergency Medicine interest group, where she continues to pursue her educational passions. She continues to work as a part-time EMT in her time out of school and enjoys training with her Cancer to 5K running group, which benefits the Ulman Foundation. In her free time, she enjoys trying Durham coffee shops, watching Formula 1, and going to concerts.

Family Medicine

Asia Brannon

Asia Brannon is excited to work with the Department of Family Medicine as a Mauricio Castillo Scholar. Asia was motivated to pursue medical school because of her desire to play a role in addressing health disparities, especially across races and socioeconomic statuses. Growing up in a low-income, single-parent household reliant on Medicaid, Asia witnessed firsthand the disparities in access to quality healthcare and the profound impact it has on individuals and families. This has pushed her to use her background to offer culturally sensitive healthcare, build trust with patients who’ve experienced disparities, and advocate for equitable healthcare practices. She learned about the important role that physicians can play in addressing these disparities and advocating for patients, while she served as a medical assistant at a primary care clinic during her gap year. Asia is excited to conduct health disparities research through the Castillo Program, and further explore her interests in OBGYN and cardiology!

Interventional Radiology

Kaila Moore

Kaila Moore is a Mauricio Castillo Scholar, joining the Department of Interventional Radiology. Ms. Moore is a first-generation student who became interested in becoming a doctor after watching physicians care for and implement plans to heal her family when they were diagnosed with life-altering medical conditions, such as cancer. That interest became a passion when she began to learn about health disparities, as she watched it affect her surrounding community first-hand in Durham, NC. Ms. Moore was in awe that such problems could exist in a city with easy access to multiple medical institutions and has been committed to caring for patients and finding ways to promote health equity ever since. She has been conducting health disparity research since high school and has been published twice for her work. Her interest in Interventional radiology also began in high school, where she attended City of Medicine Academy and was able to shadow within the field. Throughout her time with the specialty, she realized how integral radiology is. She witnessed radiologists have the capacity to directly pin-point the cause of illnesses through multiple imaging modalities and saw how every specialty relies on those techniques. Being able to be on the front line of understanding what needs to be done to properly care for patients, on top of being the person that can assist with that care through minimally invasive techniques that can have someone back on their feet quickly, is what led Ms. Moore to pursing Interventional Radiology.

Ms. Moore is the Co-Vice President of the Interventional Radiology Interest Group, has 2 leadership roles in the Student National Medical Association where she serves as the Minority Women in Medicine Co-Chair and Historian-Webmaster, is a Social Needs Navigator at the Student Health Action Coalition Medical Clinic, and an advocate volunteer throughout the research triangle community. In her free time, Ms. Moore enjoys skating, traveling, weightlifting, film photography, and spending time with her family and dog.


Ephraim Koonce

Ephraim Koonce will be joining the Department of Neurology as a Mauricio Castillo Scholar. He was born and raised in Greensboro, NC, and completed his undergraduate degree in Human Biology at NC State University. He currently serves as the co-president of both the Sports Medicine Interest Group and the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Interest Group. Additionally, Ephraim is on the executive board for the Students National Medical Association (SNMA) at UNC as one of the Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students (MAPS) Liaisons. He also volunteers as a social needs navigator at the student-run free clinic SHAC. Also, because of his passion for nutrition in medical care, he decided to incorporate more nutrition education throughout his medical journey by participating in the Nutrition Scholarly Concentration Program at UNC School of Medicine. He is currently interested in rehabilitation, sports medicine, musculoskeletal medicine, and neuromuscular medicine. During his career in medicine, Ephraim strives to optimize function and quality of life for patients. He also aims to promote holistic patient care and patient advocacy, especially for patients of color. During his free time, Ephraim enjoys hanging out with friends and family, cooking and trying new restaurants, listening to music and podcasts, and exercising in the gym.


Katlyn Hurst

Katlyn Hurst, a Mauricio Castillo Scholar joining the Department of Neurosurgery, brings a wealth of experience and a steadfast dedication to healthcare equity. During her gap years, she served as a clinical research manager in Durham, actively contributing to pivotal COVID vaccine trials. Graduating from Duke University in 2021 as a Reginaldo Howard merit scholar, Katlyn’s passion for medicine was deeply influenced by her upbringing in Memphis, TN, where she witnessed firsthand the healthcare disparities plaguing her community. As the eldest of eight siblings, she embodies patience, empathy, and an unwavering commitment to service. From volunteering in clinics globally to mentoring students and advocating for underserved communities, Katlyn’s journey epitomizes her resolute mission to bridge healthcare gaps. As she envisions her future as a physician, Katlyn aims to confront urban underserved healthcare challenges, champion systemic changes, and promote equitable care for all. Beyond her academic pursuits, Katlyn serves as a mentor to undergraduate pre-med students, a RISES CARE advocate, and Social Chair for the Student National Medical Association, embodying her dedication to community and service. The Department of Neurosurgery resonates deeply with her, offering not only intellectual and technical challenges but also the opportunity to effect immediate, tangible impacts on patients’ lives. Recognizing the urgent need within surgical specialties, particularly in urban underserved areas where individuals face disproportionately high surgical burdens and increased risks of late-stage cancer presentation, Katlyn is steadfast in her commitment to addressing systemic disparities in healthcare. She eagerly anticipates contributing to and learning from the Castillo Scholars community, united by a shared vision of a more equitable and compassionate healthcare system.

Obstetrics and Gynecology

Sophia Shwartz

Sophia Shwartz is a 2024 Mauricio Castillo Scholar joining the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. She and her family moved to the United States from Latvia as refugees when she was a child. As a first-generation, female-identifying student with Russian roots, she is proud of the unique perspective she can offer her future patients. Her experience has allowed her to think critically about how factors such as socio-economic status, language barriers, and traditional folk medicine affect medical care for underserved populations. She intends to use that knowledge to become the best provider for her community. Her passion for OB/GYN stems from her family’s firsthand experiences with women’s health issues involving infertility and multiple miscarriages, abortion access, and postmenopausal changes. She is currently in the ultrasound scholarly concentration, which she hopes will bolster her knowledge of bringing accessible and informed care to communities and counties with OB/GYN shortages. During her first year of medical school, she has also taken on leadership roles by serving as the co-president of the Addiction Medicine Interest Group and the co-vice president of mentorship for First-Gen Fellows. In her free time, Sophia enjoys hiking the beautiful mountain ranges of NC, weightlifting, and cooking Slavic comfort foods.

Tejal Vanukuru

Tejal Vanukuru is a 2024 Mauricio Castillo Scholar joining the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Minority women’s health has always been a passion of hers and she plans to devote her career in medicine to being an advocate for access to reproductive health information and quality care in underserved communities. As an undergraduate at UNC, Ms. Vanukuru graduated with a strong academic foundation in women and gender studies, bringing a perspective and experience ingrained with an understanding of underrepresented populations as well as a fervency for combatting the social ills plaguing these communities in the healthcare system. This led her to become a volunteer birth doula and inspired her fascination with the field of obstetrics and gynecology. Tejal is a rising MS2 and currently serves as the leader of Medical Students for Choice, treasurer and cofounder for UNC’s Chapter of the South Asia Medical Student Association, as well as volunteering with SHAC, UNC’s student-run free clinic. She is passionate about medical education, mentorship, advocacy, and bolstering community involvement. In her spare time, she enjoys paddleboarding, reading, disk golf, and artisan coffee.

Orthopedic Surgery

Kyle Polanco

Kyle Polanco is thrilled to join the UNC Department of Orthopaedic Surgery as a 2024 Mauricio Castillo Scholar. Growing up, he has always been interested in empowering underserved communities. His upbringing from parents who continually sacrificed for his family mixed with his drive for teaching and scientific inquiry was a perfect combination for learning while serving others and giving back to his community. This motivated Kyle to establish a scholarship fund and serve as a Summer Bridge Program mentor for underrepresented students during undergrad while pursuing his passion for medicine. While every medical specialty can have a transformative impact on the lives of others, a surgical specialty offers a hands-on approach to patient care that will enable individuals to intervene directly and have an immediate impact on future patients’ lives. He is drawn to this in addition to the intricate workings of the musculoskeletal system, which he has had the opportunity to explore in individuals following a motor vehicle collision during his clinical research in undergrad. When Kyle is not studying, he loves trying new recipes, playing basketball with friends, and watching Carolina sports…Go Heels!

Alec Pugh

Alec Pugh is a 2024 Mauricio Castillo Scholar joining the Department of Orthopedic Surgery. Alec grew up in the rural town of Randleman, North Carolina, where he attended an impoverished school district that made it difficult to pursue college. Nonetheless, he became the first in his family to graduate college from UNCW, where he found his passion for medicine while being an Exercise Science Major. Initially, he became a certified personal trainer to help others through exercise implementation, but he fell in love with medicine after shadowing a radiation oncologist in Wilmington and witnessing the life-changing impact her empathetic care had on patients. After graduating, Alec worked in primary care for two years as the Lead Scribe at a clinic in Wilmington devoted to caring for underserved patients on Medicaid. He loved witnessing when procedures were rarely done in the clinic, which inspired him to try to shadow surgical specialties. Fortunately, he was able to shadow the only orthopedic surgery practice in his rural hometown and witnessed the life-changing aspects of orthopedic surgery in the clinic and OR. This led to his pursuit of orthopedic surgery; since then, he has been able to connect similarly underserved medical students to orthopedic surgeons throughout the country through the National Medical Student Orthopedic Society that he is a part of. Alec is very passionate about mentorship due to his first-gen background and through the UNC orthopedic surgery interest group he is co-president of he hopes to continue to help medical students.


Briana Petrusa

Briana Petrusa will join the UNC Department of Pediatrics as a Mauricio Castillo Scholar. Growing up, Briana had a passion for serving and mentoring youth. During her undergraduate years at Meredith College, she played NCAA lacrosse and enjoyed working as part of a team, gaining leadership skills, and being able to coach and teach young players the game of lacrosse. Briana has been active in the community as an ESL teacher and mentor to recently immigrated Latinx children and an AmeriCorps Service Scholar to underprivileged youth.

As the first in her family to attend college, she looked up to mentors and was passionate about inspiring and advocating for youth in similar situations. After the impact that several pediatricians made on Briana’s life, she was inspired to pursue the path to care for the lives of children while connecting with them on their trajectory through life. She has always been drawn to pediatrics because of the opportunity to implement preventative medicine and inspire youth to lead healthy lifestyles. She is also motivated by the positive mindset and resiliency of the pediatric population. Briana is passionate about health equity and bridging the cultural/linguistic communication gap between physicians and patients. Briana is a rising MS2 and is a leader of IPVAA (Interpersonal and Domestic Violence Awareness and Advocacy), initiating efforts for domestic violence and child abuse/neglect advocacy in the medical community. She is also a part of the First-Generation Scholars, LMSA and CAMPOS, the medical Spanish concentration. Outside of medicine, Briana enjoys traveling, hiking and playing sports, and spending time with her family and dogs.

Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Dennis Mitchell Jr

Dennis became interested in the field of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation when he was previously in a car accident that left him with whiplash. He also suffered a series of ankle injuries that took months to heal but have permanently impacted his activities of daily living and hobbies. Curious about restoring people to health without medication, he became a personal trainer while completing his post-baccalaureate degree at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. While in the city of Greensboro, Dennis worked as a medical scribe in the field of Ophthalmology, and he joined the DAX (Dragon Ambient Xperience) Neurology Scribing team in Durham, NC, after finishing his post-baccalaureate degree in Greensboro.

Afterward, he was accepted into the UNC MED EXCEL program, where he joined the UNC School of Medicine upon completion of the EXCEL program. Dennis wants to provide some form of healing to patients who have chronic conditions. Although he may not fully heal them, he hopes to improve their quality of life and life experience.

In his free time, Dennis is a member of Minority Men in Medicine (MMM), a medical mentor for the North Carolina Medical Mentors program, and an office assistant for the Office of Scholastic Enrichment and Equity (OSEE). He also enjoys lifting weights, playing basketball, trying new foods, and spending time with his family and friends.


Sean Beatty

Sean Beatty is a Mauricio Castillo Scholar joining the Department of Psychiatry. He is drawn to the more interpersonal aspects of medicine and seeing patients in a more holistic way. He is excited to gain different experiences in psychiatry and other specialties to dial in his focus on what his career in medicine will look like.

Sean graduated from UNC with his undergraduate degree in chemistry and from University of Louisville with a Master of Science in physiology. He has worked as a research assistant in the Blood Research Center and as a Study Coordinator in the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, both at UNC School of Medicine.

He has been more than happy to serve as a resource for any pre-medical undergraduates to try to help them avoid common pitfalls on the path to med school. Outside of medicine, Sean is a writer and enjoyer of poetry, who has had a few of his poems published. He also enjoys basketball, lifting weights, playing piano, and video games.

Radiation Oncology

Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams is a Castillo Scholar joining the Department of Radiation Oncology. His fascination with oncology traces back to childhood, where he raised funds for breast cancer through Relay for Life, inspired by his grandmother and great-grandmother who are both breast cancer survivors. During his college years, he delved into a research project aimed at treating ovarian cancer with novel peptide treatments. His efforts led to numerous presentations and successful grant acquisitions.

He finds joy in interviewing prospective medical students as part of the admissions committee, relishing the opportunity to witness students’ shared passion for medicine and to help cultivate the vibrant and collaborative academic environment. Aaron’s commitment to addressing medical disparities is evident in his roles as the Youth Science Enrichment Program and Middle School
Science and Technology Enrichment Program coordinator. Through these initiatives, he provides healthcare opportunities to those who’ve lacked them, thereby advancing equity in medicine.

While Aaron’s primary interest lies in radiation oncology, his medical interests extend beyond. Currently engaged in research projects focusing on orthopedic and cardiothoracic surgery, he maintains a diverse array of interests within the medical field. Graduating with honors and departmental honors in Bioengineering from Clemson University in 2023, Aaron entered the
medical arena with an innovative mindset, eager to push the boundaries of medicine. Notably, he and his team developed an innovative cortical button for ACL reconstructions in his senior year, showcasing his commitment to innovation and excellence. In his leisure time, Aaron finds solace in workouts to alleviate stress, and indulges in reggaeton music to hone his Spanish
language skills.


Sophie Korenek

Sophie Korenek will join the Department of Surgery as a Mauricio Castillo Scholar. She grew up in Sneads Ferry, North Carolina, and her first exposure to medicine was learning about her older sister’s experience with overcoming childhood illness. Sophie discovered her love for surgery after shadowing the general surgeon who diagnosed her older sister’s rare condition over 20 years prior. Before medical school, she was a CNA and gained an appreciation for hands-on work with the opportunity to directly impact patients’ well-being. She studied biochemistry and philosophy at North Carolina State University and is passionate about both the biomedical and humanistic dimensions of medicine. She is invested in helping to close the gender gap in medicine, particularly in surgical specialties. Outside of school, she enjoys volunteering at a local community garden and taking care of her own orchids and tropical plants. She has many artistic hobbies, including crochet, biological illustration, beading, and painting. Lastly, Sophie is an identical twin and is proud to be pursuing a career in medicine alongside her twin, who is a first-year medical student at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine.


Andres Santana

Andres Santana, chosen as one of the 2024 Mauricio Castillo Scholars, will be joining the Urology Department. Originally from Cuba, his immigration journey shaped his trajectory towards medicine, driven by the challenges his family faced accessing healthcare upon their arrival in the US. This experience ignited his passion for expanding representation and advocacy within the medical field.

Eager to address healthcare disparities, Andres looks forward to collaborating with mentors who share his dedication to enhancing gender and racial diversity in urology. He finds the array of cases in urology captivating, particularly focusing on long-term patient care and integrating state-of-the-art surgical techniques. The prospect of performing surgeries and devising holistic treatment strategies that prioritize patients’ enduring well-being deeply resonates with him.

Beyond his academic pursuits, Andres is an active advocate. He serves as an Interpreter and medical volunteer at the NC Farmworkers Health Program and as Co-President of the Farmworker Student Health Alliance (FSHA). In these roles, he champions initiatives aimed at promoting cultural competency, expanding healthcare access, and advocating for social justice.

Outside of medicine, Andres is passionate about mentorship and community involvement. He enjoys immersing himself in literature, cooking, and hiking. His free time is often spent exploring new destinations with his wife and dog, Honey.

To support the Castillo Scholars program, please contact Jeanine Simmons, Senior Executive Director of Development, at or (919) 597-9553