2021-22 Science Mentoring Awards

Mentorship is a key component of academic science, and it comes in many forms. In addition to “official” mentors, we receive mentorship from peers, labmates, course instructors, dissertation committee members, and so many others. To honor mentorship in our community at UNC, this year’s mentoring awards were open to all nominees – faculty, grad students, postdocs, staff, postbacs, and anyone else.

Staff Awards – General Mentoring

Susan McMahan Cheek Susan McMahan Cheek

Lab Manager & Research Specialist, Lab of Jeff Sekelsky, Biological & Genome Sciences

“Susan has so many people come to her first with [difficult personal] situations and she always helps them through… If an interpersonal issue arises, she sees all sides and is never judgmental or biased. She strives to do what is best for all parties involved, and is able to solve conflicts with a knack that comes from her abundant wisdom and experience.”

Lihua He Lihua He

Research Associate, Lab of Scott Randell, Marsico Lung Institute

“[Lihua] has a spidey-sense for when a student is ready to attempt a protocol or experiment alone; under her mentorship, I often feel challenged but never feel completely out of my depth. Additionally, she is acutely aware of the…environmental impacts of the research we do and makes every effort possible to reduce the waste we generate.”


Graduate Student & Alum Awards

Mentoring During COVID
Odessa Goudy Odessa Goudy

Graduate Student, Lab of Brian Kuhlman, Biochemistry & Biophysics

“Even though she wasn’t my peer mentor, she still occasionally reached out to me via email during my first year to check in with how rotations and classes were going… I really enjoyed receiving these ‘check-in’ emails from her because my first year was very tough due to the pandemic. It was nice to have someone check in on me completely unprompted.”


Alina Hamilton Alina Hamilton

Graduate Student, Labs of Katherine Hoadley and Melissa Troester, Pathobiology & Translational Science

“She constantly reassured me that learning the skills that they do in lab is challenging during normal times and especially during a pandemic. This reassurance and support helped me feel more comfortable with the research and helped alleviate some of my feelings of imposter syndrome.”

Supporting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
LaKeya Hardy LaKeya Hardy

Graduate Student, Lab of Wesley Burks, Microbiology & Immunology

“LaKeya has done a lot to support the needs of URM students by creating a safe space for all students to discuss uncomfortable topics… LaKeya also is the founder and director of an undergraduate summer program within M&I established to provide research and mentor opportunities for URM students enrolled in local HBCUs.”


Hannah Wiedner Hannah Wiedner

Graduate Student, Lab of Jimena Giudice, Genetics & Molecular Biology

“By co-founding Shadow A Scientist, Hannah has demonstrated extraordinary leadership to increase the participation of underrepresented groups in science fields and careers. [From her I have] learned how to create and sustain a welcoming work environment.”

If you would like to volunteer with Shadow A Scientist, send an email to sas_team@unc.edu. Learn more about the program here: https://shadowascientist.web.unc.edu/.

Supporting Mental Health
Lacey Lopez Lacey Lopez, PhD

Recent PhD Alum, Lab of Janelle Arthur, Microbiology & Immunology

“I always held myself to high standards, so those [failed experiments] made me feel like I wasn’t cut out for lab science. Lacey made sure I understood that mistakes and failures are completely normal and happen to even the most practiced scientists… Lacey has an immense capacity to listen, empathize, share, and guide those who are struggling around her.”


General Mentoring
Nicole Arruda Nicole Arruda

Graduate Student, Lab of Jill Dowen, Genetics & Molecular Biology

“Nicole’s efforts really set the tone of the lab from always having a positive attitude, working hard, demonstrating best practices at the bench and in meetings, and making real connections with every individual. This creates a welcoming and inclusive environment in the lab for everyone.”


Rachel DuMez Rachel DuMez

Graduate Student, Lab of Rob Dowen, Genetics & Molecular Biology

“Rachel leads by example, consistently considering everyone’s voice and emphasizing individual strengths. Whether she is talking to me, a comparable peer, or a work-study student just starting to get into research, she truly listens and makes your voice heard… I can still hear her voice in my head when I make a mistake that I am smart, and I belong in science.”

Jenny Loome Jenny Loome

Graduate Student, Lab of Mark Heise, Microbiology & Immunology

“She’s offered invaluable advice, supporting words, and her own experience to let me know that I’m not alone in some of the things I’ve gone through… It didn’t matter the time of day or night, Jenny always made herself available to talk to me, take me to lunch, offer to take a walk.”


Minna McFarland Minna McFarland

Graduate Student, Lab of Donita Robinson, Neuroscience

“Minna has gone above and beyond to work with her peers to make sure that they understand coursework, and to listen to their concerns and share her perspective.”


Kelly Olsen Kelly Olsen

MD/PhD Candidate, Lab of Benjamin Vincent, Microbiology & Immunology

“As an undergraduate who knew absolutely no clue where to start with R, Kelly was a great help in guiding me. She reassured me that I could ask her any questions and was always available to help. Her drive and willingness to learn in lab is inspiring. She herself was a beginner with R when entering the Vincent lab, and she has become extremely skilled R during her short time with the lab.”



Postdoc Award – General Mentoring


Audra Bryan, PhD Audra Bryan, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow, Lab of Jill Dowen, Biochemistry & Biophysics

“She was always happy and willing to help me through misunderstandings and tough experimental scenarios.”

“She knew when it was better to offer more hands-on help, and when it was better for me to work something out on my own.”


Faculty Awards

Mentoring During COVID
Rita Tamayo Rita Tamayo, PhD

Professor, Microbiology & Immunology

“[Rita] has supported my efforts to develop independent projects in addition to ones currently funded in the laboratory.… She was also patient and supportive while I developed my project in the beginning even though it was at a much slower pace than I had anticipated due to pandemic-related disruptions.


Benjamin Vincent Benjamin Vincent, MD

Assistant Professor, Medicine, Hematology

“Ben [has a] flexible style, letting us set our own schedules and trusting us to get our work done. He has allowed us to take a hybrid approach to returning to the lab, working from lab when we have experiments to get done and working from home when we have other work to do such as writing. This style has allowed everyone to craft their days around what is most productive for them and has let people come back in at their own pace.

Supporting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Kate Reissner Kate Reissner, PhD

Associate Professor, Psychology & Neuroscience

“She fosters a healthy and welcoming work environment, where it’s okay to ask questions that may feel stupid, it’s okay to make mistakes, and it’s okay to ask for help… Every time I have made a mistake, she tells me a story about a time she made a similar mistake… Throughout the last year, she has also fostered open and honest conversations about equity and representation of underrepresented students at UNC, in our department, and in our lab…

Supporting Mental Health
Jessica Bowser Jessica Bowser, PhD

Assistant Professor, Pathology & Laboratory Medicine

“She pushes me while also giving me constant validation and encouragement – she has started quizzing me to prepare me for my qualifying exam, and she frequently tells me that I am doing well and that she appreciates my hard work… She assured me that my wellbeing was more important than the science, and…that time to reset greatly improved my mental health for the rest of my semester.


Greg Scherrer, PhD Greg Scherrer, PhD

Associate Professor, Cell Biology & Physiology

“[He] made it clear that my mental health and general success in graduate school was far more important to him than the progress [on a] project… He continued to offer me advice for navigating a work-life balance…and setting appropriate boundaries for myself in my academic career.

General Mentoring
Nancie Archin, PhD Nancie Archin, PhD

Assistant Professor, Medicine, Infectious Diseases

“Nancie is the kind of mentor whose door is always open…. and encourages the hearts of her trainees during tough times in science.

Jessica Cohen Jessica Cohen, PhD

Associate Professor, Psychology & Neuroscience

“If there’s ever a time where I don’t meet all the goals I’ve set for the term, we discuss roadblocks that impeded my progress and subsequent solutions to overcome these roadblocks… She actively seeks feedback about her mentorship and what she can do to be the best mentor for each person in the lab. To this end, she sends out a yearly anonymous survey that allows lab members to give feedback.


Rob Dowen Rob Dowen, PhD

Assistant Professor, Cell Biology & Physiology and Biology

“In Dr. Dowen’s class and in his lab, I have messed up a lot and failed a lot, but he never once made me feel dumb/inadequate for my failures, but instead helped me work through them to see where I went wrong and why so I could prevent the same mistakes in the future… Even though I’m just an undergrad, he has never made me feel like the time he spends advising me is less important than the time he spends advising grad students/post-docs, and he makes a consistent effort to check in with me about my classes and extra-curriculars.


Stephanie Gupton Stephanie Gupton, PhD

Associate Professor, Cell Biology & Physiology

“Dr. Gupton’s first priority in her lab is the people she mentors. This is evidenced by the Gupton Lab Policies document that she distributes and discusses with us every year. This document outlines what she expects of us and what we all should expect from her, which she has always exceeded.


Jason Whitmire Jason Whitmire, PhD

Professor, Genetics and Microbiology & Immunology

“He had taken the time to craft a completely new and unique project tailored to my skills and interests… He…ask[ed] about accommodations that could be made in the lab.


Hyejung Won Hyejung Won, PhD

Assistant Professor, Genetics

“She credits students for their work and makes sure they get opportunities to lead collaborations with other labs… I am never afraid, concerned or anxious about asking a ‘dumb’ question, or going to her for life or career advice.