About Us

NCSSM Durham Mentorship and Research Team

Mentorship and Research Team Mission 

Director & Coordinator

Dr. Sarah Shoemaker

Email: shoemaker@ncssm.edu

As Director of Mentorship and Research in Durham, Dr. Sarah Shoemaker supports research and innovation for NC School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM) high school students by working with NCSSM faculty and cultivating relationships with mentors at local universities and business/industry partners in the Triangle.  She has developed the Summer Research & Innovation Program, expanded the school-year Mentorship program, and developed curriculum to accomplish the learning goals of the programs. She serves as a strong support for the faculty and for our mentors from the community that work together to engage students as thinkers/makers/doers in an experience that requires the application of knowledge and skills to address challenges in the world beyond the classroom.

Dr. Shoemaker is best defined by her passion for facilitating the success of others and promoting opportunities for the growth and development of young researchers and learners.  Prior to coming to NCSSM, Dr. Shoemaker earned her Masters in Zoology and her PhD in Neuroscience at Case Western Research University and continued studying axon regeneration as a postdoctorate fellow at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Her training as a scientist and teacher is ideal for implementing programs to create an environment that promotes both students’ understanding and their effective communication of research both in and outside the classroom.

Ms. Mary Slawter

As Program Coordinator, Mary is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in Political Science. She joined NCSSM in 2017 as the Coordinator for the Mentorship & Research office.  When she isn't at NCSSM, she stays busy with her three children and border collie. She welcomes you to stop by the Mentorship office any time to say hello!

Mentorship Instructors

Dr. Letitia Hubbard

Dr. Letitia Hubbard is a native of Huntsville, Alabama (home of NASA and the Space and Rocket Center!).  As a member of the engineering and research mentorship faculty at NCSSM for four years, Dr. Hubbard has developed and taught a variety of courses, both residential and online, including Honors Biomedical Engineering Online, a Mini-Term course called a Survey of Biomedical Engineering, and the cross-disciplinary course Biomechanics of Injury.  Through her affiliation with the Mentorship Program, she is also actively engaged in developing curriculum to prepare students for success in research. Letitia is an active participant with summer outreach programs to underrepresented minority groups, and currently serves as director of the NCSSM Step-up-to-STEM summer program. She also serves as Communications Coordinator for her department, faculty advisor for the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) Jr. Club, and is a member of the NCSSM Scholarship Committee. In 2020, Letitia was awarded a NC Board of Governor's award for Service to Students and was also named a National Winner in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow competition. Prior to coming to NCSSM, Letitia served as a research associate in the Biomedical Engineering department at Duke University where she received her PhD. Letitia also earned a B.S. in Physics from Spelman College and a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology. Dr. Hubbard loves singing, traveling (road trips!), graphic design, and hanging out with her family, especially her 3-year son. 

Dr. Josh Fuchs

Dr. Josh Fuchs is an Instructor of Mentorship and Research. Prior to NCSSM, he was an Assistant Professor of Physics at Texas Lutheran University. He earned his B.S. in Physics from Rhodes College and his M.S. and Ph.D. in Physics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Josh is passionate about creating active classrooms to engage all students. He has served on the board of the Texas Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers and as a Faculty Coordinator for the Partnership for the Integration of Computation into Undergraduate Physics. Outside work, Josh enjoys travelling and exploring new places, playing the piano, and pondering the intersection of science and religion.

Mentorship Research Coaches

Ms. Emily Churchman

Emily Churchman is a PhD student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the Physics and Astronomy program. In her research, she investigates abundance anomalies present in systems from the early universe. She is very passionate about mentorship and science communication. Outside of science, she spends her time with her pets, knitting, or serving at her local church. 

Ms. Ashleigh Rawls

Ashleigh is a candidate at the Duke University School of Medicine. Her research focuses on advancing our understanding of the role of glia-neuron interactions in depression and anxiety disorders. She has over 7 years of experience in science education, outreach and mentorship. Outside of science, she enjoys cooking, baking, and hiking.  

Ms. Zoe Loh

Zoe Loh is a graduate student in the Department of Pathology. Zoe researches how nuclear PTEN regulates thymidine biosynthesis and cellular sensitivity to antifolate treatment in the lab of Dr. Ming Chen. 

Dr. A. Brenda Kapingidza

Originally a native of Zimbabwe, Dr. Kapingidza came to the USA in 2011 to do her undergraduate degree. After graduating from Lander University with bachelor’s degree with honors in Chemistry and mathematics, she went on to do her PhD in Biochemistry (concentration in Molecular Immunology) at the University of South Carolina. At USC she studied the interactions of the human immune system with different allergens in the quest to develop better immunotherapy for allergic diseases like asthma, atopic dermatitis, and rhinitis. After her doctorate, she joined the Duke School of Medicine as a Post-Doctoral Associate at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute (DHVI). At DHVI, Dr. Kapingidza’s research focuses on designing, producing and characterizing vaccine candidates for the development of vaccines against infectious diseases like COVID-19, HIV and influenza. Dr. Kapingidza is renowned for her sunny disposition, positivity, and her love for reading. In her leisure time, she enjoys volunteer work, riding her bike, taking walks in the park, and writing poems.

Dr. Ashlyn Rickard, PhD

Dr. Rickard is a graduate from Duke University with her PhD in Medical Physics, specializing in Diagnostic Imaging and Radiation Biology. She also graduated from the University of North Carolina at Asheville with her B.S. and B.A in Experimental Physics and Spanish, respectively. She currently works at Duke University in the Department of Radiation Oncology where she investigates novel combination therapies to treat head and neck cancers in preclinical models. She also applies her imaging physics expertise to quantify tumor biology and identify potential biomarkers for therapeutic responses. Her goal is to bridge the fields of imaging physics and radiation biology to more effectively find and test new therapies to treat cancer. She is also passionate about mentorship and credits her own mentors as crucial for her own personal and career success. Outside of science, she and her dog, Milo, adventure around Durham. She also spends a significant amount of time spoiling her godson. 

Data Management Specialist

Taylor Nguyen, '20

Taylor Nguyen is a 2020 graduate of the North Carolina School of Science and Math and is now a junior at Duke University pursuing  neuroscience and biology with a concentration in molecular and cellular biology. She did summer research with the mentorship program with the UNC Department of Genetics and Molecular Biology in Bob Duronio's lab studying the impact of histone regulation on high-grade pediatric glioma. Taylor is currently working in the Floyd Lab at Duke University studying the effects of BRD4/MYC on hypertranscription in pediatric medulloblastoma. Outside of the sciences, Taylor enjoys crochet and  appreciating cats (both up close and from afar).

Program Assistants

Esha Shah, '22

Esha Shah graduated in 2022 and was a part of the Mentorship 3 program where they conducted research at UNC Chapel Hill on HIV-1 vaccine studies. They have presented several projects at the North Carolina Science and Engineering Fair and the State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium. Esha will be attending East Carolina University and is a part of the Honors College and Early Assurance in Medicine Programs and working in Tran Labs. In their free time, Esha enjoys spending time with their family and friends, swimming, and reading.  

Lauren Subramaniam, '21

Lauren is a 2021 NCSSM graduate, during which she conducted research as a M3 student on the effects of releasing the Wolbachia bacteria in Ae. aegypti mosquitoes, under Dr. Jennifer Baltzegar at NC State University. She currently is a sophomore attending Columbia University, hoping to study Environmental Biology on the Ecology and Evolution track. Lauren is passionate about disease ecology and entomology. She joined the Duvall lab at Columbia in 2021 as a work-study student and lab assistant and currently assists in experiments concerning mosquito behavioral and reproductive patterns. She is originally from Asheville, NC, and enjoys hiking and crocheting in her free time.

Mentorship & Research Leaders

Naveen Ramasamy, '23

Naveen is in the Research in Computational Science program at Science & Math, and is currently working on understanding how various blood flow parameters contribute to atherogenesis. Outside of academics, he loves playing sports like soccer and table tennis.

Sophia Sang, '23

Sophia is part of the Research in the Humanities and the Mentorship program at NCSSM, where she is researching ways to make psychology research more accessible. In her free time, Sophia enjoys reading, knitting, and rollerskating. 

Alina Yang '23

Alina is one of your Mentorship and Research Leaders this year. She loves math and physics, and she explores these interests in the Research in Physics program, where she investigates how to modify the behavior of a molecular motor. Non-academically, she enjoys playing tennis, going on runs, baking, reading, and drawing.