Meet the Team

Directors of Mentorship & Research

Christiane Burkins, NCSSM Morganton

Christiane Burkins is the Director of Mentorship and Research for our Morganton campus. Before joining NCSSM in March 2024, she served as Internship and Partnership Coordinator at the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology in Lawrenceville, Georgia. At the Gwinnett School, she managed a year-long, STEM-based internship program for 250+ seniors and also coordinated a quarterly STEM speaker series which hosted professionals from academia and industry. Prior to becoming an educator, Christiane held various director positions in communications, marketing and human resources. She earned her bachelor’s in English from Presbyterian College, and her Master of Arts in Teaching from Georgia State University. In her spare time, Christiane studies and writes about food anthropology, and enjoys cooking, hiking, reading, and spending time with her family and dogs.

BA, English, Presbyterian College

MAT, Georgia State University

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.

BS, Zoology, Miami University

MS, Zoology, Miami University

PhD, Neuroscience, Case Western Reserve University 

Coordinator of Mentorship & Research

Mary Slawter, NCSSM Durham

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!

Instructors of Mentorship & Research

Collyn Gaffney, NCSSM Morganton

Collyn Gaffney joined the NCSSM-Morganton team in June 2022 as an Instructor of Mentorship and Research. She began her teaching career in 2006 in Boise, Idaho. Aside from teaching core courses of history, math, and ELA, Collyn has enjoyed teaching Big History Project, morphology, improv, and coaching First Lego League, Science Olympiad, and Fishing Team. Prior to her 16 years in the classroom, she spent 13+ years in the radio, TV, and film industry in both North Carolina and Idaho. Collyn enjoys being on the NCSSM team and exploring western North Carolina. Her daughter is a NCSSM Class of 2013 alum.

BFA, Theatre Arts, UNC Charlotte

MEd, Educational Leadership, American Intercontinental University

Letitia Hubbard, NCSSM Durham

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. Dr. Hubbard loves singing, traveling (road trips!), graphic design, and hanging out with her family, especially her 3-year son. 

BS, Chemical Physics, Spelman College

BS, Electrical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology

PhD, Biomedical Engineering, Duke

Bobby Warren, NCSSM Durham

Mr. Warren is originally from Winnabow, North Carolina where he attended South Brunswick high school. He then moved to Chapel Hill and attended the University of North Carolina where he received bachelor's degrees in biology and music performance in 2015 and a Master’s of biomedical and health informatics in 2018 while working as a research assistant at Duke University. Mr. Warren currently serve as a microbiologist and clinical research coordinator for the Duke Center for Antimicrobial Stewardship and Infection Prevention and as an instructor of research mentorship at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. His research is focused on healthcare environmental contamination, disinfection, and sterilization to prevent the spread of disease, particularly C. difficile. His ultimate goal is to eliminate healthcare-associated infections by engineering effective and consistent disinfection strategies. Outside of research, Mr. Warren continues to play euphonium in a semi-professional ensemble called the Triangle Brass Band, is a video game enthusiast and loves to fish. He live in Durham with his wife and middle school sweetheart, Julia, his two dogs, Rio and Bear, and two cats, Lucy and Penny.

Mentorship Research Coaches

Emily Churchman, NCSSM Durham

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. 

A. Brenda Kapingidza, NCSSM Durham

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.

Zoe Loh, NCSSM Durham

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. 

Ashlyn Rickard, NCSSM Durham

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. 

Mentorship Research Coach/Data Management Specialist

Taylor Nguyen ('20), NCSSM Durham

Taylor Nguyen is a 2020 graduate of the North Carolina School of Science and Math and is now a senior at Duke University pursuing a BS in Neuroscience and Biology with a concentration in Cellular and Molecular Biology and a minor in Computational Biology and Bioinformatics. 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. In RHum, Taylor studied effects of standardized English education and generational loss of language in immigrants and was the head publication editor of the 2020 Fifth World. She was a recipient of the Bowman-Brockman Endowment in her junior and senior years as a 2019-2020 captain of NCSSM Rocketry Team.  She is currently working in the Floyd Lab in Duke University's departments of Radiation Oncology and Pharmacology & Cancer Biology studying the effects of BRD4/MYC on hypertranscription in pediatric medulloblastoma. She has presented at the State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium and is a two-time Deans' Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow. Outside of the sciences, Taylor enjoys sewing (semi-successfully), crocheting (a little less successfully), and appreciating cats (both up close and from afar). Ask her about her cat (and her research, but mostly her cat)!

Program Assistants

Gage Ellis ('18), NCSSM Durham

Gage graduated from NCSSM in 2018 and went on to graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University with a bachelor's degree in Biomedical Engineering. He was a part of the Mentorship program at NCSSM where he did research on stream ecology at Duke University. In college, he worked in an applied physical science lab on a pulse oximeter project and in an intestinal stem cell lab on a plasmid project. After working in Healthcare IT for the past two years, he is excited to come back this summer and work as a program assistant with SRIP.

Chloe Emehel ('20), NCSSM Durham

Chloe Emehel is an NCSSM alumna (2020) and 2024 graduate of North Carolina A&T State University where she studied biology. Her interests in environmental health and research and passion for helping others in practical ways has led her to become a program assistant for the NCSSM SRIP this summer. Later this year, she will be joining Peace Corps Senegal in their agriculture sector to aid in the development of climate-smart and sustainable agricultural solutions in urban communities.

Calista Foret ('21), NCSSM Durham

Calista is an undergraduate student at NC State University working on their degrees in Math and Secondary Math Education. They graduated NCSSM class of 2021 and are excited to return and join the team this summer to work with SRIP! 

Rishika Jalagam ('24), NCSSM Durham 

Rishika Jalagam graduated in 2024 and is attending UNC Chapel Hill. Rishika is a part of the Honors Program and Early Assurance in Business program at UNC. She was a part of the Mentorship 3 program where she conducted research at Duke University on the NASCC in Washington, D.C. She was also part of the Research in Humanities Program where she published her research on Behavioral Finance in Fifth World. Outside of research, Rishika also loves spending time with friends and family, traveling, and being outside.

Esha Shah ('22), NCSSM Durham

Esha Shah graduated in 2022 and is attending East Carolina University. Esha is a part of the Honors College and Early Assurance in Medicine Programs at ECU. They were 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. They are currently working in Tran Labs. In their free time, Esha enjoys spending time with their family and friends, swimming, and playing with their dog and cat.  

Joey Talerico ('22), NCSSM Durham

Joey graduated from NCSSM in 2022 and is a sophomore in the U.S. Department of State’s Arabic Flagship Program at the University of Arizona. He is pursuing bachelor’s degrees in Middle Eastern and North African Studies, Arabic, and Environmental Studies. While at NCSSM, he participated in Dr. David Cantrell's Summer Research Experience in the Humanities program, where he conducted research about the history of Arab-Americans in North Carolina. In his free time, he enjoys playing the piano, biking, and traveling.

Mentorship & Research Leaders

Shreya Ganapathy ('25), NCSSM Durham

Shreya Ganapathy is a student in the Mentorship 1 program. She is conducting research on fungal and bacterial microbiota associated with poplar forests at Duke University. Her interests in research include ecology and environmental sciences. Outside of research, she enjoys dancing, hiking, and taking photos.

Jeffrey Liu ('25), NCSSM Durham

Nikhil Vemuri ('25), NCSSM Durham

Nikhil is a senior at NCSSM, and is part of the Research in Computational Science Program. In the past, he has conducted environmental science research for which he has achieved international recognition, and he is now working on computational mathematics research at NCSSM and Duke. Outside of STEM, Nikhil enjoys creative writing, going on runs, and drinking boba.