Southeast Regional PULSE Fellows

In 2012, forty life sciences educators throughout the United States accepted a daunting but important task -- to serve as catalysts to stimulate department-wide reform in undergraduate Life Sciences programs across the country.  This is the work of the Partnership for Undergraduate Life Sciences Education (PULSE), which was established through a collaborative effort among leaders from the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute for Health/National Institute for General Medical Science, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute.  Additional PULSE Fellows have joined in this work, and the PULSE Fellows in the Southeast region include:

Karen Aguirre, Ph.D.

I am one of two Associate Dean’s for the College of Science at Coastal Carolina University. I handle what I think is the fun stuff - student ombudsman, petitions and appeals, development/implementation of our new upper-division advising initiative, oversight of college-wide assessment team, interface with Institutional Research to develop/interpret assessment of retention and student engagement in all STEM disciplines (with special attention to under-represented groups and at-risk students), and developing high-impact practices that excite students about quantitation. It’s a lot. I’m not at all tired yet. In another life, I was Biology department chair. My degree is in Molecular Biology, and I use molecular and cellular techniques in small animal models of infectious diseases of the central nervous system. I teach a seniors Immunology seminar that is “flipped” and case-study-based and I like to write case studies for the NSF collection. I also teach the occasional freshman majors section in a way that is much too traditional and rather stodgy and in need of significant overhaul. Our SACS-COC Quality Enhancement Program involves maximizing student research experience, and I have built up that aspect of our Biology majors’ experience to about 50% of students performing independent cutting-edge research with a faculty member, or exploring an off-campus career option. I’m particularly proud of the work I’ve done with encouraging and funding mentoring experiences between our contingent faculty and students. This is a win-win proposition. Trailing PhD spouses and adjuncts and Visiting Assistant Professors are able to have research space, supplies, and eager students to help them continue to build their careers, and our students have a vastly expanded mentor pool – and that pool has plenty of women. This is important for us, as our upper division classes are predominantly female.

Judy Awong-Taylor, Ph.D

I am a Professor of Biology in the School of Science and Technology at Georgia Gwinnett College, Lawrenceville, Georgia. I received my bachelor’s degree in Zoology and Botany from the University of the West Indies in Trinidad, and my master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Florida in the area of Environmental Microbiology. Prior to joining GGC, I was a Professor of Biology at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, GA and served as Interim Department Head before moving to the Board of Regents in Atlanta to serve as Director of the University System of Georgia’s STEM Initiative. Yes…. I am slowly migrating northward, but still committed to the southeast! I am passionate about teaching and committed to providing an environment that promotes student success, both in and outside the classroom. Over the years I have involved numerous students in undergraduate research, promoted student-centered learning, engaged in K-16 collaborative activities, and collaborated with institutions throughout Georgia, and become more involved in STEM Education Research. Here at GGC, I have found a special niche. I have the opportunity to work with an innovative group of colleagues to shape the lives and careers of a very diverse group of students. Our current initiative is to provide undergraduate research experiences to all majors in the School of Science & Technology during all four years of their matriculation, both in the traditional sense but also through course-embedded research opportunities. What else am I passionate about? My family! I enjoy spending time with my husband, son, and our funny little Chihuahua! 


Heather J. Belmont, Ph.D.

I serve as the dean of the School of Science at Miami Dade College (MDC). In this capacity, I oversee the school's programs, curriculum, resources, and most importantly, students. Prior to taking on this role at MDC, I was faculty, chairperson of the Biology, Health/Wellness and Funeral Services Departments and director of the Biotechnology Program. Yes, my programs span cradle to grave! With the assistance of federal dollars, the School of Science is still in the midst of its "Vision and Change.” To this end (or should we say beginning), we have established an intrusive, in-house STEM advisement system, an extensive Peer-Led, Team-Learning network, and undergraduate research initiative on five of our eight campuses. Prior to joining the MDC family in 2005, I worked in the private sector for two start-up biotech companies, Sunol Molecular Corporation and Altor Bioscience Corporation, where we conducted research on therapeutic anti-viral and anti-cancer biologics. When not at the College, I enjoy spending time with my husband, daughter, and three highly energetic dogs.

Jung Choi, Ph.D.

I am an Associate Professor of Biology at Georgia Technical Institute, and I have been team-teaching the first semester of a 2-semester introductory biology sequence for about 20 years. I also currently teach Genomics and Applied Bioinformatics, with a computational lab for seniors and first-year graduate students, Developmental Biology for seniors, and co-teach Immunology for seniors and graduate students. In a more administrative role, I am the Director of Teaching Effectiveness (DOTE) for the School of Biology. As the DOTE, I coordinate peer review or personally review and evaluate the teaching of Biology faculty for tenure, promotion and reappointment. I have a third role as an Associate Chair for Biology. Given these roles I try to lead by example, adopting and evaluating new technologies and pedagogies (clickers, Learning Catalytics, flipped instruction) first in my own teaching, then urging/coaching others to try what appears to work best.            

Christopher Finelli, Ph.D. 

I am Professor and Chair, Department of Biology and Marine Biology, at University of North Carolina - Wilmington.  Even as a graduate student I realized that, despite my own success as a researcher, I could be more influential in the classroom than I could through my journal articles.  For me, then, finding ways to improve my own teaching and working with others who shared my interest in teaching became a career priority.  Early on I became involved with two programs that helped to set the trajectory for my current efforts with PULSE.  As part of my NSF CAREER award, I developed the Bayouside Classroom, a comprehensive K12 curriculum for STEM education in south Louisiana.  The BC, now in its 16th year, includes activities for students and extensive teaching training.  I also was a regional leader for the Faculty Institutes Reforming Science Teaching (FIRST II) dissemination network.  As a regional leader, I recruited faculty teams and hosted development workshops aimed at increasing the use of data driven pedagogy and learner centered teaching.  After moving to UNCW, I continued as a regional team leader for FIRST IV, which trained postdoctoral researchers in scientific teaching prior to their first tenure track appointments.  Since joining UNCW, I served as Assessment Coordinator, helping to develop our departmental assessment program, and as Department Chair, fostering teaching excellence and mentoring new faculty in a large and diverse department.     

Ellen Goldey, Ph.D.

As I prepare to move into the role of Professor and Dean of the Wilkes Honors College at Florida Atlantic University, I will always cherish the 20 years I have spent at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina.  It has been my honor to hold the William R Kenan Jr. Professorship and to have served as Chair of Biology from 2010 to 2015. I earned my BS degree from the University of the South, TN and my MS and PhD degrees from Miami University, OH.  I am a Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER) Leadership Fellow and have been working with SENCER since 2001. I was principal investigator on two curriculum reform projects funded by the NSF: the first adopted first year curricular learning communities integrating courses in the sciences and the humanities, and the most recent project led to transforming Wofford's first year Biology curriculum. This latter project led to Wofford receiving the 2012 Exemplary Program Award from the Association for General and Liberal Studies.  I was recently the co-PI on a collaboration among Wofford College, Elon University, and the Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core, funded by the Teagle Foundation, to foster pluralism; encouraging positive and productive engagement with those of differing world views. I am also a member of the cadre of Wabash Teagle Assessment Scholars that assist campuses in their efforts to use assessment evidence to guide improvement. I have had the honor of receiving several teaching awards, but looking back at those I don't think I was a very good teacher at the time -- I've learned a lot about actively engaging students since then. Prior to coming to Wofford in 1995, I was a developmental neurotoxicologist at the US Environmental Protection Agency in RTP, NC, which was a rewarding job. But my dream was to teach undergraduates, and I feel very lucky to have ended up at Wofford. In 2008 I married Byron McCane, an archeologist, scholar of ancient religions, Albert C. Outler Professor of Religion in Wofford's Religion Department, and wonderful life partner. Byron will be joining the Department of History at FAU.

Cameron Harmon, M.S.

I am the division chair of science at Fayetteville Technical Community College. In this role I oversee the biology, chemistry, and physics departments. I still serve as a biology faculty member and teach courses every semester. Mostly I teach non-majors biology, general biology, and microbiology. Seeing the students from across the spectrum encouraged me to find better ways of engaging my students in the classroom. I have been an early adopter of active learning strategies and tried to serve as a catalyst in the department. FTCC was one of the colleges chosen to participate in the first Southeastern Regional PULSE (SERP) Institute. And since then, together with the biology faculty, we have worked on developing more student-centered curriculum to implement in our courses. I am very passionate about making quality education available to everyone, which is why I am a strong supporter of community colleges. Teaching at a community college provides the opportunity to work with more non-traditional students as well as a very diverse population. I have also developed partnerships with our local four year universities to create pathways to help more our more at-risk and minority students with the transfer process. I am currently working on my doctorate in community college leadership and investigating how organizational change effects an institution, particularly the role that leadership plays in helping to promote change.

April Hill, Ph.D

I am Professor of Biology at the University of Richmond (VA) and a recipient of the 2016 State Council of Higher Education for Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award.  I am director of University of Richmond’s HHMI-funded Undergraduate Science Education (URISE) program that focuses on building community and research skills for incoming students who are from groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences.  I guided the development of, and teach in, the interdisciplinary first-year research-centered STEM courses (Integrated Quantitative Science and Science, Math, and Research Training).  I am passionate about undergraduate research and have advised more than 70 students in my laboratory over the past 15 years and many more students through authentic research experiences in a variety of biology courses (e.g., Evolutionary Developmental Biology, Genetics, Epigenetics, Genomics). I am committed to social justice and use my voice as a biologist in discussions of race at Richmond through involvement in a faculty learning community (Terms of Racial Justice).

I am an evolutionary developmental geneticist and enjoy working on interdisciplinary research collaborations. My current research uses marine and freshwater sponges as model systems to ask questions about the gene regulatory networks important in the development of animal body plans and animal symbioses. This collaborative research is currently funded by the NSF Integrative Organismal Systems Program.  I dream about starting an interdisciplinary research/teaching center, with my marine ecologist husband, in the Caribbean where students (via study abroad) and faculty (via sabbaticals) would come together to study real-world biological problems. I draw hope and energy from my amazing students and my three wonderful children.

Nitya Jacob, Ph.D. 

I am an Associate Professor and Chair of Biology at Oxford College of Emory University. I received my B.A. in Biology from Agnes Scott College in 1995 and my Ph.D. in Horticulture and Crop Science from The Ohio State University in 2000. I teach courses at the introductory and intermediate levels in cell biology, genetics, molecular biology, and applied biology. My research involves the study of microbial communities associated with granite outcrop plants and the regulation of nodule-expressed genes in Rhizobium-alfalfa symbiosis. I am a recipient of the AAAS and Science Inquiry-Based Instruction (IBI) Prize and the Emory Williams Distinguished Teaching Award. I serve on the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) as a Biology Division Councilor and have completed the American Society of Microbiology Biology Scholars Program 2011 Assessment Residency. From 2006-2012 I was the Director of the Summer Undergraduate Research at Emory (SURE) - Oxford College program. I have enjoyed working as one of the 40 Partnerships in Life Sciences Education (PULSE) Leadership Fellows selected to lead the joint initiative of HHMI, NSF, and NIH/NIGMS of national transformation in undergraduate biology education. 

Melanie Lee-Brown, Ph.D. 

I am an Associate Professor of Biology and Director of Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavors at Guilford College. I have always been interested in science and love the ocean. Originally from New Jersey (yes, I own that), I moved to North Carolina to attend High Point College. After dabbling for a few years in sales, gemology and disc jockeying, I returned to school and received a Biology B.S. with a minor in teaching from NC A&T State University. I received my Ph.D. in Microbiology from N.C. State University. I participated in a three-year post-doctoral experience in the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy at Wake Forest University School of Medicine under the direction of Ron Oppenheim. I have research experience in Phospholipid Molecular Dynamics, Reproductive Immunology, Microbial Genetics, and Developmental/Molecular Neurobiology.  I teach Microbiology, Genetics, Biochemistry, Integrative Biology-Molecules and Cells, Research Seminar, and Introduction to Scientific Inquiry, but not all at the same time. I have also developed a networked program of undergraduate research and presentation opportunities that have taken students across the state, the country and the world to present at symposia. The focus of my research program is microbial molecular genetics where were my students and I are looking at the evolutionary relationships between nitrogen-fixing azotobacteria and related pseudomonads through phylogenetic analysis, Multi-Locus-Sequence-Typing, genome structure and metabolic profiling. I am also investigating the role of riboswitches and their use as a potential antibiotic target. I am also the Managing Editor of the Journal of the North Carolina Academy of Science, because I never have enough to do ;). I am married to Dr. Jim Brown, who teaches at N.C. State University, and we have three children. I enjoy teaching, spending time with my family, yoga, fencing, SCUBA, gardening, and planning retirement to our little piece of heaven on North Caicos TCI! 

Sandra Romano, Ph.D. 

I am an associate professor of marine biology and the Interim Dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at the University of the Virgin Islands, an HBCU and Land-Grant Institution serving over 2400 graduate and undergraduates on two campuses. As a coral reef biologist I was excited to join the faculty at UVI in 2000 to share my passion about coral reefs through teaching and research. Over the years I’ve developed another passion for STEM education transformation as a result of my different roles at our small institution: teaching a variety of courses for both majors and non-majors, doing research with and mentoring undergraduates and Masters students, pre-health professions advising, coordinating student development programs, Director of the Masters in Marine and Environmental Science Program, and Chair of the Dept. of Biological Sciences. My research on the molecular systematics of corals now takes backseat to my efforts in transforming undergraduate STEM education as a Dean and a PULSE Fellow. 

Mary A. Smith, PhD

I am Professor and Chair of the Department of Biology at North Carolina A & T State University. I earned my BS degree at Morgan State University in Baltimore, MD, PhD in Plant Science at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY and did postdoctoral work at Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI. I am an alumnus of the BRIDGES IX Academic Leadership for Women Program, sponsored by UNC- Chapel Hill. As faculty member and chair of the Department of Biology, I have brought in more than 10 million dollars in federal funding to support research training of undergraduate and graduate students, to enhance research infrastructure, and faculty development. As research mentor and director of research training programs, I have facilitated the advancement of many undergraduate and graduate students into biomedical doctoral programs. I have been a leader in transforming the biology curriculum to embrace student-centered instruction, and in motivating biology faculty to adopt active learning practices in the classroom. The Department of Biology has become an enriched environment for undergraduate research. In collaboration with STEM Chairpersons in the College of Arts and Sciences, I have contributed to the development of a STEM Center of Excellence for Active Learning which includes a Faculty Community of Practice for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. I have organized and sponsored numerous professional development activities for faculty and students at NC A&T, high school students and teachers, and community college faculty. I am the recipient of several recognitions and awards, including a Ford Foundation Fellowship, NC-Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Outstanding Mentor Award, NC A & T State University College of Arts and Sciences Award for Excellence in Teaching, UNC Board of Governor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, and I am happy to be a member of the Vision and Change Leadership Fellows. 

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