GG Scholars Cohort


2020 – 2021 Cohort

We are excited to introduce the new 2020 – 2021 Cohort of Genetics & Genomics Scholars.  These PhD students are from multidisciplinary fields and will participate in a first-year core curriculum that integrates foundational conceptual training in genetics and genome-scale techniques with big data analysis and professional development.

GG Scholars benefit from:

  • A vibrant cohort-focused graduate community
  • Innovative training and professional development
  • Research mentors from over 150 university faculty spanning 27 departments and 6 colleges
  • State-of-the-art facilities
  • Financial support provided, including tuition and benefits
  • Diverse career support via network of industry partners and programs in education and policy



Cole Butler

Biomathematics | 1st Year

I was born and raised in Auburn, ME. I study mathematics at the University of Maine, where I will graduate with a BS. I am fascinated with mathematical epidemiology, or the use of mathematics to study the spread and control of infectious diseases.

Nicole Choquette

Crop Science | 2nd Year | PI – Jim Holland

I was born in Albuquerque, NM and moved to Urbana, IL when I was five. I received my B.S. degree in Earth, Society, and Environmental Sustainability in 2016 and a M.S. degree in Plant Biology in 2019 from the University of Illinois. From 2013-2018, I competed as a varsity member of the Fighting Illini Cross Country and Track & Field team. I am presently pursuing a PhD in the Crop Science department in Dr. Jim Holland’s lab working on genomic selection for adaptation of tropical maize for temperate environments.

Uche Chimeh

Genetics | 2nd Year | PI – David Aylor

I was born in Lagos, Nigeria and got a BA in Biochemistry from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA. I also have an MS in Pharmaceutical Sciences from North Carolina Central University in Durham. I’m a first-year student in the Genetics PhD program at NSCU and recently joined the Aylor lab, where I’ll be studying the GxE effect of diethylstilbestrol on reproductive development in Collaborative Cross mice. I’m broadly interested in the genetic basis of disease susceptibility and health disparities, particularly in people of African descent.

Ashley Connors

Toxicology | 1st Year

I grew up in Steilacoom, WA, and earned her BS from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA, where I double-majored in biology and chemistry, as well as minored in environmental studies. Recently, I am assisting with neuroendocrinology research at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, OR.  At NCSU, I plan to do research in the fields of environmental and molecular toxicology.

Megan Dillon

GG Scholars | 1st Year

I am originally from Virginia Beach, VA. I am graduating from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, VA in May with my BS in biology. I am entering the GGS program unaffiliated with a degree program. My research interests include microbiology and conservation genetics, all with a focus on ecology and evolution.

Nico Lara

Crop Science | 1st Year 

I am from Wooster, Ohio. I graduated from Oberlin College in 2018 with a bachelor of arts in Biology and double minors in Hispanic studies and Biochemistry.  Currently, I am working at the Ohio State University in a bioprocessing lab. I will be joining Crop Science in the fall at NCSU, and am interested in crop improvement via genetics, especially for climate resilience.

Jessica Martinez-Baird

Genetics | 1st Year

I am from Knoxville TN.  I graduated from the University of Tennessee with a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife and Fisheries Science with a concentration in Wildlife Health. After graduation, I joined Oak Ridge National Laboratory to develop genetic engineering tools for non-model bacterial organisms. I grew up in the Knoxville/East Tennessee area, and can’t wait to cross the mountains and start my PhD journey at NCSU in the Genetics program. I have a diverse research background, but am interested in continuing my research with microbial genetics or expanding out to eukaryotic genetics and developmental biology.

Madison Moore

Functional Genomics | 2nd Year | PI – José Bruno-Barcena

Madison was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, and grew up in Denver, North Carolina. She graduated from Western Carolina University in 2019 with dual B.S. degrees in forensic biology and chemistry. Immediately after graduating, she was accepted into the Functional Genomics Ph.D. program at NC State. Currently, she is in Dr. José Bruno-Barcena’s lab pursuing her research interests in studying the gut microbiome to better understand the impacts of dysbiosis on human health.

Jane Petzoldt

Entomology | 2nd Year | PI – Steve Frank

I am an Entomology PhD student at NC State in the lab of Dr. Steve Frank, where I am investigating how nitrogen deposition from fossil fuel combustion affects street trees, and how this supplemental nitrogen may have bottom-up consequences for associated arthropod communities in urban ecosystems. I grew up on a small farm in the Finger Lakes region of NY, and received my BA in Biology and Environmental Studies from Wesleyan University in 2013. In the intervening years, I developed and coordinated projects for the IPM Institute, a Madison, WI-based nonprofit, related to water quality, grower risk management, IPM, and organic agriculture. I also spent time as a research coordinator for a multi-institutional maize breeding project at UW-Madison. From 2016-19 I served as a research technician for Cornell AgriTech, where I provided technical and logistical support for shrub willow and industrial hemp breeding programs

Madison Polera

Biology | 2nd Year | PI – Scott Belcher

I was born in Omaha, Nebraska before moving around the country, to Ramstein, Germany and Exmouth, Western Australia with the United States Air Force. I completed my Bachelor of Science degree in marine biology in 2013 and Master of Science degree in marine biology in 2016 at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. My research interests include understanding how environmental contaminants are impacting vulnerable wildlife species. As a Doctoral student in the Biology Program, I’m seeking to apply state-of-the-art genomic, transcriptomics, proteomics, and analytical chemistry interdisciplinary approaches to best guide management of populations of threatened and endangered species.

Bradley Scholten

Biology | 1st Year

I grew up in Byron Center, Michigan. I’m coming from Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I received my BS in biology. My general research interests are ecology based. I’m particularly interested in the effects of anthropogenic disturbances (noise, habitat fragmentation, climate change) on animals and how they adapt to those disturbances.

Felicia Shepard

Genetics | 1st Year

I grew up in Raleigh, NC, but my family now lives in Wilmington, NC. I majored in food science and minored in horticulture during my undergrad at NC State. My favorite TV show is The Office, I love to be outdoors, and I enjoy cooking. My passion is agricultural biotechnology, specifically plant breeding. My research interests include plant genetic engineering, genomics, and bioinformatics. As a part of the Genetics Ph.D. Program I hope to better my community and the field of science and agriculture.

Destiny Tyson

Crop Science | 1st Year

I was born and raised in New Bern, North Carolina. I will receive my B.S. in Genetics and Plant and Soil Sciences with a concentration in Crop Biotechnology from North Carolina State University. During my undergraduate career, I worked under the mentorship of Ph.D. candidate Jennifer Baltzegar where I looked at population structure in maize weevils collected in Mexico using microsatellites. I further gained laboratory experience and developed laboratory skills working in a USDA wheat genotyping lab for Dr. Gina Brown-Guedira. I gained field experience during my international internship at CIMMYT in Mexico. I am starting my PhD program in the fall at NCSU in the Crop Science department. My research interests and ultimate career goal centers around the use of biotechnology to develop transgenic plants for crop improvement. Some of my hobbies include hiking and cooking.

Emma Vtipil

Plant Biology | 1st Year

Growing up in Cary, North Carolina, I attended NC State University for both of my undergraduate degrees and my master’s. As a participant in the NCSU Accelerated Bachelor’s/Master’s program, I majored in environmental sciences and plant biology as an undergraduate before completing my non-thesis master’s in plant biology. I am excited to continue my education at NCSU as a part of the Plant Biology PhD program and GG Scholars! My research interests are in evolutionary ecology, specifically in understanding how plants are responding to climate change through genetic adaptation.

Anna Yaschenko

Plant Biology | 1st Year

I grew up in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) for my undergraduate education. I studied Computer Science and Bioinformatics in undergrad, deciding to pursue a dual degree after my first semester at university. I am now pursuing a PhD in Plant Biology here at NC State. I am interested in how we can increase disease resistance of crop strains and improve the quality of crops. I am also interested in the genetic basis of plant adaptation and the mechanism by which plants respond to their environment. I am super excited to be a part of the Genetics and Genomic Scholars Program and the NC State community!