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JEDI Leadership Fellows Program


Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Leadership Fellows program: Fostering the development of emerging leaders in justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.


JEDI Leadership Fellows Program Description: The current climate of heightened awareness has highlighted the importance of training future leaders to develop inclusive and supportive communities. Fellows design and implement collaborative projects to create long-term sustainable change on campus and beyond. Each cohort will split into teams to develop collaborative projects and initiatives based on the selected cohort’s interests and proposed project ideas. Fellowship training program topics include broadly applicable skills in communication, leadership, and policy.

JEDI Leadership Fellows are competitively selected, motivated PhD candidates and postdocs looking to develop into Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) leaders. Selected candidates have demonstrated commitment to broaden impacts across, but not limited to, historically marginalized groups or other marginalized identities. Selected candidates comprise the inaugural JEDI Leadership Fellows Program cohort and begin the establishment of a JEDI alumni community.

Interested in applying? Look for a call for applications annually in the late Fall. Currently applications are OPEN for the 2022-2023 cohort, and we hope you’ll consider applying! See application requirements below.

Note: We encourage Senior Graduate Students and Postdocs to apply, if selected you will remain eligible to complete the training virtually with your Cohort after completing your graduation requirements or contract term, regardless of your affiliation with UNC at that time.

To apply click here: Jedi Leadership Fellows Program Application


Oscar Arroyo is a graduate student in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences program at UNC Chapel Hill. He is originally from Southern California where he first became involved in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts as an undergraduate at UC San Diego. As an undergraduate at UCSD he worked towards supporting retention rates for underrepresented students by mentoring and tutoring other Latinx students, and would continue this work as an alumnus. He is a firm believer in Pan-Americanism and believe that the people of the Americas should work towards a mutual respect and understanding of each other. In accordance with this goal he came to North Carolina so that he could serve and learn about a community outside of his native California. He hopes to help make UNC a more diverse and inclusive campus for everyone, and in doing so work towards a more equitable society.




Mark Geisler is a graduate student in the Biological & Biomedical Sciences Program currently rotating through different labs, and he is interested in research on how changes in chromatin affect gene expression. He is originally from Aurora, Oregon and outside of work enjoy taking his dog Winston on hikes, cooking, and running. His experiences with diverse perspectives to this point have centered around mentoring and fostering mentoring environments for underrepresented minorities, first-generation, transfer, and out of state undergraduates. Moving forward he hopes to help increase access to and retention of URM undergraduate students in research settings as that is a key step in jump starting careers in science and higher education.


CL Graves is a postdoctoral fellow in the Adams School of Dentistry at UNC whose academic research focuses on understanding the biological consequences of childhood stress on gut health and immune mediated diseases. She began her academic career as a first-generation student at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia where she first became interested in researching immune-mediated diseases after being diagnosed with multiple autoimmune conditions while a junior in college. It was also at Georgia Tech where she first became a passionate student advocate by serving as the founding chapter president of Active Minds at Georgia Tech, an organization committed to bringing mental health awareness to college campuses.





Juanita Limas (Planning Committee Member) is originally from Des Moines, Iowa, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry from the University of Iowa. She served 2 ½ years in the Peace Corps as a Community Health Volunteer in Nicaragua. She then pursued a master’s degree in Biomedical Sciences at Barry University, and began a career as a full-time community college instructor teaching anatomy and physiology to pre-med, nursing, and dental hygiene students. During her tenure at Kirkwood Community College (7 years), she became the founding LSAMP Campus Director and recruited and led the first cohort, and initiated Kirkwood’s first STEM club. At UNC, Juanita is active in community outreach as a graduate student including: as past-president of UNC SACNAS; member of Carolina First-Generation PhD student group (mentoring other 1st gen undergrads); as a leader and participant in UNC’s Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) program (recruiting new biomedical PhD students); and as a community speaker about her Peace Corps experience. She started a nationwide initiative at HHMI (TAE Consortium) addressing mental health in academia following the death due to suicide of a Gilliam Fellow in her cohort. As a proven researcher ($150k+ funding including the HHMI Gilliam Fellowship and Burroughs Wellcome GDEP Fellowship), Juanita’s research focuses on understanding the mechanisms of oncogenic DNA replication stress. She has authored and/or co-authored 6 peer-reviewed publications. Juanita wishes to utilize her leadership and communication skills as a scientist and a teacher to be able to work with and direct teams focused on success. When she isn’t in the lab, she is spending time bike riding, reading, or hiking and is a fan of trashy soap operas.


Chad Lloyd (Planning Committee Member)is a third-year Ph.D candidate in Marine Sciences at UNC, where his research focuses on carbon cycling and developing new methods to study carbon transformations in marine sediments. He received a dual degree in Chemistry (B.S.) and Anthropology (B.A.) with a minor in Forensic Sciences from The University of North Carolina at Wilmington (Go Seahawks!). Before entering the Department of Marine Sciences, he also received an M.S. in Chemistry from Carolina, where his research focused on drug evaluation using three-dimensional tumor models. He is passionate about improving higher education—through encouraging equitable professional development opportunities for all careers—and environmental research (specifically incorporating the use of MakerSpaces in environmental design and engineering). Chad is also involved in different initiatives on campus to increase diversity and perspective in higher education, including making higher education more accessible to underrepresented groups. Outside of school, Chad enjoys painting, playing basketball, building Lego sets, rock climbing, reading, and hiking with his friends.




Anandita Pal (Planning Committee Member)is a doctoral candidate in Nutritional Biochemistry at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. She studies how specialized pro-resolving lipid mediators improve immunometabolic outcomes. As an interdisciplinary scholar, she is passionate about social justice, science communication and engaging communities. She believes that creating a diverse platform with different viewpoints is the best approach to overcome any obstacle and make progress.


Anna Parker is a PhD student in the Biology Department at UNC – Chapel Hill. She studies climate change and how rising temperatures affect plant-insect interactions. Hailing from northeast Ohio, she has traveled across the country during her academic training, receiving her undergraduate degrees from the University of Rochester and her Master’s degree from the University of Wyoming. Chapel Hill is the warmest place she’s ever lived, and she is fully appreciating the hot summers and proximity to the beach! At UNC, she is actively involved with the Biology Safe Spaces Committee, the Biology Graduate Students’ Association, and the Carolina Biology Education Research Group. After grad school, she aims to become a professor at a research institution, where she will continue to investigate how warming climates will affect the natural world. She hopes to use this position to help inspire the next generation of diverse biologists and make a positive impact on the culture associated with biological research. When she isn’t feeding caterpillars or coding in R, she is probably playing Dungeons and Dragons or board games with friends, hiking with her girlfriend, or tackling people on the rugby pitch.



Rachel Walmer (nee White) graduated from the University of Delaware in 2016 with a Bachelors degree in Biomedical Engineering. Currently, she is pursuing her PhD in Biomedical Engineering under the direction of Dr. Paul Dayton. Her work in the Dayton Lab focuses on clinical applications of contrast-enhanced ultrasound. Her research projects involve the use of targeted ultrasound contrast agents to monitor and predict response to chemotherapy, a technique known as ultrasound molecular imaging, as well as exploring the role of contrast-enhanced ultrasound for diagnosing lesions in patients with chronic kidney disease, and for the early detection of diabetic kidney disease. Rachel has most enjoyed and benefitted from the collaborative nature of her work. Her projects have enabled her to travel throughout the state, working alongside researchers from Wake Forest University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Duke University, and North Carolina State University. In addition to her research, she has gotten involved in various service and outreach opportunities with the department. Most notably, she has volunteered with and led the annual Biomedical Engineering Summer Camp in coordination with the Engineering Place at NC State, and served as the Science Outreach Coordinator for the joint Biomedical Engineering Graduate Student Association between NC State and UNC. Recently, she has joined the Diversity Committee newly established by the Biomedical Engineering Department, working on the Pipeline subcommittee to improve the access that Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students have to engineering and science. In her free time she enjoys indoor rock climbing, hanging out with her church community, and spending time outside.


Danielle Williams was born and raised in Southern California. Attending a PWI for her undergraduate education ignited her enthusiasm for creating inclusive spaces in higher education in STEM. She was heavily involved in advocacy and development of safe spaces for URMs throughout undergrad. In addition, she acquired resources and funding to support first generation college students in experiencing new career and research opportunities in STEM. Even in her post-bac at the University of Washington, she helped develop one of the first communities to support BIPOC individuals. She is excited to be apart of new DEI initiatives to develop inclusive, supportive communities here at UNC.


Sarah Yannarell (Planning Committee Member)is a senior graduate student in the Microbiology and Immunology Department at UNC-Chapel Hill. She studies the chemical and physical interactions of microbes in the soil. Sarah is originally from Pennsylvania, and she attended the University of Delaware for her undergraduate studies before attending UNC-Chapel Hill for graduate school. She has had the opportunity to study microbial communities across the world– one of her favorite experiences during graduate school was traveling to the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador for field work. She was also a DOE SCGSR Fellow and worked at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to use high-performance microbial imaging techniques and work closely with collaborators. Sarah is interested in pursuing a career in research and helping others access research and funding opportunities. Through the JEDI Leadership Fellows Program, she hopes to work closely with other Fellows to expand her perspective, foster an inclusive research environment, and contribute to her community.

Applications open for Academic Year 2022-2023!

To apply click here: Jedi Leadership Fellows Program Application

Inaugural JEDI Leadership Fellows Program: Announcing the JEDI Leadership Fellows Program

JEDI Leadership Fellows Cohort 1 Press Release – Celebrating JEDI Leadership Fellows (in press)


JEDI Cohort 1 Project Reports:

Check out what projects our JEDI Fellows have been working on below

Project Implementation Team: Team members supporting the following projects included: Anna Parker, Mark Geisler, Chad Lloyd, Dr. CL Graves, Dr. Anandita Pal, and Dr. Sarah Yannarell.


DEI Portal Project (Proposed by Anna Parker): Not sure where to go to find DEI work in your department, field, or led by fellow trainees? JEDI Fellows developed a solution to help organize the many resources available at UNC to help facilitate the search for DEI initiatives to find the best fit for trainees in search of such resources and groups! In order to coordinate DEI efforts across the University, this project identified the need to organize a one-stop-shop to locate the multitude of resources available across departments. This project collated information into a single portal compiling DEI-related information about those programs available to and serving the graduate and professional student communities in order to create a centralized information connection hub for both trainee- and department-led diversity committees and groups. Hosted and maintained on the Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSG) website, the newly released portal lists contact information and mission statements for each group, to facilitate collaboration between departments and programs. “We hope this webpage will facilitate connectivity between DEI-focused committees, in which resources, advice, and institutional knowledge can be shared and maintained,” Parker notes. The link to the GPSG-housed Diversity Equity and Inclusion Connection Portal was successfully launched in February 2022!

WISHR Project (Proposed by CL Graves): The Women in Science and Healthcare Research (WISHR) Peer Support Initiative based in the Adams School of Dentistry (ASOD) is a gender-inclusive research-focused group with the mission to foster a sense of well-being and belonging, facilitate collaboration, and support and advocate for the advancement of research-affiliated students, staff, residents, postdocs, and all-levels of faculty. Founded as a UNC JEDI Fellows Project, it also serves as a Peer Support Pod as part of the Carolina Peer Support Collaborative. The newly founded group is focused on executing social and networking events as well as professional development workshops that encourage inter-level collaboration and engagement with research projects affiliated with the ASOD. Since the initial organizing event in Fall 2021, the first networking event yielded more than 60 participants across research-levels and units, and planned future events include social and networking events, such as a Breakfast Research Club Social, and a Mentor-Mentee Networking event to help students interested in research pair with research mentors. One of the group’s founders, Dr. CL Graves, noted that, “to date, we have received wide support and enthusiasm across levels and departments.” We look forward to seeing this group continue to create meaningful and engaging events and encourage research-focused dialogue and collaborations!

Introducing New Trainees to Research Opportunities (Proposed by Mark Geisler):

Figure 1. Survey Response Results

Lack of awareness of research opportunities and lack of pay are two large hurdles for many undergraduate students interested in academic research. This inspired the team to design the INTRO (Introducing New Trainees to Research Opportunities) program. This program seeks to lower those hurdles and create more equitable access for students interested in research with little to no experience. Faculty and labs who wish to participate will commit to a paid 15-week research experience during the academic year. To pair students and faculty or other researchers in these labs, both parties will attend a mixer where researchers seeking undergraduate help can pitch a project or their lab’s research with a very short talk. There will be a mixer afterwards so interested students can meet and interact with faculty and researchers in an informal environment. The goal is to pair interested students, particularly under-represented minority students, with labs that are able to offer a one term research experience.

Of labs that were surveyed 64% were interested in participating this spring. The other 36% were undecided due to a variety of factors. Of labs that responded yes, 86% were able to offer that student a paid position and the other 14% were dependent on funding. The team is currently modifying the program design based on initial feedback and is also looking for a place to house the program to make this initiative sustainable. The team hopes to have the program’s first trial in this upcoming school year.

Project Implementation Team: Team members supporting the following project included: Danielle Williams, Oscar Arroyo, Dr. Juanita Limas, and Dr. Rachel (White) Walmer.

Figure Legend. BBSP admissions data. a) The average percentage of applications, interviews, and matriculations of students into the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program (BBSP) for the 2008-2021 admission cycles (top). The percentage of URM and non-URM applicants by admission cycle for 2008-2021 (bottom). b) The percentage of URM student matriculations into the BBSP for the 2008-2021 admission cycles compared to the North Carolina (NC) URM population. The black line indicates the projected NC URM population while the gold indicates census derived data. c) The percentage of Black student matriculations into the BBSP for the 2008-2021 admission cycles compared to the Black population in NC.


ADA Graduate Admissions Project (Proposed by Danielle Williams and Oscar Arroyo): In recent years there has been an increased interest in recruitment and retention of individuals from historically excluded populations to academia. Many institutional websites now have sections devoted towards diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives and strategic plans to increase the representation of historically excluded individuals. For example, the UNC School of Medicine’s (SOM) website states that the SOM aims to “build a more diverse community reflective of those we serve” with the goal of maintaining a diverse and inclusive environment. The admissions committees for the SOM’s Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program (BBSP) have already taken crucial first steps towards this aim by maintaining the proportion of qualified applicants from majority and underrepresented backgrounds that are selected at each step of the admissions process. An analysis of the admissions data for the BBSP revealed that the average proportion of matriculations for traditional applicants versus domestic minority applicants has remained relatively stable throughout the 2008-2021 admissions cycles. The data suggest that current efforts have not been sufficient to attain the SOM’s goal for diversity as the diversity of each matriculating class for this period is not representative of the population of North Carolina. This trend is extremely pronounced for the Black/African American student body.

This project sought to address the continued underrepresentation of historically excluded individuals in BBSP by advocating for the inclusion of student voices. The team proposed accomplishing this by integrating current graduate students into the admissions review process with an emphasis on the inclusion of current students from historically excluded populations. Eligible students must have advanced to candidacy, in order to have an intimate understanding of the qualities necessary to succeed as a graduate student at this institution. After extensive training by admissions staff, selected candidates worked closely with the admissions staff to holistically review applications from underrepresented populations. The new program, entitled the Admissions Diversity Advocate (ADA) program, was founded in Fall 2021 with an inaugural cohort of five ADA Fellows selected to serve as liaisons to admissions committees and advocate for strong applicants who they identified as having competitive skills and experience necessary to succeed in graduate school and the research enterprise. The 2022-2023 admissions cycle served as the pilot for this program and current plans seek to renew and expand this program for the coming year.