Meet our 2022 Orientation Ambassadors, a multidisciplinary team of graduate students who are working with The Graduate School to plan and implement the 2022 Graduate Orientation!

Our Orientation Ambassadors are working toward their master’s degree or Ph.D. and represent a variety of areas of study. Each ambassador brings their own life experience and backgrounds to Carolina and are a resource for you as you launch your graduate career. Feel free to contact them with questions.

Stefani Baca-Atlas

Stefani Baca-Atlas (she/her/hers)

PhD candidate, School of Social Work

Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona


About Stefani: Prior to coming to UNC, I worked as a social worker with survivors of human trafficking. I returned to work on a PhD because I want to better understand the ways racist policies and structures create risk for sexual violence and exploitation – and to identify strategies that will promote a just and equitable society. In my downtime, you’ll find me teaching Kitty to conduct literature reviews.

Advice for incoming students: First, I suggest creating a system for annotating your journal articles early in your studies, and color code it if possible. Future-You will appreciate any semblance of order when you start writing your thesis/dissertation. Second, I encourage everyone you to find your person or people wherever they may be across campus. Find the people who will lift you up when you hit roadblocks, who will offer advice when you need it, who will bring you coffee after you pull an all-nighter. Finally, when you come up against challenges, remember that it’s supposed to be tough, and you’re supposed to be here!

Peter Dykeman-Bermingham

Peter Dykeman-Bermingham (he/him/his)

PhD candidate, Department of Chemistry, College of Arts and Sciences

Hometown: Nashua, New Hampshire


About Peter: I started graduate school after working for two years at a biotech startup in Boston. I’ve gone rock climbing a couple times, and I'm slowly learning to like biscuits.

Advice for incoming students: Regularly see/talk to at least one friend who isn't a grad student.

Alex Goldych

Alex Goldych (she/her/hers)

PhD student, Department of Romance Studies (French language and literature), College of Arts and Sciences

Hometown: Syracuse, New York


About Alex: I graduated from Colgate University in 2019 and then started at UNC in fall of 2019. Outside of school I love to go hiking and explore the beautiful area that we live in with my dog Crush (named for the turtle from Finding Nemo). I also like to crochet when I can find the time. I spend a lot of my time tasting the amazing food and drink that there is around the Triangle, and I think I might be becoming a foodie. On campus you can find me at workout classes (10/10 would recommend) or frantically running to catch my bus after said workout class.

Advice for incoming students: I think that balance is the key to grad school. Use that free gym and therapy (seriously when will you have that again!) and don't spend all of your time working on school work. And you should talk to everyone you meet (including me!) because you never know where your new best friend is hiding.

Steven Houang

Steven Houang (he/him/his)

MSPH-PhD Student, Department of Health Behavior, Gillings School of Global Public Health

Hometown: San Francisco, California and Taipei, Taiwan


About Steven: I graduated from The New School in 2013 after taking 3 years off to work in restaurants, then worked for four years in public health research before starting graduate school at UNC. I am primarily interested in biological and social contributions and interactions in health disparities.

Advice for incoming students: My favorite way of finding out about campus events is via the free food Twitter account @PhreePhood

Melissa Lam-McCarthy

Melissa Lam-McCarthy (she/her/hers)

MPH student, Department of Nutrition, Gillings School of Global Public Health

Hometown:Dumfries, Virginia


About Melissa: Prior to returning to work in global health at UNC in 2017 and balancing my classes as an MPH student in the Nutrition concentration, I earned my culinary arts degree in New York City at the International Culinary Center (formerly the French Culinary Institute). I worked as a line cook and specialty food sales account manager there. I also have bachelor’s degrees in Anthropology and East Asian Studies from the University of Virginia. I have lived in Kamigoto, Japan, Bangkok, Thailand and Shanghai, China. Honolulu, Hawaii is another hometown to me. My partner and I moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina so I could be an assistant cheesemaker and cheesemonger. We have a cat daughter, named Honey (who was a rescue that came with her name that matches her personality), six beehives and a full garden of vegetables, herbs and flowers.

Advice for incoming students: It has been a long journey leaning on my support system of family, friends and mentors to get where I am today and persevering towards my degree. Be gentle on yourself and be willing to share how you are feeling. Sometimes things do not go as planned, but it is part of the journey. When in a time of transition, feeling excited and overwhelmed, think about your values, dreams and goals. As my former academic coordinator, the wise Jonathan Earnest, said, “Remember your why…Remember your why…Remember your why.”

Kierra Peak

Kierra Peak (she/her/hers)

PhD student, Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, Department of Allied Health Sciences, School of Medicine

Hometown: Fayetteville, North Carolina


About Kierra: I enjoy practicing mindfulness meditation, journaling, and safely attending open mics!

Advice for incoming students: Be sure to check out library services as there are plenty of resources that you have access to! It's very likely that you won't be aware of every single resource available to you, but you might as well set yourself up to familiarize yourself with some of the resources now for when you might need them later.

Thomas Persico

Thomas Persico (he/him/his)

Master of Public Administration student, School of Government

Hometown: Manalapan, New Jersey


About Thomas: Fun Fact—I was an advisor to the nation of Sri Lanka at the United Nations in New York.

Advice for incoming students: Get involved in extracurricular activities no matter your school or program. Meeting others and learning about the world is what I have cherished most from joining clubs and group organizations. What makes UNC-Chapel Hill great is the large swath of diverse people from all over the world stationed within one university working toward similar goals.

Rebecca Rice

Rebecca Rice (she/her/hers)

PhD student, Environmental Sciences and Engineering, Gillings School of Global Public Health

Hometown: Shreveport, Louisiana


About Rebecca: I enjoy most types of crafting. I taught myself how to quilt and finished my first queen sized quilt last year.

Advice for incoming students: Be kind to yourself. Remember that this is a journey and make time for the road stops along the way, i.e., meeting other students outside of your department and attending trainings that interests you.

Brooke Staley

Brooke Staley (she/her/hers)

PhD Student in Epidemiology in the Gillings School of Global Public Health

Hometown:New York City & Oakland, CA


About Brooke: I come from a family of artists but chose to ~leave~ the family business to focus on science. However, I am deeply interested in the blend between the arts and sciences, particularly public health. On another note, I used African dance to help keep me sane during grad school at UNC. Sometimes as students, we feel pressure to be or aspire towards perfection or excellence. With dance, I didn’t have to be perfect – I simply lived and enjoyed.

Advice for incoming students: UNC offers sooooo many resources to help you maintain/survive/thrive professionally and personally – take advantage of it all. Also, the graduate school experience can be particularly isolating and siloed, find your community/support (internal to your program/department/school/university & beyond). Having community in school can be especially useful to validate things that you will likely experience as a grad student. Outside support will help keep you grounded and remind you there is more to life than school. You got this & We got you!

Graham Zulu

Graham Zulu (he/him/his)

PhD student, School of Social Work

Hometown: Lusaka, Zambia


About Graham: Graham is an international PhD student of social work from Zambia and a research assistant at the Global Social Development Innovations center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Prior to arriving at UNC-Chapel Hill, Graham was a research analyst at the Missouri Department of Corrections where he performed highly specialized and complex analyses, research studies, and prepared detailed reports using tables, charts, and narratives. Graham holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in development studies and demography from the University of Zambia, and a master’s degree in social work from Washington University in St. Louis. Graham has an excellent multicultural understanding with proficiency in English, Cinyanja, Finnish, and Turkish. He lives in Chapel Hill and has also lived in Turkey, Missouri, and Zambia. Graham likes working out in the woods, taking photos of nature, cooking, and reading history, religion, philosophy, and science books.

Advice for incoming students: Be open-minded, embrace being a student and accept failure as a valuable learning experience.