Virginia-North Carolina Alliance for Minority Participation

2021 VA–NC Alliance Retreat

March 29, 2021

Virginia–North Carolina Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Retreat

Distinguished Speaker

Hosted Virtually by Johnson C. Smith University

Due to the constraints of COVID-19 a retreat will be held for VA–NC Alliance students, staff, and faculty instead of a traditional symposium. The VA–NC Alliance Retreat will be held from 9:00 am - 1:00 pm EST.  This event will be an opportunity for attendees to recharge and network with peers from partner institutions. The Distinguished Speaker is Ms. Joan Higginbotham a former astronaut with NASA.

Retreat Video:

Individuals may access a recording of the entire event (approximately 3.25 hours) on YouTube.


Download a copy of the agenda, details can also be found below.

Monday, March 29, 2021

09:00 am – 09:15 am

LSAMP Opening Ceremony

Audience: All


Dr. Sunil Gupta, Program Director of JCSU-LSAMP, Johnson C. Smith University

Dr. Vijaya Gompa, Dean of College of STEM, Johnson C. Smith University; and

Dr. Kevin McDonald, Principal Investigator and Vice President for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Community Partnerships, University of Virginia.

09:15 am – 10:30 am

Session One Breakout Rooms

Audience: Students and Guests

Panel moderators:

Dr. Brian Hunt, Associate Professor of Mathematics and Ms. Dana Battle, Undergraduate Student, Johnson C. Smith University


Coping with the Pandemic as a Student followed by Graduate School and Industry Opportunities (9:15 am – 9:55 am)


Dr. Siddhi Gupta, Infectious Disease Physician, Novant Healthcare, Charlotte, NC; and

Ms. Paulette Plummer, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Executive Director at Cathartic Counseling Services, Charlotte, NC.


Graduate School and Industry Recruiters (10:00 am – 10:30 am)


Ms. Sandra Penaherrera, United States Department of Energy; and

Dr. Joe Pitula, University of Maryland Eastern Shore.


Audience: Project Directors and Staff

VA–NC Alliance Partner Meeting

10:30 am – 10:45 am                   


10:45 am – 11:45 am         

Session Two Breakout Rooms

Audience: Students and Guests

Panel moderator:

Dr. Brian Hunt, Interim Chair of the Department of Computer Science, Johnson C. Smith University


VA–NC Alliance Alumni Pathways to Excellence in STEM


Mr. Chiron Anderson, Iowa State University;

Mr. David Gonzalez, University of Pennsylvania;

Ms. Briana James, Virginia Commonwealth University;

Dr. Corey Johnson, University of North Carolina at Asheville;

Mr. Bernard Smith, Microsoft; and

Ms. Alia Wofford, Howard University.


Audience: Faculty and Staff

Introduction to the Inclusive Excellence Framework

Dr. Kevin McDonald, Principal Investigator and Vice President for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Community Partnerships, University of Virginia; and

Mx. Rachel Spraker, Senior Director for Equity and Inclusive Excellence, University of Virginia.

11:45 am – 12:00 pm            


12:00 pm – 12:30 pm            

Distinguished Speaker

Introduction: Ms. Mattie Marshall, Program Coordinator, Johnson C. Smith University

Remarks: Ms. Joan Higginbotham, Astronaut and Engineer, NASA

Biography: Ms. Joan Higginbotham graduated from Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, Chicago, Illinois, in 1982. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in 1987, a Master’s Degree of Management from Florida Institute of Technology in 1992, and a Master’s in Space Systems from Florida Institute of Technology in 1996.

12:30 pm – 12:45 pm   

Closing Remarks

Ms. Kristin Morgan, Program Director, VA–NC Alliance; and

Mr. Maurice Walker, Program Coordinator, VA–NC Alliance.