Current USNCO Mentors

The following faculty and students are serving as mentors for the 2022 USNCO program.

Learn how to become a mentor.

View Past Mentors

See who are serving as mentors for the past USNCO program since 1984.

Joseph Houck

Joseph Houck, Head Mentor

Joe was born and raised in Central Pennsylvania. He obtained a B.S. in Chemistry at Juniata College and a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. Upon graduation in 2013, he took a teaching position as Lecturer at the University of Maryland where he taught organic and general chemistry lectures and labs. He was the recipient of several teaching awards including the Dean’s Outstanding Lecturer Award and an Elevate Fellowship for course redesign. Now an Associate Teaching Professor at Penn State University, he teaches organic and general chemistry on campus and online. Outside of work he spends time with his wife and two children.


Laura Serbulea

Laura Serbulea, College Mentor

Laura Serbulea earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Bucharest, Romania, and her Ph.D. degree at the University of California, Los Angeles. She joined the faculty at the University of Virginia in 2012, where she is Associate Professor of Chemistry, General Faculty, and Director of Undergraduate Program. Dr. Serbulea is actively involved in the development of organic chemistry lecture and laboratory curricula, focusing on improving the coordination between the topics in the lecture course and the experiments that are carried out in the laboratory. Laura Serbulea received the All-University Teaching Award (2016) at University of Virginia, Mead Endowment Honored Faculty (2015) and several grants for STEM course redesign.


Esther Hines

Esther Hines, High School Mentor

Esther Hines was born in Lima, Peru and completed her B.S. degree in Chemistry at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. Esther earned a M.S. in Chemistry from the University of New Hampshire. While in graduate school, she was awarded the Lester A. Pratt Graduate Scholarship and the Albert Dianak award in recognition of excellence as a teaching assistant. Esther was a chemistry instructor at the University of North Carolina (Pembroke campus) for two years. Esther lived in Germany and Italy for four years, where she taught online undergraduate chemistry courses to members of the U.S. armed forces stationed around the world. Esther and her family settled in Massachusetts where she became a high school educator. She teaches AP Chemistry and Organic Chemistry at Billerica Memorial High School. She has been an advisor of her school’s chemistry club since 2006 and was inducted into the ACS Aula Laudis Society in May 2016 in recognition of her distinguished contributions to chemistry education.


Alec Zhu

Alec Zhu, Peer Mentor

Alec Chen Zhu is a member of the MIT class of 2025, and plans to dual major in chemistry, math, and counting. He is a member of the Wendlandt Lab, conducting research on reactions to manipulate sugars, presumably to make himself a sweeter person. His interests include piano, fancy tea, swimming, ice skating, kerbal space program (although he does not consider himself to be a pro gamer), cooking meatballs, and, commas,. When he asked his roommate what to write in his biography, his roommate replied, "Alec Chen Zhu is a member of the..."


Yitian Zhu

Yitian Zhu, Peer Mentor

Hi! I'm Yitian, and I participated in IChO in 2021. I love all fields of chemistry, though I especially enjoy inorganic, physical, and analytical chemistry. Currently, I am an undergraduate at MIT, and I am researching nanoparticles for medical treatment at the Koch Institute of Integrated Cancer Research. I'm also a member of the varsity sailing team and the symphony orchestra. In my free time, I like to crochet and ride my skateboard.


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