The Academic Guide Team



Sarah Eisensmith, Ph.D. - Academic Guide

Sarah Eisensmith is originally from Durham and chose to remain local with her family, dog, and chickens because she loves the people, places and communities that make Durham home. She is thrilled to partner with students, faculty, and staff to promote undergraduates’ holistic success during a transformative time in their lives. Sarah made her way back to Duke, her alma mater, by way of experience as an educator, clinician, and researcher. She is passionate about improving systems that contribute to disparities in opportunities and outcomes for learners of all ages. In service of this goal, Sarah has taught students ranging in age from middle school to graduate school, developed and facilitated state- and national trainings and curricula, and coordinated federally-funded research and evaluation projects. As a clinical and forensic social worker, Sarah has also worked with individuals and families struggling with stressors that impact their mood and relationships, as well as with families involved in the criminal legal and child welfare systems. Sarah received her MSW and PhD at the UNC School of Social Work and her MEd at Lesley University. In her free time, you can find Sarah recipe testing with her husband, attempting to weave, or in nature where she is learning to enjoy backpacking. 

Connect with Sarah:

Headshot Debbie Hughes

Debbie Hughes, Ph.D. - Senior Academic Guide

Before becoming Senior Academic Guide, Debbie served as a Learning Consultant in the Academic Resource Center. She is a native of northern Virginia who graduated from high school in northwest Florida, spent a year on a soccer scholarship at a small liberal arts college in western Tennessee, and transferred to Florida State University to complete her undergraduate education in History and German. Motivated in no small part by naive Anglophilia and a steady diet of Masterpiece Mystery!, she began studying British history first at Purdue University and then at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where she earned her Ph.D. in the history of the British Empire. With this education (and considerably less naivete) she went on to teach courses in British Imperial and European history at the University of Illinois, the University of Mississippi, and Guilford College in Greensboro, NC. In 2012, she pursued a Masters of Social Work degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Now, she uses this education and non-linear professional development to support Duke students as they learn to navigate their own unique academic paths in healthy and productive ways. When she is not in her office, you may find her listening to comedy and true crime podcasts, reading contemporary literature, or talking enthusiastically about her favorite music.

Connect with Debbie:

Katherine Jo, Ph.D. - Academic Guide

Katherine comes to the Research Triangle via Dallas, Boston, New York, and Champaign, IL, where she recently completed her Ph.D. in Philosophy of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Katherine has dedicated her career to supporting students as they navigate college and is interested in helping liberal arts students connect their academics to the rest of their lives. Prior to her doctoral studies, she was a college advisor for low-income students and worked for several years as a career counselor and manager of international internship programs at Columbia University. At Illinois, she led a first-year orientation program, taught in undergraduate courses, and was a teaching consultant for TAs and faculty. She loves getting to know students and helping them discover their strengths and discern their purpose. Katherine received her B.A. in Sociology from Harvard and her M.A. in Philosophy and Education from Teachers College, Columbia. She also spent a year studying philosophy at the University of Melbourne as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. In her leisure time, Katherine enjoys climbing, trying new recipes, book clubs, and learning to play tennis. She has visited 20 National Parks and can’t wait to visit more, but, for now, she is looking forward to exploring her new home state of North Carolina. Her older brother is a double Duke grad (Trinity and Law), and she has been a Blue Devils fan since she was 14.  

Connect with Katherine:

Thomas N. Phillips, II, M.A. - Academic Guide

Thomas is originally from a small town in southern Alabama, and he has worked in education around the world. After graduating with a BA in Spanish from Auburn University, he served in the Peace Corps in the Republic of Georgia and taught high school Spanish on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico and English in South Korea. He came to the Triangle to begin graduate studies in Romance Languages and Literatures at UNC-Chapel Hill, earning the MA in 2011. Following a year working with UNC’s study abroad program in Spain, he continued into the Ph.D. program and later became Peace Corps Campus Recruiter. Prior to joining the ARC as an Academic Guide, he was Assistant Director for Programs at DukeEngage, primarily advising students who planned independent projects. His professional interests include student development and motivation, civic engagement, and relationship building—he’ll genuinely ask you where you’re from as he’s either been there, wants to go there, or knows someone there! In his scarce spare time not spent writing his dissertation, he can be found exercising, cooking, or watching Jeopardy! and Auburn football with his husband and their dog.    

Connect with Thomas:

Joshua Sipe, M.A. - Academic Guide

Joshua is originally from a small town outside of Charlottesville, VA. As a first-generation college student, he attended Christopher Newport University where he completed a BA in History with minors in African American Studies and Leadership Studies. During his time at CNU, Joshua was involved in many things on campus including the Honors Program, the President’s Leadership Program, undergraduate research, study abroad, residence life, Greek life, and intramural sports. After graduation, Joshua worked at his Alma Mater as an Academic Success Coach for First Year students where he developed a passion for helping students define and find ways to succeed during their time in college. He then earned an MA in History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill focusing on race in the post-WWII South and race and college athletics. Joshua has worked at both UNC-CH and NC State supporting athletes as a content tutor for history, sociology, African, African American Diaspora Studies, and as an academic mentor. These experiences led Joshua to shift professional gears to pursue a career helping students navigate their time in college. Joshua believes approaching student success from a holistic perspective is essential which makes him excited to be a member of the Academic Guide team at Duke. Joshua is a sports fanatic. When not watching sports, Joshua and his wife, Jenn, enjoy exploring new restaurants, spending time with their dog, Rhett, and cat, Winnie. Additionally, Joshua spends his time reading, watching Netflix, playing the drums, and working out.

Connect with Joshua:

Chase Smith, Ph.D. - Academic Guide

Chase Smith grew up in Berkeley, CA and lived throughout Northern and Southern California before moving to North Carolina. He received his B.A. in English from the University of California, Los Angeles and his Ph.D. in Literature from the University of California, San Diego. His doctoral and postdoctoral work focused on colonialism and popular culture in Hawaii, which led him to study Hawaiian rodeo and nightclub cultures. His non-academic interests include documentaries, mockumentaries, photography, the blues, stand-up comedy, dog memes, fitness, and mindfulness. Since moving to Durham in 2017, Chase has been enjoying the hiking trails of the Triangle and learning to appreciate the region’s characteristic humidity. He is joined by his partner, Taylor, his labrador mix, Phaedra, and his cat, Mika. Chase is especially excited about helping students strike a balance between academic life and overall wellness.

Connect with Chase:

Erica Wallace, M.Ed - Academic Guide

Erica is a native North Carolinian, born and raised in Charlotte, NC. She is passionate about equity and diversity in higher education and the success and persistence of students from underrepresented backgrounds. Before joining the Academic Guide team, Erica managed peer mentoring programs that supported students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, and transfer students and also co-created a campus-wide initiative to support women of color at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Erica attended Davidson College for her undergraduate degree and majored in Sociology which sparked her interest in the intersections of gender, race, and class. After being encouraged to pursue a career in student affairs, she earned her M.Ed in Counselor Education (student affairs emphasis) from Clemson University. She is currently working on her Ph.D. in Educational Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Erica considers herself a “creative academic” who combines creativity, compassion, research, and lived experiences to support students and imagine the possibilities of higher education and student support. She is a true INFJ personality type and loves watching Marvel movies, listening to podcasts, and being her nephews’ favorite auntie. 

Connect with Erica: