The Graduate School recently profiled siblings and Sloan Scholars Tyler and Alexis Johnson. Tyler is a fifth-year Ph.D. student in physics, while Alexis is in her second year in chemistry.
Author: John Zhu Page 1 of 4
Cameron Darwin earned his Ph.D. in mathematics in September 2022, becoming the first Sloan Scholar at Duke to complete his degree.
Darwin came to Duke in fall 2019 as a member of the second cohort of Sloan Scholars recruited by the Duke University Center of Exemplary Mentoring. He received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Texas at Austin, where he became interested in differential geometry and physics.
His dissertation, completed under the guidance of Professors Kirsten Wickelgren and Lenhard Ng, was titled “Aspects of Quadratically Enriched Enumerative Geometry of Complete Intersections in Projective Space.”
Sloan Scholars Amanda Barreto and Kiarra Richardson, as well as Sloan Affiliate Aristotle Martin, presented posters on July 28 at the Early Start Poster Symposium organized by the Duke BioCoRE (Biosciences Collaborative for Research Engagement) Program. Dionna Gamble, a 2020 Ph.D. graduate in genetics and genomics, delivered the keynote address.
More Photos from the Symposium
Sloan Scholars Jessica Lalonde and Ethan LoCicero were among five Duke Ph.D. students named Burroughs Wellcome Fund Fellows under a pilot program to provide professional development support for students researching biological sciences, climate change, and human health. See the story on the Pratt School of Engineering website for details.
Duke UCEM Director Jacqueline Looney retired at the end of June after 30 exemplary years of service at the Duke Graduate School in support of graduate students. See the story on her career.
By John Zhu
When he was an undergraduate at Vanderbilt, Eric Yeats volunteered with an initiative to teach programming to K-12 students. In those sessions, students learned to write code that moved cartoon characters around a computer screen. While some of them had fun, Yeats felt something was missing from the experience—he wanted something more tangible than pixels on a screen.
Now entering his fourth year as a Ph.D. candidate at Duke, Yeats has spent the past few months creating the experience he envisioned by partnering with Durham Public Schools to offer a free robotics club for local middle schools that need more STEM-based afterschool opportunities.
“What really inspired me to do this project is I just really enjoy the process of engineering and problem-solving, and especially programming, and I just wanted to share how much I enjoy it with the kids at school,” said Yeats, a Sloan Scholar who is pursuing a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering in Professor Hai “Helen” Li’s lab.
Yeats pitched the idea to Durham Public Schools officials and received an enthusiastic response. For three months this spring, he spent three afternoons a week going to Lucas, Githens, and Lowe’s Grove Middle Schools for one- to two-hour afterschool sessions, teaching anywhere from five to 15 students how to program robots to avoid obstacles, understand voice commands, interact with each other, and even play soccer.
He also organized a Duke visit in May for the students, who toured the Shared Materials Instrumentation Facility and the Co-Lab Studio before ending their day at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“I wanted to start a program that was focused on programming and teaching engineering fundamentals, but was also fun,” Yeats said. “The goal wasn’t necessarily to have the students learn as much as possible about engineering, but to just see how fun it can really be.”
Funding for the robots came from a GradEngage Fellowship, which is part of the Purpose Project at Duke. The fellowship helps graduate students partner with local community organizations to develop solutions for pressing social issues. Yeats also got help from a couple of his labmates, as fellow Ph.D. students Brady Taylor and Edward Hanson helped facilitate some of the afterschool sessions and the students’ Duke tour.
While the GradEngage project period has ended, Yeats said Durham Public School officials are now talking to him about expanding the afterschool club into a yearlong program, securing other sources of funding, and getting more Duke students involved.
“The feedback has been good,” he said. “The students wrote me a card and they are going to mail it to me, so I’m really excited about that. And the site leaders apparently liked it a lot. The people from the administration at Durham Public Schools said, in their words, that the program got ‘rave reviews.’ ”
Video: Robots programmed by students in Yeats’ robotics club
This story is republished from the May 27, 2022, issue of the SloanConnect newsletter.
Sloan Leader Spotlight: Jackie Looney
After 30 years at Duke University, Senior Associate Dean Jackie Looney will retire next month. Dr. Looney was not only a critical part of the Sloan Scholar program at Duke, but she also led the creation of other programs that enhanced graduate student life on campus.
When she first arrived at Duke, she was a recent PhD graduate from Vanderbilt University. Initially an assistant dean for graduate recruitment, she took up the charge of creating services and finding resources to support graduate students. At first, she admits she didn’t entirely know the way, but she trusted her intuition (having just finished graduate school herself), and she knew how to do her research! She investigated other programs, looked at graduate schools across the country, and talked with students and faculty members about what they needed. With this approach, she used multiple voices and her own instincts to forge a path ahead.
Incorporating multiple voices was equally as important when launching the University Center of Exemplary Mentoring and Sloan Scholars program. At her suggestion, every academic department that signed on to the program had to commit two faculty champions. Additionally, she built in administrative support: every unit in the graduate school had to contribute, including academic affairs, finance, and admissions. This approach not only gave the Sloan Scholar program buy-in from the start, it also made it sustainable—multiple people in the graduate school contributed the program’s success.
To further its sustainability, Dr. Looney also aligned Sloan Scholars with the graduate school’s strategic plan, including recruitment, professional development, student well-being, and mentoring. She explains how this was a win-win: “While we wanted to have a program that was giving opportunity to underrepresented students, we also wanted to create a program that was going to benefit the larger graduate population at Duke.”
And Dr. Looney didn’t stop at Sloan Scholars. She also introduced a mentoring award, parental leave policy, and numerous other programs that benefit Duke students in real and meaningful ways.
“I am so proud to know that Duke is one of the graduate schools in the country that sets a standard—the standard of care for your students,” Dr. Looney says.
Those who work with her agree. “Having worked in higher education for over twenty years, there are people who stand out in my mind as true servants to the field. Jackie is one such person,” says Lorelle Espinosa, program director for higher education at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “Jackie is on my short list of individuals to reach out to when in need of guidance. She is deeply passionate and skilled at advancing our mutual goals advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM higher education—I am indeed lucky to have her in my corner, and so is Sloan!”
Dr. Looney encourages students to approach their graduate work with similar tenets to her own career:
- Collaborate. Create a board of directors for your graduate career: a faculty advisor for academic requirements, a staff person for the ins and outs of the department, a senior grad student for a tutor and friend. “You can’t get everything that you need as a graduate student from one individual. Number one, you’re going to wear that person down. Number two, someone who’s comfortable helping you navigate the academic requirements may not be comfortable helping you navigate the personal matters,” she says.
- Reach out. Become engaged with the university, with the graduate school, with student groups, and with the community. Dr. Looney encourages student groups to reach across disciplines, across schools, and to bring other students in the mix. Broadening your view to include other people, other interests, and other members of your community will energize your work in the lab.
- Most importantly, have mentors. “The one thing that I know to be true about good mentoring is that when students have it, they are more productive, they become more involved in their departments, and they become more involved in the life of the university,” she observed. “They are more satisfied with their programs, where they are, what they’re doing.”
The Sloan Scholars program at Duke and other University Centers of Exemplary Mentoring have benefited from Dr. Looney’s vision, persistence, and wisdom. Thanks to her, graduate students—Sloan Scholars and otherwise—have greater opportunities and more fulsome support systems.
Sloan Scholar Eduardo Ortega and Sloan UCEM Affiliate Aristotle Martin were among the Duke Ph.D. students who received honorable mentions for the prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships for 2021.
Ortega is a Ph.D. student in electrical and computer engineering with a concentration in hardware security. His research focuses on understanding how emerging computational technology may be pivoted as a cryptographic scheme for hardware security primitives. He is a member of the fall 2021 cohort of Sloan Scholars.
Martin is a Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering. He is part of the inaugural cohort of Sloan UCEM Affiliates, a new initiative launched by the Duke University Center of Exemplary Mentoring in fall 2021 to expand its support to more students. His research focuses on using supercomputers to simulate blood flow in patient-specific vascular geometries at cellular resolution.
Among the Duke UCEM’s 40 Sloan Scholars and eight Sloan UCEM Affiliates, seven have received NSF GRFs, and four others have earned honorable mentions.
Ten Sloan Scholars presented short talks about their research at the 2022 Duke UCEM Research Summit on February 17. Now in its third year, the summit offers an opportunity for Sloan Scholars to present their research relatively early in their graduate school careers. As part of their professional development, the Scholars also received coaching on their presentations before the summit.
Howard Conyers (Ph.D.’09 Mechanical Engineering) delivered the keynote address, speaking about his professional experience as a NASA engineer and a pitmaster and barbecue enthusiast.
Watch the Summit
Jump to Specific Presentations
- Judith Dominguez, Mechanical Engineering
- Cameron Darwin, Mathematics
- Samantha Howell, Civil & Environmental Engineering
- Yasmin Roye, Biomedical Engineering
- Daniel Santana, Chemistry
- Antonia Bruce, Chemistry
- Kyle Pinheiro, Computer Science
- Jaleesia Amos, Civil & Environmental Engineering
- Jafer Vakil, Chemistry
- Lillian Ekem, Biomedical Engineering
- Howard Conyers, Keynote Speaker
Jacqueline Looney, director of the Duke UCEM, recently spoke to The Chronicle of Higher Education about lessons learned in the 30 years she spent recruiting and supporting graduate students of color:
Faculty involvement was — and still is — the single most important part of this strategy. Most of my first few years on the job were spent meeting with, and listening to, faculty members across departments to learn what they looked for in prospective students.
Read the full interview at https://www.chronicle.com/article/lessons-from-a-career-spent-recruiting-graduate-students-of-color.