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Cameron Darwin

Cameron Darwin Becomes 1st Duke Sloan Scholar to Earn Ph.D.

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.”

Richardson and Barreto

Sloan Scholars, Affiliate Present at Early Start Poster Symposium

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

Jessica Lalonde and Ethan LoCicero

Lalonde, LoCicero Named Burroughs Wellcome Fund Fellows

Jessica Lalonde and Ethan LoCicero

Jessica Lalonde and Ethan LoCicero

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.

Jacqueline Looney

Duke UCEM Director Featured in SloanConnect Newsletter

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.

Jackie Looney with two Sloan Scholars

Jacqueline Looney with Sloan Scholars Celine Robinson (left) and Natalie Rozman

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.

Ortega and Martin

2 Duke UCEM Students Earn Honorable Mentions for NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

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.

Martin

Martin

Ortega

Ortega

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.

Icons of test tubes, microscope, beaker, circuit symbol, atom, pie, and close tag symbol

Video: 2022 Duke UCEM Research Summit

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

Register for 2022 Duke UCEM Research Summit, Feb. 17

2022 Duke UCEM Research SummitThe Duke University Center of Exemplary Mentoring (UCEM) will host its annual Research Summit on February 17 at 3:00 p.m. Ten Sloan Scholars—select Ph.D. students from Duke’s physical sciences and engineering programs—will deliver short virtual talks about their research.

Members of the Duke community are welcome to attend. Register at https://duke.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJMtd-mgqDopGN34l9r2sOGk8vfUNO0CT_EH.

In addition to Sloan Scholars’ presentations, the event will also feature a keynote address by Howard Conyers (Ph.D.’09 Mechanical Engineering), an aerospace engineer at NASA and a pitmaster and barbecue enthusiast who has hosted a food show on PBS and been featured in the New York Times and other national publications.

Event Program (PDF)

Keynote Speaker

Howard Conyers, Ph.D.’09 Mechanical Engineering

Howard ConyersHoward Conyers, Rocket Scientist and Pitmaster from Paxville, South Carolina, is the founder of Conyers Family BBQ, Gumbo Jubilee, and the 100 Acres Project. After over 20 years of learning the history of the South and earning a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, he has worked for NASA for over 10 years.

He officially launched Conyers Family BBQ LLC in 2016 to be a pitmaster, cultural food educator, and STEM expert in the New Orleans area. His emphasis quickly became cultural educational dinners, media productions, and demonstrations. In 2018, Dr. Conyers hosted and co-produced the PBS Digital Studios show Nourish, and it was awarded the Telly Award and a Webby Nominee in its pilot season.

For his combined interest, Dr. Conyers was one of 25 people recognized as a Southerner of the South by Southern Living in 2018. In 2020, he partnered with Kingsford’s Charcoal to lead the development of the Preserve the Pit Program, which provides training and mentorship for barbecue professionals.

Dr. Conyers has conducted much research in validating the oral history of barbecue, distilling, and Southern food culture, and he has uncovered foundations of Southern foodways that were shaped by Black hands. Renowned for his knowledge of American barbecue and Southern foods, he is showcasing that African Americans have heavily shaped American barbecue despite not getting their proper credit, while also exhibiting their ingenuity. As a product of the deep rural South, he is taking important lessons of the past and applying them to the present.

Sloan Scholars at SHPE

Sloan Scholars Represent Duke at SHPE

Sloan Scholars Natalie Rozman, Gavin Gonzales, and Alex Mangus were among the Duke representatives at the 2021 Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers National Convention on November 10-14 in Orlando. Typically drawing more than 9,000 attendees, the event is the largest gathering of Hispanics in STEM every year. (Photos courtesy of Natalie Rozman and Gavin Gonzales)

SHPE

Sloan Scholars Natalie Rozman, Gavin Gonzales, and Alex Mangus (second, third, and fourth from left) with the rest of the Duke contingent at the SHPE National Convention.

Sloan Foundation Renews $1 Million Grant to Duke UCEM

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation will continue to fund a Duke University program to increase the number of underrepresented minority Ph.D. graduates in the physical sciences and engineering, approving a three-year, $1 million grant renewal.

The grant, supplemented by funding from Duke’s Office of the Provost and The Graduate School, will support the University Center of Exemplary Mentoring (UCEM) at Duke, one of eight such centers in the country.

“We are very grateful for the Sloan Foundation’s continued support and encouragement for this critical effort,” said Duke Graduate School Dean Paula D. McClain, one of the co-principal investigators for the Duke UCEM. “This funding will help us build on the momentum that has been generated in the UCEM’s first three years and keep working toward making Duke a more diverse, inclusive community.”

In its first three years (2017-2020), the Duke UCEM met its goal of recruiting 30 Sloan Scholars into Ph.D. programs in chemistry, computer science, mathematics, physics, statistical science, biomedical engineering, civil and environmental engineering, electrical and computer engineering, and mechanical engineering and materials science. Sloan Scholars receive scholarships to support their academic progress and enrichment. The UCEM also creates robust programming and support networks to advance their academics, mentoring, professional development and well-being.

“One of the guiding principles of this initiative has been that we cannot stop at just recruiting more underrepresented students to Duke; we have to make sure they are supported during their time here,” said Calvin Howell, a professor in physics and the UCEM’s other co-principal investigator. “So we have been very intentional about developing resources, building a support infrastructure, and identifying individuals to provide multiple layers of mentoring for our Sloan Scholars.”

That work has been a joint effort by The Graduate School, the Office of the Provost, Counseling and Psychological Services, and the nine affiliated Ph.D. programs (soon to be 10 with the addition of the University Program in Material Science and Engineering this year). The UCEM’s day-to-day operation is led by Graduate School staff in close collaboration with faculty champions and directors of graduate studies in each program.

The center’s work has benefitted students and programs beyond just those directly affiliated with the UCEM, said Senior Associate Dean Jacqueline Looney, the Duke UCEM director.

For instance, the UCEM has helped The Graduate School make important enhancements to its holistic admission process, and has held workshops that were open to students, faculty, and staff from other STEM programs. Various elements of the UCEM’s work have also served as models for components of other Duke efforts to better support students from a diverse range of backgrounds.

“The first three years of the UCEM have been encouraging because of the progress we have made, humbling because of the insights we have gained about the significant work that remains, and invigorating because of the enthusiasm from the faculty, staff, and administrators involved with the program,” Looney said. “They recognize how important this work is to building a better university and strengthening Duke’s scientific research, and they are committed to doing the work.”

 

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is a philanthropic, not-for-profit grantmaking institution based in New York City. Established in 1934 by Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr., then-president and chief executive officer of General Motors, the foundation makes grants in support of original research and education in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) and economics. This grant was made through the foundation’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion program, which aims to increase the quality, diversity, inclusion, and equity of higher education in STEM fields.

The Duke Graduate School provides research-based graduate training that prepares students to thrive and lead in a wide variety of professions. Its 2,500 Ph.D. students and 1,000 master’s students are enrolled across more than 80 programs, where they work closely with more than 1,300 graduate faculty members in small, collaborative research settings, pushing academic boundaries, offering fresh perspectives in research approaches and giving voice to emerging fields.

Eric Yeats

Yeats’ Paper Accepted by Leading Conference in Machine Learning

Sloan Scholar Eric Yeats is the first author on a paper recently accepted to the International Conference on Machine Learning (ICML) 2021. The paper is titled “Improving Gradient Regularization using Complex-Valued Neural Networks.”

The ICML is the leading international academic conference in machine learning. During this year’s conference, Yeats will deliver a presentation, and his paper will be published in the conference proceedings.

Yeats, who came to Duke in fall 2019 as a member of the second cohort of Sloan Scholars, is pursuing his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering under the guidance of Helen Li, the Clare Boothe Luce Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. His research interest centers around neuromorphic computing—the design of novel brain-inspired computer hardware and algorithms for data-driven learning. Yeats is interested in pushing the performance boundaries of low-power, data-driven computing applications to make artificial intelligence more secure to malicious adversaries.

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