Sloan Scholars

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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.





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.

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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

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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

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)


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.

Celine Robinson

Robinson Named Energy Data Analytics Fellow

Celine Robinson, a Sloan Scholar, has been selected as an Energy Data Analytics Ph.D. Student Fellow by the Duke University Energy Initiative.

RobinsonRobinson is one of four Duke Ph.D. students in the 2021 cohort. The fellowship program is designed to produce scholars with expertise in both data science and energy application domains and enables collaboration across universities in the region. This year, the program also expanded to include Ph.D. candidates from North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Robinson came to Duke in fall 2018 and is pursuing her Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering under adviser Mark Borsuk. Her interests focus on developing quantitative methods to analyze natech events or natural hazard-initiated technological emergencies. More specifically, Robinson’s research centers around using various mathematical methods and modeling techniques to analyze and quantify those events.

In addition to her research, Robinson is passionate about mentorship and has mentored students at different learning levels and from a variety of backgrounds. She is also on the executive board for the Duke University Bouchet Society and serves as chairperson for the Bill Anderson Fund Student Council.


Sloan Scholar Kundinger Receives Google PhD Fellowship

Brian Kundinger, a member of the second cohort of Sloan Scholars, has received a Google Ph.D. Fellowship to support his research.

Kundinger, who came to Duke in fall 2019, is pursuing his Ph.D. in Statistical Science under the tutelage of Assistant Professor Rebecca Steorts. He is interested in developing advanced mathematical tools to address complex problems in public policy and social sciences.

Brian KundingerThe Google Ph.D. Fellowship provides three years of funding to support recipients’ research. The fellowship program recognizes outstanding graduate students who are doing exceptional and innovative research in areas relevant to computer science and related fields and are looking to influence the future of technology.

Kundinger’s fellowship will support his research on record linkage, the task of identifying duplicate records across separate data files. This process is straightforward when we have unique identifiers or exact information. It becomes difficult, however, when data files have many errors, and it is computationally burdensome when applied to large datasets.

Record linkage is routinely used throughout the business, government, and non-profit sectors, and has found surprising applications in the study of human rights abuses. Kundinger’s particular research focuses on developing 1) fast, scalable methods for record linkage that accurately quantify uncertainty of the linkage process, and 2) algorithmically fair methods for use in situations when rates of matching and data reliability differ throughout a population.

LoCicero and Tutoni

Sloan Scholars LoCicero, Tutoni Receive NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Sloan Scholars Ethan LoCicero and Gianna Tutoni are among 18 Duke Ph.D. students who have received the prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships for 2021.

LoCiceroLoCicero is a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering with a concentration in control theory. His research with Leila Bridgeman develops controller synthesis methods that offer high nominal performance and robust, nonlinear stability guarantees while minimizing communication costs for large-scale systems. He hopes to apply his theoretical work to distributed renewable energy power grids, among other applications. LoCicero is also an organizer with the Sunrise Movement in Durham, where he works to advance local solutions to climate change.

TutoniTutoni, who is pursuing her Ph.D. in chemistry under the tutelage of Matthew Becker, focuses on creating functional biomaterials for the advancement of regenerative medicine. Specifically, she is creating degradable hydrogels with tunable mechanical properties that can be used to control stem cell differentiation and proliferation. She has also developed a passion for teaching undergraduates, both through her department and The Graduate Schools’ Certificate in College Teaching program.

LoCicero and Tutoni are both in the cohort of Sloan Scholars who began their Ph.D. studies at Duke in 2019. Of the 30 students in Duke’s first three cohorts of Sloan Scholars, seven have received NSF GRFs. The others are Judith Dominguez (2020), Lillian Ekem (2020), Gavin Gonzalez (2020), Erica Skerrett (2019), Adriana Stohn (2020). Two other Sloan Scholars, Tyler Johnson and Jessica LaLonde, earned honorable mentions in 2019.

duke ucem research summit

Duke UCEM Holds Second Annual Research Summit

The Duke University Center of Exemplary Mentoring held the 2021 Duke UCEM Research Summit on Thursday, February 25. Due to pandemic restrictions, this year’s summit was held virtually on Zoom. Thirteen Sloan Scholars delivered short talks about their research. Erika Moore Taylor (Ph.D.’18 Biomedical Engineering), Rhines Rising Star Larry Hench Assistant Professor of Materials Science & Engineering at the University of Florida, delivered the keynote address, discussing strategies that helped her on her own Ph.D. journey.

The Research Summit is a key part of the co-curricular programming the Duke UCEM has developed to support its Sloan Scholars. It offers Scholars a chance early in their graduate school career (usually their second year) to deliver presentations about their research topics. It also helps them work on explaining their research succinctly to audiences who are not necessarily experts in their fields. The Duke UCEM provides presentation coaching for the Sloan Scholars in preparation for the summit.

Event program (PDF)

Video of the Event

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