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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.

Kundinger

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

Jump to Individual Presentations:

Looney

Director Looney Featured in SloanConnect Newsletter

Duke UCEM Director Jacqueline Looney shared some thoughts on the importance of mentoring in the February issue of the SloanConnect newsletter (page 3). Check out page 3 of the newsletter (PDF).

Newsletter

Tyler Johnson

Sloan Scholar Tyler Johnson Accepted as Arms Control Fellow at SURF

Sloan Scholar Tyler Johnson, a third-year Ph.D. student in physics, has been accepted as an Arms Control Fellow at the Stanford US-Russia Forum. SURF’s mission is to facilitate research and cooperation in areas of mutual interest to both the United States and Russia, as well as link emerging scholars and leaders in the US-Russia space. This year’s 51 fellows were chosen from a pool of more than 700 applications from 215 universities in Russia and the United States.

See the announcement

Black

Duke UCEM: On George Floyd and What We Do

The following message was sent on June 4 to the Sloan Scholars and to staff and faculty affiliated with the Duke UCEM:

Dear Sloan Scholars and Duke UCEM Colleagues,

Like you, we are pained and appalled by the string of recent tragedies that have once again illustrated the injustices that our communities of color face every day. As noted in President Price’s message to the Duke community on Saturday and reiterated in The Graduate School’s statement today, it is not enough to merely recognize and grieve these circumstances; we as a university must work together to change them and to continue addressing the effects of structural racism.

Our work with the Duke University Center of Exemplary Mentoring is one small part of living up to that responsibility. The Duke UCEM’s mission has always been not merely to recruit more Ph.D. students from underrepresented groups, but also to help make Duke an inclusive, supportive environment where they can thrive. Now, more than ever, the importance of that work is clear. We thank you for everything you have done to help further the Duke UCEM’s mission in our first three years, and we look forward to more fruitful collaborations going forward.

The Duke UCEM has reached out to our Sloan Scholars to offer support and opportunities for discussion amid these difficult times. We hosted a discussion for the Scholars with Dr. Marvice Marcus from CAPS this morning. The Graduate School’s Office of Graduate Student Affairs is also checking in with various graduate student groups to provide support as needed and helping various faculty who have reached out to us for guidance on initiating discussions within their own departments. Please do not hesitate to let us know if you have any questions or suggestions on ways to support our students during this time, or on our mission of creating a more robust, inclusive environment of support at Duke.

Thank you, and take care!

Sincerely,

Paula D. McClain, Co-Principal Investigator, Duke UCEM
Calvin Howell, Co-Principal Investigator, Duke UCEM
Jacqueline Looney, Director, Duke UCEM

 

Also: Statement from Adam F. Falk, president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

Gonzales and Stohn

2 Sloan Scholars Receive NSF Fellowships

Gonzales and Stohn

Sloan Scholars Gavin Gonzales and Adriana Stohn are among 15 Duke Ph.D. students who have received prestigious awards from the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP) for 2020.

Gonzales is a Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering with a concentration in biomaterials. He is pursuing research with Professors Shyni Varghese and Stefan Zauscher, focusing on understanding the relationship between molecular structure and function of lubricants that can protect cartilage from wear such as occurs in osteoarthritis.

Stohn is a Ph.D. student in electrical and computer engineering with a concentration in imaging and optics. She is conducting research in Associate Professor Michael Gehm’s group, and her work focuses on understanding how using computational methods can help address a longstanding challenge in optical engineering — how to image objects through barriers that scatter light, such as fog, atmospheric turbulence, or thin layers of biological tissue.

Gonzales and Stohn, both of whom recently completed their first year at Duke, are also passionate mentors for students in STEM. Gonzles has been a volunteer and mentor for students from underrepresented minorities through his work in STEM teaching and mentoring programs, while Stohn works to encourage young women to pursue careers in science and technology and has implemented her ideas through volunteering with Girls Who Code clubs.

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