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.

photo of bubble in front of chapel at dawn

Sloan Scholars’ Self-Care Tips

During the pandemic, taking care of our mental and physical health has been more important than ever. We asked a few of our Sloan Scholars what some of their favorite self-care activities have been during the past few months.

Podcasts & Playlists: 




Try to get any amount of exercise into daily life, even if it’s just one push-up, is infinitely better than not doing any at all, and even tiny stuff can have significant positive effects on mental and bodily health!”

“Establish a semi-consistent routine that makes room for moments of joy, liberation, and appreciating/expressing gratitude for the time and moments we spend with friends and family as well as the time we get to spend alone with ourselves.”

Eating healthy makes SUCH a difference!”

Duke Campus Shot

Frozen bubble at dawn, in front of the Duke Chapel



Gonzales Featured in SloanConnect Newsletter

Sloan Scholar Gavin Gonzales was featured in the May 2021 issue of the SloanConnect newsletter. The profile is reprinted below with permission from the Sloan Foundation.

Sloan Scholar Spotlight: Gavin Gonzales


Gavin Gonzales is a rising third-year doctoral student in biomedical engineering at Duke University, where his academic career has evolved from theoretical ideas to applied research—a journey that reflects his passion for both learning and doing.

Gavin studied physics at the University of New Mexico, researching quantum dots and how they absorb and emit light. His work as an undergrad taught him that “research is about finding what makes something work, and then studying how that implication goes further.” He enjoyed physics and was interested in his research, but he couldn’t apply it to anything outside the lab.

His first opportunity to see how research can be taken further was at Duke during a summer research program through Maximizing Access to Research Careers (funded by the National Institutes of Health). There, he worked with bioengineering and biomaterials for the first time, and he realized the appeal of applied research. Then, the summer before he started his PhD, he worked at Draper Laboratory on prosthetic heart valves for children.

Both research experiences exposed him to the power of applied research and collaboration. The experience at Draper, in particular, made him realize his passion for bioengineering and the problems it solves, specifically at the intersection of academia, industry, and research. At Draper, he participated in collaborations between Draper researchers and professors at other universities, giving him insight into how industry collaborates with academia.

Now at Duke, Gavin is researching the design of knee-joint lubricants, investigating how they bind to cartilage and can reduce the amount of wear on the joint from daily activities. He is also designing a joint-model system to mimic the body’s repeated motion on cartilage.

For Gavin, this research is more than broadly practical: he worked at a physical therapy clinic throughout high school, and he was impressed by the therapies that improved people’s quality of life. Now as an adult, Gavin is passionate about spending time outdoors, hiking, running, and his own health in general. In bioengineering, his passion for knowledge can combine with real-world applications.

While Gavin was inspired by his time in private industry, he is just as passionate about staying in academia, wanting to become a professor after he graduates. He’s seen applied research from both sides, and he’s looking forward to collaborating with other researchers and other industries. But, importantly, he also wants to mentor students.

His own experiences with mentors have motivated him to expose as many people to good mentors as he can. Not only has Gavin been a one-on-one mentor, he also works on programs that bring mentoring to communities. Most recently, he volunteered in a mentoring program with the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers. He’s also spoken to middle and high school classrooms, highlighting why he got into research and what he finds fun about it.

“Being a mentor has made me realize that in order to help someone, you need to understand what they are looking for. Now I know I need to communicate my expectations to my mentors so they can help me. Two-way communication is very important.” When he has struggled with coursework in the past, he had a similar approach: reach out to peers with your challenges. Usually, each person is struggling in a specific way, and your classmate may have an understanding you don’t, and visa versa.

Just as Gavin seeks to apply what he learns and share that knowledge with others, he recommends other Sloan Scholars do the same. “Be ambitious, figure out your goals, and share them with as many people as you can. Make connections, advocate for yourself, and know that you can help yourself develop the most.” For him, being a Sloan Scholar (and now a member of the SloanConnect Student Advisory Committee) means having access to professional development, mentors, and friends—”a community away from home.”

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

Jump to Individual Presentations:

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

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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