This year's graduates include an amazing, diverse group of students who have created an amazing, diverse group of individualized projects. We are incredibly proud and delighted to profile them and their achievements below.
My major explores the "Creative Self" through several different lenses: How and why we express our internal narratives in the forms of art and literature, the intellectual and emotional constructs inherent in creative endeavors of self-expression, and the lessons that science, the social sciences and communications have to teach about why and how effective narratives resonate with their audiences.
Professor Anthony Kelley in the Music Department
I’ve always been an interdisciplinary thinker, and I am much better at considering how different areas of study overlap and inform each other than I am at delving deeply into one single topic. I also found Program II to be perhaps the best way to start pursuing a creative path in my life, because it allowed me to take classes in film, music, English, and philosophy. I think there’s a lot of time spent in college taking classes that, ultimately, you’re taking out of obligation to a major rather than genuine interest. Program II totally eliminated that for me and helped me feel I got exactly what I wanted out of my college education.
Being a PII major means that people can recognize you immediately as an independent thinker. Although I made a PII major because of internal motivations and a desire to answer certain questions about art, a nice side benefit of PII is that it shows you have passion for something, and people become interested in your work specifically because you took time and effort to carve out a unique area of study for yourself.
The most challenging part of designing my PII was figuring out exactly what were the core threads holding my areas of study together. I wanted to incorporate music, film, writing, philosophy, neuroscience, and even Buddhism into my coursework because I felt they all offered similar lessons, but it was difficult to articulate what that common thread actually was. With the help of some professors, friends, and Dean Murphey-Brown, I eventually figured out that I was interested in how we express ourselves creatively.
After graduation, I'm interested in pursuing a career in film and continuing to make music on the side, so my Program II was singularly influential on my post-grad plans.
Nature and evolution through its stochastic hill climbing has given us the most useful machine we have ever discovered: the human brain. My Program II has enabled me to study both the brain and artificial intelligence, taking ideas from both and learning how they intersect.
The wonderful and wise Dr. Robert Thompson.
I have been interested in how humans’ reason and learn for a long time. How does memory work? What is going on inside the squishy grey matter between our ears? Upon arriving at Duke, I wanted to be an educational technology entrepreneur. However, after my ideas failed, I began researching why and learnt there was much more to cognitive development and the human brain that I was previously aware. A simultaneous interest in artificial intelligence and computer science created a natural intersection and opportunity to study these two fields through Program II.
I believe strongly in the saying “the system is not your friend”. Duke has certainty never been an enemy, but it is too big and busy to be a real friend and because no one size fits all, it is up to each student to make Duke work the best for them. As someone with high self-motivation and the curiosity to learn, Program II has enabled me to carve my own path through courses and opportunities in a way that I never would have been able to with the requirements surrounding existing majors.
It was hard forecasting three years in advance (I applied and was permitted my major Sophomore fall) what courses I would want to take. However, Program II has been understanding about course changes over time as my interests and academic pursuits have evolved.
I would not have had the ability to take the set of courses that I have, across the subjects that I have, without Program II. My interdisciplinary experience has been crucial to my summer internships and research, which has in turn led to me being spoilt for choice in PhD programs! I have recently committed to the Systems, Synthetic and Quantitative Biology at Harvard and feel well prepared for my years of research ahead, thanks to my Program II experiences.
Throughout college, I’ve found that conversations around improving health, its determinants, and health policy are often closed to the communities that have the most at stake. That is, although there has been an increased focus on how to resolve health disparities, there is still a lack of discourse on how and why these disparities exist in the first place. For example, how do social constructions of race affect the way that racial minorities experience health and its determinants? Looking at the concept of identity in general, my Program II seeks to link these conversations on “how” to those on “what can we do,” using both theoretical understandings and community-based perspectives to better inform conversations on improving health.
Professor Laura Richman
In 1995, epidemiologists Bruce Link and Jo Phelan proposed the “theory of fundamental causes,” an attempt to explain the persistence of inequities in health despite tremendous advances to the medicine. Today, although the United States has one of the world’s most advanced health systems, its communities experience some the worst health outcomes and disparities (compared to countries with a similar degree of wealth). For example, within cities, life expectancies can vary by 20+ years. Initially, Link and Phelan proposed that the reason for these disparities were differences in socioeconomic status. I created my program to expand these discussions to more broadly consider identity (i.e. race, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, and ability).
My Program II has always been a conversation starter and has helped me (and I hope others) think more critically about how we conceptualize health. My Program II interests were particularly useful as I began to look for opportunities to study social determinants of health. Because there were few opportunities to engage with this type of work at an undergraduate level, talking about my Program II helped my now research mentors better understand why I was interested in working with them.
By far, the greatest challenge was selecting courses that would be applicable to my program. Because my Program II has the word “health” in it, I initially felt compelled to only select courses with that focus. However, I realized that this approach was both impossible and misguided. Instead, I selected courses by how they related to aspects of my program, and would speak to professors on how I could apply coursework to areas of health.
In line with my Program II, I believe there is no better way to learn how to improve health inequities than by serving and learning from those that most affected by them. As such, I hope to be a physician, though I would like to enter the political arena later in my life. Doing so requires that I build strong analytical skills and learn more about the intricacies of the US health system. After graduation, I will be working as a consultant in DC, where I hope to both learn more about this and keep up the community relationships I built over my junior year summer. Following this, I hope to pursue an MD/MPH.
The independence afforded to Program II students is extraordinary. Although this is challenging at times, I’ve also greatly appreciated this.
Reflect on how your Program II aligns with your core values. It’s an amazing opportunity, though you must remain fully committed to it in order to make the most out of it.
Deans Summer Research Fellowship; Hart Leadership Program Service Opportunities in Leadership Grant
In terms of curricular interests, I tried to weave the theme of my Program II into assignments for class. For example, in one of my courses, titled “Race, Gender, and Sexuality,” my team completed our final project how constructions of gender and race have left black women out of discourse on HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention, and treatment efforts.
Outside of class, I’ve applied my Program II to my interest in better understanding aging and its relationship with health and its determinants. I’ve also centered my advocacy on Duke Student Government and in the CSGD around supporting individuals from marginalized backgrounds, a key tenant of my Program II.
Future media, specifically video games, presents nearly unlimited potential for creative imagination. Imagination usually involves moral issues. What are the implications for immersive, multisensory experiences? Why are they so powerful and influential and how should they be used and/or policed? Ethics and morality. These two words are pervasive in culture due to their vital role in forming culture and society. As interactive media becomes more pervasive and therefore more essential in our society and its culture, we must look at the ethical and moral questions interactivity raises. Interactivity is a tool, and as with any other tool man uses, it can be used for good or for bad. The process of understanding through research and analysis of said research which uses are good and which uses are bad is one that we must take the initiative to pursue.
Professor Victoria Szabo is my advisor.
After taking three of the core classes for Computer Science, I can actively say that this major does not thoroughly explore video game design, my core area of interest. The Computer Science major is more conceptual and logical than I expected; I felt as though the outgoing, creative side of me was being neglected. This caused me to feel trapped. Once I had explored other options and had realized no other major piqued my interest, I came up with another solution, a minor in Visual Arts, to satiate my other interests. However, I soon found that only certain classes offered in this department were what I was looking for to support my interest in video game design and development. I even thought about exploring an interdisciplinary major but I found that in doing so I would miss a key component of this major, the Storytelling and Impact aspect, which I explain while justifying each of my courses. Thus, when Program II was proposed to me, I saw it as my third and final option to finally give me the freedom to choose how my college career and life will be.
When I go to job interviews, being a Program II students, makes me a more interesting candidate. People are so intrigued about the process it takes to create and why you created it, that it makes for great conversation and sheds light on your personality, which is the point of in-person interviews.
The greatest challenge was assuring that the classes that you chose for your curriculum would be offered that semester.
After graduation, I'm interested in pursuing a career as a software engineer or front-end developer. I plan to build on my portfolio during that time, so that in a couple of years, I can become either a narrative or character designer in the video game industry. So, my program has laid a great foundation for my future work.
Program II has allowed me to find my academic confidence and voice. I have always been outspoken, but coming to Duke, I lost confidence in my academic knowledge. I felt like I didn't know enough to talk in classes, making presentations the most stressful event, but Program II changed that for me. I designed my course from beginning to end, therefore I know all there is to know about it. Now I never shy away when confronted with questions like what did I learn, what I am interested in, and why. I had to prove why my course was worthy. The passion it takes to create a program II, I plan to carry in everything I do in my life, because then I will never fail.
If you find yourself seeking classes in more than 2 departments, then you should give Program II I try.
I was awarded the 2019 Janice P. Duncan Memorial Award for Academic Excellence and Resilience. I am a DTech and Rubenstein Scholar.
My Program II is just that, a combination of my curricular and co-curricular interests. Creating a game is a truly rewarding creative process that requires skills in graphic design, narrative writing, animation, drawing, and programming. Games are unlike other forms of art and entertainment because they are interactive. Games can challenge and develop the user in ways watching a painting or a movie cannot compare to, but games don't just entertain. They teach new ways to think and improve motoric and cognitive functions. They teach patience, analytical and objective oriented thinking. They teach you how to succeed by performing at a sufficient level and meeting the requirements. Games can also facilitate the formation of new friendships by connecting people. Computational media allows me to program a game structure with branching narratives and challenges in combination with an immersive environment. In playing video games, you are not just a passive observer - you are the actor and you need to act, you constantly need to make decisions. I want to be a part of creating this fun experience that serves as a temporary distraction, transports users to a different world, or just helps them kill time. Making video games is a lot more involved than simply creating digital worlds on a computer screen and I wanted to explore just how interdisciplinary the process truly is.
I set out to discover the dynamic relationship between the forensic evidence of crime scenes, and the personal background of criminals, in order to examine how the American criminal justice system wrongfully convicts thousands of Americans each year. My curriculum features a marriage of sorts between soft and hard sciences, utilizing knowledge in evolutionary anthropology, sociology, biology, psychology, and cultural anthropology to aid my research. This academic pathway elucidated the common misconceptions of the American criminal justice system, revealing the unethical practices that are institutionalized into our politics. These issues encompass the epidemic of mass incarceration, the advancing technologies made available to forensic scientists, faulty causes of conviction, and the significant role jury members play as the final arbiters of truth in a criminal trial.
Professor Dr. Steven Churchill
Despite the relevancy and significance of the American criminal justice system, Duke does not offer a Program I major devoted to understanding its complexity. In addition, Duke only offers a few forensics-related courses, so in order to holistically study it, I had to take classes from multiple different departments.
I had the opportunity to integrate my classwork with real-life projects, which bolstered my fascination with the topic. In addition, I was able to work with an advisor and a new dean who truly cared about my academic progress and personal well-being, more so than any other faculty member at Duke. The Program II community is something to behold.
My greatest challenge was creating the perfect narrative for my program. I wanted my program to be able to inspire future Program II prospectives who want to study a specific, deeply-rooted societal problem, rather than a broad course of study like ‘political science.’ To help me overcome this challenge, I garnered support from other Program II students, now alumni, Dean Murphey-Brown, and on-campus organizations like Duke Law Innocence Project.
Upon getting my program accepted, my academic plans shifted drastically. As I became more involved in forensics and criminal justice, I decided that I will attend law school to one day become a public defender.
Definitely reach out to your Program II cohorts and alumni--their experience and insight is invaluable.
The sexual, reproductive, and maternal health of women, children, and adolescents are instrumental in determining the health of the broader community. My program explores the field of reproductive health comprehensively, attempting to understand disparities in the field by combining history, psychology, sociology, and policy to understand health outcomes, health behavior, and quality of care.
Dr. Megan Huchko (Advisor), Dr. Joy Noel Baumgartner (Committee Member) and Dr. Janie Long (Committee Member).
Entering college, I knew I wanted to study reproductive and maternal health as closely as possible. After spending time in the hospital supporting people through labor and delivery, it became evident how huge of a role that personal experience and identity played in one’s curiosities, anxieties, and strengths surrounding pregnancy. Program II gave me the freedom to hand pick courses meant to collectively provide insight into the challenges and best practices in reproductive health.
Program II has challenged me to think creatively and interdisciplinarity, with a strong appreciation for teamwork in addressing public health challenges. Having the freedom to take courses directly related to my future work in reproductive health has allowed me to apply what I’ve learned directly to my work in the community, particularly in creating programming for accessible doula support for pregnant people in North Carolina.
In designing my program, there were courses that very obviously fit with the topic (GLHLTH 215: Global Reproductive Health, or PSY 316S: Clinical Considerations for the LGBTQ+ Community). Others had more subtle connections to the topic, but provided very important considerations and perspectives (LIT 295S: Politics of Sexual Labor and CULANTH 342: Migration and Human Trafficking). My greatest challenge was determining how many courses to include which would provide insight into the macro-level determinants of reproductive health (economics, policy, etc.), balanced with the more specifically health-oriented courses.
Program II gave me the freedom to explore multiple disciplines within the field of reproductive health, helping me to identify and pursue a passion for psychiatry and psychology. I hope to be working as a researcher in psychiatry for women’s mood disorders. Additionally, I plan to continue working for Durham-based NGO Durham Volunteer Doulas, creating programming and pursuing initiatives that have been greatly informed by my studies.
My program studies the intersection of public policy and psychology to understand society’s rapidly evolving political landscape. I’m fascinated by how people think, act, and how an understanding of that can be applied to inform more effective policy and decision making, negotiations, and ultimately leadership.
Professor Robert Thompson, Professor Ken Rogerson, & Professor Bill Adair
While visiting Duke as a senior in high school, I was amazed by all of the academic offerings and grabbed a bundle of departmental flyers at the information session for the potential majors. Given my varied interests, I was intrigued by the idea of Program II and even grabbed a flyer for it! However, it wasn’t until the spring of my freshmen year when I was enrolled in a freshmen seminar that I started seriously considering it. My professor (and now advisor) was extremely receptive to hearing about my diverse academic passions, encouraging me to again consider Program II. After attending an information session with Dean Murphey Brown, I knew I was convinced.
As much of a joke as it is among Program II students, having a long answer to “what’s your major” has been an extremely unique talking point that I have found I’m undoubtedly asked about in all sorts of settings – from conversations with fellow students, to mentioning it on the first day of a new class, to interviews. I believe the ability to design an interdisciplinary program and speak about it with such natural passion shines through in these conversations and can serve as an interesting change of pace in these sometimes repetitive conversations.
Given my varied interests, I struggled to pick only 16-18 classes for my program. Every time I went through the course catalog, I found myself finding new classes that piqued my interest and wanting to add them to my program. This forced me to reconsider some of the previous courses I had originally picked, which time and time again helped me refine my program to better fit my interests and passions. Although it was originally frustrating to have to repick and re-defend courses, it was worth the extra work in the end.
In addition to serving as this unique talking point in interviews, being able to pursue an interdisciplinary academic path helped me realize that I wasn’t ready to be pigeonholed into one industry just yet, and encouraged me to find a similarly multifaceted working experience.
Without question, the most meaningful part of being a Program II student has been the relationships I’ve formed with professors. In addition to an unparalleled advisor experience, pursuing an honors project also helped me form new relationships and bridge connections between professors and departments. Given the need of Program II students to be in constant communication with their advisors and Dean Murphey Brown, strong relationships are seamlessly created. When speaking to my friends in other majors, it is clear that this benefit is unique to Program II students.
Also, given students have such little and precious time at Duke, it’s an important balance to be able to explore new interests as well as find passions early enough to pursue them. Program II allowed me to enroll in interdisciplinary courses that would have been never been possible had I been trying to pursue any combination of majors, minors, and certificates that encapsulated my varied interests. This opportunity has enhanced my Duke experience beyond words.
As mentorship has been the most important asset to my Program II experience, I would advise identifying mentors throughout your time at Duke. Just as I found my advisor freshmen year, this can start from the moment you step on campus. Keep your mind open to new departments, classes, and combinations – the people you meet can help refine and improve your program beyond what you might expect.
Graduation with high distinction
In addition to pursuing research as a result of my Program II’s honor project, I also worked as the Student Advertising Manager at the Chronicle doing ad sales for four years. Given an existing interest in business, my knowledge from Program II allowed me to understand the why in sales to a greater degree and apply this to make sales, improve relationships with clients, and foster a strong community within the organization.
In my Program II, I study the use of evidence-based practice to design, implement and evaluate new health innovations. Health innovations can include drugs and devices for individuals, public health programs that serve local communities, and policies that shape the health of entire populations. Through my degree, I outlined key three steps of heath innovation: understanding health needs, designing innovative solutions, and maximizing impact.
Dr. Sherryl Broverman
My freshman fall I took a class called “Biomedical Instrumentation in the Developing World.” I was struck by how often proposed technologies fail to improve health outcomes. Sometimes they do not properly address the needs of a community. In others, poor implementation and a lack of rigorous evaluation result in failure. Even when new health approaches are scientifically proven to be effective, it can take 17 years for research evidence to reach healthcare practice. This course coupled with my experiences through DukeEngage and Bass Connections planted the seed for me to think more critically about health innovation via Program II.
During my first year of college I was worried that my interests in healthcare were too broad and felt limited by having to choose just one disciplinary focus. Program II gave me a blank canvas to bring my diverse interests together and engage my intellectual curiosity in a meaningful way. I was able to ask thoughtful questions about healthcare transformation and build a set of 18 courses across 14 departments to answer them. Beyond coursework, Program II gave me a platform to work across diverse interdisciplinary initiatives across campus through research including Bass Connections, the Duke Social Science Research Institute, the Duke Institute for Health Innovation, the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, and the Duke Global Health Institute.
I initially felt pressured to declare my Program II my first year at Duke. However, I still did not have a clear picture of what I was most passionate about and which intellectual questions I hoped to focus on. I am grateful that my advisor recommended I wait until my sophomore spring to apply. By then, I had taken three semesters of courses, conducted global health fieldwork, and started research projects, all of which helped me clarify the direction of my Program II.
Program II taught me the value of taking an interdisciplinary approach to understanding and solving societal challenges. Program II also empowered me to be creative and forge my own path when I felt limited by traditional options. In my career, I hope to continue to work at the intersection of multiple disciplines: medicine, health services research, and public policy, with the goal of strengthening health systems and improving population health.
Fulbright Award for a Masters’ degree in health services research at Newcastle University in the UK.
Understanding the neurological basis as to why visual stimuli can affect our understanding, engagement, and influence decision making.
Dr. Sonke Johnsen
Being a visual learner from a young age, I quickly realized the unique capabilities of visual presentation and how adjusting the way material is presented determined my engagement and understanding of it. My interest in studying human behavior developed over time but solidified after taking neuroscience classes and reading behavioral economics books while I continued to investigate the intersection of science and art through my extracurricular activities. This included a 3D printed fashion project and working at the La Spada Neurobiology Lab. My previous experiences solidified my interest in combining the cognitive neuroscience that underlies aesthetic experiences, visual art & media, and behavioral economics to understand how we can use studies of neural activity to comprehend how visual perception influences decision making.
Program II changed my college experience for the better and has allowed me to meet individuals, professors, and experts across multiple fields of study. Program II has taught me how to think beyond the structures of traditional concepts and theories and develop my own with the support of faculty.
One of my greatest challenges in designing my program was creating my course catalog. Given my interest in neuroscience, visual art & media, and behavioral economics, it was difficult to narrow down the classes that would provide the valuable insights and research needed to connect the concepts and shape my Program II education.
After graduation, I am interested in continuing my studies and applying my knowledge in the workforce environment across several industries.
Through my PII, I have studied the current and historical social, economic, political, structural, and environmental challenges that influence agriculture and food accessibility. Further, I have investigated methods to support and expand upon our modern agricultural practices in the future, given our increasingly limited resources, growing population, and the importance of food as culture. Theorizing how to bridge the chasm between large-scale, industrial agriculture and small-scale, sustainable agriculture is complex and requires an interdisciplinary approach of study. My program drew predominately on field-based, experiential learning to gain a greater understanding of the social and environmental intricacies of food and its future.
Dr. Saskia Cornes is my official advisor and first mentor. I also would not be who or where I am today without Professor Luciana Fellin, Dr. Chantal Reid, Dr. Dalia Patino-Echeverri, Dr. Kelly Brownell, Professor Kelly Alexander, and the entire Duke Campus Farm staff and my co-workers.
The Duke Campus Farm was the inspiration for my program. I started working on the farm my sophomore year. After the first day of work, I remember a call to my mom when I told her, “I now know what I want to do. I have to have my hands in the soil.” After a semester of work, I decided to try to bring food and agriculture systems learning into my academic environment. I quickly realized Duke does not offer an agriculture major or minor, so I struggled to reconcile my passions with my educational goals. Upon more investigation, I found Program II. I wanted to utilize my Duke education to promote my curiosity, education, and passions in a formal academic experience, and so I decided to start working on my application. Working at the farm provided me with a framework of approach to food system work: to consider the people and natural environments that actually facilitate production of our food. I have found this framework imperative for the work I do, as food issues on the farm-level are often overlooked by policy, technology, and corporate industry.
Thanks to Program II, I was able to fully integrate a Duke Immerse Program into my academic plan at Duke. The program, titled “Imagining the Future of Food,” was the perfect curriculum for me to take a very deep dive into the complexities and opportunities of the food system with supportive mentors and passionate peers. PII has also distinctly opened doors in my learning, as it has led me to realize that I hope to pursue graduate school after I graduate. Having so much control over my own academic pursuits was inspiring and left me wanting more. PII has allowed me to basically create a thesis for my passions and the work I want to do moving forward, which is incredibly valuable for everything from job interviews to random conversations with new and old friends.
The deeply interdisciplinary nature of agriculture and food systems topics made it difficult to narrow down my focus. There were (and still are) so many aspects of these topics that interest me: psychology, nutrition, corporate food production, environmental sustainability, food cultures, food politics, and so much more. Given the depth of each of these, I couldn’t study them all, but I felt like I would be restricting my learning opportunities if I chose just a few. Luckily, doing so encouraged me to consider what it was that truly gave me the butterflies of inspiration in my stomach. And, it turns out that throughout my years, I was actually able to dive into more of these than I thought!
After graduation, I hope to utilize all I have learned through my major and work at the farm to continue to explore the various opportunities and challenges that we face when considering how to produce food in a more equitable, efficient, sustainable, and regenerative manner. I truly feel like the world of food and agriculture is my oyster (pun intended). I quite honestly feel torn as to what to pursue after graduation and before graduate school, as I feel like I have so many opportunities because of the interdisciplinary characteristics of my program. I am currently considering various food sustainability jobs, on-farm work, food technology and innovation, and food/agriculture policy positions.
Program II has been invaluable for me because it has allowed me to have my passions and career be one in the same. These two things are all too often separated in today’s society. Thanks to PII, I have realized that work and learning do not have to be a chore, but rather can be a point of passionate stimulation.
The application process for Program II can be a daunting, but it is absolutely worth it if you are really passionate about a topic. So don’t give up!
While many undergraduate business programs take a practitioner perspective when studying business, I was set on building a strong, theoretical foundation for the study of the consumer. By breaking down the field of marketing into economics, anthropology, and psychology, I was able to deconstruct a multidisciplinary field into its primary components. Moreover, I used this perspective to look at topics within art history, primarily the art market. Overall, my PII was motivated by the question, “What makes luxury consumers behave the way they do, and what conceptual frameworks can we build to model this behavior?”.
Dr. Hans Van Miegroet and Dr. Giovanni Zanalda.
I have always known that I wanted to dedicate my life to academia and research, and while Duke offers an incredible array of programs and majors, I felt that want I wanted to do in graduate school would require a more multidisciplinary perspective. Therefore, Program II was an incredible fit for my academic interests and endeavors.
Many doors have been open due to Program II! Since Program II emphasizes research through the senior capstone, I was able to refine my research skills, which led me to be able to work as a research assistant at numerous schools, including here at Duke, Cal State East Bay, San Francisco State, Menlo College, University College London, and Holy Names University.
The greatest challenge for me was narrowing down the number of classes that I wanted to take to the most core and critical. Duke offers so many classes, and so I often found it difficult in removing some classes to fit into the 18 or less Core Course list.
As I apply to graduate school, I know that Program II will allow me to explain my passion in the field that I am applying to. It has already opened up so many opportunities for research positions.
What I found most meaningful were the relationships that I developed with my mentors, who coached me through the thesis writing process and offered incredible advice that I will always take with me.
I think, if your interests lie at the intersection of many fields, then go for it! Program II really offers you an incredible academic experience that is truly unrivaled. I would also suggest looking for a potential advisor and talking it over with them to see their thoughts and opinions.
My main co-curricular interest throughout my time at Duke was research, both here and at outside universities. As Program II trains you to be a great, independent researcher, I was able to bring what I learned to my research projects, and what I learned in research to my PII thesis.
My Program explores the intersections of cognition, bodily systems, human learning and development, and research applications to the classroom and classroom policy. It helps me understand the questions of “how do humans learn best?” or “in what ways can innovating learning and teaching better foster the development of children in schools?” Because learning is so multifaceted, I wanted to specifically examine how biological and social processes and educational outcomes are connected. The curriculum in my Program II allows me to not study these topics in tandem, but rather as they are integrated together. This allows me to synthesize topics about human cognition and development with theories on traditional teaching methodologies. It also allows me to start thinking about recommendations emerging from neuroscience, cognitive, and anthropological research about learning, and then how to build environments where there will be a bridge of communication between scientists and teachers.
Dr. David Malone is my primary Program II mentor.
My interests in education began my freshman fall, when I became a “Duke Buddy” to 10 year old Sam. Dr. David Malone was my professor who oversaw that service-learning FOCUS course. Over the semester, I learned alongside Sam as he role-played the water cycle and studied social issues as part of his curriculum, and I wondered whether these unique activities actually improved student learning. Growing up, all my classrooms seemed industrial-like, taking standardized tests and sitting in rows. I thought, perhaps these classrooms I was in failed to recognize something more humanizing -- children and the challenges that customize their learning. I know I would have loved to be in a classroom like Sam’s! At the time I began pursuing my Program II, I had already been studying neuroscience for two years, and started to get interested in the term “brain-based learning." I thought it would be very valuable to spend my remaining time at Duke shifting my attention to human brain sciences, exploring biological brain fitnesses and ways to innovate classrooms based on what research recommends. This was a goal which no traditional program I major in Trinity College could accurately and thematically capture. Program II was the best way to prepare this field; I anticipate much growth to be expected in this sector of science and society, and it remains a sector I want to be actively prepared for, academically and skill-wise, in my professional future.
Because I was determined to make academic research part of my Program II, I joined the BRITElab under the mentorship of Dr. Bridgette M. Hard who shares plenty of research interests that I have as well. I was seeking out the opportunity simply to learn more about the literature on learning and teaching, and be part of the new discoveries in these disciplines. Little did I know that joining this lab would lead me to so many new friends and mentors who are just as passionate about learning and teaching as I am. These peers also encouraged me to keep pursuing research and opportunities even after I graduate, so I applied to Master’s programs to “continue” my Program II. And I got accepted! My top choice -- Cognitive Science in Education at Teachers College, Columbia University -- reflects the goals I originally outlined in my Program II perfectly. I can’t wait to be a part of this growing community!
Program II has inspired me to explore so many career paths, from being a museum curator at a children’s science museum, to being a teacher at a progressive school, to studying kids’ attention in classrooms by making them wear funny hats. While I want to do it all, I don’t think I’m ready to leave behind research and academia. I find a lot of comfort in knowing that my Program II has prepared me in the best ways for one particular emerging field -- learning science. As I mentioned, I believe there is much growth to be expected in this sector of science and society, and ultimately I would like to pursue a PhD in the learning sciences. I would love to be on the forefront of discovery, exploring humans and how we learn best.
Most issues in education are questions about how we should prepare youth to thrive in their world. My Program II asks how to prepare children for a world increasingly in social and technological flux. It addresses this question first with the study of ethics. My PII seeks to understand education’s historical wrongs, articulating what educational justice should look like today. It then investigates the new science of child and adolescent development – studying how to foster the capabilities of all children. With an eye toward praxis, my Program II seeks to support teachers and policymakers in implementing the science of learning toward educational justice.
Dr. David Malone; Dr. Jan Riggsbee; Dr. Jeff Forbes; Dr. Aria Chernik
My inspiration is both personal and academic. I was motivated, in part, to make sense of my own educational experiences. Before I came to Duke, I was already questioning why I had emerged from the U.S. education system “successful” while many of my peers had not. At Duke, I knew I could treat this question with the kind of rigorous inquiry it deserved: one that is fundamentally interdisciplinary. I’m grateful to the advisors who pushed me toward Program II so that I could have a structure to understand my driving question and myself.
Program II is the only academic home that could have given me the space to lead truly impactful educational research. As part of my Program II, I spent substantial time founding an undergraduate-led Bass Connections group, “CSbyUs.” Recently we were commissioned by North Carolina to design the state’s first elementary computer science (CS) curriculum. I was also able to integrate a global perspective on education, living in Nepal for each of my three summers at Duke to lead research on the potential of experiential education.
Choosing the right guiding question. While my Program II’s topic was readily apparent to me, my guiding question changed as I encountered new ideas and engaged in new research. Through the process of designing my Program II, I learned that compelling answers only come from well-asked questions.
Program II helped me develop my theory of educational change and clarify my own role within it. I’ve come to value both the idealism of researchers and the courage of educational practitioners, realizing that change is created when these two perspectives are combined. At the Harvard Graduate School of Education, I will be preparing to become a teacher-leader who can organize educators around research agendas to promote equitable outcomes for students.
Besides the academic rigor, self-authorship, and personal accountability, I’ve found faculty relationships to be one of the most meaningful parts of being in Program II. Just like the kind of education that I envision for all students, my mentors have done more than push me intellectually. By treating me as a partner in their projects and my own, they’ve fostered my identity as a scholar, a teacher, and an educational leader.
The journey toward proposing a self-authored education can be a little like a parabola. There’s a high at the beginning – an inspiration for the pathway ahead. Then it gets much more difficult: choosing courses, making trade-offs, questioning values. With persistence, though, it’s possible to emerge with an education that is much more motivating and purpose-driven.
I have been a John Lewis Fellow at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, as well as the first Residential Innovational Fellow at Duke TeachHouse. My research in Nepal was generously funded by the Davis Foundation through their “Projects for Peace” Award. I led my lab, CSbyUs, to earning the Holton Prize for Innovative Work in Education and becoming a finalist for the Frank Foundation’s $1 Million Catalytic Grant. My Program II capstone was supported by Duke’s Gender and Race Research Award, as well as various Bass Connections grants.
Program II ensured I could merge my curricular and co-curricular interests. I’ve found that in the same moment I was connecting with a student in Durham, I was advancing research for my thesis. While I was living in a school outside of Kathmandu, I was learning more about education in the Global South. When you are the author of your own educational pathway, these integrated moments become commonplace.