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Student Snapshots

Engineering Graduate Students Represent Duke at National Conferences

Graduate students are Duke University’s emissaries both formally and informally and each year are important in getting the word out about Duke and helping to recruit a diverse student body. As a new initiative, the Pratt School of Engineering is working on improving diversity and retention of underrepresented minority graduate students. As part of this effort, engineering graduate students Suzana Vallejo-Heligon, Felipe Garcia-Quiroz, Luis Tobon-Llano, Brittany Davis, Bryan Howell and Nicole Virdone attended the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) National Conference in Anaheim, CA this past October.

During the conference, they were able to network with other Hispanic and Latino students, faculty and professionals in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. They also participated in several networking and professional development workshops and events. Brittany Davis and Bryan Howell were selected to give oral presentations on their individual research as part of a technical paper competition, while Nicole Virdone was chosen to participate in the technical poster competition.

Duke also had a strong presence during the Career and University Fair. The engineering students staffed the Duke booth, which provided them the opportunity to interact with undergraduate students interested in graduate school. They felt that this was the most rewarding part of the conference, because they were able to help and advise undergraduates on the requirements, opportunities and experiences needed to attend graduate school. As a result of this positive experience, this group of graduate students is very eager to attend next year’s conference in Fort Worth, TX. To see more photos taken at the conference, visit the Graduate School’s Facebook page.

In March 2011, a small delegation of graduate students and postdocs from the Pratt School of Engineering left Durham, NC for St. Louis, MO where the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) was hosting its 2011 National Convention. At this convention, thousands of bright, ambitious, and inspiring undergraduates from around the country were gathered to present research, attend forums and workshops on professional and academic development, interview at the Career Fair, and meet with graduate school recruiters. The Pratt delegation was sent on behalf of Duke University to engage these promising undergraduate students and attract them to graduate programs in engineering. Of the many graduate schools represented, Duke’s booth had one of the highest levels of traffic and interest. Students were presented with information on program demographics, insights on being a graduate student at Duke, and how to be successful in the application process. The names of promising and genuinely interested students were taken for further followup and communication.

In addition to recruiting, the delegation was able to spend some time together socializing outside the Convention AND going out together for meals on multiple occasions, which helped to establish a comraderie and sense of community within the group that persisted even upon its return to Duke University. –Contributed by Suzana Vallejo-Heligon (Ph.D. student, Biomedical Engineering) and Tim Mwangi (Ph.D. student, Biomedical Engineering)

Grad Students Win First Place and People’s Choice Awards in Mahato Memorial Photo Contest

Two graduate students won awards in the second annual Envisioning the Invisible Mahato Memorial Photo Contest. Mike Balajewicz, a 4th-year Ph.D. student in Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science, took first place for his photograph of a compact fluourescent lamp. and Yinghi Zhang, a Ph.D. candidate in Physics, won the People’s Choice Award for his photograph of cold fermi atoms.

The Mahato Memorial event honors Abhijit Mahato, a former engineering Ph.D. student who was tragically murdered on Friday, January 18, 2008. He valued activities that bridged the gaps between the science and engineering and social sciences and humanities disciplines, including sports, chess and photography. This multi-disciplinary image contest is a celebration of Abhijit’s life by bringing together the graduate and professional community at Duke in a wonderful display of talent and some friendly competition. For more information about the event, and to see all submissions, visit

Awards Presented During Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology Annual Retreat

Each year the Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology sponsors an annual retreat showcasing the research done by graduate students and postdocs. During this year’s retreat, which was held at Wrightsville Beach, September 23-24, 2011, the Fitzgerald awards were presented to the Ph.D.s and postdocs who have had an outstanding publication in the previous year. These awards are funded by Robert Fitzgerald’s bequest to the department in his estate. This year’s Fitzgerald Scholars are Tracy Nevitt, Dave Kashatus, Ryan Michalek, Erik Nelson, Ran Li, and Ashley Hutchinson. Retreat poster awards were also presented to Bofu Huang, Alan Chen, Nicole Pershing, Yasuhiro Nose, and Rui Hao.