Understanding Duke Health Insurance: An Emerging Leaders Institute Project

 September 25, 2019

Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI) team with ELI Director Melissa Bostrom.

Have you ever wondered what kind of skills are needed to lead a team in an effective way? Do you want to formulate a project that would benefit the Duke community? Have you felt you don’t have time for career development? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you can find solutions by participating in the Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI). ELI is a program where graduate students and postdocs can work together in interdisciplinary teams to improve Duke’s campus environment, while establishing valuable connections with people across the campus.

Improving Health Care Understanding

Our ELI project started by conducting fifteen stakeholder interviews that allowed us to identify broad areas in which the graduate student and postdoc experience could be improved. Our team of PhD candidates from Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, Chemistry, and Environment used the information from our stakeholder interviews to determine broad areas in which the graduate student and postdoc experience could be improved. In order to narrow the scope of our project, we met with Sue Wasiolek (Associate Vice President for Student Affairs & Dean of Students) and Kelan Beachman (Insurance Manager at Student Affairs) to learn about the challenges that students faced. After exploring several options, we identified that deciphering our health insurance plan was a frequent challenge for students and postdocs.

Over the following three weeks we created a Health Care Resource to help graduate students and postdocs understand the health insurance plans provided by Duke. Our aim was to improve the overall wellness of Duke’s graduate students and postdocs by creating quick-guides describing different components of the insurance plans such as enrollment, coverage, prescriptions, emergency treatment, and maternity and dependent care. Acknowledging the multi-cultural community on campus, we decided to prepare the resource in multiple languages (English, Spanish and Mandarin) using simple language that would be easy to understand when you need it. To facilitate the distribution of the resource, we constructed a webpage where you can download all the guides, including print-ready files (see Figure 1).

Quick-guide for Duke health insurance
Figure 1. Quick-guide for graduate students created by our Emerging Leaders Institute team in 2019.

Improving Our Own Skills

In addition to learning more about the health insurance plans available for students and postdocs, creating this resource helped us enhance our transferable skills. As scientists, it is easy for us to gain technical skills that are important for research, but it takes time to develop the soft skills that many employers value. Participating in the ELI program forced us to dedicate four hours of weekly session time to professional development. Through this program, we were paired with a coach, either Tony Laffoley, Melissa Bostrom, or Korrel Kanoy, who used their diverse backgrounds and expertise to help us identify our strengths as leaders. Additionally, our personal coaching session helped us identify tangible skills we can use in our current and future leadership positions. For example, Yudi learned how to be more assertive in the decision-making process while part of a team, Nicole learned how to delegate tasks to different team members depending on their strengths, and Edgar learned how to be a more active listener, using effective communication to integrate the different team members' perspectives. Most importantly, we were able to work with an interdisciplinary team and learn how each person brings unique perspectives and skills to the table that will make the end product better than what we would have created on our own. For example, our health care resource is available in three languages, English, Spanish, and Mandarin because each of us had a different native language.

Quick-guides for Duke health insurance in other languages
Figure 2. Quick-guides for graduate students created by our Emerging Leaders Institute team in 2019 in Mandarin and Spanish.

After completing the ELI program, we feel more confident in our abilities to work with and lead an interdisciplinary team in the future. We also have confidence that we can work on broader projects beyond our dissertation expertise. Would you like to have a similar experience? Consider the ELI program for yourself. Applications will be open in late Fall 2020.



Nicole Stantial
Nicole Stantial

Ph.D. candidate, Molecular Genetics and Microbiology

Nicole Stantial is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology. Her research is focused on determining the effects of spontaneous mutations on genome stability, especially when these mutations arise during cellular processes, such as replication and transcription. Nicole is interested in pursuing a career that combines her expertise in science with the business world. In her spare time Nicole enjoys training for triathlons, trying new restaurants, and traveling.


Headshot of Edgar Virguez
Edgar Virguez

Ph.D. student, Environment

Edgar Virguez is a Ph.D. student in the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke. He is developing quantitative tools that support the transition to a deeply decarbonized electric power sector, by incorporating operations research, data science and geospatial analysis into a common framework.


Zhang Yudi
Yudi Zhang

Ph.D. candidate, Chemistry

Yudi Zhang is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in Chemistry. Originally from China, she received her bachelor’s degree from Fudan University in Chemistry. At Duke, her research is focused on developing self-diagnosable polymer materials that can harness external stress and use them as tools to study material wear and failure. Aside from research, Yudi is a member of the Chemistry Diversity, Inclusion and Community Committee, working actively to promote a diverse departmental culture. In her free time, she enjoys baking, travelling, watching movies and fashion photography.