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2016 Participants

Nicole Ashpole (Biomedical Engineering)

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Nicole Ashpole is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in Biomedical Engineering. Nicole is studying the potential causes of glaucoma, an eye disease that can lead to blindness. Through her dissertation project, she has investigated the effect of an increase in shear stress through tissues in the eye on both the physiology of the eye and the chemical makeup. Her personal mission is to engage in lifelong learning and tackle the challenge of creating medical devices that improve the quality of life for those with disabilities and their families.               

Sulzhan Bali (Global Health)

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Sulzhan Bali, Ph.D., is currently a second-year master’s candidate in Global Health at the Duke Global Health Institute and a Global Governance Futures Fellow for the year 2016-2017. Her interdisciplinary research explores the impact of Ebola on Nigeria’s private sector and evaluates its role in Nigeria's Ebola response. Prior to Duke University, Sulzhan conducted her Ph.D. studies in molecular biology at the Medical Research Council in the UK and earned an M.Sc. in Molecular & Diagnostic Virology from the University of Manchester. Sulzhan also serves as the Director of Production & HR at This Week in Global Health (TWiGH) - a leading online video and audio podcast where she regularly provides commentary on global health issues. For her work with TWiGH, Sulzhan was featured by the Graduate Institute Geneva and Lancet’s ‘300 Women Leaders in Global Health’ campaign. When she is not focused on Global health, Sulzhan divides her limited time across multiple artistic pursuits including painting, photography, writing poetry, and as an oriental dancer.

Changyong Cao (Electrical and Computer Engineering)

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Changyong Cao, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke. He received his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science from the Australian National University (ANU) in 2014. Before that, he obtained a Master Degree in Civil & Environmental Engineering from National University of Singapore (NUS). His research interests are focused on the mechanics and physics of soft materials, biomaterials and nanomaterials, and their novel applications in engineering and medicine. Changyong is currently working on printed electronics and stretchable electronics with novel additive manufacturing techniques and hopes to improve the overall performance of these emerging electronics. In his spare time, Changyong enjoys reading, cooking, traveling and sports. 

Beatrice Capestany (Psychology & Neuroscience) 

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Beatrice Capestany is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the social psychology department and received her B.A. from Vassar College. Her research focuses on how laypeople form perceptions of (in)justice and make legal decisions. In between college and graduate school, Beatrice worked in a public policy institute and participated in Duke’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic where she worked with a team of law professors and students to investigate claims of innocence made by felons. In the future, she wants to use social science research to improve social and legal policy. During her free time, she likes to hang out with her two dogs while she listens to podcasts.

Christine Chai (Statistical Science)

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Christine Chai is a third-year Ph.D. student in statistical science at Duke University. She was born in Massachusetts, but her family moved to Taiwan when she was four. She earned her B.S. and M.S. in electrical engineering from National Taiwan University before she came back to the US in 2013 for her graduate studies. Her research focuses on text data mining such as document classification and topic modeling; she is interested in other statistical applications as well. Christine hopes to become an interdisciplinary mathematical statistician in the future. In her free time, she enjoys playing bridge, traveling, and spending time with friends.    

Zhihui Cheng (Electrical & Computer Engineering)  

Zhihui Cheng is a second-year Ph.D student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Before coming to the United States for graduate school, he worked as an electrical engineer in mainland China, contributing to the development of Apple’s iPhone 6. Zhihui is passionate about science communication, leadership, and community service. In his spare time, Zhihui enjoys watching science documentaries and TED talks, or he can be found attending Duke group fitness classes like Zumba dancing or Muscle Pump.

Yujung Choi (Global Health)

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Yujung Choi is a master’s student at the Duke Global Health Institute where she explores eclectic topics such as access to health care in developing countries, refugee health, global health research design and methodology, and bioethics. She graduated from the University of Puget Sound with a B.A. in international political rconomy in 2010 and completed her post-baccalaureate work in General Sciences at the University of Oregon in 2013. Her current research involves investigating caregivers’ readiness and self-efficacy to disclose children’s HIV serostatus to children in Zimbabwe. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, playing the violin, volunteering, and trying out local coffee shops and restaurants.

Kristen Collar (Physics)  

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Kristen Collar is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in experimental condensed matter physics, who recently received her M.S. in electrical engineering at Duke University. She earned her B.A. in physics at Florida State University while working at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory. Her graduate studies focus on electronic materials with a specialty in III-V semiconductors with applications toward development of next generation devices. Kristen hopes to apply her expertise towards creating more energy efficient solutions to tomorrow’s challenges. In her leisure time, she enjoys playing with the Duke Women’s Ultimate Frisbee Club team.             

Denali Dahl  (Global Health)

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Denali Dahl is a first-year master's student in Global Health with a B.S. in nanoengineering from the University of California, San Diego. Currently she works in Dr. Nimmi Ramanujam’s laboratory where her research focuses on improving the specificity of cervical care diagnostics for women in low-resource settings. Denali is interested in engineering technical solutions to alleviate the health burden of social injustices. In her free time, Denali enjoys hanging out with friends, watching football, and chainsaw carving.  

Rob Fetter (Environmental Policy)

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Rob Fetter is a second-year Ph.D. student in environmental policy, where he researches technology diffusion, experimentation, and firms’ responses to regulation in the context of emerging energy production technologies. He holds a B.S. and M.S. from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and an M.S. from Yale. He considers academia as his third career; he previously worked in public-sector environmental consulting in Colorado and California, then helped start an international social enterprise that uses market incentives to minimize adverse impacts of oil and gas production. In his free time Rob enjoys weightlifting, dancing and racquetball, though he has yet to win a single game. One of his life goals is to sample every cultivated fruit in the world.       

Khaled Ghannam (Environment)

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Khaled Ghannam is a third-year Ph.D. student in the School of the Environment, where he studies land-climate interactions by connecting near-surface hydrology, ecology, and boundary-layer meteorology to understand long-term exchange of water and carbon dioxide at this interface. Prior to joining Duke, Khaled received an M.S. degree in civil and environmental engineering from the American University of Beirut back in his home country Lebanon, and worked as an environmental design engineer on several projects in Lebanon, Dubai, Turkey, and Qatar. Khaled is interested in science-informed policy making, environmental justice, and resource-induced dispute management.

Vijeth Iyengar (Psychology & Neuroscience) 

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Vijeth Iyengar is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience. His research examines the role of the medial prefrontal cortex in supporting episodic memory. Apart from his research interests, Vijeth is passionate about public policy issues impacting the elderly and mentally ill. Originally from Louisiana, he earned his B.S. from Tulane University. While there, Vijeth completed summer internships at the National Institutes of Health and the Louisiana Department of Health & Hospitals. He is the recipient of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and recently named a semi-finalist in the Presidential Management Fellowship competition. Vijeth enjoys traveling and cheering on his beloved LSU Tigers.                 

David Kaczan (Environmental Policy) 

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David Kaczan is a Ph.D. student in the University Program in Environmental Policy. His research focuses on the economics of deforestation, land use change, and development. Previously, he has worked on water market design, fisheries management evaluation, and assessments of the impact of climate change on agriculture. Originally from South Australia, he undertook his undergraduate studies at the University of Adelaide before moving to Canada, for his M.Sc (Natural Resources Economics) at the University of Alberta. David aims to apply economic ideas to help reverse deforestation, protect biodiversity, and improve rural development.

Anh Le (Political Science) 

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Anh Le is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in political economy. Born in Vietnam, he appreciates the warm weather of North Carolina after going to college in upstate New York. His research focuses on authoritarian politics and foreign direct investment (FDI), using methods from machine learning and Bayesian statistics. A current project investigates the political determinants of FDI technological spillover, which is crucial to developing countries' productivity growth. He works at the intersection of social sciences and statistics to integrate the latest statistical methods. When he's not working, Anh commutes to D.C. to spend time with his wife.        

Adityavarman Mehta (Global Health)

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Adityavarman Mehta is a second-year M.S. student at the Duke Global Health Institute, deeply interested in global health policy, health systems strengthening, and maternal and child health. His current research focuses on the barriers to the integration of the uterine balloon tamponade into South Africa and Ghana’s health systems to address postpartum hemorrhage. Originally from Mumbai, India, Aditya received his B.A. from Emory University in sociology and religion, with a minor in global health, cultures and dociety. He has also been a committed student of international relations. Upon the completion of his graduate degree, Aditya aspires to pursue a career at the intersection of global health and international relations. Aditya spends his leisure time on cricket, traveling, politics, reading, and film. 

Laila Roudsari  (Biomedical Engineering)

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Laila Roudsari is a Ph.D. candidate in biomedical engineering in her fifth year of graduate school. Her Ph.D. research is focused on studying tumor angiogenesis under the direction of Dr. Jennifer West. Laila is from Charleston, SC and completed her B.S. in bioengineering with honors at Clemson University where she was actively involved in research in tissue engineering and biomaterials. Following graduation, Laila hopes to build her career working at the interface of science and medicine, where she can contribute to advancing the medical field. In her free time, Laila enjoys long distance running and playing with her wheaten terrier.      

Starling Shan (Global Health)

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Starling is a master’s student at the Duke Global Health Institute. She received her B.A. in political science and communications from the University of Washington, Seattle. Prior to Duke, she worked at a conflict resolution center in New York and had post-conflict reconstruction experience in Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia. Later, she became a project adviser for a Kenya-based NGO and a freelance journalist for Shanghai Economic Review. Currently, she works for Innovations in Healthcare focusing on research-based evidence for project scaling. Starling is interested in health system improvement and poverty reduction through innovative project design and efficient policy development.

Lidia Tagliafierro (Neurology)

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Lidia Tagliafierro is a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Neurology at Duke. She was born and raised in Italy where she earned her Ph.D. in Cell Biochemistry. As part of her Ph.D. program, Lidia joined the INSERM institute in Paris for seven months where her research was mostly focused on mechanisms of neurodegeneration. After completing her Ph.D., Lidia was a visiting scholar at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In February 2015, she joined Dr. Chiba-Falek’s lab here at Duke. Lidia's research is mostly focused on the functional evaluation of genetic variants associated with Parkinson’s Disease. In her free time, she likes travelling, listening to music, exploring new environments, and she definitely loves exploring new food and wine!         

Brittney Wittenbrink  (Global Health)

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Brittney Wittenbrink is a second-year master’s student at the Duke Global Health Institute. She grew up in Houston, Texas and received a B.S. in Public Health from The University of Texas at Austin. Her research focus at Duke is social support and health outcomes for sickle cell patients and their families in South Africa and Cameroon; she spent the past summer conducting fieldwork in these two countries. Her additional research interests include nutrition and infectious disease, and she hopes to incorporate them in a future global health career. In her spare time she loves watching movies, finding new coffee shops, cheering on the Texans, and traveling the world.

Tomas Zvolensky (Electrical & Computer Engineering​)

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Tomas Zvolensky, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke University. He was born in Slovakia, earned a master's degree in the Czech Republic, and completed his Ph.D. in Finland. During the years spent in foreign countries, meeting different cultures, he recognized that his interests include not only engineering but also business and management. Inspired by entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Elon Musk, his goal in professional life is to be on the edge of science and business to impact as many people as possible, and to have fun at the same time. A long-term practitioner of meditation, Tomas is drawn towards meaningful exchange with others and enjoys interactions with colleagues and friends. He currently works on developing imaging systems for airport security. Enjoyment of physically and mentally challenging situations have led Tomas to become a rock climber and mountaineer.