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Class of 2020 Stories


Class of 2020 Stories


Read more about some of the thoughtful, intelligent, and talented students who make up Duke’s 2020 graduating class.

Daisy Almonte

Almonte, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, first-generation college students, Baldwin Scholar and elected Duke Student Government vice president for equity and outreach, will be matriculating at Harvard this coming fall as a Truman Scholar.

Jill Jones

Jill Jones graduates with a double major in neuroscience and linguistics and a minor in German and as a winner of the nationally competitive Goldwater Scholarship. Along the way, she's fulfilled her ambitions for a Duke education.

Axel Herrera Ramos

Axel Herrera Ramos was only 7 when his family came to the United States from Honduras. He was awarded Golden Door Scholarship, created for undocumented students. As he has been helped along the way, Ramos has strived to provide similar support to other Deferred Action Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients who were brought to the U.S. as children.

Kaylee Brilhart

Kaylee Brilhart struggled with being a first-generation student from a low-income family, and then turned that struggle into advocacy for other such students. She is the recipient of the Terry Sanford Leadership Award.

Bruny Kenou

At Duke, Togo native Bruny Kenou developed a personal and academic passion for improving mental health access and even delivered a TedX talk on why young people do not seek mental health assistance. After graduation, she'll head to a two-year research fellowship with the National Institutes of Mental Health.

Brenda Connelly

Online Master of Science in Quantitative Management student Brenda Connelly is also a wife, mother, and works full time at a company that owns and operates retirement communities in the Pacific Northwest.

Molly Copeland

Graduating with a Duke Ph.D. in sociology, Molly Copeland is used existing data to analyze the peer networks of thousands of high school students across 27 school districts in rural Iowa and Pennsylvania.

Joe Brown

Joseph Brown, a Duke PhD student studying political science, finished his graduate degree in three years and was also promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force. Joseph defended his dissertation over video during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.

Katya Gorecki

Bass Digital Education Fellow Katya Gorecki organized the Duke Global Game Jam.

Ashleigh Smith

When the Nasher Museum museum temporarily closed, Nasher intern Ashleigh Smith converted the installation for her senior thesis to a multimedia online project, which includes a Spotify playlist and podcast episode.

Andre Mego

Pre-med major Andre Mego is a producer, pianist, and marketing merchandise coordinator at 9th Wonder’s label Jamla Records. Andre has also written and published two books.

Jacob Liang

Although the spring Duke Opera Theater production “Afterlives of the Star-Crossed Lovers: The Many Forms of Romeo and Juliet,' had to be canceled because of COVID-19, senior Jacob Liang still recorded and shared an aria sung in the production by Friar Laurence on YouTube.

Rachael Lau

Rachael was part of a Duke civil and environmental engineering team working with engineering students in Nepal to develop earthquake resilience technology.

Naomi Lilly

Naomi Lilly created her own company NAL-Nay Lilly, a networking platform for diverse creative talent.

Kailey Redding

Kailey Redding, MPH, Stead Society president for the Duke Physician Assistant Program Class of 2020, will serve as a primary care provider in a health provider shortage area for at least the first three years of her career.

Cole Rizki

Cole Rizki was awarded a William J. Griffith University Service Award for his leadership and advocacy on LGBTQ issues. He will be working as an assistant professor of Latin American Studies at the University of Virginia in the fall.

Anuj Thakkar

Engineering major Anuj Thakkar worked with mechanical engineer/teaching assistant Atanaz Bohlooli to design, modify and test a 3D-printed cast for his broken wrist.

Katie VanderKam

Mechanical engineer major and Pratt fellow Katie VanderKam's experience as a dancer and choreographer helped her visualize wind flowing through vertical axis wind turbines.

Cherie Conley

Graduating with a PhD in nursing allowed Cherie Conley to build on her former work as a health management consultant. At Duke, she was a part of Bass Connections, an interdisciplinary student team aimed at improving physical activity at Duke and in the Durham community.

Romina Tomé

Romina Tomé is the first person to defend a dissertation remotely at the Sanford School. At first she was disappointed that she would not be in the same room with her Doctoral Committee members. But the remote defense ended up making big news in her hometown, a small agricultural community in Argentina.

Yihuan Lai

Global health master's student Yihuan Lai deepened her understanding of mental health resources researching in Kenya.

Tim Skapek

Tim Skapek was one of three Duke Engineering undergraduates who made a customized 3D-printed collarbone brace to help out an injured fellow Duke football player. The result was such a success that they saw an opportunity to form a startup company around the idea.

Melvin Larker

Melvin Larker become a resident at Johns Hopkins University. He hopes to practice Cardiology and continue research efforts in identifying health disparities as well as attaining health equity.

Arakua Welbeck

Arakua Welbeck will go on to be a resident at Washington University in St. Louis. Originally from Ghana, she hopes to practice Orthopaedic Surgery with a focus on global health.

Priscila Cunha

Medical student Priscila Cunha will go on to be a medical resident at Emory University. Originally from Brazil, she hopes to go into general pediatrics helping the Hispanic community with many of the challenges they face in accessing care.

Cierra Hong

Cierra Hong will go on to be a resident at Stanford University. She hopes to practice Orthopaedic Surgery with a strong interest in specializing in oncology or adult reconstruction.

Bobby Gramer

Medical student Bobby Gramer will go on to be a resident at Massachusetts General Hospital. He hopes to practice in neurosurgery, researching how to better stimulate the nervous system and how to better deliver neurosurgery to low resource settings and bridge the socioeconomic chasm in care.

Meril Pothen

Meril Pothen left a career in consulting to learn how to leverage policy to transform the American health care system. At Sanford, she’s become a “high-value care” specialist, examining how to reform health care so it rewards providers for interventions that maximize positive patient outcomes.

Niisoja Torto

Niisoja Torto performed with Duke’s student-run swing dance team and Latin dance troupe in addition to his coursework in public policy. Originally from Ghana, his thesis investigated the role of food aid and assistance in addressing Ghana’s double burden of malnutrition—the paradoxical and simultaneous presence of undernutrition and obesity.

Francisco Jeria

Francisco Jeria worked at the Ministry of Education in Chile for five years before coming to Sanford with his wife and son. The Sanford faculty 'is amazing,' he says, adding that they are very willing to share their experiences and knowledge. Francisco also valued being a part of a relatively small community.

Linda Zhang

As a freshman, Linda Zhang conducted a research project that helps Duke faculty members understand the mindset of Chinese undergraduates at Duke Kunshan University. She also runs an ambassador program that fosters connections between students at DKU and Duke.

Lusine Stepanyan

Lusine Stepanyan is one of a handful of Duke Students accepted to the Clinton Global Initiative University, an international initiative for students around the world that is focused on social entrepreneurship and innovation. She is originally from Armenia where she started a School of Languages aimed at teaching (mostly women) who were entering the workforce for the first time. Wanting to make a greater impact, she decided to come to Duke for an advanced degree in international development policy.

Rizki Harahap

Rizki Harahap took the International Taxation Policy track for his degree. He will return to Indonesia to work for the Directorate General of Taxes in the Ministry of Finance. His wife, Vina, and his four-year-old son, Rami, moved to Durham with him.

Tarvick Linder

When Duke Divinity student Tarvick Linder was recalled to active duty in the National Guard to support COVID-19 response efforts in North Carolina, professors and administrators worked with him to speed up his course requirements so he could complete his studies and earn his Master of Divinity degree. In August, he will enter the Chaplain Residency Program at Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro, where he will spend a year offering spiritual care to critically ill patients.

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