Meet Duke’s new faculty of 2020

Meet Duke's new faculty of 2020

Nine of Duke's newest faculty members.

One important thing that hasn’t changed in a semester of the pandemic is the arrival of new faculty members. They come with new ideas, research problems and classes. Their importance in sustaining existing strengths and guiding Duke toward new areas of excellence can’t be underestimated.

“We welcome and celebrate our new faculty this year in the most unusual ways and circumstances, but with no less enthusiasm,” says Duke Provost Sally Kornbluth. “We have selected these faculty, and they have chosen to join us, to be a part of Duke’s thriving, ambitious, collegial academic culture. These new faculty will add notably to our excellence in teaching, research, and service, and to our vibrant community of scholars and learners.”

Below, nine new faculty members discuss what they find meaningful about their scholarship and teaching. For more new faculty stories, see Duke Today’s new faculty series.
Scroll down to learn more about each new faculty member.
Alicia Nicki Washington
Professor of the Practice of Computer Science

For many years, computer scientists have talked about how a lack of racial and gender equity is proving counterproductive to innovation. Nicki Washington is actually doing something about it. A Durham native, she became the first Black woman to receive a Ph.D. in computer science from N.C. State in 2005. She has developed innovative courses in computer science at Howard and Winthrop universities, and now at Duke. 

“What drives me to do this work is that my experiences and ability to thrive in my academic and professional career have been impacted at various times by racism and other discrimination. This was also the experience of my mother (a retired IBM programmer), as well as former students who are Black women in the field and currently facing similar issues.  

“I don’t know if I’d consider myself ‘excited’ about this work. We honestly shouldn’t be dealing with the same issues that Black women in computing have experienced since the 1950s. I’d say I’m passionate about the work because it’s my lived experience. I was able to thrive academically and professionally in spite of the racism and discrimination I experienced. However, that shouldn’t still be the story of Black women students. 

“Duke provided me the opportunity to do this work without question and pushback. That’s extremely important for me. Everyone in direct chain of leadership made it clear in my interview in February that the work I was interested in wasn’t considered “frivolous,” or “unnecessary.”  

“This was before COVID, the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, and the national focus on racism and white supremacy. Deans Valerie Ashby and Mohamed Noor, and outgoing/incoming department chairs (Pankaj Agarwal and Jun Yang) all made it clear that not only was my work (and me) valuable, but that I could thrive here. Something I discuss routinely is the importance of being ‘seen,’ especially as a Black woman, and especially in this field. I realized that everyone here ‘saw’ me.”

Rachel Myrick
Assistant Research Professor of Political Science

A foreign policy specialist, Myrick’s scholarship on political polarization has wider applications to the understanding of current American politics. Myrick is currently writing a book about how partisanship is affecting foreign policy among democracies and how that divide “is making us rethink the way democratic states have advantages in foreign policy.”  

“I am interested in how extreme polarization in democracies affects patterns of international cooperation and conflict. We tend to expect democracies to be much more reliable partners and credible adversaries than non-democracies. My research suggests, however, that extreme polarization could challenge a lot of that conventional wisdom.

“Political scientists have thought a great deal about the causes of polarization and its consequences for domestic politics, both in the United States and elsewhere. However, there is a lot we don’t know about the second-order consequences of polarization, such as how it will affect foreign policy making and American global leadership.

“In American foreign policy, policymakers and scholars have long been concerned with foreign threats to the United States: communism, terrorism, the rise of new challengers like China. But what I think is interesting about the current political moment – the extreme domestic polarization and the problems it poses for democracy – is that it suggests perhaps we ourselves are our own worst enemy.

“I grew up in North Carolina and did my undergraduate at UNC Chapel Hill, so I was naturally drawn back to family and friends in the area. Another big advantage of being in the Research Triangle is the broader network of political scientists.

“I also find it much more challenging and interesting to research and teach political science in a truly “purple” state like North Carolina rather than one that is politically homogenous. It is very difficult to bridge partisan divides or sharpen your own political viewpoints without meaningful interactions with people with whom you disagree politically.”

Chris Monroe
Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering and Physics

One of the world’s leading experts in trapping atoms and manipulating their quantum state for applications in quantum information science, Chris Monroe joins longtime collaborators Jungsang Kim and Kenneth Brown on a formidable—and fast-growing—team focused on the outrageously ambitious task of engineering the world’s first practical quantum computer

“I was trained as a physicist, but I am slowly learning about systems engineering and how to build something with reliability that anybody can use,” said Monroe, who came to Duke from the University of Maryland. “We desperately need this in quantum physics right now, because I’m afraid physicists won’t be the ones who figure out quantum killer apps.   

“I am also learning how quantum computers might be used in the future, on a wide array of problems, from medicine to finance, from materials design to cosmology. What I find most exciting is that I get to continue being a student, learning about problems that might derive benefit from quantum computing that I previously knew nothing about. 

“I have been collaborating deeply with Duke researchers Jungsang Kim and Ken Brown for more than a decade, and I am no stranger to the Duke modus operandi. When Duke goes after something, there is nothing stopping it. We have the top quantum technology, and we will build generations of quantum computers and host users from all over the world in the Duke Quantum Center in the Chesterfield Building downtown.

“This unique vision requires support from all levels, both at Duke and from the research community as a whole, and we have it all. We also have arrays of talented students and others on campus, from physics and engineering to chemistry and medicine, that will allow the DQC to flourish.”

Felwine Sarr
Anne-Marie Bryan Distinguished Professor of Romance Studies

An internationally known public intellectual, Sarr’s research interests include economics, development policy, arts, philosophy, music, literature and cultural studies.  A native of Senegal, he comes to Duke from Gaston Berger University in Senegal, where he has taught since 2007. He’s written numerous books and essays, many focused on intellectual decolonization in Africa, and published three large pieces of music. Recently, he was part of a team asked by the French government to report on the presentation of African culture in French museums. 

“It is in the realm of the humanities that some of the most important questions about the current dynamics of African societies were being posed. Any approach to Africa’s economic past, present and future has to engage deeply with questions about culture and the arts, religion and philosophy, which have all been realms through which basic values and ideas about society have been developed and articulated within Africa. My current research revolves around two central issues: the development and writing of African humanities and the construction of an ecology of knowledge. 

“My work broadly represents an intervention into the field of Francophone Studies. If we correctly consider that the future of Francophonie is in Africa, given that the majority of French speakers now live on the continent and that this preponderance will continue to increase in the coming decades, a better understanding of African societies of this 21th century is crucial for Francophone Studies.  

“In the context of African French-speaking countries, such an undertaking raises the question of the sources and in particular the question of the oral sources, which I argue are carriers more than any other of the collective memory and beliefs of African societies. West African societies have experienced writing systems that have played differentiated roles in archiving and conserving their cultural heritage. Some writing systems were reserved for an elite, and others were more widespread. Many human groups did not need writing to transmit their cultural capital.

“Artifacts and objects can also play a significant role in an archeology of knowledges. They can help the rewriting of history, they encompass knowledge and indicates alternatives epistemological universes. Every societytransmits a heritage and perpetuates a cultural matrix that conveys its identity through time, transforming it as the world evolves.”

Edward Miao
Professor in the Department of Immunology

As a researcher, Edward Miao says he loves “to dive into some deep mysteries about how the immune system fights infection.” His research is expanding the medical knowledge base of the fundamental interaction between the immune system and a range of invaders including viruses and other pathogens. He comes to Duke from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“What drives me to study the immune system?  Perhaps at heart I am a storyteller.  I enjoy the narrative arc of the host-pathogen interaction. We have a protagonist – ourselves.  And an antagonist – the pathogen.  Investigating the battle is like discovering a story that was written over eons. 

“In another sense, it is like an infinite game of chess. Each side makes moves, counter moves, sets up board positions that make attack down that particular file impossible or disastrous for the other side to attempt to attack.  Moves and counter moves, which unfold on a multitude of fronts and with endless complexity.  However, in the end, if we can make the right breakthroughs in our understanding, it will all make sense because evolution finds solutions that work.  Someday for each infectious disease we will know how each aspect of virulence steps forward, what immune defenses advance to block them, and whether the pathogen weaves and dodges again in response.   

“I was a faculty member at UNC for eight years.  In that time, I had the opportunity to interact with many colleagues at Duke, resulting in several productive collaborations over the years, including with Dr. Mari Shinohara, Dr. Jörn Coers, and Dr. Soman Abraham.  I’m looking forward to interacting with other colleagues who study immunology, infectious disease and cell biology in the years to come. 

“There is a lot of strength here at Duke to support and grow research focused on these areas.  The Science and Technology Initiative I think has an interest in further strengthening research into immunology and infectious disease.  I’m looking forward to being a neighbor to Dr. Carolyn Coyne who will be coming to Duke in 2021 through the Science and Technology Initiative and will be our neighbor in MSRB3! I think there’s a bright future for research into immunology and infectious disease here at Duke, and I’m looking forward to being a part of it!”

Callie Tennyson
Assistant Professor, School of Nursing

Duke University is like a second home to Callie Tennyson, indeed to her entire family. She is one of three women in the family to have degrees from the School of Nursing. The school is “part of the fabric of our family.” 

She brings to the nursing faculty extensive experience in acute care nursing and a research focus on cardiothoracic and cardiac critical care specializing in advanced heart failure, ventricular assist devices and heart transplant. 

“My family has deep roots in Durham and I am a fifth generation Duke student- my great-great grandfather graduated from Trinity College in 1898. (Family lore is that HIS father also attended Trinity College and paid his tuition by driving a donkey cart to the coast and bringing back salt to sell!) The value of education has been passed through these generations. 

“Over my career, I have been mentored by amazing physicians and nurses here in the Duke Health system. Teaching is second nature to all of the staff and faculty here at DUHS and that culture has really fostered my interest and opportunities in academia. It’s time to pay it forward! 

“Acute Care Nurse Practitioners are more often being used in the inpatient workforce as part of the multidisciplinary team to manage complex patients. There is something very sacred about being the provider to care for a patient in their greatest time of need, when they are looking to you for guidance and hope. It is incredibly important to me to educate students so that they are confident, competent, and prepared for this important role. 

“One of the ways that we train students is using the incredible simulation resources at DUSON. Simulations are a safe space to hone important skills like running a code blue scenario, performing invasive procedures or communicating a diagnosis to a patient and their loved ones. When approaching research in the area of Family Presence During Resuscitation, we use a multidisciplinary approach in simulation to practice the nuances of supporting family members in crisis. Debriefing with students after a simulation is a goldmine of teaching opportunities and I love it!”

Lisa Gennetian
Pritzker Associate Professor of Early Learning Policy Studies,
Sanford School

Lisa Gennetian uses the tools of economics to get at the thorny policy questions about poverty, inequality and the well-being of children, asking big questions about public investments and services for families. She comes from Duke after several years working in nonprofit evaluation and think tanks.

“College degrees for his hoped-for children were only a glimmer in my father’s eye when he arrived in the U.S. as a young adult with only an eighth-grade education. I embraced that glimmer to its fullest and marched along toward completing a PhD, after first being the first to graduate from college in my family.

“I reflect now and only remember a childhood with safe housing, ample food, a working-class family neighborhood, a reliable public school and public services, a labor market that offered my parents a secure job and a path to economic opportunity, and all of the hustle and bustle of a local ethnic support network.  There were bumps of course but I was nothing short of optimistic about the possibilities for my future. This time and place had what researchers now call an “opportunity structure” and shaping—or some would argue re-shaping—a world that offers the same to every child today, starting at birth, is what drives my work.  

“For me as a child poverty scholar (where excellent research has mostly been grown out of urban areas like New York City, Chicago and Baltimore), I look forward to raising the voices of children in the Southeast.  The faculty at Sanford span economics, political science, sociology, psychology, and child development, reflecting the span of my multidisciplinary research. Policy challenges as diverse as the environment, health care, education, prison reform, and the caregiving workforce that matter for public policy also matter for children. Sanford has all of this under one roof!”

Gina-Gail S Fletcher
Professor of Law

An innovative scholar of complex financial instruments and market regulation, Gina-Gail Fletcher joined the Duke Law faculty in July 2020 from the Indiana University Maurer School of Law. Fletcher’s current research focuses on how market innovations can be misused to manipulate the markets and the implications of such practices on the stability of the financial markets and on the ability of regulatory bodies to ensure market efficiency and integrity. 

Her interest in the field came out of her experiences entering law at the time of the 2008 recession. As a young attorney, she helped draft parts of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and the Consumer Protection Act, both key legislative responses to the market manipulations seen in the recession. 

“I came to pursue research on market regulation as a junior lawyer, fresh out of law school. In my practice, I was able to see first-hand the extent to which the law tries to balance encouraging financial innovation against the need to regulate complex products that can and do impact the lives of ordinary persons. How banks are regulated, for example, can impact the interest rate a student receives on her college loans; regulation of complex financial products may also impact whether a consumer can afford to purchase a car or a first-time homeowner to buy home. 

“In my research of the financial markets, I am driven to understand and analyze the effects of the law on financial innovation, and to contemplate ways to make such innovation fairer and its benefits more accessible to a wider cross-section of society. 

“Duke is an exciting place to be a scholar of financial regulation. The Law School has some of the most preeminent scholars in the field and I am looking forward to being part of the community. The Global Financial Markets Center at the Law School is one of the leading centers of its kind and, undoubtedly, will be a source of interdisciplinary research on financial regulation. Additionally, the physical and intellectual proximity of Fuqua Business School will provide a fruitful avenue for future collaboration and research.” 

Christopher Wildeman
Professor of Sociology

Coming to Duke from Cornell University, Wildeman is a leading scholar of the consequences of mass imprisonment for inequality, with emphasis on families, health, and children. He is also interested in child welfare, especially as relates to child maltreatment and the foster care system. 

“Historically, scholars of the criminal justice system were focused almost exclusively on how prison and jail incarceration rates affected one thing: crime rates. As the American incarceration rate is now an extreme outlier relative to every other developed democracy in the world, the broader effects of incarceration — on the families left behind, on the health and wellbeing of incarcerated people, and, indeed, on the level of inequality in our society — need to be considered too as we consider the costs and benefits of mass incarceration.  

“My work seeks to round out that picture of the effects of incarceration by showing that there are a range of harms that spring from mass incarceration. 

“As a native of Chattanooga, Tenn., I have long wanted to get back down to the South, with the Triangle being the ultimate goal. So, there was a strong pull to Duke because of the region. 

“My wife is also training to become a nurse, and the chance for her to do her ABSN at Duke was just too good an opportunity for her to turn down. She absolutely can’t wait to join the Duke family too.  

“And, of course, there was an intense intellectual pull. The Sociology Department at Duke is probably the most intellectually interesting and varied group in the nation, and the admiration I have for a host of my colleagues made coming here a total joy. I also had the sense — from President Price’s email about racial inequities in American society to my initial conversation with Rachel Kranton, the dean of the social sciences, to chats during my somewhat-consistent runs with law school professor Brandon Garrett — that there is a real desire to understand how the criminal legal system in the United States both reflects and intensifies American inequality.”

Profiles by Geoffrey Mock
Photos by Bill Snead, Jared Lazarus, and Megan Mendenhall 
Design by Caroline Pate

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