Academics, Features

Meet Duke’s New Faculty of 2021

Meet Duke's new faculty of 2021

More than 100 new scholars joined the Duke faculty in 2021; though their expertise and interests cover a wide range of disciplines, the common denominator among them is excellence. The expertise they bring to Duke will enhance areas of existing strength and help propel the university forward in other fields identified as strategic priorities. This year’s new faculty also reflect the university’s commitment to hiring for inclusive excellence and advancing and expanding Duke’s teaching and scholarship related to social and racial equity. 

“Whether it’s developing technology to advance brain surgery or diversifying and enriching our understanding of human psychology, our new faculty are addressing challenging problems in new ways,” said Duke Provost Sally Kornbluth. “We’re excited about the new perspectives they bring and the powerful questions they are asking, and I expect they will help shape the direction of the university for years to come.” 
Below, nine new faculty members discuss what they find meaningful about their scholarship and teaching. For more new faculty stories from across the university, see Duke Today’s new faculty series
Scroll down to learn more about each new faculty member.
Candis Watts Smith
Professor of Political Science

Her return is a homecoming: She holds three degrees from Duke (BA, MA and PhD). A leading scholar in the study of American race and ethnic politics, she has reframed long and commonly held assumptions about Black identity and racism providing a more nuanced and diverse portrait of Black Americans, based on her theory of “diasporic consciousness.” Smith has also measured racial attitudes among Millennials, contesting and disproving another dominant paradigm – the belief that they are less racist than earlier generations.   

“I focus on matters that help us to understand why we do the things we do regarding persistent racial inequality in order to work toward understanding what is required to reduce the effects of, if not to fully dismantle, a system of white supremacy."

“What inspires me most is those moments when I can see something “click” in the brains of the people to whom I present my research. When people learn something new, or see an old problem in a new way, or even when they get upset by what I’ve said or written, I know that I am doing something right. We can learn in moments of discomfort. My goal is to provide opportunities for people to unsettle their commonsense notions and to reconsider how they could do something different and how the world could be different if we choose not to settle for the status quo."

“Duke has been a good place for me. I still find myself being a student here—learning both from colleagues as well as my students. I know that the people that are sitting in my classrooms are going to be leaders, so I feel like I have a chance to make a small difference through them.” 
Sophia Enriquez
Assistant Professor, Music

 Music was an important part of Enriquez’s upbringing in Appalachian Ohio. That love of art, and particularly of a mix of Mexican and Appalachian music, informs her scholarship. Enriquez is also a performer of American folk music with a deep curiosity about the musical spaces we collectively inhabit.  

“Music has a lot to teach us about how we are in relationship to each other. It’s a way to think about place and the assumptions we make about people around us in that place. In my work, I’m challenging assumptions about where Latinx people build community and how they express themselves creatively.”

“There is a rich history of Latinx music and culture in Appalachia, but when you think about Appalachia and the South, those aren’t the stories we tell about the region. Being of both Mexican-American and Appalachian heritage, I use music to take a critical look at why the stories that reflect my own family histories and experiences are not part of our understanding of this distinct place.”

“What’s important to me about the arts, music, food, and dance is the social environments we form around these traditions. These traditions are often important sites of cultural exchange and relationship-building across communities. I’m documenting Latinx Appalachian festivals to think about these processes. There’s an intimacy and vulnerability required to participate in and share music, especially Mexican and Appalachian folk musics. But these spaces aren’t without their complexities. Latinx Appalachian musicians are very politically engaged—they’re speaking out about intensifying anti-immigrant policies and prompting us to think more critically about the places we’re from. That work is so valuable in the context of the political and social moment that we’ve been in where the challenges to building relationships require more nuanced understanding.” 
Emilie Aguirre
Professor of Law

With a law degree and a Ph.D. in business management from Harvard, Aguirre’s interdisciplinary scholarship focuses on companies that pursue both social purpose and profit. Her interest in law was spurred as a Princeton undergraduate conducting an ethnographic study of taco trucks in post-Katrina New Orleans, where she found many were threatened with being shut down by authorities. 

“Today we face a daunting set of social and environmental problems. Corporate players are huge in contributing to these problems, but they must also be part of the solution. My research uses my background in law and management to understand what are the barriers to the success of firms pursuing social purpose and profit, and how we can build legal and management frameworks that will be helpful to them and beneficial to society."

“These are some of the most critical problems of our times, and involve fundamental questions about how we pool capital together to solve large social challenges. In the 1800s, it was about how to pool capital to build railroads and provide public utilities. We developed legal and management frameworks that enabled these massive undertakings and have led to amazing economic development. But they have also led to a new set of challenges like climate change and social inequalities, as not everyone gets to share equally in the economic development."

“The social problems themselves have evolved over time, but the fundamental questions and disagreements about what role business should play in solving social problems, those still remain."

“Current frameworks in both business law and management are still really underdeveloped when it comes to supporting the pursuit of both social and financial goals in business. We’re moving in the right direction, but we still need more clarity and more accountability.”  

Akankshi Munjal
Assistant Professor of Cell Biology

“I am fascinated by shapes. Nature offers us a variety of shapes. For example, our organs, such as the heart, kidneys and lungs, have different shapes that are tightly related to their unique functions. These shapes, though seemingly different, are essentially tubes whose formation is governed by common principles. The study of how organs get their shape is called morphogenesis. My lab will study these conserved principles of tissue morphogenesis to advance our understanding of healthy development. This research will also have important implications in translational medicine. "

“We use zebrafish as a model system because their development is similar to ours. They are also small (4-5 cm), convenient for husbandry, and their embryos are optically transparent making them ideal for live imaging with high spatiotemporal resolution."

“The field of developmental biology has been dominated by the idea that genetic patterns instruct tissues to undergo morphogenesis. But more recently, research studies (including my own work) have shown that development is not simply hierarchical as previously thought -- genetic patterns can, and do instruct tissue shape changes, but tissue shape changes can also affect genetic patterns. Understanding such feedback interactions is therefore key to understanding morphogenesis. Besides, genes do not carry all the information necessary for organ shape. The variety of shapes acquired by tissues, in many cases, is better explained by physical and mathematical principles. We therefore collaborate with theoreticians, who build predictive models of morphogenesis, which we go back and test experimentally."

“The field of tissue morphogenesis is highly interdisciplinary and quantitative. Duke and the research triangle area provide a fantastic environment for collaborations across disciplines. I will be surrounded by research communities that, like me, are equally interested in fundamental and clinical science. I am also excited by the diversity of culture Durham offers to build a research group that is integrative and inclusive.” 
Cameron McIntyre
Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Neurosurgery

The founder of multiple startup companies in the realm of deep brain stimulation, McIntyre will use the close ties and entrepreneurial programs between the Pratt School of Engineering and the School of Medicine to focus on advances that can rapidly reach clinical applications for Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders. 
“It’s the opportunity for clinical impact that motivates me. I’m interested in science, and I love understanding how these technologies work in the brain, but at the end of the day, I’m more of an engineer than scientist. I just want to solve the problem."

“I attack problems that are reachable in a reasonable time frame. With deep brain stimulation, we’re currently focused on surgical targeting, using holographic technology to help the surgeon get the electrodes in the right place. Deep brain simulation is 25 years old, but we still don’t get great surgical precision. If you can’t solve that problem, it doesn’t matter how cool your device is. You’re not always going to get the clinical outcome you want."

“Our group can’t fix the whole thing, but we can develop technology that will make that step in the clinical process more accurate and more customizable to the patient." 

“I came to Duke for many reasons. In my head there is a Venn diagram with truly top tier biomedical engineering and neurosurgery programs, both on the same campus, in an area with a high quality of life and reasonable cost of living. There’s only one place that fits those criteria.”

Cristina Salvador
Assistant Professor, Psychology & Neuroscience

Salvador is a social and cultural psychologist whose research aims to shed light on how the view of the self as interdependent, or embedded in social relationships, manifests across cultures. Her particular expertise is in Latin American cultures. 

“I mostly grew up in Latin America. My dad is Ecuadorian, my mom Ecuadorian-American. I spent my life in two different cultures.  The largest difference I observed was the greater emphasis on the collective in Ecuador and on the individual in the United States. Having that personal experience sparked my interest in how culture influences our psychology, how we think of ourselves, how we express our emotions and what motivates us.”
“One main theory in my field is that people in different cultures vary in how they think about the self.  European-Americans and people in many Western cultures typically see the self as independent, which is tied to positive self-image and the confident expression of feelings. Other groups are commonly found to be interdependent, where the self is embedded closely in their social groups. The most studied interdependent group in the literature is East Asians who are found to be more self-effacing and careful in their expressions.” 

“With only East-West comparisons it seems like independence and interdependence are linked to distinct, almost opposite psychological tendencies. However, this clean comparison breaks down when you look at other interdependent groups. For example, my research suggests that Latin Americans are highly interdependent, but at the same time highly expressive of emotions.  Based on this finding and some of my other work my collaborators and I suggest that interdependence can take on a variety of different forms depending on the specific cultural, historical, ecological conditions in each place. This idea can enable us to look at various other interdependent cultures to understand one of the most fundamental concepts of the field.  This broader endeavor will allow us to diversify and globalize our research to get a richer understanding of the psychology of human beings.”  
Jennifer Siegel
Bruce R. Kuniholm Chair in History and Public Policy

Siegel is an experienced historian of international diplomacy, modern intelligence, finance, the origins of wars, and the nature of alliances. By appointing a historian as the first Kuniholm Professor, the school is making a commitment to exposing its students to the broad historical context of contemporary public policy challenges.  

“My major project at the moment is a study of the diplomacy of World War I; not the diplomacy of the war’s origins or of the peacemaking at the end, but during the war itself. It’s almost as if everyone thinks that when war broke out the diplomats just retired to the spas for four years and came out of mothballs when peace needed to be negotiated. That’s just not what happened, yet there is a large hole in the literature on the diplomacy of the war. "

“I aim to do a broad study that incorporates questions of diplomatic relations within alliances -- how do you keep an alliance together, how do you broaden an alliance -- relations with neutral countries, and relations between combatant powers. There was a tremendous amount of diplomatic wheeling and dealing on all sides."

“And all of this reflects on contemporary public policy issues our students are studying. For me, one of the great appeals of coming to Sanford and being in a public policy school is being encouraged to think in a more contemporary mode. My research focuses on diplomatic history of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and I also push to make the connection to contemporary challenges. I encourage my students to see the precedents for current issues in the long history of the modern period. The fact that everyone at Sanford wanted me to be part of their conversation about contemporary public policy made me want to be part of that conversation.” 

Calvin Cheung-Miaw
Assistant Professor of History

A new Ph.D., Cheung-Miaw’s dissertation, “Asian Americans and the Color-Line: An Intellectual History of Asian American Studies, 1969–2000,” is a field-defining work that tracks the movement of the color-line in the post-war United States history of race. An activist and former union organizer, he is joined with Anna Storti as new hires specializing in Asian American Studies. 
“Since the 1960s, there have been two related changes in intellectual thought concerning the study of race: We’ve gone from thinking about race in terms of a single color line to thinking about multiple color lines, and we’ve started understanding the struggles of different racial groups as not analogous and often in conflict. Asian American intellectuals have been crucial in shaping these changes. 

“These changes are also reflected in the world of activism. In the late ‘60s, Asian American activists made the case for multi-racial solidarity by emphasizing their common status as “Third World people” with Blacks and Native Americans. Today, it’s very different. Asian American activists still build coalitions with other groups, but solidarity usually starts with a recognition of how each group faces different struggles."

“I got interested in race and solidarity through my organizing work. I worked at a hotel in San Jose at time when the hotel industry had shifted away from hiring African Americans and began hiring more immigrant workers. Organizing involved talking with workers from different backgrounds about solidarity and making sure we worked together to protect everyone’s needs. Our union contracts insisted on more diversity in hiring, but they also protected the rights of immigrant workers, for instance during immigration raids."

“I’m thrilled to be at Duke. We are at the leading edge of a new wave of Asian American studies, and a leader among programs exploring Asian Americans in the South. We will help change the way people think about the history and culture of the U.S.” 

Kevin Richardson
Assistant Professor, Philosophy

Arriving from N.C. State, Richardson specializes in metaphysics and the philosophy of language, with his philosophical interests overlapping with different disciplines including psychology, gender studies and Black studies. Richardson’s current research asks questions about the nature of the social world, and how our linguistic practices shape social reality.  

“At some point, every person has to answer questions about their social identity. What is your race? Your gender? Your sexual orientation? And if you do not answer these questions for yourself, they will be answered for you, by others. Like it or not, people are often placed in social categories.”
“In my research, I show that questions about social identity do not always have determinate answers. There may be no matter of fact of whether you do, or do not, have a certain race, gender, or sexual orientation. Instead of thinking in terms of absolutes, we should acknowledge the extent to which our identities come in degrees. If my view is correct, then we should radically rethink the social world (and perhaps our politics, as well).”

“My interest in social identity stems from a surprising place: philosophical logic. In classical conceptions of logic, sentences can only be either true or false; they cannot be both and they cannot be neither. This conception of logic has been dominant for hundreds (if not thousands) of years. Today, however, philosophers and logicians have constructed mathematically rigorous logics where these classical assumptions no longer hold. I apply such non-classical logics to the social world.”

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