Faculty and Doctoral Student Pair Recognized for Excellence in Collaborative Leadership

April 14, 2023

Lau (front left in black) and Gavin (front right in white) in March 2023 at the Kathmandu Geohazard Early Warning Research Symposium, held in Nepal. Lau organized the symposium to celebrate the team’s international partnership and research.
Lau (front left in black) and Gavin (front right in white) in March 2023 at the Kathmandu Geohazard Early Warning Research Symposium in Nepal. Lau organized the symposium to celebrate the team’s international partnership and research.

Henri Gavin and Rachael Lau are joint recipients of the Bass Connections Excellence in Collaborative Leadership Award. While Gavin and Lau were each nominated individually for this year’s Leadership and Mentorship Awards, this new award was created to recognize Gavin and Lau’s exceptional co-leadership of their international, interinstitutional Bass Connections team: Earthquake Early Warning in Kathmandu

Gavin, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Lau, a Ph.D. candidate in civil and environmental engineering who is spending the year in Nepal as a 2022 Fulbright Scholar, form a cross-continental dynamic duo. With Gavin supporting the team from Duke’s campus in Durham and Lau leading from Kathmandu, Nepal, the team brings together students from Duke, DKU and Tribhuvan University of Nepal to develop smart sensing network technology to detect early warning signs of earthquakes. The team also partners with primary and secondary schools in Nepal to teach students about earthquake safety. 

Gavin and Lau received overwhelmingly enthusiastic support for their nominations from students who described the exceptional academic and personal experiences the two work together to create for all team members and collaborators.

Gavin’s recommenders emphasized his dedication to their individual learning and development, describing him as patient and inspiring. Lau’s nominators noted her exceptional organizational skills, her impeccable communication and her empowering one-on-one mentorship. Both leaders were lauded for their focus on interdisciplinarity and their nurturing of this unique international partnership as well as their passion for applying their skills to prevent future earthquake disasters. 

Rachael and Henri.
Photos courtesy of Henri Gavin and Rachael Lau

Praise for Gavin and Lau

As a Nepali student at Duke with a keen interest in designing technology with ethical considerations, I find Dr. Gavin's deep respect for the stakeholders' best interests, demonstrated through his repeated considerations of algorithm choice, student-to-student co-development in the design phase and consistent check-ins with all teams, to be both inspiring and a privilege. His approach has shaped my thinking as a systems thinker and has reframed my understanding of problem-solving in Nepal.  –Sabhyata Jha, Undergraduate Team Member (DKU)

What sets Rachael apart is her dedication to interdisciplinary learning and her ability to help team members create connections across disciplines. She has a remarkable talent for bridging the gaps between fields and bringing together diverse perspectives, creating a dynamic and stimulating environment that encourages intellectual curiosity and innovation. –Ceyda Alabacak, Undergraduate Team Member (Duke)

Professor Gavin has an exceptional capacity to explain complex ideas in a simple, relatable manner, and he has helped me personally, as well as my teammates, understand advanced concepts. He encouraged each member of our team to contribute to the development and execution of our project goals, resulting in a genuinely collaborative and interdisciplinary learning experience. –Trailokaya Raj Bajgain, Undergraduate Team Member (DKU)

Anytime you were feeling stuck you could just visit [Rachael] and walk out knowing what your next steps would be. She has been very open to sharing her resources and connections to help further our research. Always a ball of positive energy and infectious enthusiasm, she has increased my interest and excitement in continuing research down the line. –Nabin Kalauni, Undergraduate Team Member (Tribhuvan Institute of Engineering, Pulchowk)

[Dr. Gavin] has a keen ability to navigate complex situations and guide the team towards achieving our goals while keeping us engaged and motivated. He has endless patience for explaining complex and theoretical mathematical background of earthquake early warning system algorithms to students and is genuinely excited about the possibilities the project could hold ... His dedication to the Duke-Tribhuvan collaboration is unparalleled. He consistently went above and beyond to ensure that our team was equipped with the resources and support we needed to succeed when we, as a group, traveled to Nepal to present at the Kathmandu Geohazard Early Warning Conference in March 2023. –Himani Bhat, Undergraduate Team Member (Duke)

[Rachael] has managed to organize a project involving multiple fields of research and supervise the collaboration between students from two different universities on opposite sides of the globe. With her efforts, we have been able to bring together insights and perspectives from various domains, which have expanded our research and led to more thorough and successful solutions. –Nishchal Nath Sigdel, Undergraduate Team Member (Tribhuvan Institute of Engineering, Pulchowk)

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