Graduate and Professional Student Spotlight: Reflections from the Class of 2023

May 1, 2023

Headshots of Class of 2023.

Graduate and professional school students play a crucial role on Bass Connections teams, often serving as project managers, subteam leaders, subject area experts and mentors for undergraduates.

These 15 graduate and professional students from the Class of 2023 took a moment before graduation to share reflections on their Bass Connections experience. These students, who are among nearly 350 graduate and professional students who participate in Bass Connections each year, leveraged their project team experience to hone career-enhancing skills, strengthen master's theses and doctoral dissertations, develop deep relationships with faculty and project partners, coauthor publications and more.

Congratulations to all of this year’s graduates!

Leslie Ballew

Master of Divinity
Evaluating Faith-Based Needs of Patients with Head and Neck Cancer (2022-2023)

Leslie Ballew headshot.“My Bass Connections project allowed me to stretch beyond the siloed nature of my graduate program and integrate within the larger university system. It empowered me to share my expertise in my field while also asking questions from the point of view of different disciplines to enhance my [holistic understanding of] the project. Serving as the lead for the clergy side of the project enabled me to increase my mentorship, leadership and management skills. I enjoyed working with undergraduate students and the way that their perspective brought hope and new passion to my area of the research.”

After graduation, Ballew will work as a chaplain resident at the Durham VA Medical Center and as a wedding director at the Duke Chapel.

Nadia Bardo

Master of Environmental Management
A City and its River: Contaminant Risk in Durham's Ellerbe Creek Watershed (2022-2023)

Nadia Bardo headshot.“Bass Connections provided me with an opportunity to learn from peers with similar or complimentary research interests to my own. I was able to gain a great mentor as well as mentor and teach others. I also enjoyed the multifaceted work, where I was able to work in a lab on toxicology assays, in the field collecting samples and at a computer doing data analysis and mapping. From this work, I know that I want to gain further research experience and continue working on teams with similar structures.”

After graduation, Bardo will be working as an ORISE Fellow at the Enivronmental Protection Agency.

Ryder Buttry

Master of Public Policy
American Predatory Lending and the American Financial Crisis (2021-2022) and Equitable Community-University Research Partnerships (2022-2023)

Ryder Buttry headshot.“My project teams allowed me to forge connections with and find mentors outside of my school of study. Through relationships I made during Bass Connections, I was able to pursue a research assistantship, and even sat in with one of my Bass Connections team leads while he interviewed Governor Cooper. The most meaningful part of the experience was working with and learning from an interdisciplinary group of individuals that I would not have met otherwise.”

After graduation, Buttry plans to pursue a career in the policy and philanthropy sectors.

Ryder Buttry and Eli Levine at the 2022 Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Showcase.
Buttry and Eli Levine represent the American Predatory Lending and the American Financial Crisis team at the 2022 Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Showcase. (Photo: John West)

Erin Fleck

Master of Environmental Management
Environmental Justice, Climate Change and Community Engagement (2022-2023)

Erin Fleck headshot.“Working together with my Bass Connections team was one of the most unique and dynamic experiences I had in my time at the Nicholas School. This opportunity brought together students from all corners of the Duke community to learn and grow together in our understanding of community engagement and our shared desires to strengthen the community voice in the energy transition. I'm excited about what the team was able to accomplish together with community members from Eastern North Carolina, and I'm excited to see where this project goes in the future!”

After graduation, Fleck will continue her work at the Pew Charitable Trusts and as an advocate for community-centered conservation and restoration efforts across the United States.

Fleck and teammates in eastern NC.
Fleck (top row, left in black) and teammates atop a covered swine waste lagoon during a site visit in eastern North Carolina in August 2022 (Photo: Courtesy of Erin Fleck)

Kelly Hunter

Ph.D. in Public Policy and Political Science
Big Data for Reproductive Health (2018-2019), 2019-2020, 2020-2021 and 2021-2022
Related Dissertation Chapter: Understanding Mechanisms and Outcomes of Women's Empowerment: Experimental Evidence from Kenya

Kelly Hunter headshot.“Bass Connections allowed me to grow as a researcher in multiple ways. The team-based projects provided me with the opportunity to both receive excellent mentorship from faculty and serve as a mentor to undergraduates in a variety of disciplines. I gained valuable skills in research design and methodology, and I had multiple opportunities to join my fellow team members in disseminating our research through published papers and presentations at local, national and international academic conferences.”

After graduation, Hunter will be postdoctoral scholar in political science at Northwestern University.

Left photo: Hunter second from right) and teammates at the International Conference on Family Planning in Kigali, Rwanda in 2018; Right photo: Hunter (middle) and teammates with their prize-winning poster at the 2019 Bass Connections Showcase (Photos: Courtesy of Amy Finnegan and the Duke Center for Global Reproductive Health)

Natasha Jacob

Master of Environmental Management
A City and its River: Contaminant Risk in Durham's Ellerbe Creek Watershed (2022-2023)
Related Master's Project: Study of Land Use Impacts and Options for Innovative Stormwater Management in a Rapidly Changing Watershed: Richland Creek, Wake County, North Carolina

Natasha Jacob headshot.“As a biotechnologist who has worked on water quality testing in a lab before, I had never gotten the opportunity to do field work or even see what the study area looked like. Getting the opportunity to perform a variety of fieldwork, from sampling water quality to installing insect traps, was my main motivation to join the team. Apart from fieldwork, I was also involved in the maps subteam where I studied the relationship between imperviousness and water quality in the Ellerbe Creek watershed. My project experience has been very interdisciplinary, from collecting data in the field to analyzing it in the lab and then mapping it. I've followed the path to earn my GIS certificate at the Nicholas School, and I've been able to use the things I've learned in my GIS classes as part of this research. I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to utilize my skills outside of classes and work on real-world environmental problems.”

After graduation, Jacob will be working with an engineering and environmental consulting firm. Her work will focus on utilizing geospatial analysis for environmental-related mapping.

Natasha Jacob conducting fieldwork in Ellerbe Creek. (Photo: Courtesy of Natasha Jacob)
Natasha Jacob conducting fieldwork in Ellerbe Creek (Photo: Courtesy of Natasha Jacob)

Raza Lamb

Master in Interdisciplinary Data Science
Trauma-Informed Courts: A Public Health Approach to Juvenile Justice (2022-2023)

Raza Lamb headshot.“This Bass Connections project allowed me to move away from an industry perspective and towards a research perspective, which is something that I have missed in my other experiences at Duke. Helping to design and implement a research study has been incredibly valuable to me as I continue to focus on how to make the largest possible impact with my skillset.”

In June, Lamb will start work as a data scientist at the U.S. Census Bureau.

Raza Lamb and the Trauma-Informed Courts team.
Lamb (top row, second from left in white) and members of the Trauma-Informed Courts team celebrate the last day of class. (Photo: Courtesy of Amelia Thorn)

Gonzalo Alfredo Meneses Gonzales

Master of International Development Policy
Coping Together: Reducing Mental Health Disparities for Latinx Families (2022-2023)

Gonzalo Alfredo Meneses Gonzales“The Coping Together project was a great opportunity for me to hone my research and qualitative analysis skills while also learning how protocols and studies work in the United States. I'm hopeful our work will serve as an efficient and culturally competent intervention that will help Latinx families in the U.S. strengthen their bonds and gain the resilience and skills they need to reach their goals. Through this project, I was able to learn from top researchers in the mental health field, build partnerships with Latinx families that face struggles that are similar to what I have experienced as a foreign student, and design solutions to help this group thrive.”

After graduation, Meneses Gonzales will be working as a program officer specializing in change management at FHI 360, a nonprofit human development organization based in Durham.

Gonzales at the Bass Connections Showcase.
Gonzales (second from left) and teammates at the 2023 Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Showcase on April 19 (Photo: Les Todd)

Cameron Oglesby

Master of Public Policy
Collecting Oral Histories of Environmental Racism and Injustice (2022-2023)

Cameron Oglesby headshot.“I’ve spent the last six years at Duke (as an undergrad and master's student) immersing myself in multimedia storytelling and intentional community engagement as a method for climate and environmental justice advocacy. This Bass Connections project was an introduction and in-depth practice in translating that expertise for other students, an attempt to develop a culture at Duke of meaningful and community-informed research and story preservation. Directing this project has reaffirmed my love for solutions journalism, oral history preservation, community organizing and non-traditional environmental justice storytelling as well as student mentorship. Whether it was the excitement on students’ faces as we marched alongside the original Warren County environmental justice protesters, student curiosity when sitting in conversation with elders in Piney Woods Free Union, or the enthusiasm and gratitude of our community partners as we develop and design truly impactful virtual collections on their behalf, this project has lit a fire under me as an environmental justice advocate, educator and journalist. I’m excited to continue this work!”

After graduation, Oglesby will continue her work as a climate justice reporter for Yale Climate Connections and as an Associate Editor at Earth in Color, while working with environmental justice elders to write a book on environmental racism in the U.S. In February 2024, she will join McKinsey & Company.

Cameron Oglesby (right) and marchers.
Oglesby (right) marching with Reverend Bill Kearney (center) in Warren County to commemorate 40 years of environmental justice advocacy in the region (Photo: Will Atwater)

Jessica Orzulak

Ph.D. in Art, Art History & Visual Studies
Socially Engaged Art and Tech at the Intersections of Ecology, Disability and History (2022-2023)

Jessica Orzulak headshot.“Participating in this project helped me to cultivate multiple skills, including teaching, developing alternative pedagogies, collaborative work, interdisciplinary scholarly exploration and managing and guiding student research teams. These skills and experiences will directly inform my work in the next stage of my career whether I am at an academic institution or in the wider museum and/or community arts sphere. Working with this Bass Connections team also gave me an opportunity to put my research and teaching training into direct practice in an alternative educational setting that offered a more flexible and experimental structure.”

After graduation, Orzulak will pursue a career in academia or curation.

Orzulak with a microscope.
Orzulak at the Socially Engaged Art and Tech team's Living Soils Microscopy Workshop in October 2022 (Photo: Khilan Walker)

Kayal Parthiban

Certificate in Theology and Health Care
Gamifying Risk Identification for Alcohol Use Behaviors Across Countries and Cultures (2022-2023)

Kayal Parthiban headshot.“Being a graduate research assistant on my Bass Connections team has been an incredible experience. I was an undergrad not too long ago, and being in the midst of Duke students who are committed to spending such significant time in research has been a joy to watch. My time at Duke has been short—I'm only here for a year—and being a part of the team has taught me a lot about excellent leadership style, good communication and a commitment to research with real impact. [As I prepare for a career in medicine], the most meaningful part of such a technical project team has been a connection to science that rekindled a genuine excitement for medical school. My fellowship has been teaching me what it means to be thoughtful, caring, compassionate and respectful of dignity as a physician-in-training, and Bass Connections has strengthened my commitment to science, research and technology. The melding of these two worlds has been particularly challenging and beautiful, and it stands out to me as my most special experience at Duke.”

Parthiban will begin medical school in the fall.

Jose Pliego San Martin

Master in Statistical Science
Mental Health and the Justice System in Durham County (2022-2023)

Jose Pliego San Martin headshot.“My Bass Connections experience made me greatly aware of current social issues, mainly concerning the overrepresentation of mental health illness in the incarcerated population. It was also very helpful for me to see how statistics is used in other disciplines and the importance of interdisciplinary research. I hope in the future to be involved in organizations that use statistical models to tackle social issues.”

After graduation, San Martin will join Liberty Mutual as a data scientist.

Shuyi Qiu

Master of Public Policy
Predictive Modeling for Decision-making in Public Health (2022-2023)

Shuyi Qiu headshot.“This project was my first time working with an interdisciplinary team composed of both undergrad and graduate students. The special thing about our team was that we also had members from both China and United States. There were difficulties in organizing check-in meetings and arranging an internal schedule; however, this challenge helped me practice my management and organization skills. The project also helped me learn how to work with a group of researchers with diverse backgrounds, arrange schedules for a team and manage task assignments. These are valuable skills that I hadn't developed during my previous research experiences and they'll be even more valuable as I continue my journey in academia.”

Qiu is continuing her academic career at Duke as a Ph.D. student public policy and sociology.

Shivani Surati

Master of Science in Global Health
Role of Physiotherapy in Ugandan Neurosurgical Transitional Care (2021-2022)

Shivani Surati headshot.“Being a part of Bass Connections has been an incredibly transformative experience for me. As a graduate student in global health, I was keenly aware of the issues of health inequity, but Bass Connections allowed me to really connect my education to real-world problems. Through my involvement in Bass Connections, I was able to gain firsthand experience in the field, work with vulnerable populations, conduct research and analysis and collaborate with interdisciplinary teams. I learned how to apply my knowledge and skills to make a tangible difference in people's lives, which has been immensely meaningful for me. Moreover, the exposure to neurosurgical care as a part of Bass Connections has helped me understand the significance of research in improving health outcomes for patients. I know this opportunity has been foundational in building my career in public health. It has helped me land my current position and continues to shape my professional development and growth.”

Surati is a clinical research study coordinator at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Surati and teammates in Uganda.
Surati (front row, left) with teammates and partners in Uganda in summer 2022 (Photo: Courtesy of Kira Battle)

Sam Wolter

Juris Doctor
American Predatory Lending and the American Financial Crisis (2021-2022)

Sam Wolter headshot.“Working with the American Predatory Lending team was a highlight of my time at Duke. The experience provided a structured way to advance my legal studies in a unique way outside of the traditional law school framework that allowed me to gain experience in independently designing and pursuing a research project. I also appreciated the opportunity to learn from so many scholars, researchers, and students from different schools and programs that I never would have otherwise had the chance to work with.”

Wolter plans to take the Colorado Bar Examination and begin a position as an Assistant Attorney General Fellow with the Colorado Attorney General's Office in November.

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