Senior Spotlight: Reflections from the Class of 2021

April 26, 2021

21 for the Class of 21.

These 21 seniors are among the nearly 600 Duke undergraduates who participate in Bass Connections each year. For some students, taking part in collaborative, interdisciplinary research confirmed and deepened their interests; for others, the experience opened up entirely new paths. Many students found ways to take their research further through honors theses and other opportunities. Here are excerpts of what this experience has meant to them.

Congratulations to all our graduating seniors!

Sarah Bond

Majors: Public Policy and Global Health
Project Team: Enabling Precision Health and Medicine
Honors Thesis: The Enabling Factors and Barriers to the Passage of the Immigrant Children’s Health Improvement Act: A Florida Case Study

Sarah Bond.“I am incredibly grateful for my experience with Bass Connections. Being on this team has transformed me from a first-year unsure of what research was and if I would like it, to a confident researcher capable of leading and mentoring new researchers.”

Since her time in Bass Connections, Bond has conducted various projects with the Duke Margolis Center for Health Policy. After graduation, she will be working as an Associate Consultant at Bain & Company in Boston. Read her story here.

Taylor Braswell

Major: Psychology
Project Team: Collaborative Learning in STEM

Taylor Braswell.“Bass Connections taught me a lot about myself. It helped me focus on what my passions are. I love majoring in STEM, but I can’t sit here and say there weren’t times I wanted to quit because I felt like I didn’t belong. My Bass Connections team not only reignited my passion for STEM but helped me realize it is possible to do research in fields that you’re passionate about.”

Read Taylor Braswell’s story here.

Meghana Sai Iragavarapu

Major: Program II
Project Team: Documenting Durham’s Health History 
Honors Thesis: Addressing Nutritional Disparities Through Digital Health: Implementation of the DASH Diet to Address Hypertension

Meghana Sai Iragavarapu.“Bass Connections allowed me to take a deeply personal interest of mine and turn it into an academic passion. Applying a critical lens to the disparity of diabetes in Durham encouraged me to work towards a sustainable version of myself. Bass Connections challenged me to grow in discomfort, surprised me with its findings, invigorated me with curiosity, but most importantly, reminded me of the real reason I came to Duke – to develop the necessary skills to take steps toward a positive social impact.”

Iragavarapu was chosen as the Class of 2021 student speaker at the May 2 undergraduate commencement ceremony. After graduation, she will be working at Harvard’s primary pediatric program, Boston Children’s Hospital, in the Vascular Anomalies Center. Read her story here.

Jalisa Jackson

Majors: Psychology and African & African American Studies
Project Team: Peer Coaches: Improving Mental Health Treatment for College Students
Honors Thesis: Coping at the Margins: Impact of Race on Students’ Coping, Sense of Self-efficacy and Belonging

Jalisa Jackson.“As a member of a Bass Connections team, I was able to get more invested in research, propelling me to complete a senior thesis project and search for ways to continue building research skills before applying to graduate schools. More importantly, I developed connections to faculty, graduate students and fellow classmates on the team – a priceless network based on the common ground we established on conducting research to improve students’ experience along the lines of mental health and the responsibilities of college life.”

Read Jalisa Jackson’s story here.

Kendall Jefferys

Majors: Environmental Sciences & Policy and English
Project Teams: Deep Learning and Remote Sensing for Coastal Resilience and Arts and the Anthropocene: Crisis and Resilience in North Carolina Waterways
Honors Thesis: The Role of Governance and Social Context in Shaping MPA Food Security Impacts

Kendall Jefferys.“As a sophomore, I was deeply interested in marine science and the impact that climate change will have on our coasts. I wanted to get involved in research, and I wanted to learn with people in different fields. This project fulfilled all those interests, but I was afraid I didn’t have the skills. As an English major, I was much more comfortable writing a paper on Shakespeare’s tragedies than I was with coding anything. But I think that is the value of Bass Connections: it’s okay to get out of your comfort zone. You may not be an expert, but you are curious. You bring a different perspective, and that is just as valuable. Challenging and rewarding, the following year would be one that I am continually grateful for.”

Jefferys received a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. In the fall, she plans to pursue a master’s degree in biodiversity, conservation and management. Read her story here.

Kendall Jefferys.
Left: Diego Chamarro and Kendall Jefferys during their summer at the Marine Lab; Right: Allison Duprey and Kendall Jefferys

Tyler Johnson

Major: Psychology
Project Team: Healthcare Provider Education to Reduce Epilepsy Care Disparities in Uganda

Tyler Johnson.“My experience has equipped me with tools that will be essential in helping me reach my professional aspirations. I have also gained mentors and peers that will continue to support me even after my time at Duke. The breadth and scope of my Bass Connections experience has impacted the development of my research skills and professional network in myriad ways that will inform the work I engage with post-graduation from Duke University.”

Johnson will be working as a clinical research assistant for the iPASS Study at Boston Children’s Hospital for two years before pursuing a joint MD/MPH program. Read her story here.

Spencer Kaplan

Majors: Political Science and Public Policy
Project Team: DECIPHER: Going to Mars

Spencer Kaplan.“One thing I’ve learned is how to lead a team while very much being a part of it, instead of just being on top of it. That’s been a novel experience and I think entirely related to the core of an interdisciplinary collaborative project.”

In his final semester, Kaplan wrote a capstone research paper for his internship at the Potomac Institute entitled “Space-Based Solar Power: A Strategic Opportunity in the 21st Century.” He will be employed with Booz Allen after graduation. Read his student story here.

Zoe King

Major: Program II
Bass Connections Course: EHD 290: Evaluating Healthcare Innovation
Honors Thesis: Safekeeping of Pregnant Incarcerated People in North Carolina

Zoe King.“These experiences led me to want to dedicate my future studies at Duke to the study of implementation within healthcare. Dr. Sperling’s class inspired me to apply to Program II with my area of study called ‘Implementing Healthcare Innovation.’ My Program II major [addresses] the gap between the creation of evidence-based innovations and their implementation into routine health care, including classes in public policy, psychology, global health, statistics, sociology, and innovation and entrepreneurship.”

In the fall, King will pursue an M.S. in Community Health and Prevention Research at Stanford University. Read her story here.

Jason Kwak and Neelesh Pandey

Jason's Major: Public Policy
Neelesh's Majors: Economics and Political Science
Project Team: Cheating, Gambling and Rule Fixing

Jason Kwak and Neelesh Pandey.“Our summer research experience was a fantastic way for us to take initiative on an issue we care about. Additionally, it gave us experience working in a professional environment.”

Read their story here.

Sydny Long

Major: Psychology
Project Team: Expressive Writing for Resilience in Adult Pediatric Oncology Survivors and Their Caregivers

Sydny Long.“While my project and its members taught me invaluable lessons about the capacity of self-expression to change and influenced me to start pursuing a more humanity-oriented form of medicine – culminating in my Reimagine Medicine fellowship – it was the storytelling aspect that has stuck with me most. By learning about one another and keeping the collective human experience alive, we achieve something greater than mere research findings. We find compassion and love.”

After graduation, Long will be working at Eliada Homes, a pediatric behavioral and mental health facility, in Asheville for a year before going on to medical school to study pediatrics. Read her story here.

Melissa Marchese

Major: Environmental Sciences
Project Team: Environmental Epidemiology in Latin America
Honors Thesis: Mercury Accumulation in Foodstuffs from Artisanal Gold Mining Areas of Madre de Dios, Peru and Estimated Human Exposure

Melissa Marchese.“The interdisciplinary nature of my project has provided me with many valuable experiences. My sampling scheme gave me the opportunity to interact with people I would never have met otherwise. As a part of my scientific research, I learned common dishes that incorporate unique chicken parts, different dietary preferences of adults and children and where exactly the food we’ve been eating comes from. Through this, I was able to understand many important perspectives surrounding culture and food in Madre de Dios.”

Marchese will be presenting her thesis at the SETAC Europe 2021 conference. This summer, she will be working in the Feng Lab researching the neurodevelopmental effects of in utero PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) exposure through drinking water. She is staying at Duke for an extra year to pursue a 4+1 accelerated MSc in Global Health. Read her story here.

My mentor Jackie (an Ecology Ph.D. candidate) and I walking through the mining town to collect chickens. Credit: Fernanda Machicao.
Melissa Marchese walking through the mining town to collect chickens with her mentor Jackie, an Ecology Ph.D. candidate (at left) (Photo: Fernanda Machicao)

Nathan Parikh

Majors: Biomedical Engineering and Computer Science
Project Team: Enabling Precision Health and Medicine

Nathan Parikh.“Creating WearDuke truly was a collaborative process, and our team continuously adapted our focus group material, website set-up, reward structure and marketing strategies to ensure our pilot program is as successful as possible. Health technology is changing the world, and I am hopeful that WearDuke will positively impact students at Duke University.”

After graduation, Parikh will be starting as a project manager at Microsoft. Read his story here.

Jay Patel

Majors: Computer Science and Mathematics
Project Team: OSPRI Lab: CSbyUs

Jay Patel.“Being able to spark an interest in computer science with that dozen or so kids and giving them some more confidence and knowledge to hopefully take full advantage of any computer science opportunities that they would have in high school felt truly great. The idea of being able to have that same impact for every student across the state is indescribable, and something I have no issue putting many hours into with the hopes that it will improve those students’ lives and help balance some of the education inequality across NC.”

After graduation, Patel will be starting as a software engineer at Microsoft. Read his story here.

Maria Paz Rios

Majors: Mathematics and History
Project Team: American Predatory Lending and the Global Financial Crisis

Maria Paz Rios.“Throughout my time at Duke, I've been involved with a variety of groups and research opportunities. [Bass Connections] has been by far the most rewarding experience I’ve had because it has provided me with a bridge between the classroom and the real world. It has also provided me with the most rewarding leadership opportunity I’ve had.”

After graduation, Rios will be working at Goldman Sachs in their Investment Banking Division with the Financial Institutions Group in New York City. Read her story here.

Maria Paz Rios interviews.
Maria Paz Rios conducting virtual interviews for her project

Maria Pita

Major: Cultural Anthropology
Project Team: Sustainably Improving Neurosurgical Patient Outcomes in Uganda
Honors Thesis: “Estorbando y Trabajando:” The COVID-19 Experiences of Latinx Construction Workers in Durham

Maria Pita.“Working alongside my peers as we pursued a common goal, under the direction of Dr. Anthony Fuller, has been one of the highlights of my senior year at Duke, and an experience I know I’ll treasure for years to come.”

After graduation, Pita will be returning to Duke for her Master in Biomedical Sciences and applying for medical school. Read her story here.

Sara Platek

Major: Public Policy
Project Team: Duke Building Energy Use Report

Sara Platek.“Although my time working on my project has certainly provided limitless chances to improve my capabilities as an environmental advocate, I have developed the deepest appreciation for the extraordinary opportunity to form genuine connections with students, faculty and staff outside of my major and learn from their unique insights and backgrounds to stimulate effective change on our campus.”

Read Sara Platek’s story here.

Wesley Pritzlaff

Major: Neuroscience
Project Team: Eye Tracking: Objective Assessment for Mild Traumatic Brain Injury in Youth Athletes

Wesley Pritzlaff.“This experience has allowed me to focus my research interests for the future, dealing with how to assess and manage physical injuries, such as a concussion or head injury. Next year, I’ll start in the Duke Doctor of Physical Therapy program. For my clinical career, I'll definitely take the experiences throughout my project, from creating a hypothesis to gathering data, analyzing and presenting, along with me in the future.”

This summer, Pritzlaff will be working as a physical therapy tech to gain clinical experience before entering Duke’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program in August 2021. Read his story here.

Selena Qian

Major: Interdepartmental Major in Visual & Media Studies and Computer Science
Project Team: Spatial Reasoning and Problem-based Learning to Improve Girls’ Math Identity

Selena Qian.“I joined this project because education has always been something that I deeply value. I believe strongly that everyone has the right to learn and the right to decide their own path. This project has aligned with those values and allowed me to explore research in a field that I never expected to. … As we talked about the reasons why the gender gap in STEM exists, I noticed myself identifying personal experiences with each of these reasons. Our discussions showed that we had all experienced some level of every one of these factors, and having a space where we could freely discuss this was empowering.”

Qian graduated in December and is currently working as an associate software engineer at L3Harris Technologies in the Space and Airborne Systems segment. Read her story here.

Ellie Winslow

Major: Public Policy
Bass Connections Course: ISS/ISC Gateway: Information, Society & Culture; Project Team: NC Early Childhood Action Plan
Honors Thesis: Gender Pay Inequality in Professional Sports: How Policy Shapes a Consistent Divide

Ellie Winslow.“I’ve learned just how few people think about the important role information plays in their everyday lives. I now realize how we can forget to take a step back to observe the abundance of information that exists around us. I love that I have been able to take that step back and observe society at large.”

Read Ellie Winslow’s story here.

Songia Wynn

Major: African & African American Studies
Project Team: Strengthening Partnerships between Durham Public Schools and Local Universities

Songia Wynn.“I heard about Community Schools and Community School physician positions, and I realized I definitely wanted to be a part of this Bass Connections project. I could actually merge my interest in medicine and education together through this path, so I was really excited. This [was] perfect for me because I want to be a physician working with public schools and interacting with children, especially with children of color.”

Wynn is an incoming Teach For America corps member. Read her story here, and learn more about her project team.

2019-2020 Research Team.
Songia Wynn and other members of her 2019-2020 Bass Connections team

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