Senior Spotlight: Reflections from the Class of 2024

April 29, 2024

Class of 2024 spotlights

These 20 seniors took a moment before graduation to share what their Bass Connections experiences have meant to them. They’re among nearly 1,000 Duke undergraduates who participate in Bass Connections each year along with 200 graduate and professional students and 350 faculty and staff members.

For some undergraduates, taking part in collaborative, interdisciplinary research confirmed their interests; for others, the experience opened up new pathways. Numerous students found ways to take their research further through related honors theses and other opportunities while at Duke, and have identified career interests to pursue through post-graduation employment and further education.

Congratulations to all our graduating seniors!

Martha Deja


Eye Tracking: Objective Assessment for Mild Traumatic Brain Injury in Youth Athletes (2021-2024)

Martha Deja headshot.“Bass Connections has taught me so much about the research process, the importance of stepping up and pursuing your own passions by your own volition, and how to collaborate within a team community and further life’s important questions. From Dr. Luck, my mentor, I have learned how to lead a project with various moving pieces, how to delegate and how to foster my own sense of strength and self.”

After graduation, Deja will be working at a boutique healthcare consulting firm in Boston. She plans to apply to medical school.

Chenhao Ge

Math and Computer Science

Measuring Urban Heat Islands and Their Causes in Durham (Data+ 2023)

Chenhao Ge headshot.“The thing I loved about Data+ the most is that we are able to apply what we have learned in class to a real-world challenge so that we can actually make a societal impact. It is such a well-structured program that I was able to get all the resources, guidance and funding that I needed to carry out the research. And the collaborative environment led our team to publish a paper in Scientific Reports. It is no doubt my best academic experience at Duke.”

Ge will be pursuing a master’s degree in management science and engineering at Stanford University.

Ge and Data+ teammates.
Ge (right) and his teammates at the Data+ poster showcase in Summer 2023

Amy Guan

Biomedical Engineering

Novel Therapies for Treating Cervical Cancer in Peru (2022-2023); Duke and the Evolution of Higher Education (2023-2024)

Amy Guan headshot.“My experiences through Bass Connections allowed me to explore my unique interests that both converged and diverged with my primary academic major studies. I really enjoyed conducting oral history interviews with professors to better understand the evolution of teaching at Duke over the years and learning about the importance of stakeholders analysis in regulatory approval of novel therapies. Working on diverse teams revealed the importance of understanding different perspectives on a specific topic and sharpened my teamwork and organization skills. The collaborative and interdisciplinary research experiences from Bass Connections provide a strong foundation for my future work.”

After graduation, Guan will pursue a master of public health in chronic disease epidemiology at Yale University.

Amy Guan and teammates.
Guan (left) and teammates at the Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Showcase in April 2023

Trisha Gupta

Economics and Global Health

Policy Surveillance of Financing for Universal Health Coverage (2021-2022)

Trisha gupta headshot.“I loved my Bass Connections project! I was involved with the project my sophomore year and it made me realize my passion for the intersection between data and healthcare. I really loved being able to work alongside faculty and students across disciplines. I also enjoyed learning more about developing countries and the implementation of universal healthcare schemes worldwide.”

After graduation, Gupta will be working as a digital operations and marketing analyst for RVO Health in Charlotte.

Foxx Hart


Big Data for Reproductive Health (2021-2022); Developing Nursing Resources for LGBTQ+ Older Adult Care Using Human-Centered Design (2022-2023); Mental Health and the Justice System in Durham County (2023-2024)

Foxx Hart headshot.“Bass Connections has given me invaluable research experience in the social sciences that I wasn’t able to get directly through my coursework. I relied heavily on this experience when applying to social work programs, and I hope it will provide the foundation for eventual doctoral study in social work or a related discipline.”

After graduation, Hart will be pursuing a master’s degree in social work.

Members of the Mental Health and the Justice System in Durham team.
Hart (right) and members of the Mental Health and the Justice System Data+ team in Summer 2023 (Photo: Chris Hildreth)

Kaylin Hernandez

Public Policy

Strengthening Partnerships Between Durham Schools and Local Universities (2022-2024)

Kaylin Hernandez headshot.“Participating on this Bass Connections team solidified my passion for education equity and my desire to learn about how we can improve our U.S. PK-12 education system. I’ve loved working on this team, creating an anti-racist curriculum for college student volunteers, and engaging in site visits in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and New York to learn about the University-Assisted Community Schools model in practice! I’ll always draw back on these past two years on the team, and I’m excited to contribute to our education system as a future educator and/or education lawyer.”

Hernandez plans to take a gap year researching education policy and working in K-12 public schools before heading back to school to obtain a master’s degree in education.

Henrandez and team.
Hernandez (fifth from left) and teammates in Spring 2024

Alex Hong

Computer Science

Implementing Electronic Symptom Screening for Telehealth Visits (2020-2021); Bioremediation of Plastic Pollution to Conserve Marine Biodiversity (2021-2024)

Related Thesis: Stutzering Up a Storm: In-Vitro Experimental Validation of Bioinformatics Techniques and Identification of Pseudomonas stutzeri as a Plastic Polymer Degrader

Alex Hong headshot.“Bass Connections has been immense during my time at Duke … [The program] allowed me to blend my STEM work and background to understand the humanity behind it all whether that was the emotional impacts of telehealth on cancer patients or the environmental and policy impacts of plastic-eating bacteria. The biggest things I learned were patience and persistence  through Bass Connections I experienced challenges that forced me to find solutions I might have given up on before.”

Hong will pursue a career in software engineering after graduation.

Hong and teammates.
Hong (left) and teammates at the Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Showcase in April 2024

Sophie Johnson

Public Policy

North Carolina Early Childhood Action Plan: Evidence-Based Policy Solutions (2021-2022); The Seat of Fascism: Narratives of Repression and Resistance in North Carolina (Story+ 2021)

Sophie Johnson headshot.“Participating in Bass Connections helped me discover what kind of policy I wanted to go into! It ignited my passion for early childhood education, something I have spent the past two years focusing on. I was able to build up my skills as a researcher and collaborate with community members and stakeholders. I was also able to help publish a policy brief! Spending a full year on a small team allowed me to really engage in the work I was doing and contribute substantially. Through Story+ I was also able to dive into archival research, something I value immensely as a history minor.”

Smith will take a gap year to work in early childhood policy before applying to law school to study education law.

Brendan Kelleher


Alcohol Use Behavioral Phenotyping Test for Global Populations (2021-2024)

Brendan Kelleher“[Through Bass Connections], I have gained invaluable experience in the realms of computer programming, behavioral science and global health. The overall flexibility and diversity of ideas in my project have allowed me to delve into these various fields and find the topics that excite me the most while working towards an end product with real-world implications … The project’s flexible format also helped grow my leadership skills, as I was able to step up and take on new responsibilities, whether it was communicating our subteam’s work with the overall team or working with outside partners to troubleshoot our app when necessary. Overall, Bass Connections has shown me that you truly do not have to narrow the breadth of your passions to conduct research and create meaningful change in the world.”

Kelleher will be conducting clinical neuroscience research at Massachusetts General Hospital before pursuing a career as a doctor.

Kelleher and teammates.
Kelleher (left) and teammates in Maringa, Brazil in January 2024

Julia Leeman

Neuroscience and Music

Performing Embodied Communities: New Paths for Cultural Institutions (2021-2022); Auditory Imagery of Speech and Nonspeech Sounds (Data+ 2023)

Related Thesis: Event-Related Potential Differences in Auditory Imagery of Speech Compared to Nonspeech

Julie Leeman headshot.“As a part of the Performing Embodied Communities team, I conducted a case study of Music & Memory, an organization that provides personalized music to older adults with dementia. This was a very personal project for me, as I had become fascinated by the connection between music and the brain through singing with my great grandmother who had dementia. This experience inspired me to find ways to combine my interests in science and the arts. After this experience, I began to work with Dr. Tobias Overath, studying the perception and imagination of speech and non-speech sounds, which led me to start a Data+ team and complete a senior thesis in neuroscience. In the fall, I will begin pursuing my Ph.D. through the Psychology & Neuroscience program at Duke!”

Leeman will begin her Ph.D. in psychology and neuroscience at Duke in the fall.

Julia Leeman and teammates.
Leeman (right) and teammates at the Bass Connections Fair in April 2022

Yuxi (Jaden) Long

Math and Computer Science

Creating Artificial Worlds with AI to Improve Energy Access Data (2021-2022)

Jaden Long headshot.“My Bass Connections project exposed me to one of the fundamental difficulties in machine learning, data sparsity. Knowledge of this difficulty eventually inspired an original research project in my senior year. Furthermore, my Bass connections team has helped me gain experience in teamwork and collaboration in large-scale research projects.”

In the fall, Long will begin his Ph.D. at the Tri-Institutional Computational Biology & Medicine program in New York.

Alejandra Mella-Velazquez

Program II: Hispanic Health Behaviors and Disparities

Information, Perceptions and Health Behavior (2021-2022)

Related Thesis: Disparities in Care-Seeking Frequency and Decision Preference Among Hispanics Compared to Asians and Blacks and Across SES

Alejandra Mella-Velazquez headshot.“Bass Connections has truly been one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had at Duke … It introduced me to the immense opportunities that exist through interdisciplinary research. I was fortunate enough to have two amazing advisors, Cheryl Lin and Pikuei Tu, who have gone above and beyond as mentors for me.They have taught me everything that I know about research, and we have collaborated on many projects beyond our initial Bass Connections project. I learned about the endless opportunities that exist in research and how easily interconnected it can be to different disciplines and career pathways. Research shouldn’t be thought of as an individual activity but rather as an opportunity to engage with others and appreciate the diversity that brings people together with a common goal.”

In the fall, Mella-Velazquez will be attending the University of North Carolina’s Adams School of Dentistry.

Mella-Velazquez and teammates.
Mella-Velazquez (right) and teammates at the Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Showcase in April 2022

Kishen Mitra

Eye Tracking: Objective Assessment for Mild Traumatic Brain Injury in Youth Athletes (2021-2022)

Kishen Mitra headshot.“Overall, having an opportunity to make a direct impact on my local community through this Bass Connections project has led me to become an aspiring physician, pursuing a career at the intersection of engineering and medicine. While I have had an ongoing passion for product development, Bass Connections has allowed me to gain an appreciation for the translational value of research and the satisfaction that comes from serving others.”

Kishen Mitra in the lab.
Mitra (center) working on a prototype in his first-year Engineering Design and Communication course (Photo: Jared Lazarus)

McKenna Paulik

Psychology and Global Health

Optimizing a Community Health Program for Hypertension Control in Nepal (2022-2023)

McKenna Paulik headshot.“Bass Connections provided me with the opportunity to participate in a global health initiative based in Nepal, a country where I had the privilege of spending my gap year. This experience served as a meaningful intersection, enabling me to both contribute to a community that held personal significance and apply the skills I had acquired in the classroom. The collaborative nature of working within interdisciplinary teams, comprising both graduate and undergraduate students from various parts of the world, was undeniably the highlight of my Duke experience. Bass Connections has deepened my proficiency in collaboration, communication, writing and research, all of which I believe will be instrumental in shaping my future career endeavors.”

After graduation, Paulik will work as a research coordinator at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Her work will focus on building grassroots community health initiatives aimed at reducing healthcare inequities.

Paulik at the showcase.
Paulik at the Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Showcase in April 2023

Alfredo Sanchez

Mechanical Engineering

Energy and the Environment: Design and Innovation (2021-2022)

Alfredo Sanchez headshot.“Through Bass Connections, I was able to engineer a portable wind turbine that can be used to charge your phone while backpacking, sailing or hiking. The experience helped me understand the power of harnessing wind energy, and how to use technical skills, like 3-D printing, to develop a consumer product. The variety in topics and scopes of my and my peers’ projects showed me that there are many different paths to a career in the climate space.”

Sanchez was recently awarded a Fulbright scholarship to travel to Taiwan for a year and teach English. In Taiwan, he will also learn Mandarin, practice tai chi and study the country’s energy systems.

Left: Wind turbine prototype; Right: Sanchez at the Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Showcase in April 2022

Rory Smith

Public Policy Studies

Celebrating Latinx Culture with a Spanish Reading Program (2021-2022)

Related Thesis: Mind the Gap: A Comparative Analysis of Adolescent Mental Health, Social Determinants of Health and Medicaid Policy in North Carolina

Rory Smith headshot.“Looking back on my experience with Bass Connections, I feel especially grateful for the opportunities to work directly with members of the Durham community on a cause I feel passionate about. As an undergraduate researcher, I helped construct the reading curriculum and later conducted its sessions with families myself. I also saw the research process through by helping analyze the study’s findings. This hands-on, comprehensive research experience inspired me to pursue other research in the Sanford School, both through personal and other collaborative projects. Additionally, it has sustained my interest in working towards improving social sectors such as education and healthcare in my career.”

After graduation, Smith will be a state and local government solutions associate at KPMG.

Sophie Smith

Program II: Sexual, Reproductive and Maternal Health

Promoting Psychological Adjustment and Pelvic Health Among Female Cancer Survivors (2021-2022)

Related Thesis: Examining Reproductive Justice: The Impact of Shackling on Incarcerated Pregnant Women

Sophie Smith headshot.“Through Bass Connections, I acquired invaluable experience in research methodologies, such as qualitative coding using NVivo, and received unparalleled mentorship and friendship from my peers. This experience not only influenced the creation of my own Program II major but also shaped my decision to pursue work as a health and benefits consultant.”

After graduation, Smith will be joining Mercer Heath as a health and benefits consultant.

Keri Tomechko

Program II: Maternal Health and Developmental Biology

Community for Antepartum Patients (CAP): Establishing an Inpatient Model for Group Prenatal Care at Duke (2022-2023)

Related Thesis: Effects of Physical Activity Patterns and Barriers During Pregnancy on Health Outcomes for Women in High-income Countries

Keri Tomechko headshot.“Through education, discussion, reflection and immersion, my Bass Connections experience provided me with a much deeper understanding of the key factors that shape maternal health and pregnancy. The unparalleled opportunity to directly interact and communicate with antepartum patients helped me to develop a deeper understanding of the most common challenges and conditions that inpatient antepartum women face. The experience helped me find and fuel my academic niche and drove me to design and petition for my own major. My Program II, titled Maternal Health & Developmental Biology, has given me a greater appreciation of the intricacy of human physiology while reinforcing the incontestable role that external factors play in shaping health. I completed a senior thesis/capstone related to the subject, and I could picture myself continuing down a related path in my career.”

Tomechko will be starting medical school in the fall.

Nina Zhang

Neuroscience and German

Language, Music and Dementia (2021-2024)

Nina Zhang headshot.“Bass Connections was a program that had caught my eye back when I was a high schooler applying to Duke, and it was a dream come true to join the Language, Music and Dementia team with Dr. Andrews! I knew I wanted to be a neuroscience major and pursue medicine, but I wanted to continue cultivating my passions for music (as a musician myself) and language-learning (I grew up speaking English and Mandarin and have been studying German). It was so rewarding to join a research project where I could combine those interests and learn about how these fields inform each other, all in the name of improving human health. I have found Bass Connections and what it stands for to be the hallmark of my meaningful Duke education.”

Finnie Zhao

Economics and Environmental Sciences & Policy

Empowering Youth Civic Action on Plastic Pollution (2021-2022); Exploring Links Among Ecological, Social and Personal Resilience (2022-2023)

Related Thesis: A Just Pathway Toward Resilience: Building Local Communities’ Adaptive Capacity through State-Level Funding Program

Finnie Zhao headshot.“Having participated in two Bass Connections projects, I have enjoyed the unparalleled community and research experiences I found on both project teams. These two projects … provided me with different perspectives and methodologies in dealing with environmental issues. Both allowed me to experience the integration of research, service and engagement, from designing civic engagement curricula for secondary school students to studying coastal ecosystems and resilience through literature review to creating an environmental resilience toolkit for community-based practitioners.”

In the fall, Zhao will begin her Ph.D. in environmental policy at Duke.

Finnie Zhao at the Bass Connections Showcase.
Zhao at the Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Showcase in April 2024

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