Duke Undergraduate Finds Her Calling through Interdisciplinary Programs


Throughout high school in Clermont, Florida, Michelle Khalid had two clear goals: get into Duke, and become a doctor.

Thrilled to be accepted to her dream school, she started on her path. But she was drawn to an interdisciplinary program that changed everything.

“I was so set on being premed and my advisor said, ‘You’re going to be behind in your premed courses if you do DukeImmerse,’” Khalid recalls, “but I did it.”

She took part in DukeImmerse: Uprooted/Rerouted, led by Suzanne Shanahan. “It made me realize migration was an issue I was very interested in and I wanted to study it more in depth.”

Khalid’s next step was Duke in Oxford, where she studied the political economy of immigration. Returning to campus, she joined a Bass Connections project team on Displacement, Resettlement and Global Mental Health, led by Shanahan with Eve Puffer and Abdul Sattar Jawad.

Working on an interdisciplinary research team was deeply rewarding, Khalid says. With team members Leena El-Sadek and Olivia Johnson, she presented a paper at a conference in Oxford. “We were the only undergraduates there. I think Bass Connections really gave us the tools to be able to do that, and the mentorship is great. I learned so much, like how to write an academic paper for publishing. It really made me grow both intellectually and as a person.”

Now a junior majoring in International Comparative Studies and Political Science, Khalid just returned from a summer abroad assisting refugees and asylum seekers through DukeEngage Serbia.

And in Duke’s tradition of putting knowledge in the service of society, Khalid is helping refugees here in Durham.

“Durham actually has a very large population of refugees from Iraq,” she says. Organized by Duke students, SuWA is a community effort sponsored by the Kenan Institute for Ethics. “What we’re focused on is providing interaction between Duke students and refugee women, so as to form a relationship but also to help them with the things they need to adjust to life in the U.S.,” Khalid explains. “We do it for two hours every Tuesday. I love getting to know them. It doesn’t feel like work; I’m actively accomplishing something with someone I like.”

Khalid remembers one woman who spoke about seeing her husband and child killed in front of her. “Most times we can’t even imagine what they’ve been through.” She pauses. “I don’t think most people will ever understand the human nature of what migration really is.”

Currently she’s partnering with other students on a nonprofit that will help the SuWA women find jobs and start their own businesses. “It’s very much a cooperative type of thing,” she says. “We’re trying to get it off the ground.”

Michelle Khalid’s new pathway began with one interdisciplinary program at Duke that led to others. “It was the best experience,” she says. “It taught me so much about who I am, and I figured out what I want to study—it’s truly one of those college moments when you find something you’re so passionate about. It’s just amazing.”