Duke Seniors Share Their Journeys through the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Certificate

Students with professor.
I&E Undergraduate Certificate students in their capstone course with Professor Aaron Dinin

In a graduation year that will go down in history, the class of 2020 is celebrating virtually, postponing its in-person commencement until the threat of COVID-19 has subsided. This past weekend, Duke’s Marking the Moment digital celebration shared messages from hundreds of members of the Duke community, including a message from the I&E Undergraduate Certificate team.

Students graduating with an I&E Certificate typically gather for an in-person celebration. During this celebration, a subset of Certificate students are acknowledged for exceptional work on their e-portfolio, a required element of the program where they creatively capture artifacts from their work and experiences.

“We’re increasingly finding that students themselves value this requirement, as it’s a useful tool when they apply for jobs or graduate school,” said I&E Senior Program Coordinator Anna Jacobs. “This e-portfolio is an excellent complement to their resumes, allowing them to showcase their personalities, coursework, projects, and writing skills.”

The e-portfolio is meant to deepen students’ reflection of their participation in the program and provide a narrative of their time at Duke—how their coursework, experiential learning, extracurricular activities, and internships align with their interests and goals.

This year, at a time when we can’t honor students in person, the e-portfolios enable us to share and amplify students’ voices, telling the stories of their journeys at Duke and their dreams for the future.

The e-portfolios below represent exceptional work by students from a wide range of majors and interests. We hope you enjoy reading about them, their viewpoints, and what they’re taking away from their I&E Certificate experiences!

Students who did portfolios.
Left to right, first row: Tommaso Babucci, John Bowler, Jordan Burstion. Elliott Davis, Aaron DePass, Ben Edelstein, Abigail Farley, Christine Ford; second row: Nikki Hevizi, Karam Katariya, Jemu Mangira, Meriwether Morris, Ehime Ohue, Scott Pledger, Elle Smyth, Ethan Udell; bottom: Nicole Yuen

Tommaso Babucci


“Through the program I had the opportunity to work both in the field of social entrepreneurship thanks to Duke Engage Detroit, and in the world of tech and eCommerce SaaS while at E Fundamentals in London. These two experiences taught me crucial entrepreneurial values, the importance of innovation and non-profit work, and how to adapt to different work in different markets.”

John Bowler


“During my time in the I&E program, I conquered my fear of public speaking, learned how to create a DCF from scratch, made a superhero themed Rube Goldberg machine, designed my own website, met with the head of the Economics department, ran a fake phishing campaign, created a full scale model spaceship out of cardboard, recited a two hundred line soliloquy in front of an audience, developed a motion-activated bar soap shredder, and printed my own Happy Meals toy.”

Jordan Burstion


“Before writing this reflection, I reread my application for the I&E Certificate program. In it, I spoke of wanting to help people achieve their goals, listen to others share their stories, identify my strengths and weaknesses, find a productive outlet, and uncover an unparalleled learning experience. I hadn’t revisited that application until now, and it makes me smile to know I was able to achieve all of my goals at Duke with the help of the I&E Certificate program.”

Elliott Davis


“It feels like forever ago that my family drove up to GA to blasting music and enthusiastic FACs to unload my mom’s minivan filled with all my stuff. I have learned and grown so much since then, as a student and a person, and become more equipped to become the environmental leader and change-maker that I aspire to be.”

Aaron DePass


“[The Certificate] led to me being able to critically assess my future in entrepreneurship. It helped me to realize that creating a venture, although incredibly difficult, is possible. From that revelation, the keystone then equipped me with the skills to actually go and act on it should I want to. It also put the ideas into perspective and gave me reasons why I may not want to be an entrepreneur—information just as helpful as knowing you want to be one. And the capstone empowered me to challenge the status quo (something I already loved doing) in areas where you’re not confident or in your zone of familiarity at all.”

Ben Edelstein


“Without the certificate, I could’ve easily blocked out my interest in startups and focused more on other, easier things. Each I&E class, event, program, or alumnus reminded me that starting a company is what I want to accomplish and inspired me to keep trying.”

Abigail Farley


“My first ideation session I could only fill a handful of sticky notes. I felt myself censoring my ideas and hesitating to write down the more ridiculous ones. Four years and many ideation sessions later, I am proud to say that I can fill sticky notes with ridiculous ideas without judging myself, and I truly believe that there are no worthless ideas. This mental shift has enabled me to think more innovatively and creatively without fear of failure.”

Christine Ford


“These creative problem solving skills will be extremely helpful in the engineering field, in which it is necessary to approach and critically think about problems in a way others might have overlooked. Further, I feel confident in my ability to ideate solutions to problems in the world around me, as well as to develop a successful business venture to solve them.”

Nikki Hevizi


“The I&E program, community, and the mentorship I received along the way encouraged me to explore my interests in UX design, product management, and sales engineering in the different contexts of an early stage startup vs. a large corporate setting to get a sense of what kinds of jobs I might be interested in after graduation, and the bigger picture of the career path I should pursue.”

Karam Katariya


“Coming into Duke, I thought innovation and entrepreneurship was limited to small startups growing exponentially. However, [the Certificate] showed me there was so much more to the entrepreneurial world. I became exposed to the exciting innovations taking place across industries, be it from individuals running startups for which they were the only employee to new ideas being generated for clients on a trading floor.”

Jemu Mangira


“Working on the cases in teams made me understand more deeply why so many businesses are making it a priority to build diverse teams. We all viewed the business cases and problems through a unique lens, and brought opinions and ideas that represented very specific, important, but also limited perspectives. When we shared those ideas with each other and challenged each other to see a situation differently, we always came to a better, more thoughtful and sustainable conclusion.”

Meriwether Morris


“In my education as a neuroscience major, I found much of my education involved learning the intricacies of various mechanisms, theories, and models of function that were critical to developing an understanding of the brain. However, as a neuroscience student who is fascinated by the brain and behavior who does not intend to pursue a medical career, I craved more in the domain of practical applicability of discoveries. I found that in Innovation & Entrepreneurship.”

Ehime Ohue


“I will forever be an advocate for this program to future Duke Students and feel that even if they don’t pursue the complete certificate, they need to take at least one I&E class because it provides a lots of hands-on opportunities and ways of thinking that are not always available in other classes. Although I may not have a solid plan of what all I want to do after graduation (this program has also taught me that no one really does), I know that I will be more prepared for any path I take because of completing the I&E Certificate program.”

Scott Pledger


“We live in a world of incentives. The better you can understand what motivates you and those around you, the better you can understand why we act in the ways we do. Humans are very complex creatures, but we can be very predictable if you can understand the underlying incentives. This is why empathy is such an incredibly important trait to have in order to be a successful entrepreneur. If you can empathize with the challenges people face in life, you can better understand the ways you can help them to address these challenges.”

Elle Smyth


“[The Certificate] was the perfect complement to mechanical engineering, as I was able to discover problems that exist in the world and work to utilize my engineering skills to dream up solutions. I think a lot of college courses tend to be too realistic. The I&E certificate allowed me to dream up the impossible.”

Ethan Udell


“I was particularly intrigued by the operational differences between large conglomerate music companies and smaller independent organizations, especially in the scope of the changing dynamic of the music industry. In addition, I wanted to explore the use of technological platforms to help artists kickstart their careers.”

Nicole Yuen


“The Certificate bridged my interests in technology and design, while also providing a lens into the business world. I have always known that I would love to pursue a career in product design—the creative aspects of engineering where I can utilize my passions for both my engineering and art. After completing the Certificate requirements, I believe that I have gained a well-rounded perspective of engineering, art, and entrepreneurship.”

Originally posted on the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship website