Meet the 2017 Huang Fellows

Huang Fellows

The Huang Fellows Program at the Duke Initiative for Science & Society trains students to understand science in the context of service to society. Through their participation, Huang Fellows learn how to integrate ethics, policy and social implications into their scientific research. The program fosters a community of accomplished undergraduate scholars trained in the sciences and grounded in the liberal arts, well prepared to serve as leaders in the sciences and the biomedical professions.

The 2017 summer schedule runs from May 30 through August 4. The program is supported by a grant to Science & Society from Dr. Andrew Huang.

Elise Cai

Elise CaiI am an undergraduate student originally from Plano, Texas, planning to major in biology. In high school, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to conduct research in traditional scientific laboratories. However, as someone whose love for science stems from both its academic side and its ability to benefit society, I believe it is just as important to understand the ethics, policy, and social implications behind my research, as it is to understand the technical science of my research. To this end, I am more than excited to have the opportunity to explore scientific research and its potential societal impacts through the Huang Fellows Program.

Yannet Daniel

Yannett DanielI am a current freshman from Cary, NC. Although I am on the pre-med track, I came to Duke with a variety of interests including global health and health policy. At Duke, I have had the opportunity to explore some of my interests as a research assistant at the Brain Imaging and Analysis Center. Through subject screenings and consenting, I have been introduced to the significance of ethics in scientific research. Additionally, my East African culture has always been of importance to me and I recognize the way cultural competency plays a role in practicing medicine. I cannot wait to take advantage of the interdisciplinary aspect of the Huang Fellows Program and better understand the way medicine and culture interact—the way scientific research and society can equally impact and shape each other.

Yutao Gong

Yutao GongI am Yutao Gong, born on a small island called Chongming on the Yangtze River in Shanghai, China. Probably because of the intimate exposure to nature (more specifically, the Yangtze River, the river called “mother river of China”) when I was a kid, I have always been very concerned about environment issues, including pollution and environmental health. I firmly believe that science only achieves its full purpose by being applied to real life, solving real world problems and improving people’s life. I am determined to dig deeper in the field of environmental science and hope to apply what I learn and discover to real life and to make this world a better place to live in.

Victoria Grant

V. GrantI am a first-year undergraduate student with an academic interest in biology and environmental science. Those who know me best might say my passion for animals is one of my most defining characteristics. I have always had a desire to help animals and for the past three years, I have been exploring different careers by volunteering at the Phoenix Zoo. After completing my education, I hope to work in the animal conservation field, concentrating on genetics. In today’s world where science is often refuted, I strongly believe in the importance of the use of science and its implications on society. I want to further pursue my interest in science and the policies that effect the scientific community by obtaining the Science and Society certificate. I hope through my studies I will be able to protect endangered species, while enlightening the world of the importance of science.

Katelyn Hefter

K. HefterI am a Pratt student who is pursuing a double major in biomedical engineering and neuroscience. On campus, I’m involved in a variety of activities, ranging from playing the trumpet in the wind symphony and marching and pep band, to participating in the FEMMES (Females Excelling More in Math, Engineering, and Science) Capstone, where I helped a group of 4th and 5th grade girls explore different fields in science and engineering. My job with the Kenan Institute for Ethics as a member of Team Kenan has helped me to further explore the convergence of science, technology, and ethics, and my participation in the Neuroscience and Law FOCUS cluster has piqued my interest in the role of neuroscience in the courtroom and the ethics of how we treat those with different brain structures. As a Huang Fellow, I hope to explore the intersection of engineering and ethics in artificial intelligence and neural prosthetics. I also hope to combat stigma and stereotypes against neurodiversity.

Richard Huang

R. HuangI am a first-year undergraduate from Boston, Massachusetts pursuing an interdepartmental major combining neuroscience and computer science. Participating in the What If? Focus cluster spurred my interest in the computational sciences. Currently, I am part of a team investigating the effects of anesthesia on postoperative cognition and possible links to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Here, I’ve learned that research is as much of an art as it is a science. It’s a paradox of straddling two inevitably disparate sides, the ethics and the science, to reach a shared objective of improving the future. As a Huang Fellow, I hope to become more exposed to the intersection between ethics and science and better navigate their relationship.

Jamie Karl

J. KarlI am a first-year student from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina attending the Trinity School of Arts and Sciences. I am looking to major in biology or evolutionary anthropology with a minor in English. As a Huang Fellow, I want to study the significance of narratives in medicine. Every patient that comes into a doctor’s office tells a story of his/her symptoms, and a physician’s job is to help her/his patient reach the best possible ending for his/her story. I plan to use this program’s focus on the intersection of humanities and science to solidify my science knowledge while increasing my appreciation for people’s stories in hopes of attending medical school and becoming a physician.

Ralph Lawton

Ralph LawtonI’m originally from Avondale, PA, and at Duke I’m planning to study Economics on a pre-medical track. I’m really interested in the intersections of health and economics, and am planning to become a physician. I believe that a firm grounding in the social sciences will help me to best serve society. On campus, I’m in the Robertson Scholars Leadership Program, I work in an economics research lab, and just joined Duke EMS, and off campus I spend a lot of my time shooting archery. I’m joining this program to round out my efforts to get a fundamental understanding of how I can best contribute in the service of society.

Claudia La Rose

C. LaroseI am a first-year student from Waconia, Minnesota, studying Global Health and Biology. I am interested in pursuing a career in medicine to work towards making accessible healthcare a global reality. I participated in the Ethics Focus Cluster during the fall, which introduced me to the Kenan Institute of Ethics. I am now a member of Team Kenan, a student run group on campus that strives to promote discussion about deeper, thought-provoking issues. Together, my interests in the sciences and in ethics have led me to the Huang Fellows. The program’s emphasis on using science to serve society parallel my own values, and I am excited to begin a research project that could positively impact society.

Olivia Lee

O. LeeI am a pre-medical student from Oakland, California interested in global health, neuroscience, psychology, and biology. I am absolutely fascinated by every aspect of the human body, and I have always been passionate about every part of the human experience from art to literature to science. I am excited to become a part of Huang Fellows because I can make a difference in the world through the intersection of policy and science. I believe that every member of the world’s community should have access to accurate information about their bodies. I am currently working in Dr. Douglas Wiliamson’s Translational Neuroscience Lab, which studies PTSD and the development of depression.

Tyler Lian

Tyler LianI am a pre-health student from Old Lyme, Connecticut, interested in studying math, computer science, and their applications in biology and medicine. In particular, it is exciting to see mathematics play a larger role in the field of medicine unlike ever before. Already, math has become “biology’s next microscope,” so to speak, as advanced mathematical models and learning algorithms give scientists greater access to what they cannot physically see. As a prospective doctor and researcher, I want to inquire into this more human side of mathematics, that serves people and patients, and the ethics and policy entangled within.

Sachit Menon

Sachit MenonI graduated from the Texas Academy of Math and Science in Denton, Texas, attending the University of North Texas for my final two years of high school. For years, I’ve been fascinated by the way new technologies are revolutionizing seemingly-unrelated areas of basic science. I was named a Goldwater Scholar in 2016 for my research in nanotechnology and neuroscience. Recently, I’ve become interested in translating my background in basic science to science policy; as a Huang Fellow, I hope to expand on this interest.

Valedie Oray

V. OrayFrom conducting studies in cognitive neuroscience research at the Lustig lab at the University of Michigan during my senior year of high school in Bloomfield Hills to currently studying developmental neurobiology under the direction of Dr. Debra Silver, I have been continuously drawn to learning about the mechanisms of the human brain and understanding its functions. My additional interests in understanding and arguing underlying ethical reasoning behind health and research policy has prompted me to pursue a double major in Biology under a Neurobiology concentration and Public Policy. The intersection of the humanities and the sciences is what led me to become a Huang Fellow as I hope to better expand my interests in these fields and promote a multidisciplinary attitude towards political endeavors. Outside of my academic interests, I am heavily involved in the music department at Duke University, participating in Duke’s Opera Workshop and privately studying voice under the direction of Dr. Susan Dunn. I plan to pursue an MD/MPP after graduating from Duke University and fulfill my aspirations of becoming a physician. However, I hope to be involved in health policy development or research ethics as a part of my profession.

Reagan Portelance

R. PortelanceI am from Mooresville, North Carolina, and I am currently pursuing a major in Biomedical Engineering. I was originally drawn to the more mechanical side of BME by an interest in the development and design of prosthetics. During my first semester at Duke, I began working in a lab that utilized molecular and metabolic engineering, and this experience has widened my interest to include other fields of BME that take place on the microscopic level. I would like to continue to explore other aspects of Biomedical Engineering, so I am very excited and honored to be a Huang Fellow!

Liam Pulsifer

L. PulsiferI come from a large, diverse family: one filled with lawyers, writers, engineers, and thinkers of many different stripes. It’s their example that inspires me to ponder questions of the natural world and its relationship with humanity. My recent interests include computer science, social science, and philosophy, and I’m especially drawn to the use of data analysis in the visualization and clarification of scientific research. I believe it’s ever more important, as we enter an increasingly globalized, connected society, to have clear, concise, and compelling ways to not only pursue scientific progress, but also to communicate that progress to the public.

Brian Rhee

B. RheeThe adventure of committing oneself to an unanswered question, enduring through a sequence of trial and error, to achieve even the smallest victory in the laboratory: this is what draws me to science research. As an undergraduate who is interested in biology and chemistry, I am thrilled to join the Huang Fellows Program in order to explore a dimension of research that was often neglected in my past—the ethical implications of my research and the process at which my substantial results would be translated into policy changes that would affect the current treatment of Alzheimer’s patients or affect today’s usage of fossil fuels. Making the most of the Huang Fellows Program’s focus on the societal impact of research, I plan to continue providing a service for society through the sciences and through a future career in medicine.

Kunal Shroff

K. ShroffCurrently, I am a pre-medical Trinity student planning to major in neuroscience and chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry. I was drawn to the Huang Fellows Program because their goal of integrating science into society resonated with my own beliefs of how science should shape and be shaped by the general public. In addition to the Huang Fellows program, I am an executive board member of Synapse and an active member of the Science Days club. Both of these clubs work to spread scientific ideas into the Durham community. Ultimately, I hope to enter the medical profession and help spread scientific ideas and understanding to societies across the world. I believe that the Huang Fellows program will provide me with a solid foundation of fundamental skills to help speak to the general public about scientific principles and ideas.

Jake Wong

J. WongI am a first-year undergraduate from Atlanta, Georgia planning to study Global Health and Chemistry. During first semester, I saw organic chemistry as its own fascinating language. Yet while I enjoy learning how biological functions work on a basic level, I also hope to understand how knowledge is applied on a larger scale ― how policies are guided by scientific evidence, how drugs are distributed fairly, and how health services are provided to populations. Through the Huang Fellows program, I hope to build my scientific knowledge while discussing its implications with peers and mentors, and to better understand the relationship between scientists and lawmakers. After graduating, I plan to attend medical school to pursue a career in either clinical medicine or public health.

Huang Fellows Design Science Kits for Children


The 2016 cohort of Duke Huang Fellows designed original concepts for simple, engaging and affordable teaching tools aimed at enhancing the science skills of elementary school children.

Today these custom science kits were delivered to the Expedition School in Hillsborough, NC, for its Science Days activities. Special thanks to the Duke TeachHouse for collaborating on the project.

The Huang Fellows Program trains students to understand science in the context of and in service to society. Fellows learn how to integrate ethics, policy and social implications into their scientific research. This highly selective program fosters a community of accomplished undergraduate scholars who will be trained in the sciences and grounded firmly in the liberal arts–and who will be well prepared to serve as leaders in sciences and the biomedical professions. The program is supported by a grant to the Duke Initiative for Science & Society from Dr. Andrew Huang.

View photos by Ben Shepard and learn more about the Huang Fellows.