Duke Students Design Solutions to Help Communities Flourish

Graphic: Drawing of people collaborating, using open design principles.

By Katherine Zheng ’23

When we tackle complex challenges — such as making education more equitable despite limited resources, or making healthcare more accessible to differently abled people — how can we effectively include human stakeholders in the research and development processes?

A Bass Connections team has been exploring equity-centered approaches to specific challenges in education, health, entrepreneurship and innovation. Student team members presented their work to date at a recent event held by Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship (I&E), Duke Pediatrics, Bass Connections and the Divinity School.

Open Design Process

The team utilized open design, which involves four phases: understand, create, evaluate and share. Team leader Aria Chernik explained it as an “equity-centered innovation methodology that is derived from design thinking, putting equity at the center in how we create it and who is with us creating it.” Chernik is associate professor of the practice in the Social Science Research Institute.

The projects all had different areas of focus, but all led with the goal of determining “how communities flourish and how people have an equitable opportunity to flourish,” said team leader Kevin Hoch, I&E managing director for education.

Each group asked a “what if” question, designed three creative possible solutions, and presented stakeholders with concept posters and a prototype.

Projects and Ideas

Pediatric Health

This group focused on healthcare accessibility for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) such as autism and Down syndrome. “Physicians and pediatricians need more of a shared understanding with those with IDD,” said junior Hannah Zelinger, adding that other guiding principles included a more positive environment and empowerment of youth with IDD to gain as much independence as possible.

Graphic: What are the needs, desires and hopes of the community?

Public policy master’s student Cameron Love joined Zelinger to give a presentation on the group’s main idea: a community open house where youth with IDD can be directed to community services or medical help as needed. This would ensure a more direct way for youth to receive help beyond the complex healthcare system, which can deter patients from receiving proper help today.

Necessity-Driven Entrepreneurship

Sophomores Jun Woo Kang and Wendy Shi presented their group’s work with a nonprofit called Helius to research necessity-driven entrepreneurship. Helius provides training and coaching for small businesses and necessity-driven entrepreneurs. The group focused on strengthening the overall Helius community and increasing connections to funders.

Graphic: Portal to Success, Helius Passport, Scale-Up Event.

The group’s idea, Portal to Success, is a website that would be a connection portal to allow current cohort members to get in touch with past members. In addition, consolidated lessons from Helius would be available on the site.

Community-Based Innovation

Presented by junior Kara Wall, this group researched the question, “How might we create a program that fosters relationships and reflects community needs while promoting equitable and holistic education?” They worked with the Oak Grove AME Zion Church, Campbell University and Harnett County Schools to investigate equitable education opportunities.

Graphic: Means for greater community transformation.

Solution ideas included an immersive two-week summer literacy program that fostered personal development, a month-long equitable after-school pilot, and a summer-long program fostering students’ well-being through a holistic and equitable literacy and STEM curriculum. The group decided to focus on the summer-long option, which prioritizes life skills and personal development.


This group explored how to use computer science (CS) education to improve human flourishing. Teachers need an easy-to-implement CS curriculum, educators need to ensure equity in the curriculum, and students need a way to connect with the subject material, explained presenters Ritvik Janamsetty, a sophomore, and Krista Pipho, a Ph.D. student in genetics and genomics.

Screenshot of TeachTech website prototype.

Their solution was standards mapping, which is a way for educators to fulfill CS standards at the same time as standards for English language arts. A prototype website called TeachTechNC maps the standards and allows school administrators to check off which standards the CS curriculum meets.

Time for Implementation

Each interdisciplinary team educated the audience on how we can effectively use the open design method to take on tricky issues with community partners. “It’s clear that the Human Flourishing Project’s participants are motivated and energized by the challenge of working on real-world problems,” said Pipho, who is also a member of the Bass Connections Student Advisory Council. “I’m excited to see the proposed solutions enter the implementation phase this semester.”

Throughout the spring, the team members will be building out prototypes, testing them and iterating with community co-designers.

How to Get Involved

Through February 11, Duke students of all levels can apply for the 2022-2023 Bass Connections team, Open Design Studio: Participatory Solutions for Human Flourishing. Virtual info sessions will be held on January 21 and 25.

Katherine Zheng is a junior at Duke University studying economics and public policy. She works as a student assistant in the Office of Interdisciplinary Studies.

Technology for the People

Jesús del Carmen Valdiviezo Mora, Ph.D. ’21, combines chemistry and AI for wearable tech

Person in front of computer screen.
Valdiviezo working on his computer at the Beratan Lab

Growing up in southeastern Mexico, Jesús del Carmen Valdiviezo Mora was fascinated by science and technology. He loved exploring the latest devices and finding out how they worked. As he honed his interests, the promising young scholar knew he wanted to help improve people’s lives.

“I love technology, and I like to do research,” Valdiviezo said, “but I always aim to find ways to bring ideas from journal articles to the market through companies.”

Valdiviezo has now completed his doctorate in chemistry and cofounded a company. Before leaving Duke for Berkeley, he paused to look back at his academic and entrepreneurial journey.

Participating in a science outreach event with Clubes de Ciencia Mexico (CdeCMx)

Freedom to Explore

Valdiviezo received a Fulbright scholarship to attend graduate school in the U.S. “I was looking to do computational chemistry,” he said, “but I really love to be interdisciplinary, and I wanted to work on nanoscience and biochemistry. My bachelor’s advisor, Julio Palma, pointed out the website of the Beratan Lab, and after exploring it I said, I love this research! There was a broad scope of exciting topics that David Beratan was working on.”

Pursuing his interests, Valdiviezo became inspired by the potential of artificial intelligence. He earned a master’s in electrical and computer engineering, focusing on machine learning, while working toward his Ph.D. in chemistry.

“David gave me a lot of freedom to explore opportunities to complement my research training,” said Valdiviezo. “He has been so amazing.”

Two people holding a banner that says Fubright.
With advisor David Beratan

Tapping Into Creativity

Aiming to put his scientific knowledge to use in improving lives, Valdiviezo signed up for a free short-course on entrepreneurial strategy through the Duke Graduate Academy.

Howie Rhee.
Howie Rhee, Duke I&E

Howie Rhee, managing director of student programs at Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship (I&E), encouraged his students to let the ideas flow.

“I really loved what Howie did,” Valdiviezo recalled. “Howie was like, just take a blank piece of paper, write, draw, do whatever you want. I was feeling like I was in kindergarten or elementary school, when you’re very creative and not afraid of sounding crazy or worried about how do I do this,” Valdiviezo said. He appreciated the thought process that allowed him to generate ideas, talk them through and begin to make connections.

“After Howie’s course, I got very motivated, because he did an amazing job with how he organized the course and got us exposure to startups and entrepreneurs that are also students like us.”

Controlling the Flow

Valdiviezo reached out to a college friend, Julio Fredin, who also studied chemistry and had gotten involved in microfabrication. The two discussed their shared interest in the interdisciplinary field of microfluidics, involving the manipulation and processing of fluids at a very small scale with many practical applications.

Imagine a river, Valdiviezo suggested. You can’t control water flow, but using microfluidics you can design your river and direct where things go – akin to placing large boulders in a river. This technology has been used for blood tests, for example, speeding the process of separating plasma from cells and preparing it for more careful analysis.

“We thought, this is a really good technology, so it c­ould benefit from using AI. Let’s merge the AI side to the microfluidics technology!”

Taking It Further

That fall, Valdiviezo seized the opportunity to apply to the Duke Incubation Fund. Originally run by I&E and rehomed in the Office for Translation & Commercialization, the funds are used to support early-stage ideas with commercial potential.

Recipients of the 2019-20 Duke Incubation Fund Awards.

Valdiviezo and Fredin proposed using AI to design, manufacture and patent microfluidic devices that act as efficient analyzers of biological samples. The two were able to focus their energies on developing their idea and producing a device that they could take to other investors for the next stages.

They founded their company, E-Sentience, and are now using microfluidics and AI for wearable electronics.

Tracking and Managing Stress

Sentient Skin is a wearable arm sleeve that generates a constant stream of data on stress. Image: E-Sentience LLC

“We’re focusing on the hormones that are related to stress,” Valdiviezo explained. “If you are using a wearable, let’s say a watch, you can know thanks to the sensors when you’re getting too stressed and you should take a break.” The wearable could detect stress levels by measuring sweat, which contains hormones such as cortisol.

“If you can keep track of cortisol in real time, that can give you a profile of how your stress levels have been throughout the day or through the week,” said Valdiviezo. “We can use that information, combining it with AI to create models that can describe or predict how you’re going to be feeling, for example, in two days, if you continue with this routine or if you take a break, and how long the break should be to get back to your normal levels, to prevent complications like cardiac diseases or something that could come as a consequence of having a lot of stress.”

A wearable device could make this health-improving data broadly accessible, Valdiviezo emphasized. “That’s our goal. We want to have this technology for the people.”

Prestigious Fellowship

This spring, Valdiviezo received a national CIFellows award to work at the intersection of chemistry and AI, studying novel chemical reactivity in aqueous droplets. He’ll head to the University of California, Berkeley, in January.

“One of the cool things about the fellowship is that you have a flexibility that you wouldn’t normally have” he said. “That will give me the opportunity to spend time working on the company and taking it to the next level with my team.”

To build teamwork and leadership skills, Valdiviezo took part in The Graduate School’s Emerging Leaders Institute, a professional development program for Duke grad students and postdocs. From left: Valdiviezo, Shreyas Hegde, facilitator Kristin Murphy, Assistant Dean Melissa Bostrom, Brad Barth, Courtney Johnson

Before then, he’s wrapping up work in the lab and continuing to make progress with his company, which will be based in North Carolina.

Valdiviezo credits Beratan for encouraging him to explore other areas besides his current research. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t see myself going to the Graduate Academy or working on the company,” he said. “I was thinking about the things I’ve done here at Duke, and I’m very grateful to have had all those experiences and met so many amazing people. I like to call this place my home, and I’m going to miss it a lot.”

Duke Graduate Academy logo.The Duke Graduate Academy offers free short-courses to help graduate students and postdocs expand their skill sets and prepare for a wide range of careers. Created as an element of the Together Duke academic strategic plan, the academy launched in 2018. Read reflections from participants and instructors. Courses in the academy’s Summer Session 2022 will be announced in the spring.

By Sarah Dwyer, Duke Interdisciplinary Studies

The Clean Energy Prize Returns! Duke Students, Send Us Your Ideas

Clean Energy Prize.

Deadline: May 28, 2021

The Duke University Energy Initiative (EI) and Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative (I&E) announce the return of the Clean Energy Prize to support the development of energy technologies, products and services at Duke.

The Prize makes a $10,000 award to support novel ideas, potential products and services that advance an accessible, reliable, affordable and clean energy future. The Prize is separate and distinct from other Duke funding.

Proposals may be submitted by undergraduate, graduate and professional students at Duke, including May 2021 graduates. Proposals are encouraged for innovative projects that could lead to new products or services that will advance a clean energy future, including but not limited to:

  • Demonstrating the feasibility of an idea or innovation for a commercial or social venture
  • Developing a working software, service, or device prototype
  • Developing new applications or markets for a technology under development.

DEADLINE FOR 2021 SUBMISSIONS: Friday, May 28, 2021, 11:59 p.m. EDT.

Learn more and download the application instructions.

Questions? Contact Suellen Aldina (suellen.aldina@duke.edu), Director of Engagement and Administration, Duke University Energy Initiative.

Work on Your Venture Through the Duke I&E Summer Accelerator

Deadline: March 24, 2021

The Duke I&E Summer Accelerator (virtual in 2021) provides select teams with access to additional resources in order to further their ventures. Students in the Accelerator receive mentorship, classes, community-building activities, and a $5,000 stipend. Additionally, Duke I&E staff will provide ongoing support, tailored resources, and relevant connections to Duke and external community members.

Each Accelerator cohort will include teams and solo entrepreneurs. The cohorts will be kept small, with fewer than 20 students accepted.

Each student receives a $5,000 stipend, with a maximum of two stipends per team.

The Accelerator will be virtual in Summer 2021; no coworking space will be provided to participants. Students will learn of acceptance to the program by April 1, 2021 and will be expected to sign a contract committing to the program requirements.

Timeline for Summer 2021

March 1 – Applications open
March 24 – Applications due
April 1 – Offers made
April 15 – Contracts due
June 1 – Schedule provided
June 7 – August 6 – Programming
August 5 – Pitch Day


  • Undergraduate, graduate, and professional students are encouraged to apply.
  • Students who will graduate in Spring 2021 are still eligible to apply.
  • While preference is given to students working in teams on their ventures, individuals are also eligible.
  • Participation in the Student Founder Program or any other program or course is not required to apply.
  • Admissions are vertical agnostic; all types of ventures are welcome. Applicants should have a prototype and should have done significant customer research.


Participation. If you are selected for the program, working on your project will be your full-time job. You’ll complete assigned readings, watch videos, give presentations to mentors, receive feedback, and participate in discussions with field experts.

Attendance. A member of each team will attend every event, with attendance recorded by I&E staff. Required programming will take place during the business day (9am-5pm ET) and will not exceed 10 hours per week, including a weekly check-in with the whole cohort.

Passion. With the ups and downs intrinsic to entrepreneurship, and with progress being unpredictable, enthusiasm for your work is one of the most important factors for your success.

Coachability. You’ll receive a lot of feedback—some of which you’ll love and some of which you won’t. We ask that you take all feedback respectfully and thoughtfully.

Transparency. We’ll expect you to share business plans, presentation pitches, financial projections, and additional information with mentors, staff, and other cohort teams.


Please direct questions to Amy Linnane: amy.linnane@duke.edu; 919-360-9214.

Learn more and apply.

Calling All Innovators: Apply for Seed Grants from the Duke Incubation Fund

Incubation Fund.

Deadline: April 23, 2021

I. Purpose

The Duke Incubation Fund (the “Fund”) supports idea-stage projects at Duke University. The Fund makes a number of awards each year to teams and companies to support novel ideas, applied research, potential products, nascent services, and creative projects that, if successful, will lead to new opportunities in the market.  To receive funding, projects must demonstrate a potential path to subsequent financial support, new company formation, licensing, partnering, or other channels to enable translation.

The Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative, which administers the Fund, is interested in innovative projects that could lead to new products or services that will have a positive impact on society, including:

  • Demonstrating the feasibility of an idea or innovation for a commercial or social venture
  • Developing a working software or device prototype
  • Obtaining supporting evidence or proof-of-concept for new ideas
  • Developing new applications or markets for a technology under development
  • Creative projects that might lead to professionally produced content

Applications are welcome from all fields of inquiry.  At least one member of any team must be employed at  Duke in a faculty or staff capacity (including graduate students and postdoctoral researchers). Projects with a high likelihood of commercialization  and/or with existing Duke intellectual property or potential to generate new Duke intellectual property are highly encouraged to apply. Proposals submitted by undergraduates as the primary applicant will not be considered.

Awards will be contingent on the innovator or company representative entering into a Simple Agreement for Future Equity (SAFE) with Duke.

II. Key Dates

  • Application Submission Deadline*: Friday, April 23, 2021, 5:00 p.m. EST
  • Final Selection and Notices of Award: mid- to late May, 2021
  • Funding Period: July 1, 2021 – June 30, 2022

*Award Cycles will typically occur twice per year (Fall & Spring).

III. Eligibility

  • Proposals may be submitted by Duke faculty (tenure and non-tenure track), graduate students, staff (including postdoctoral researchers), and medical residents and fellows with approval of the appropriate mentor or unit coordinator.
  • Proposals submitted by undergraduates as the primary applicant will not be considered, though undergraduates may be a part of a project team for a proposal submitted by an eligible primary applicant as outlined above.
  • Individuals may submit more than one proposal, but are only eligible to receive one award per cycle. Promising projects that are not selected will be encouraged to reapply.

IV. Funding

Each award will consist of up to $40,000 (direct costs only). Preference will be given to applications with high potential for significant advancement. Funds may be spent within Duke or within a start-up company formed to commercialize the innovation. For projects without a company, one team member must establish a dedicated, project-specific cost object (WBS Fund) within their department to accept award.  No funds can be distributed directly to individuals.

Funding will be in the form a Simple Agreement for Future Equity (SAFE) with Duke (see FAQ for SAFE details). Proceeds from the sales of the equity obtained through these agreements will be used to finance future awards. Note: This award is internally funded and does not need to be routed through the Duke Office of Research Administration (ORA).

VI. Application Procedure

The Duke Incubation Fund Award uses the MyResearchProposal online application software to submit applications.

  • To apply visit http://bit.ly/myresearchproposal, click on “Create New User” (or log in if you already have an account). Proposals must be submitted under the Principal Investigator’s name.
  • A step-by-step user’s guide for applying via the MyResearchProposal software is available – Please review this document.
  • Enter Access Code I&E then select the “Duke Incubation Fund Spring 2021” funding opportunity and follow the instructions.
  • For any questions concerning MyResearchProposal passwords or system issues, please contact Anita Grissom or Kara McKelvey at myresearchproposal@duke.edu

Applicants will enter general project information via the web-based form:

  1. Project Title, Brief Description, and Amount Requested
  2. Primary Contact Name, Department/Company, phone, email
  3. General Project Information: Applicants will be asked to answer general questions regarding the project (e.g. type of business, relationship to Duke, stage of development, ongoing sources of funding).
  4. Intellectual Property (IP) Status (Character Limit: 500; list submitted Invention Disclosure Forms (IDF), pending patent applications, issued patents, copyright, trademarks, and intent to file patent applications or maintain trade secrecy; if no anticipated IP, indicate “none”)
  5. Compliance Plan as appropriate for adhering to IRB, IACUC, privacy, and confidentiality standards (Character Limit: 500)

Some proposal sections will be uploaded as individual PDF files. The application sections are:

  1. Intellectual Property: Summarize intellectual property, including any know-how, invention disclosure numbers, patent filings, copyrighted material, etc.
  2. Budget: Upload a one-year spending plan including a brief budget justification using the I&E Budget Form.
  3. Team Experience: Include a resume or NIH Biosketches for each key member of the research team (as a single PDF). Each individual resume may not exceed 5 pages.
  4. Project Description: The Project Description should include: Idea, Background, Justification, Problem-Being-Solved, Preliminary/Supporting Data, Methods, Quarterly Milestones to be achieved during the year, and a plan for follow-on funding (5-Page limit, including tables and figures; and shorter applications are welcome). References do not count toward the 5-page limit; single spacing, font no smaller than Arial 11 and margins greater than 0.5”. The follow-on funding plan may include  plans to apply for other sources of non-dilutive funding such as federal or foundation grants, internal funding, equity raises, licensing, selling product, or strategic partnerships.

VII. Budget Guidelines

Any requested funds should directly support the progress of the Incubation Fund project.

Grant funds may be budgeted for:

  • Salary support for the PI or collaborators; research support personnel
  • Research supplies and core lab costs, and
  • Travel and other purposes deemed necessary for the successful execution of the proposed project

Grant funds may not be budgeted for:

  • Company G&A, legal, or IP expenses
  • Capital equipment, overhead, or
  • Student tuition and fees

VIII. Terms of the Award

  1. Approvals Required Prior to Funding Start Date: Prior to receiving funds, research involving human subjects must have appropriate approvals from the Duke IRB. If the research includes animals, the appropriate IACUC animal research forms must also be approved before the project’s start date. Failure to submit documents in the requested timeframe may result in cancellation of funding.
  2. SAFE Agreement: Prior to receiving funds, applicants must complete a Simple Agreement for Future Equity (SAFE) with Duke.
  3. Project Execution: Investigators agree to work in collaboration with Duke I&E and report the findings of their work at six months and twelve months. Duke I&E may terminate and reallocate residual funds for any team failing to submit required written reports in a timely manner. Proposed aims of funded projects may be changed, added or deleted during the funding period, pending Investigator and Duke I&E review and agreement. Any awardee who leaves his or her position should contact Duke I&E to discuss future plans for the project.
  4. Post-Award Reporting. When requested, all awardees will be expected to provide updates that they achieved as a result of the award. Awardees will contact Duke I&E when an equity financing triggers conversion of the SAFE to equity.

Contact Information

For additional information on this funding opportunity, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page or contact Andrew Lerner.

Learn more and apply.

Duke I&E Solicits Proposals for 2021 Seed Grants from the Duke Incubation Fund

Incubation Fund.

Deadline: October 16, 2020


The Duke Incubation Fund (the “Fund”) was formed to support idea-stage projects at Duke University. The Fund will make a number of awards each year to support novel ideas, applied research, potential products, nascent services and creative projects that if successful, will lead to new opportunities in the market. To receive funding, projects must demonstrate a potential path to subsequent financial support, new company formation, licensing, not-for-profit partnering or other channels to enable translation.

The Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative, which administers the Fund, is interested in innovative projects that could lead to new products or services that will have a positive impact on society, including:

  • Demonstrating the feasibility of an idea or innovation for a commercial or social venture
  • Developing a working software or device prototype
  • Obtaining supporting evidence or proof-of-concept for new ideas
  • Developing new applications or markets for a technology under development
  • Creative projects that might lead to professionally produced content

Applications are welcome from all fields of inquiry. At least one member of any team must be from Duke. Awards will be contingent on the innovator entering into Simple Agreement for Future Equity (SAFE) with Duke.

Key Dates

  • Application Submission Deadline: 5:00 p.m. on Friday, October 16, 2020
  • Final Selection: November 20, 2020
  • Funding Period: January 1, 2021 – December 31, 2021

Learn more and see the full RFP.

Open Design+ Course Asks Students, How Might We Use the Pandemic to Transform Learning?

Aria Chernik.

Aria Chernik (Associate Professor of the Practice, Social Science Research Institute) will co-lead Open Design+ in Summer Session II. Open Design+ is a new summer program offered through the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative and is part of Bass Connections.

This summer, students will work through the open design thinking process to create a prototype in the problem space: In light of COVID-19, how might we transform learning at Duke?

Why is this course a good fit for summer during the pandemic?

Open Design+ teaches students how to ideate, create, test, and iterate impactful solutions to real-world, complex problems. The pandemic, of course, is an example of just this kind of problem. We need to be able to think big and act creatively—and above all with empathy—to find solutions that can propel communities forward. That’s what students will be doing this summer.

Why did you want to teach this course?

This course combines some of my most strongly-held professional and personal interests and passions. It combines student-driven education innovation with the ethics of open source values and design thinking methodologies.

Can you give us an overview of what you’ll be teaching?

Students will use design thinking to develop innovative solutions to complex, real-world problems. This summer, the challenge space is how might we use the experience of COVID-19 to transform learning at Duke?

Working in small, interdisciplinary teams of undergraduate and graduate students, participants in Open Design+ will gain an understanding of open design, a variation of design thinking that emphasizes the ethical implications of how and what we design.

Students will learn qualitative research skills and conduct extensive interviews with stakeholders in the challenge area, including Duke students, faculty, and administrators to ideate solutions for sustained learning innovation at Duke; they will also learn critical skills and mindsets such as: brainstorming ideas and creating prototypes, testing and iterating solutions, communicating across audiences and media, thinking divergently and convergently, and collaborating and problem-solving in uncertain situations.

How important is collaboration?

Collaboration is absolutely essential. The open design process requires deep and thoughtful collaboration across myriad learning contexts, such as interviewing stakeholders, brainstorming sessions, testing and evaluating prototypes, defining problems, and communicating results. Very little work is done alone. The challenge for us is to create a virtual environment in which the team can collaborate authentically, meaningfully, and frequently, but we are optimistic that we can do this!

What do you hope the students gain from taking this course?

Competencies and mindsets that are critical and applicable across all learning disciplines, careers, and even civic life: listening and creating with empathy, robust collaboration, convergent and divergent thinking, compelling communication across media and audiences, resilience in the face of uncertainty and frustration, creative problem-solving, failing forward, and iterative creation.

Why is social science research so important?

Social science research asks us to reach across disciplines and engage skills ranging from qualitative ethnographic research to quantitative data-driven research. In our increasingly complex world, interdisciplinarity is critical if we are to understand and solve problems that have direct positive social impact.

Originally posted on the Social Science Research Institute website

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