One of the greatest challenges to reverse-engineering the brain to help alleviate mental disease, aside from the obvious technical knowledge gaps, is the fraught relationship that the brain has with society. While there remains a stigma around mental illness, people who suffer are less likely to seek help. I have tried to combat that stigma by engaging with the community around me – other Duke students, middle and high school students, and even Durham community members in order to challenge negative misconceptions around the brain.

Duke Neurodiversity Connections, Duke University

March 2019 – Present (~50 hours, continuing)

I’m currently on a board of faculty, administrators, and staff to ensure that neurodiverse students on campus get the help and support they need. This involves planning and running events for other neurodiverse students, as well as helping to make flyers to distribute to professors, counselors, and travel advisers, and even making suggestions for ways to provide accommodations during advertising for Duke and during Orientation and other Welcome Week events. I’ve also served on a panel for neurodiverse students following a film screening of  ‘Autism Goes to College’.

NAMI Smarts Advocacy Program, National Alliance on Mental Illness

December 2018 – December 2019 (~50 hours)

I was trained by Pam Swann, who runs the NAMI Durham Legislative Committee, through the NAMI Smarts Advocacy Program. We spent some time working on ways to push NAMI’s legislative agenda to expand Medicare to cover mental conditions. I’ve also helped facilitate connections between NAMI Durham and other mental health organizations on campus.

Resident Assistant, Duke Housing and Residence Life

August 2017 – March 2020 (~900 hours)

As a resident assistant, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss these topics with my residents. Whether it’s through partnerships with Peer For You, an on-campus organization dedicated to providing help to students and challenging stigma, or through open and honest conversations with residents, or even through helping students access on-campus resources, I have been able to help students overcome negative perceptions of mental illness.

Project Change

August 2016 (~50 hours)

As part of this program, hosted by the Kenan Institute for Ethics, I spent a week volunteering at Threshold, a haven for people in the community dealing with mental health issues. I worked alongside community members, helping to cook and prepare the weekly newsletter, and also worked with a team to design promotional brochures for the center targeted towards donors, family members, and people who could be helped by the community. Working with these people, and getting to know them for themselves rather than any diagnosis, shattered my preconceptions of mental illness, and has inspired me to continue having the same open conversations with my communities at Duke.

Volunteer, Females Excelling More in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science (FEMMES)

March 2017 – March 2019 (~30 hours)

Through FEMMES, I’ve had the chance to mentor an 8th grade student throughout the school year. For the past two years, I’ve also been a guide in the FEMMES Capstone, an incredible program where over 100 girls in elementary and middle school get the chance to work with scientists and engineers to complete fun projects and learn about the wealth of opportunities available to them in science.

Volunteer, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS) Brain Day, Science Olympiad, Duke Splash, etc

March 2017, 2019 (18 hours)

I volunteered for Brain Day, an open house hosted by the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences that seeks to help engage public interest and teach people in the community about neuroscience. I led activities on perception, and taught kids about the anatomy and function of the brain. I have also led activities for a local Science Olympiad championship, and taught classes for Duke Splash.