Statement of Diversity and Inclusion   

The first twenty years of my life were spent living in the rural suburbs of upstate New York. Reflecting on those years, I realize now that they were a safety net of homogeneity. I was surrounded by people who shared similar identities, ways of thinking, and privileged backgrounds, which instilled within me a strong sense of belonging. Moving to Durham, NC in pursuit of a doctorate degree from Duke University was a critical phase in my life’s journey. On campus, I was submersed in a foreign sea of diversity and culture. Mingling with other first-year students of worldly origins, my perceptions of adversity, struggle, and perseverance were redefined.

     As I integrated into the civil and environmental engineering (CEE) department and acclimated to graduate student culture, I gleaned indications of discontent from my senior peers. Listening to the accounts of their graduate school experience, I inferred there was an indistinct disconnect between students, faculty, and other engineering departments. Recollecting on my childhood and the enduring feeling of belonging, a spark ignited within me to advocate for my peers – I was motivated to instill a sense of community among engineering students and to improve communication between faculty and students. When I heard about the formation of CEE’s Students Advocating for Graduate Education (SAGE), I knew it was the right platform to implement change. I joined and was elected as its inaugural Chair.

Students Advocating for Graduate Education   

SAGE’s mission was to act as a liaison between students and faculty in the CEE department. With the support of our department chair, SAGE’s first major project was to collect actionable insight about the graduate student experience. This was achieved by conducting a department-wide student culture survey, which probed topics related to work/life balance, student-advisor relationships, milestone exam transparency, and coursework, to name a few. After a year of data collection and analysis, SAGE published a final report of prioritized action items, bolstered by statistical evidence, for improving the department’s culture. We felt confident our report gave a holistic image of student culture given the recorded 98 % completion rate among our targeted audience. This project was meaningful but, I knew my role wasn’t complete. Now that I knew how to improve student culture, it was time to implement change. Thus, I signed on for a second term as the SAGE Chair.

    Over the next year, I led SAGE in completing the high priority and quick fix action items identified from the survey. Of the projects we aimed to complete, there was one issue that connected them all – a lack of transparency. We updated the department website to clearly articulate degree requirements and mandatory core-courses. A private Sakai page was launched for current graduate students to document milestone exam expectations (i.e. – preliminary and research proposal defense exams) along with the pass/fail conditions. We even re-structured and formalized the milestone exam timeline so its administration was reliable each year. The most personally rewarding projects transpired through working directly with students. From our survey, 30% of CEE students identified their office space as unfit for work. I visited these locations and listened to the students’ concerns. I then worked with my department chair to install swipe access security, declutter, and renovate these spaces. The gratitude received from these intimate projects was invigorating, and I wanted to continue my work as a student leader. My experience as SAGE Chair inspired me pursue a position with The Engineering Graduate Student Council (EGSC), and in 2017, I became its President.

Engineering Graduate Student Council   

As the EGSC President, my goal was to provide opportunity and service to all graduate students in The Pratt School of Engineering. I focused on launching projects that fostered inclusion and interdisciplinary interactions. Some changes were small and impactful, such as shifting the start time of our traditional weekly socials so master’s students could attend. Academically, I helped organize an interdepartmental seminar series to showcase graduate student research. The EGSC would select an umbrella topic for each seminar and invite one student from each of the four engineering schools to deliver a short talk on their research. The idea was to demonstrate that, although we as graduate students work on specific research topics, we are connected through broader impacts. We even hosted a special “Broader Impacts of Our Research” seminar with The Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Student speakers discussed the importance of their research as it pertains to the National Science Foundation’s broader impacts guidelines.     
    My favorite event as the EGSC President was the "Envisioning the Invisible" photo contest, which is an annual event aimed at celebrating the bridge between science and art. Participants could submit an image of their research explained artistically or an ordinary image explained in an extraordinary way. Traditionally an exclusive engineering event, I decided this year to invite the entire Duke community (faculty, staff, and students, from all schools) to enter to contest. We received an outstanding number of submissions. Our awards ceremony, an exhibition featuring the top 20 submissions, was a beautiful display of diversity. As I announced the winners, I was delighted to have read aloud three different schools: Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, School of Medicine, and Pratt School of Engineering. We even had a staff member win the “People’s Choice” award. Watching faculty and staff mingle with students was heartwarming. I was proud of my team for successfully hosting such an inclusive community event.      
    My diversity is my strength in leadership and governance. My desire to foster an inclusive and inviting environment extends beyond a classroom and reaches to capture the campus community. As a member of the campus community, I am eager to apply my pedagogy training and advocacy experience to creating active learning classes that connect students to their campus and geographic communities.