Kat Zhang hopes to reshape future of higher ed at Duke
Senior Kat Zhang hopes to help reshape the face of liberal arts as Young Trustee.
A Robertson Scholar from Charlotte, N.C., Zhang believes she has the expertise, breadth and passion necessary to be successful in the role of Young Trustee. In her four years at Duke she has served as chair of the The Chronicle's independent Editorial Board, a first-year advisory counselor, a Common Ground facilitator, a house course instructor and co-president of the Asian American Alliance.
Zhang believes she is most qualified for the position because of her passion for higher education and Duke’s evolving place in it.
“Duke is at an exciting point in its history," Zhang said. "It's deciding what kind of school it wants to be in 10, 20, 50 years in terms of curriculum, physical campus and student culture."
As the first person of color to serve as chair of the independent Editorial Board founded in 2006, Zhang described her role as being similar to working at a “think tank” for the University, an experience that would allow her to join in on the Board of Trustees' discussions about the future of interdisciplinary and online courses without having to play catch up.
“Duke wants to cement its place at the top, but it's wrestling with the same questions as all of higher [education],” she said. “In an age of economic anxiety, globalization, and rapid technological advancement, what's the place of a liberal arts university? Why will people pay $60,000 for a Duke education?”
Zhang may not currently have the answers to these questions, but she said she spends her free time considering them.
“I actually talk about how students can do interdisciplinary research while majoring in only one or two subjects, or how to make the humanities relevant and exciting,” she said. “That might make me a nerd, but it would also make me a great Young Trustee.”
James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of economics Craufurd Goodwin said that Zhang’s genuine curiosity and insight makes her a good candidate.
“She would raise questions for the Board and suggest provocative answers,” he said. “She will inform and challenge the trustees and they will be as delighted with her as we are.”
Goodwin also noted that Zhang’s nomination for both economics and English Faculty Scholarships is a testament to her breadth.
Another item on Zhang’s agenda is increasing the transparency and accessibility of the Board. Her first step toward achieving this would be to propose a Board of Trustees press release to outline decisions and rationales for the student body.
“Construction especially may cause student concerns," Zhang said. "Renovations will only ramp up over the next few years, making contact between [Young Trustees] and the students even more important."
If elected, Zhang will host office hours where students can voice their concerns and ideas about the University.
A friend of Zhang’s since freshman year, senior Ajeet Hansra noted Zhang’s ability to understand the concerns of others as another strength.
“I am regularly delighted by Kat's ability to grasp issues beyond her personal experiences and engage with me in meaningful discussion regarding student issues,” he said. “Kat truly seeks to serve her peers. This deep-seated quality is rare, and undoubtedly adds a unique element to her immense qualifications for the position.”
Zhang, a member of The Chronicle’s independent editorial board, took a leave of absence from the group during the campaign.