In selecting this year’s roundup of eight semifinalists, the Young Trustee Nominating Committee did not eliminate a single applicant.
The semifinalists include seniors Ashley Alman, Alikiah Barclay, Gurdane Bhutani, Chris Brown, Nicole Kyle, Brandon Putnam and Charles West and freshman James Stevenson. This is the first year that freshman students were allowed to apply to become a candidate for a seat on the Board of Trustees reserved for an current undergraduate. The group will eventually be narrowed to two to five finalists, who compete in an election open to the entire undergraduate student body.
Junior Daniel Pellegrino, Young Trustee Nominating Committee Chair, noted that the low number of applications is a reflection on the time and commitment needed to be a Young Trustee. The YTNC is required to select eight semifinalists, meaning that all eight applicants this year were chosen.
“The reason that the numbers have fallen so dramatically from the first two years is that people have a better understanding of what the process will be like and how intense it will be,” Pellegrino said. “I think [this] screens out some people who may have applied when people didn’t have a good understanding of how difficult it is to become the Young Trustee.”
Seven students entered the Young Trustee race in the 2012 election cycle, a drop from prior years when the number of applicants typically ranged from 14 to 16.
“It is a rigorous and time consuming process, and I think that what we are seeing now is that only those who are truly committed to becoming the Young Trustee apply,” Pellegrino added.
In prior years, freshmen were not eligible to apply for Young Trustee. Duke Student Government amended this restriction in the Young Trustee bylaws on Oct. 18. DSG Executive Vice President Patrick Oathout, a junior, proposed the amendment and lobbied for its approval within the DSG Senate.
“It’s great that a first-year took the initiative to apply, and it just shows that the previous rules likely prevented other first-years from applying, too,” Oathout wrote in an email Thursday. “I’m so glad the YTNC will now be able to judge the candidates on their qualifications and not on their year in school.”
He added that this year’s semifinalists are a strong group of candidates.
“This year’s Young Trustee semifinalists all have impressive qualifications,” Putnam said. “They are all strongly passionate about Duke and share similar commitments to furthering the University’s horizons.”
He added that he would feel honored to represent the University in a leadership role. Stevenson is happy for the chance to represent his school as a freshman.
“I feel as I qualify to be the Young Trustee, because, above all else, I have a passion for this school,” he said. “I feel as if I understand what it is like to be a Duke student.”
The background of the applicants range from West, treasurer for the Duke collegiate chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, to Bhutani, current chief financial officer of the LDOC committee.
Applicants were asked what the most pressing issues facing the Trustees would be in the coming years. In his application, West said that, in his opinion, the most pressing issue before the Board is “perfecting our global presence,” while maintaining a standard of excellence here at home.
“I’m honored to be a semifinalist for the position of Young Trustee,” West said. “My Duke experience has positioned me to be able to offer a perspective to the Board of Trustees that is informed through leadership, strength of character and intentional involvement in undergraduate life on campus.”
Kyle also felt that one of the biggest challenges that the Board faces is Duke’s expanding presence in global education. She said her experience as former news editor of The Chronicle exposed her to a critical perspective of the University and administration that will help her if she were chosen as Young Trustee.
Alman and Barclay are also happy to be semi-finalists, although Barclay hopes to give back to Duke as a way of paying the University back for the joy of his Duke experience. Alman said she hopes to use her position if chosen as a way to connect the student body to the Board.
“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to vie for a position on the Board of Trustees, and I’m confident that my experiences on campus will allow me to holistically articulate the student experience to the Board,” Alman said.
The semifinalists will undergo a round of interviews before the finalists are announced, Pellegrino said, adding that the whole YTNC is also going to interview each applicant individually.
Brown, a member of The Chronicle's independent editorial board, could not be reached for comment in time for publication.