Sophomore twins Emily and Nick Briere were singled out from their first day on campus.
In Fall 2011, the Brieres were mentioned in the freshmen convocation as the twins from Connecticut whose parents, both Duke alumni, instilled such a love for the University in them that they both applied early decision. The twins were also recognized for founding three startup companies while they were still in high school.
The Brieres have put their high school startups on hold while they attend Duke, as they want to explore other interests and have a traditional college experience, Nick said. But he still records voiceovers and creates videos for one of those companies, Cut-Out Kids, to help pay tuition. Through Cut-Out Kids, the Brieres create simple whiteboard animation videos to illustrate difficult concepts for businesses. The Brieres started another business, MoxMe!, as a collaborative social network for schools after they noticed the communication problems their school had connecting students, teachers, administrators and parents. The network was rolled out in a pilot project for the Brieres’ Mansfield, Conn. school district and saved the district so much money in postage that they could hire a new teacher, Superintendent Bruce Silva said in a testimonial on the MoxMe! website. A third business, Certamen.com, focused on creating online academic competitions among schools.
The Brieres’ success has continued at Duke, although they have taken markedly different paths. Nick is an English major who is also pursuing a certificate in politics, philosophy and economics, while Emily is a mechanical engineering major and mathematics minor who plans to earn a certificate in aerospace engineering.
This semester, Emily got a call from NASA telling her that she had been selected as one of 10 recipients worldwide of the NASA Academy internship this summer at the Ames Research Center in California. It is one of the most prestigious internships at NASA, said Neal Simmons, Gendell assocaite professor of the practice of mechanical engineering, who recommended Emily to the program.
“I literally couldn’t talk when they called to offer it to me,” Emily said. “This is my dream.”
She said her dream began out of questions she had when she first learned about the vastness of space.
“We learned that space was infinite, and I didn’t understand that,” she said. “How can space go on forever? And if it stops, what’s beyond that? The majority of people walk around Earth not even thinking about how there’s so much more out there, and what is it? And figuring that out is what I always thought I wanted to do.”
Her original childhood dream of becoming an astronaut morphed over time into her current goal of becoming an aerospace engineer in mission control at NASA.
In past years, NASA has selected around 10 Academy interns among more than 600 applicants. The paid internship can be a springboard into employment at NASA, and interns also skydive, try out flight simulators and travel on weekends to other NASA research centers.
Simmons said Emily is up to the challenge.
“I recommended Emily because she is a standout student who I believe will excel at all that she does,” he wrote in an email. “She is intrinsically motivated to learn and understand new ideas and concepts. This coupled with her intellect and dedication will serve her well in her career and life.”
Emily has not yet taken any aerospace engineering classes at the University, so she hopes the experience this summer will help her decide if she really wants to pursue the field as a career.
As interested as she is in the problem-solving aspects of mechanical engineering and entrepreneurship, however, it is difficult to talk to Emily about aerospace engineering and not notice her passion for the subject, Nick noted.
“Her eyes just light up,” he said.
Nick’s future, on the other hand, may be less clear than Emily’s, but he knows he will continue to be an entrepreneur of some kind.
“I’ll definitely end up with my hand in the startup world,” he said.
He is a shareholder in Campus Enterprises, where he is currently working on a new educational venture, and this summer, he will work at a startup accelerator at the University of Connecticut. Nick is also an avid guitarist, having played for more than eight years, and he additionally volunteers at a retirement home off East Campus by playing the piano for residents.
Although the twins are pursuing diverging interests compared to their time in high school, they try catch up on their busy lives by having lunch once a week.