Young Trustee finalist Tim Skapek, a senior, hopes to bring the lessons he has learned as a walk-on football kicker to the Board of Trustees.
When he decided to walk on as a first-year, he wasn't sure how long he would stay on the team. He hardly ever saw the field, never attempting a field goal. But Skapek said he has learned that leadership is about being a team player—a role he’s taken in founding a startup and running Dukes and Duchesses. Skapek said he would bring those skills to the boardroom as a Young Trustee.
“A good teammate can lead and can follow, and most importantly can know when to do both,” Skapek said. “That’s an example of something that I think I have a much better gauge on from my experience being on a team where I’m not the most talented or the best.”
Duke head coach David Cutcliffe has always said that the best compliment one can receive is being a good teammate, Skapek said, and he has taken that wisdom to heart.
When former Duke quarterback and now-New York Giants starter Daniel Jones broke his collarbone in 2018, Skapek’s teammates Clark Bulleit and Kevin Gehsmann, Pratt ‘19, helped create and 3D-print a custom fitted brace. Jones recovered in just three weeks.
This fall, Skapek, an engineer, partnered with Bulleit and Gehsmann to co-found Protect3d, a company that designs padding to protect against injuries. Protect3d has made more than 100 devices and has partnered with seven teams. The three were named finalists for an NFL innovation competition for their work in athlete safety and performance.
He added that this experience would help him as a Young Trustee, a role that calls for one to act as a fiduciary of the University.
“Managing a company from the ground up has been incredibly insightful in terms of how to make decisions not just for myself, but what’s best for all of us as an entity and all of the people that have supported us along the way,” Skapek said.
While balancing 40-plus hours a week of practice and football-related work, Skapek co-founded the company and remained involved on campus in several other ways.
Throughout his career, he has served in a number of tour guide roles. He has been an ambassador for Duke's development office and serves as the president of Dukes and Duchesses, an organization of students who give tours and assist with special events and ceremonies.
Skapek has given tours to a wide variety of people, from elementary school students to potential administrators and faculty. A “problem solver” and “engineer at heart,” he also has shaken up Dukes and Duchesses’ recruitment process to increase diversity.
“I’ve always been the type of thinker who wants to look at a situation critically, figure out what are the problems here, what could be changed or done better and then immediately start looking at how we can get to those spots,” Skapek said.
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From his two years on the Young Trustee Nominating Committee, serving as chair as a sophomore and a voting member as a junior, Skapek said he has a strong understanding of what the Young Trustee position demands.
Skapek explained that he has the ability to think about the University’s broad needs, in addition to the awareness of when he should contribute and when he should seek out others' wisdom to further his understanding.
The main issue that Duke is currently facing, Skapek noted, is how to approach rapid growth in Durham and the Triangle area at large. It will be important for Duke to engage with the growth without displacing already existing communities, he said.
“As a community member, Duke has an obligation to contribute and be a part of that in the right way,” Skapek said.
As for on-campus issues, he called Duke's current housing situation "not horrible," but one that could improve in terms of continuity of experience.
Rebecca Simmons, associate professor of the practice in the department of mechanical engineering and materials science, has known Skapek since his first year, serving as his mentor and teacher in several classes. Simmons said that Skapek is always smiling and has the tools to make “great societal contributions.”
“Tim pushes through challenges and set-backs, he has diverse experiences, he gives space to others to let them be the best they can be but also pushes them when they need it or the project needs it,” Simmons wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “He sees and looks for opportunity, he is willing to take risks on crazy ideas, and he is willing to put in the time and effort to see projects and tasks through.”
Senior Sabrina Qi worked with Skapek as engineering interns this summer at Pathspot, a startup. Qi said Skapek is among the most hardworking people she has met and is passionate and open to new ideas, also touting his leadership skills.
“In team settings, I think he provides a lot of motivation for team members and has great leadership skills,” Qi wrote in an email to The Chronicle.