The independent news organization of Duke University

2020-21 Chron15: Leaders

<p>Top row: Ann Saterbak; Nolan Smith; Thomas Denny. Bottom row: Gary Bennett and Mary Pat McMahon; Edgar Virgüez. Photos taken by/courtesy of Ann Saterbak, Henry Haggart, Wikimedia Commons, Gary Bennett and Mary Pat McMahon and Edgar Virgüez, respectively.</p>

Top row: Ann Saterbak; Nolan Smith; Thomas Denny. Bottom row: Gary Bennett and Mary Pat McMahon; Edgar Virgüez. Photos taken by/courtesy of Ann Saterbak, Henry Haggart, Wikimedia Commons, Gary Bennett and Mary Pat McMahon and Edgar Virgüez, respectively.

Duke’s leaders are the people who champion the University community during good times and bad, inspiring others with their emphasis on values and progress. 

The leaders featured on this year’s Chron15 list are educators, administrators and coaches who used their power for good as they kept the community together during the pandemic, encouraged others to speak up and worked tirelessly to improve educational policies and outcomes. 

Nolan Smith

Nolan Smith is the People’s Champ for so much more than just helping lead Duke to a national championship in 2010. 

Smith cemented his legacy in Durham long before he received his promotion to assistant coach this offseason, but his recent social justice work has pushed him into a whole new echelon. The Maryland native organized a Black Lives Matter protest in Krzyzewskiville in August, saying “this is not a moment, this is a movement” during his speech to a socially-distanced crowd.

The protest may have been his most notable social justice action, but Smith has been tirelessly advocating for change, spreading his message of love for all and equality on numerous platforms. Whether it was North Carolina voter registration efforts or making public appearances alongside other Durham community leaders, Smith has made it clear that he will use his position for good, and The Chronicle is one of several media outlets to now recognize Smith for his work toward making Durham and the world a better place. 

– Jake Piazza, Vol. 117 sports editor

Ann Saterbak

Among this year’s graduates were many students who, in fall of 2017, participated in the pilot for a new course for the Pratt School of Engineering: EGR 190L, Engineering Design and Communication. Fifty students took the pilot version and by the following fall, all of Pratt’s degree programs figured out where they could make adjustments so that every first-year engineering student could take the (renumbered) EGR 101L.  The class gives first-year engineers experience with the engineering design process and has them work on real-world projects with actual clients. The heart, soul, mentor-in-chief and leader of this transformative and ambitious project is Ann Saterbak, professor of the practice of biomedical engineering and director of the Duke Engineering First Year Experience.  

She works tirelessly with the team of staff, faculty and teaching assistants for the course to provide what she makes sure are “authentic and meaningful projects” so that undergraduate engineers have a better understanding of the design process and a better appreciation of the need for clear communication. And yet this is just one piece of her nationally-recognized contributions to engineering education! For example, she is also co-author of the book Bioengineering Fundamentals, the inaugural editor-in-chief of the BME Society’s Biomedical Engineering Education journal and a member of the College of Fellows of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Education. In short, she is a role model for anyone who wants to have a meaningful impact in the classroom, at the university and in the profession of engineering.

– Michael Gustafson, associate professor of the practice of electrical and computer engineering

Gary Bennett and Mary Pat McMahon

Gary Bennett, vice provost for undergraduate education, and Mary Pat McMahon, vice president and vice provost for student affairs, were instrumental within the Duke community during the 2020-21 academic year.

Individually, the two vice provosts have their own ventures—McMahon has led Student Affairs in a variety of initiatives including anti-racism efforts and the Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response Committee. Bennett manages the weekly Short List newsletter, which features upcoming opportunities for students, and oversees multiple offices and programs on campus.

Together, they’re heading efforts to reconfigure the undergraduate living experience, in addition to keeping students updated on campus operations during COVID-19. While some of their messages took on a serious tone, others linked to GIFs and infused humor. The newsletters also gave updates on academic programs, study abroad, town halls and other activities that shaped the undergraduate experience this past year.

– Nadia Bey, Vol. 117 managing editor

Thomas Denny

Thomas Denny is the chief operating officer of the Duke Vaccine Institute, a professor of medicine and an affiliate member of the Duke Global Health Institute. 

Denny brings invaluable and unique insights to his roles stemming from a variety of past experiences. He has spent the past two decades serving on various National Institutes of Health committees, as well as many more years in various areas of the world presenting research, opening laboratories and providing operational advice to several biotech companies. Denny was even elected for two public positions while living in New Jersey in the year 2000.

In addition to his roles at the University, Denny is currently an advisor to a Durham-based microfluidics venture known as Advanced Liquid Logic, Inc. and was recently chosen to serve on the Duke University Fuqua School of Business Health Sector Advisory Council, a group that includes members of Congress and business executives among others.

Like so many of the talented faculty members at Duke, Denny is one part professor and one part renaissance man. His commitment to improving global health endeavours across the world has prepared him to lead, and it is only right that he has had the opportunity to do so at Duke.

– Gautam Sirdeshmukh, Vol. 117 health and science news editor

Edgar Virgüez

Edgar is a devoted Christian, an exemplary husband, and a lovely father and dog owner. He dreams of transforming higher education into an inclusive sector. If you are around him, you have probably listened to him preach about how universities should offer environments where all members could thrive, regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation or any other self-affiliation.

Since he started his Duke journey in 2016, he has been a leader working to create an inclusive community and promoting an enhanced educational experience for all students. In 2021, he was named a recipient of the Forever Duke Student Leadership Award, the Graduate School Dean's Award for Excellence in Teaching, and Duke's International Awards Graduate/Professional Academic Wizard of the Year.

Building on his racial and ethnic background, he has expanded Duke's educational environments. Launching innovative classroom settings, he has connected his students to marginalized communities in Latin America, creating a model for others. Last year, recognizing his potential as a game-changer in the higher education field, he was honored as a K. Patricia Cross Future Leader awardee by the Association of American Colleges & Universities.

 – Temis Coral Castellanos, Nicholas '19

To see the rest of this year's Chron15 selections, click here.

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