Duke’s pioneers are the people and organizations who push the University forward, relentlessly reimagining every aspect of our community with boundless energy and passion. They question the status quo and refuse to accept anything that is unjust or unsatisfactory.
The pioneers of this year’s Chron15 list trekked through uncharted territories, leading to new academic programs, community connections, athletic success and scientific breakthroughs.
Duke Athletics saw significant changes this year, from new hires in men’s basketball and football to updated NCAA rules for student-athlete compensation to bringing fans back to Duke games. Nina King, newly-promoted vice president and director of athletics, has been there through each change to lead the transition into a new era of Duke sports.
King made history when she was hired to succeed athletic director Kevin White in May 2021. King is now the first woman as well as the first Black person to hold this position at Duke. Among Power Five conferences nationally, King is the third Black woman to be athletic director.
“I’m so proud to be a part of progress,” King said. “It’s my responsibility to create opportunities for women and people of color to continue to build our pipeline and ensure that some of these underrepresented groups are represented at all levels.”
King wears many other hats in addition to her athletic director role.
In 2021-2022, King served a second consecutive year as the chair for the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee, which determines selection, seeding and bracketing for the Women’s March Madness tournament.
An adjunct professor of business administration, King also teaches a graduate sports business class in the Fuqua School of Business.
“The Duke brand is strong,” King said. “We want to honor tradition, all while keeping our priority number one [the] student athlete experience.”
- Anisha Reddy, Vol. 118 senior editor
DUP Workers Union
After going public in March 2021, the Duke University Press Workers Union faced a year-long battle with the University that culminated with a successful recognition from the National Labor Relations Board on March 20, 2022.
The union began in response to “constant turnover, extended vacancies, low compensation, inconsistent policy enforcement, and patterns of discrimination” exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the union’s press statement on March 29, 2021.
Just over a week after workers voted 35 for and 31 against in favor of unionization on June 29, 2021, University lawyers petitioned for a re-run election, citing logistical errors present during the election. While the NLRB ruled to overturn the petition in early October, the University appealed the ruling.
Nevertheless, on Feb. 4, the NLRB rejected Duke’s request, allowing the DUP to win its election for unionization. On March 20, nearly a year after going public, the DUP Workers Union was officially recognized by the NLRB.
Over this time, the union garnered support from multiple elected Durham officials, including the mayor and mayor pro tempore; over 70 Duke faculty members; over 350 DUP authors and editors and fellow unions.
While the University launched another appeal in early April, the union will remain certified “unless the NLRB issues a stay or decides to accept Duke’s specious arguments,” wrote a DUP Workers Union tweet on April 5.
- Audrey Wang, Vol. 118 university news editor
Asian American Studies Working Group
After decades of student activism, Duke established the Asian American & Diaspora Studies Minor this year after a unanimous vote of approval from the Arts & Sciences Council. The new minor is a partnership between the Asian American & Diaspora Studies Program and the Department of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies. But it was the student-run Asian American Studies Working Group (AASWG) that worked tirelessly to advocate for the minor and for more comprehensive ethnic studies curricula.
Founded in 2016, ASSWG was a key component in the AADS program’s development, which launched in May 2018. It is also one of many student organizations pushing for an Ethnic Studies department at Duke. The AADS minor represents a breakthrough in AASWG’s advocacy, as it is the first minor of its kind in the American South, aside from Florida and Texas, according to AADS director Esther Kim Lee, a professor of theater studies at Duke.
In addition, AASWG played a large role in the advocacy in the cluster hire of two new AADS faculty members, Anna Storti, assistant professor of gender, sexuality and feminist studies, and Calvin Cheung-Miaw, assistant research professor of history.
The AADS minor is a milestone for AASWG, and is a step in the right direction for the creation of an Ethnic Studies department. Classes for the AADS minor are available to be added to shopping carts for fall 2022.
- Ishani Raha, Vol. 118 university news editor
When you think of computer algorithms, you might think of lines of code that stretch to infinity. But Cynthia Rudin, professor of computer science, electrical and computer engineering, statistical science and biostatistics & bioinformatics, writes algorithms small enough to fit on an index card.
Instead of developing increasingly complex algorithms, Rudin focuses on their accessibility and ease of use. She is known for her research and design of interpretable forms of artificial intelligence, and her approach to machine learning has had profound impacts. For example, she worked with a team to predict seizures, which allowed doctors to monitor 2.8 times more patients and saved over $6 million at two major hospitals in fiscal year 2018.
In 2019, Rudin worked closely with her former student, Tong Wang, and the Cambridge Police Department to identify patterns of crimes to better identify repeat offenders. The New York Police Department used the team’s code to develop a software system called Patternizr, which compares each new “seed” crime to older incidents to analyze if the events could be part of a series.
“I didn’t want to just work on methodology or theory,” Rudin wrote to The Chronicle. “I wanted to see how it worked in practice. AI is starting to have a huge impact in our world.”
Rudin is also the director of Interpretable Machine Learning Lab at Duke, and her work has been recognized nationally. In October 2021, she was named the 2021 recipient of the AAAI Squirrel AI Award for Artificial Intelligence for the Benefit of Humanity. In April, she was awarded a 2022 Guggenheim Fellowship, which provides “no-strings-attached” funding for fellows to pursue impactful projects.
Rudin is using the funds to develop a multimedia textbook for introductory, graduate level and advanced undergraduate level machine learning, and she is making artificial intelligence’s interpretability a core focus.
- Katie Tan, Vol. 118 managing editor
Hailing from the small town of Ardmore, Oklahoma, dancer and micro influencer Lydia Wang came to Duke in 2018 with big ambitions.
Wang, Trinity ’22, was one of the earliest members of Pureun, Duke’s premier K-pop dance organization. In her first two years at Duke, Wang helped expand Pureun’s virtual platform among the K-pop community by establishing the group’s Instagram and YouTube.
Maintaining Pureun’s online presence was especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic. Wang, then co-president, brushed up on her filmmaking skills to record group dances and share them on the group’s social media.
In April, Wang was able to put her filmmaking and cinematography skills on display in Pureun’s inaugural showcase. She worked with Cinematic Arts at Duke and Freewater Productions to create many of the short dance films that were shown during the showcase, which she said were “labors of love, but so much fun.”
“We didn’t know what to expect [of the showcase] because we had no prior experience organizing one before, but we had a good turnout,” Wang said. “We had around 300 or more attendees which was insane for us.”
Wang graduated this year with an interdepartmental major in psychology and visual media studies. She has plans to make an impact in the fashion industry at Abercrombie & Fitch in Columbus, Ohio, but she’s not ready to put her love for filmmaking and dancing to rest. She also plans to work with local dance groups and musicians in Columbus.
- Morgan Fletcher, V. 118 staff reporter
To see the rest of this year’s Chron15 selections, click here.
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