‘Ensure everyone has access to resources they need and deserve’: Meet Undergraduate Young Trustee finalist Sydney Hunt

As a Young Trustee finalist, senior Sydney Hunt hopes to increase accessibility to resources within Duke, address the impacts of technological evolution on the University and ultimately give back to the school that has provided much for her. 

Originally from Cornwall, N.Y., Hunt is a Reginaldo Howard Scholar and a Duke STEM Pathways for Inclusion, Readiness, and Excellence (SPIRE) fellow majoring in electrical and computer engineering and computer science. She identifies as a Black and Hispanic woman in STEM — her mother immigrated to the United States from El Salvador and her father is African American. 

Hunt is passionate about retention and diversity within STEM, and is particularly interested in women in STEM and mental health awareness. She became SPIRE’s vice president of Durham regional affairs during her sophomore year and co-founded the living learning community for SPIRE. She also established a virtual career day with local public schools to expand access to academic resources in Durham. 

“[I worked] to make sure that the resources at Duke didn’t necessarily stay within the Duke bubble. Duke students were able to share their projects about what they did, how they got to where they are now and expose kids to resources that are out there that are free to use,” Hunt said. 

Hunt also pursues her passions through academics — she is involved in the “Improving Girls’ Math Identity Through Problem Solving and Mentorship” Bass Connections team and is currently working on her senior thesis titled “The Impact of Introductory Mathematics on Student Desire to Pursue a STEM Major.”

In 2020, Hunt co-established CS Sidekicks, a non-profit organization that “aims to empower the next generation of computer scientists” and to “empower [kids] to become independent learners.” 

From a range of programs including introduction to block-based coding, introduction to Python and HTML website building, students in sixth grade to seniors in high school are able to explore computer science projects with the support of a Duke student volunteer. 

“I think it’s so beautiful to see kids learning and excited about [computer science] because I didn’t have exposure to it before. I hope that they are able to see that there is not one version of what a computer scientist looks like and that everyone can be a computer scientist,” Hunt said. 

Beyond supporting educational resources for local Durham students, Hunt also initiated the Don’t Waste Food Points food drive at Duke at the end of her sophomore year to donate food to local Durham food banks. As a result of widespread support from students, Hunt was able to collect over 5000 pounds of donations during the first year. 

By serving as Young Trustee, Hunt hopes to give back to the University, as it has provided her with the resources to attend college and sparked her love for research through opportunities such as Bass Connections. 

“I hadn’t tried research before I came to Duke, but now I am going to do a Ph.D. next year and so that was a great big turning point ... I want to make sure that they are accessible to all members of the Blue Devil community. I want to be a part of a team to ensure everyone has access to resources they need and deserve,” Hunt said. 

With the advancing evolution of technology, Hunt believes “there are adjustments that the University can make to ensure that the education provided to students or the resources provided for staff allow them to thrive in their respective fields.” 

In addition to providing a unique and diverse perspective as a Black and Hispanic woman in STEM, Hunt believes that her engineering perspective will add a crucial voice to the Board of Trustees. The last engineering student selected to be a Young Trustee was in 2017. 

“As an engineer, I think we have the ability to be given a problem and very quickly come up to speed and how we need to find a solution, and then come up with a way to solve that problem,” Hunt said.  

As Hunt’s independent study and senior thesis advisor, Shani Daily, professor of the practice in the department of electrical and computer engineering, believes Hunt is a leader who “knows how to be strategic and organized around her ideas” while also “[listening] and [collaborating] with others when pursuing a goal.” 

“If I think about the characteristics one might want in a trustee, Sydney embodies them. Sydney deeply cares about inclusivity, and her research work this year with me and other professors is focused on ensuring that all students have environments where they can thrive. She’s achieved so much within the Duke and Durham communities ... that I have no doubt she’d bring the same energy and enthusiasm to the Young Trustee position,” Daily wrote in an email to The Chronicle. 

Senior David Radvany-Roth, co-founder of CS Sidekicks, noted Hunt’s integral role in shaping the early stages of the initiative and the transition from entirely virtual to in-person. 

According to Radvany-Roth, Hunt “made it her prerogative to ensure that CS Sidekicks was a community, not just a tutoring experience” and also “restructured [the] interview process in a way that helped get to know applicants for their identities, not just as computer scientists.”

“I cannot emphasize enough how much Duke benefits from a person like Sydney. When I have had my own personal struggles, Sydney is the first person to check in on me and offer a helping hand,” Radvany-Roth wrote. “I'm sure it's easy to look at any of the Young Trustee candidates' great achievements as a proxy for what they would bring for the board, and I'm positive they are all extremely impressive, but what makes Sydney impressive are the little things she does.”

“Giving her a voice on the board promises the Duke student body that they will be represented by a person who is selfless, responsible and cognizant of the ups and downs of student life,” he added.

Amy Guan | Senior Editor

Amy Guan is a Pratt senior and a senior editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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