2022-23 Chron15: Pioneers

Top: Bridgette Hard; Toddi Steelman; Mike Elko. Bottom: Hoof 'n' Horn during a 2017 performance; Esther Hong
Top: Bridgette Hard; Toddi Steelman; Mike Elko. Bottom: Hoof 'n' Horn during a 2017 performance; Esther Hong

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 have brought the University newfound athletic success, created new academic and research programs and helped grow Duke's vibrant arts culture.

Mike Elko

In December of 2021, Duke hired Mike Elko to take over its football program. Many would say he took a tough job considering the season before, the team had a 3-9 record and did not win a single ACC game. But Elko was certainly up to the task. In his first speech as head coach at Duke, Elko stated that the team was looking to win “now” and was not looking to rebuild.

Elko was a pioneer on the field before accepting the Duke head coaching job. The football world had come to know him as a defensive mastermind. He has been the defensive coordinator at Wake Forest, Notre Dame and Texas A&M before ultimately landing the job at Duke. At Texas A&M coach Elko became the fourth coordinator in college football to make $2 million. Putting him in an elite company, with some of the best coordinators in the country at the time. In his last season as a coordinator at Texas A&M, their defense was a top 10 unit in the country. 

He believed in the players that were already in the locker room, and he knew that with hard work the Blue Devils would be able to put themselves back on the map.

Elko has proven himself as a pioneer in his first season at Duke after leading the Blue Devils to a 9-4 record and finishing the year with a Military Bowl win. 

This is all while having success off of the field in renewing the spirit and pride in Duke football all around campus — the best it’s been in years. Elko has taken it upon himself to revamp the fan experience during football games, and involve students as much as possible. He certainly is a pioneer at Duke in 2022-23 because of how much he has changed Duke football for the better in just one season at the helm.

-DeWayne Carter, Trinity ‘23 and Duke football team captain

Bridgette Hard

In the last six years, Psychology 101, Introductory Psychology, has seen enrollment rise by 71%.

This growth is in large part, due to Bridgette Hard, current co-instructor of the course and professor of the practice of psychology and neuroscience. 

Hard joined Duke six years ago and in adapting her award-winning Psychology One Program at Stanford, revolutionizing the introductory psychology course. Hard made the course more cohesive, grew the teaching fellow program, restructured the projects, embedded data collection to illustrate concepts and adapted the course based on her psychology research.

“Their enthusiasm is so contagious, it makes me fall in love with psychology all over again,” Hard said of the students in her PSY 101 classes.

Hard studies pedagogy in the Brite Lab as the principal investigator, focusing on metaphors, technology, stress, collaboration, online learning, athletes, board care and intelligence mindsets, in the classroom. Some of this research has informed her teaching practices and policies.

Hard is an award-winning professor, having been selected for the Robert B. Cox Teaching Award in 2021 and ranked in the top 5% of all undergraduate instructors in Arts & Sciences at Duke based on course evaluations in fall 2018, spring 2019, fall 2020 and fall 2022. 

Since her time at Duke teaching PSY 101, a required class for majors and minors, psychology minors have increased by 73%.

-Jothi Gupta, Vol. 119 university news editor

Hoof 'n' Horn

Hoof ‘n’ Horn, Duke’s student-run musical theatre organization and the self-described “oldest student-run musical theatre group in the South,” has had a striking year filled with new beginnings and innovation in the face of adversity. Through it, the group has shown what it means to pioneer in the arts at Duke.

Under the leadership of president Haley Cionfolo, Hoof ‘n’ Horn’s 2022-23 season began with a strong start with fall production “9 to 5,” a jukebox musical celebrating the discography of Dolly Parton. The momentum continued with “Once on this Island” — a coming-of-age story intertwining Haitian history with a retelling of “The Little Mermaid,” as well as the first realization of Hoof ‘n’ Horn’s constitutional amendment in spring 2022, which requires one production per year to have a cast of mostly or entirely people of color. This initiative has been in place since 2019, with the group's production of “In the Heights."

In the spring, their collaboration with the Duke Theater Department to produce “RENT” meant they were unable to put on a traditional spring musical, so they decided to do something Hoof ‘n’ Horn had never done before: a 24-hour play, “High School Musical.” Hoof ‘n’ Horn also engaged with the Duke community and wider Raleigh-Durham community throughout the year with a variety of cabaret events, staged readings and technical workshops.

-Jules Kourelakos, Vol. 119 recess editor

Esther Hong

Esther Hong, Trinity ‘23, is a pioneer in the arts on Duke’s campus. Hong’s claim to fame is creating one-of-a-kind sustainable fashion through creative upcycling.

Hong founded her independent jewelry business, Petrichor, during the COVID-19 pandemic during the spring of 2020. Inspired by Y2K style, her wearable art pieces fuse avant-garde punk aesthetics with vintage charm by reusing parts from vintage jewelry and other found objects — antique timepieces, intricate plated brooches, defunct iPods in bright pastels – in surprising, innovative ways. And no two of her pieces are alike. Hong is now a staple in the arts scene at Duke.

Hong began Petrichor with simple earrings and chokers and has since expanded to an eclectic variety of necklaces, bracelets, chains, and other accessories. She has also used her artistic talents to give back to those in need by donating a portion of Petrichor Jewelry’s proceeds to Ukrainian refugee support efforts.


Toddi Steelman

Currently serving as the Stanback dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment, Toddi Steelman has been a driving force of progress and a true pioneer within the Duke community. 

Steelman played a critical role in the planning and development of the Duke Climate Commitment, Duke’s signature initiative addressing climate change announced last September. 

Starting July 1, Steelman will conclude her service as dean and assume a new role — vice president and vice provost for climate and sustainability. This newly created leadership position will have Steelman overseeing the University’s Climate Commitment as its chief administrative and academic officer. 

As dean, Steelman directed the launch of two new majors and a revised master’s curricula, advanced diversity, equity and inclusion efforts within the School, secured philanthropic funding for the hiring of new faculty and led the Schools’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic and to damage incurred at Duke’s Marine Lab from Hurricane Florence in 2018.

Her expertise in environmental and natural resource policy is unparalleled in the field, helping make her one of Duke’s most pivotal leaders of today and into the future.

-Jazper Lu, Vol. 119 managing editor

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that “Once on this Island” was the "first realization of Hoof ‘n’ Horn’s new diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives" requiring one production per year to have a cast of mostly or entirely people of color. Hoof 'n' Horn implemented this policy in 2019 with "In the Heights" and wrote the initiative into its constitution in spring 2022. The Chronicle regrets this error. 


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