Undergraduate Young Trustee finalists share goals for Board in open forum

The Undergraduate Young Trustee finalists addressed the Duke community Tuesday evening about what it means to them to serve on the Board of Trustees, as well as their ideas on how to leverage Duke’s strengths, utilize artificial intelligence and maximize fundraising efforts.

Seniors Annie Cui and Drew Greene spoke at a panel moderated by sophomore Hanna Elks Smith, Young Trustee nominating committee chair, in the Rubenstein Library Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room.

Cui said in her opening remarks that she will draw on her local and global perspectives to focus on keeping Duke a national leader in a changing global landscape. 

“... I don't want any part of this university to be left out to be forgotten in this process,” she said. “We have a deep culture of paying it forward, and that is why I'm here tonight. I want to pay it forward.”

In his opening remarks, Greene touched upon the value of community and how serving on the Board of Trustees would allow him to join a community with the shared goal of guiding Duke towards a future “marked by inclusivity, innovation and integrity.” 

“I envision a Duke that not only adapts to the evolving landscape of higher education, but leads the charge in defining it leveraging our collective strengths to foster a community that values diversity of thought, equity and opportunity and excellence in every endeavor,” he said.

The finalists answered questions on four areas facing the University in the coming years. 

Q: Duke is currently celebrating its centennial, which is a reminder of how young Duke is compared to its peers. What are other ways Duke stands apart from its peers and what ways do you think Duke could enhance its unique strengths, including leveraging its relatively young age?

As a Focus Program alumni and researcher, Cui thinks that Duke needs to market its position as a global leader and continue to produce “knowledge in service of society.” To achieve this goal, she hopes that Duke will continue its efforts to produce research and educate beyond traditional bounds.

By drawing upon the entire University system, Duke can leverage its unique interdisciplinary education, Cui said.

Although Duke is a younger institution compared to its peers, Greene believes that the University can leverage the progress it has made, adding that donors give contributions to the school because they understand the strides the University has made in the past few decades.

“If you invest in Duke, you will see exponential growth,” Greene said.

Q: The growth and development of AI has changed the way we learn and work and will continue to do so. How can we approach AI in ways that align with Duke’s values? What excites you most about this technology over the next 10 or so years and what concerns you most? How much do you think it will change how research universities like Duke operate?

Greene believes that AI is a tool that supports Duke’s mission, but does not replace it. In higher education as a whole, AI, if used correctly, has the opportunity to elevate the efficiency to which research institutions like Duke operate, he said.

He also acknowledged the challenges of monitoring those who use AI to plagiarize, but circled back to the role Duke has played in creating policy that has been efficient and given professors autonomy in their teaching, which is “touted across the nation and higher education landscape.”

Cui says that the role of AI in streamlining processes will benefit Duke’s progress in “knowledge generation.”

Building on her past answer on the university’s “knowledge in service of society,” Cui believes that Duke is a unique place where students are able to bridge their education across disciplines to learn about AI and ethics at the same time. 

Q: Soon, Duke will launch its next comprehensive fundraising campaign. What do you think are Duke's biggest opportunities in the campaign in terms of fundraising? What are some ideas you have on how Duke can foster engagement with alumni in the campaign, especially alumni who have not been engaged with Duke since their graduation?

Drawing from her experience as an international student from Melbourne, Australia, Cui emphasized the importance of Duke drawing from its global network of alumni, which she says is particularly important for discussions about the university’s joint venture in China, Duke Kunshan University.

She also believes that it is important to highlight the experiential education, and how it is important to try and bring alums back to Duke through online education programs, or through Coursera classes. By giving alums who are not donating a reason to tap back into the Duke community, Cui thinks that the university will be able to increase its reach to its less active alums.

“I really see this global alumni network as something that we can tap into, especially in a lot of regions that we have not seen across the world,” Cui said. “ … We have this global presence and we can activate that.”

Greene took an alternative path in his answer, noting that he does not think that it is productive for Duke to reach back to past alums who may not want to donate for a number of reasons. Instead, he believes that Duke should be focusing their efforts on positively shaping the experiences of the current and future Duke community, which will build a strong foundation of loyal donors who reflect fondly on their time at the university.

In addition to targeting the current community, Greene also advised that Duke continue to target those who have already donated to the university, both alums and those not affiliated with the university, alike. Greene noted how John and Ann Doerr donated $1.1 billion to Stanford University, despite having no formal affiliation to the university, simply because they believed in what it had to offer.

“I see no reason why Duke cannot do the same thing because we also have a lot to offer,” Greene said. “There's a lot of promise for what we're doing.”

Q: What was a pivotal moment in your life that has led you to where you are today and how has that moment prepared you for the role of Young Trustee?

Greene said that speaking with his two aunts who are educators helped him form and articulate his passion for higher education. His aunts taught him about the importance of empathy and how education can be a tool for the better, which he attributes to preparing him for the role of Young Trustee. These lessons taught him how to be an effective educator as well as someone with empathy and who cares about Duke’s mission.

“I'm a big believer that the trustee’s job is to ensure that there's not just a focus on current and pressing issues, but focus on maintaining the long-term health of the institution,” Greene said.

Cui, on the other hand, drew on her experiences witnessing the effects of climate change in Australia and when she realized Duke’s role as a vehicle to address these crises. Realizing Duke’s role in shaping a better future, she knew that it was necessary for her to highlight these efforts “in a boardroom that does not traditionally have much representation talking about [environmental efforts] on campus.”

The Young Trustee nominating committee plans to announce the Undergraduate Young Trustee mid-April.

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Abby Spiller is a Trinity sophomore and editor-in-chief of The Chronicle's 120th volume.


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