18 incredibly impressive students at Duke

Lawrence Nemeh 1Courtesy of Lawrence NemehRence Nemeh’s performance art pieces shine a light on political and racial issues.

With another NCAA Tournament win in the books, it’s an exciting time to be at Duke University.

But basketball isn’t the only area where Duke students excel. From fighting against discrimination to sending time capsules into space to finding a quicker way to detect cancer, Duke students go above and beyond in all they do.

We tracked down 18 outstanding undergrads with help from the school’s communications office and through recommendations from current students.

Arun Karottu and Shelly Li found a safer way to recycle electronic equipment.

Class of 2015

Arun Karottu and Shelly Li started an electronic waste recycling company called Smart Metals Recycling after seeing how many electronics were thrown out at Duke at the end of each year. These electronics end up in landfills and harm the environment.

Smart Metals recycles old electronics by recovering reusable metals and plastics from devices and putting them back into the production cycle. The company handles over 100,000 pounds of electronic waste a day, and generates over $US6 million in annual revenue.

Previously, Karottu, the vice president of sales, also founded a medical device company that helps health care professionals perform certain tasks -- like checking charts and accessing files -- hands-free. Li, the president, is also a published sci-fi author.

When they graduate, the two seniors plan to build a refurbishing side to their operations and work on larger-scale projects, like decommissioning a power plant to find valuable parts to reuse and recycle.

Brittany Wenger invented a more accurate test to diagnose breast cancer.

Class of 2017

Brittany Wenger developed cloud4cancer, a cloud-based artificial neural network that diagnoses breast cancer. Cloud4cancer uses a computer program that analyses breast cancer diagnostic data to detect and recognise patterns in malignant tissue. The program is 99.1% sensitive to malignancy.

Wenger is now taking this invention, which won the grand prize at the 2012 Google Science Fair, to the next level. This past fall she founded the Cloud For Cancer Foundation to further the use of the cloud in cancer research.

Wenger, who was named one of TIME magazine's 30 under 30, has presented her research to the Royal Society of Medicine and Clinton Global Initiative University.

While only a sophomore, Wenger plans on pursuing an MD/PhD when she graduates with the ultimate goal of becoming a pediatric oncologist.

Charlotte Lee taught sex ed in public schools in Kenya.

Class of 2015

Charlotte Lee worked in rural Kenya training local research assistants and teaching sex education in public schools. One in three people in Muhuru Bay, Kenya, are HIV positive, and Lee taught a curriculum that included hard facts, contraceptive methods, and helping students envision their futures without unplanned pregnancies or STDs.

Lee is a public health advocate in multiple spheres: She also served as a research associate in the Peruvian Amazon studying the health effects of mercury related to artisanal gold mining, and coordinated the first-ever New York City Hepatitis B Awareness Week with New York City Council.

After graduation, Lee will spend the next year as a Luce Scholar with the Henry Luce Foundation doing global health work, most likely in Thailand, looking at diseases like HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B, which affect maternal and child health. She eventually plans to become an OB/GYN.

Christine Schindler founded a non-profit to engage girls in impactful engineering projects.

Class of 2015

Christine Schindler launched Girls Engineering Change to show girls that they can use engineering to make a real impact on the world. So far, Schindler has engaged more than 750 girls in the program, where they build calculators, toys, and medical device simulators which are donated to other non-profits and distributed to those who need them.

Schindler has also done some engineering of her own, through work at a hospital in Tanzania repairing medical equipment and completing research on manufacturing breast cancer screening devices.

Schindler graduates in May, after which she plans to continue expanding Girls Engineering Change to new locations. One day she hopes to teach aspiring engineers at the university level.

Daniel Kort created a photo campaign to fight marginalizing slurs and insults.

Class of 2015

To Daniel Kort, certain insults are more than just hurtful words -- they're an oppressive mindset. So he set out to change the thinking behind using these words, creating the 'You Don't Say?' campaign in the process.

The photo campaign, which features student leaders and athletes, highlights the implications of words and phrases, such as 'that's so gay' and 'don't be a p---y,' which can be marginalizing to particular identities. The campaign went viral, garnering over 20,000 followers on Facebook and landing features on several prominent news outlets, including The Washington Post, CNN, and ESPN.

Kort also works as a lab manager studying the social psychology of stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. He plans to purse a PhD in social psychology and study the effects of homophobia and transphobia on the health and academic performance of LGBTQ individuals.

David Helton won the academic equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.

Class of 2015

At a school centered around basketball, David Helton has been a valuable asset in ramping up the football program. The linebacker received the 2014 William V. Campbell Trophy, often called 'the academic Heisman,' which goes to the player with the strongest academic success in the country, on top of his football performance and leadership skills.

In addition to the Campbell Trophy, Helton is also a four-time academic all-ACC football player, a 2014 academic All-American, and a Tatum Award recipient, which goes to the top scholar-athlete in the ACC.

Helton's dedication to his team stretches beyond the field as well. He founded and ran the Blair Holliday Fund, a non-profit T-shirt company in honour of a teammate who was hospitalized for a traumatic brain injury. He's raised nearly $US50,000 through the fund.

Helton plans to enter the NFL draft at the end of April and work in business after his football career ends.

Derek Rhodes works to improve the relationship between Duke students and the Durham community.

Class of 2015

For Derek Rhodes, going to college in the same city where he grew up wasn't a deterrent, but an opportunity. As one of Duke's student body vice presidents, the Durham, North Carolina, native spent his two-year tenure focused on improving the relationship between Duke and the wider Durham community.

Rhodes revitalized the Duke-Durham Discount Program, which incentivizes students to explore local businesses in Durham through daily deals and discounts across the city. Rhodes also attends regular city council and neighbourhood association meetings to discuss issues that affect students who live off-campus.

Rhodes has also interned at both the US Department of Justice and The White House. Ever loyal to his hometown, Rhodes hopes to attend law school and run for mayor of Durham one day.

Elizabeth Williams was the fourth draft pick in the WNBA.

Class of 2015

A four-time All-American center for Duke's women's basketball team and three-time gold medalist with Team USA, Elizabeth Williams is a star on the rise, on and off the court. She's headed to the WNBA to play with the Connecticut Sun -- the fourth WNBA draft pick, though Bleacher Report had predicted her to be the No. 1 pick. She's also the first ever four-time ACC defensive player of the year.

Off the court, Williams is dedicated to her studies. A psychology major on the pre-med track, she's made the dean's list and the ACC honour roll. She also speaks Yoruba, a Nigerian language.

Williams will play basketball professionally for a few years, both overseas and in the WNBA, after which she plans to fulfil her lifelong dream of attending med school and becoming a doctor.

Emily Briere is building a time capsule that will be sent to Mars.

Class of 2015

Emily Briere is helping develop a time capsule that will allow over 100 million people across the globe to digitally upload photos and videos to send to the red planet before humans ever set foot there.

Briere is the mission director of her all-student team, advised by NASA and Boeing leaders, proposed a preliminary design for the Time Capsule to Mars project. She plans to have the capsule land on Mars in 2018.

Briere was named one of Glamour magazine's top ten college women of 2014. She's also presented her work at over 15 national conferences, including the National Space Symposium.

Briere will attend the aero/astro master's program at Stanford in the fall and eventually plans to pursue a PhD while continuing work on Time Capsule to Mars.

Gavin Ovsák grew the TEDxDuke conference from 100 attendees to over 600.

Class of 2015

Earlier this year, Gavin Ovsák presented 'TEDxDuke 2015: Building Energy,' a huge event attended by hundreds of students, faculty, and alumni, which took a team of 20 students six months to organise.

Ovsák became involved with TEDx when he presented a talk at TEDxYouthDay in high school. When he got to college, he grew the fledgling TEDxDuke from 100 attendees in 2013 to a sold-out auditorium of over 600 the next year. The event moved to an even larger space for 2015, and sold over 500 tickets.

Ovsák also works closely with the Google Science Fair program, and will join Google's Knowledge Team as an intern this summer.

In the fall, Ovsák will head off to Harvard Medical School. He hopes to become a doctor and put his atypical background in computer science and engineering to use in future medical breakthroughs.

Ivonna Dumanyan developed an electronic device that prevents a common athletic injury.

Class of 2016

As an athlete, Dumanyan struggled with the effects of pronation, which happens when the ankle bends inward too much or too little while running or walking and can lead to a host of injuries. This inspired her to develop SmartStrides, a wearable device that attaches to the heel and monitors the condition to prevent pronation-related injuries.

The idea grew into BioMetrix LLC, a company focused on creating specialised sensors for athletes. 'The goal is to alert the user to imperfections in form, enabling them to stop an injury in its tracks,' Dunanyan explains. 'With virtually every athlete on the edge of injury, BioMetrix seeks to give the user more healthy days.'

BioMetrix is currently developing a trial product, and plans to begin fundraising later this year. Though she's still in school, Dumanyan hopes to continue growing the company and learning more about coding technology.

Jahlil Okafor won the NCAA Tournament this year.

Class of 2018

Jahlil Okafor is a force to be reckoned with on the court; colleges have been begging him left and right to play for them since he was in high school, and now the 19-year-old center, who took his team to victory at the NCAA championship this year, announced that he'd be entering the 2015 NBA draft at the end of the year. He's only a freshman.

Okafor has been considered the No. 1 prospect in the upcoming June 25th draft for months now. He was named MVP at the 2014 McDonald's All-American game, and has amassed a number of other accolades since then.

Okafor also knows how to play the tuba, and participated in musical theatre and school plays before his college basketball career began.

Jay Ruckelshaus started a non-profit that helps students with spinal cord injuries attend college.

Class of 2016

When a diving accident left Jay Ruckelshaus paralysed, he decided not to let his disability stop him from experiencing everything Duke has to offer.

In 2013, Ruckelshaus founded Ramp Less Travelled, a non-profit that offers financial aid and mentorship to students with spinal cord injuries. Last year, Ramp was featured in USA Today and made it possible for three students to attend college. Ruckelshaus also founded and directed 'Beyond Disability, Beyond Compliance,' the first-ever national conference on higher education and disability. Ruckelshaus hopes to help students with disabilities transition seamlessly into college life.

In addition to his work in disability advocacy, Ruckelshaus won first prize in a national political essay contest, earned the Angier B. Duke scholarship, and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.

Post-graduation, he hopes to continue pursuing political theory, eventually going into policymaking.

Justin Sandulli helped produce two 'Live from Lincoln Center' specials for PBS.

Class of 2016

In fall 2013, Justin Sandulli interned with the performing arts hub Lincoln Center, where he was involved in the planning and filming of two 'Live from Lincoln Center' specials, which aired on PBS.

The first special was New York Philharmonic's opening night, which gave Sandulli the opportunity to assist backstage and stock Tony Award winner Audra McDonald's dressing room. The second was the Richard Tucker Centennial Gala, a ceremony to award a star opera singer. Sandulli filmed interviews with a number of opera singers -- footage that was used in the final gala broadcast.

Some of Sandulli's other endeavours include researching and writing New York City walking tour apps, and singing in the chorus for North Carolina Opera's production of 'Aida' in front of an audience of about 2,000.

This summer, the Hawaii resident returns home to help curate an art gallery exhibit. He plans to make this the focus of his senior distinction project about Hawaiian art and architecture leading up to Hawaii's statehood.

Lawrence 'Rence' Nemeh uses theatre and comedy to shine a light on political and racial issues.

Class of 2015

Rence Nemeh produced 'No to Dictatorship,' a music video cover that advocates for freedom from eternal authority in the Middle East. The video made a splash, garnering over 180,000 collective YouTube views. Another video, 'My Ferguson Makeup Tutorial,' a serious yet humorous piece about race, was featured on Colorlines, an award-winning news site for advancing racial justice.

Nemeh also volunteers with refugees in Durham, and performs with Duke University Improv.

After graduation, Nemeh will join Chicago's prestigious Second City conservatory, where comedic greats like Tina Fey and Steve Carell got their start, to produce 'a first-of-its-kind pop concert/sketch revue.' He eventually hopes to work in the entertainment and/or political sphere to promote international peace and social justice.

Sonora Williams is conducting a study on depression that could help make the condition more treatable.

Class of 2015

Sonora Williams experiments with mice deficient in serotonin, a chemical responsible for depression, when there's not enough of it in the brain. Williams' study, which looks at the effects of a harmful early life environment on serotonin levels in mice, could someday be applied to humans and lead to more effective treatments for depression, and a reduction in suicidality among serotonin-deficient individuals.

Williams says her results have been promising so far, and expects to co-author a few papers on her work.

Off-campus, Williams is training a therapy dog according to the American Kennel Club guidelines. She still has a way to go with her puppy, she says, but plans to get him registered as a certified therapy dog when he's older.

Williams has been accepted to medical school for the fall, and while she hasn't decided where she will go yet, she plans to specialize in pediatric neurosurgery.

Zack Fowler is helping girls in Africa get into college.

Class of 2016

As a freshman, Zack Fowler joined the Women's Institute of Secondary Education and Research (WISER), a Kenya-based NGO that empowers girls through educational opportunities. Before WISER, no girl from the community had ever gone to college because the system made it too difficult for them to pass the entrance exam.

Fowler taught in the schools to help young women gain the skills needed to pass the exam. Fowler's team helped more than 20 girls obtain college acceptances in the program's first graduating class, and the number of girls passing the exam increased by 250%.

Fowler has also obtained grants and funding for WISER; in addition, he works with Duke Splash, a community educational outreach program within the Durham, North Carolina, area.

Fowler still has one more year left at Duke, but is considering pursuing either a master's in public health or a PhD in community research and action when he graduates.

Meet more students who are doing big things.

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