Spotlighting Innovative Duke Scholars for #InternationalWomensDay 2022
Happy International Women’s Day 2022! This year’s theme is “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow.” As Duke works toward its 2024 climate neutrality goals and undertakes a range of other sustainability work, Duke scholars and researchers are working to find new ways to serve and protect people and the planet.
Join us in celebrating some of Duke’s many women scholars who are changing the world with their innovations, and check out additional women innovators being highlighted by our partners at the Office of Translation & Commercialization.
INÉS SERRA BAUCELLS
Inés Serra Baucells MBA’22 is the cofounder and CEO of an early-stage agritech startup, Biosorra, that leapfrogs smallholder farmer communities to higher food yield productivity, transforming crop waste to crop yield by producing a carbon-negative soil improver.
Arushi Biswas ’22, a biomedical engineering and global health student, is working with a team developing low-cost silos for gastroschisis—a birth defect in which the intestines are outside the body—and low-cost laparoscopic suites; this work aims to build surgical capacity in low- and middle-income countries. She also works with the Chilkoti Lab on point-of-care diagnostics, helping remove crucial bottlenecks in treatment.
Biology student and Huang Fellow Tyler Edwards ’22 uses podcasts to share information about the impacts of pollution and deforestation on stream insects, as well as to advocate for STEM mentorship of early-career scientists. She received a Merritt Award from the Pratt School of Engineering for an episode of her podcast Gather, Share, Teach exploring Gene Likens and the origins of the Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study.
GINA EL KATTAN
With her mother, Gina El Kattan MBA’23 co-founded Nuba, which makes certified organic, freshly brewed, all-natural hibiscus tea. She is passionate about supporting small farmers, predominantly women, in Southern Egypt, where her family is from; these farmers often struggle to gain access to international markets.
Ashley Finke MBA’22 is co-author of Fashion & Sustainability: What Every MBA Needs to Know. She has worked with companies like Archive Resale and EON to create a circular ecosystem for the fashion industry. She also designed and launched the FoundHER’s Challenge pairing MBA students with strategic projects posed by women founders for a two-week strategy sprint.
Kiera Givens MBA’23 is executive director and co-founder of BlackOak Collective, a networking organization that builds a formal home for the many Black environmental communities across DC, Maryland, and Virginia. BlackOak facilitates mutual support, collaboration, resource sharing, and mentorship for Black people pursuing critical work across a wide range of environmental fields.
Arielle Homayouni, a biology graduate student and OTC Fellow, researches the role of the auxin precursor in metabolism and transport in plant development. Understanding these molecular details will yield insight into strategies used by plants to alter growth in response to various environmental factors.
Electrical & Computer Engineering PhD student Kat Horvath ’22 is creating a cleaner and safer world by developing portable mass spectrometers designed to detect and mitigate oil leaks in the electrical utility grid. She plans to commercialize this technology, which can also rapidly detect a wide array of environmental contaminants and pollutants.
Mechanical Engineering and Material Science PhD student Gabrielle Koknat ’24 uses computer simulations to investigate new materials for solar cells and other light-interactive devices, with a specifically focus on materials with organic components for sustainable solar technology. She was selected for the DOE’s Office of Science Graduate Student Research program to support students at the forefront of discovery and innovation.
OTC Fellow Anna Kudla, a biology graduate student, researches the evolutionary patterns and developmental mechanisms behind insect morphological diversity, with a focus on the novel pronotal structure of treehoppers.
Master of Environmental Management student Juliette Lee ’22 works on impact-based environmental challenges in the Nowacek Bioacoustics and Engineering Lab at the Duke Marine Lab. With interests in protected species management, ecosystem-based conservation, and the “blue” economy, she is cofounder and president of the Oceans@Duke Student Cabinet, an interdisciplinary community of Duke graduate scholars.
Zakiya Alta Lee MBA’22 is a serial entrepreneur who is currently developing an interactive educational tech solution that will empower Black children by sharing the stories of Black people who have achieved remarkable success in various ventures. This solution will also promote improved race relations by exposing all children to the accomplishments of Black and brown people in a society that has historically depicted them negatively.
Environmental Science student Natalie Lewis ’24 worked on an Energy Initiative research team examining the groundwater and drinking water of Brady, Texas to determine if high levels of radium were naturally occurring or fracking-induced. The team aims to inform policymakers about how best to protect the health of Brady residents.
Pratt Research Fellow and Grand Challenge Scholar Katherine Li ’22 co-founded Operation Climate, a nonprofit that works with high school and college students to create climate education media resources and trains young people as climate storytellers, educators, and ambassadors. She also executive produces and hosts the Operation Climate podcast and is a frequent speaker at climate events for young people.
At MetLife and now as part of Cox Communications’ New Growth Organization, Jordan McAlister MBA’22 has been responsible for identifying and evaluating new growth opportunities and managing strategic innovation relationships with VC firms and the broader startup ecosystem. She also mentors diverse startup founders across several industries and at all stages of development.
Master of Public Policy student Cameron Oglesby ’23 is an ecologist, artist, environmental justice advocate, and journalist who takes a multi-media, community-centered approach to storytelling. She is project coordinator for the Environmental Justice Oral History project, founder and graduate coordinator for Duke’s Environmental Justice Campus Committee, and founder of the global-scaled Enviro-Art Gallery showcase.
Masters of Engineering Management student Nidhi Pathak ’22 is co-founder and president of the Sustainability Club, whose mission is “to help students unlearn, learn, and incorporate sustainability into business strategy to help address some of the world’s most pressing problems.”
Joy Reeves ’22, who studies Environmental Science and Policy, is the author of Growing Up in the Grassroots: Finding Unity in Climate Activism Across Generations, a collection of insights from environmental activists of all ages centering around today’s climate movement and how individuals can find unlikely common ground within it.
Tracie Rotter MBA’22 is SVP of Strategic Business and Product Development at Experian’s DataLabs. Previously at Google Ventures, she co-founded its partnerships practice, designing and managing how global companies work with startups to drive innovation through commercial opportunities, partnerships, strategic investments, and M&A. Outside of work Tracie is an active volunteer, startup advisor, and angel investor.
Master of International Development Policy student Philile Shongwe ’22 founded Govuka, a nonprofit based in Eswatini that teaches a proven sexual health curriculum to young girls so they can avoid HIV infection and unwanted pregnancy. In addition to placing in the top 12 finalists of the prestigious Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge in 2021, Govuka also won the Women Innovator Prize.
As a PhD candidate at the Center for Global Women’s Health Technologies, Erica Skerrett addresses barriers to care in cervical cancer screening paradigms in the Global South, developing tools for speculum-free cervical imaging and automated, image-based diagnostics. She previously worked at Rice 360: Institute for Global Health Technologies on drug delivery devices to treat patients in Malawi with preeclampsia in pregnancy.
Through collaborative environmental education programming, community empowerment, and service initiatives, Chelsea Sloggy MEM/MBA’22 works to strengthen connections between Duke and the Durham community to reduce waste and make a more environmentally-conscious lifestyle accessible to all community members. She strives to catalyze public-private-nonprofit partnerships for a sustainably developed Triangle.
Hillary Smith PhD’21, a post-doctoral Marine Science and Conservation researcher, created a novel mapping tool—now published as a UN Handbook—to enhance the visibility of women and gender issues in fisheries for policymakers. She now works with the Food and Agriculture Organization helping countries implement this tool to develop more sustainable and just food systems.
In her research on the physico-chemical interactions between particles and surfaces, Hanna Varga PhD’23 works to understand the influence of dust composition on photovoltaic panel soiling, leading to more efficient solar energy. She was named a 2021 Solar Fellow by the Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy and serves as a pro-bono consultant through Duke’s Interdisciplinary Social Innovators program.
Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science graduate student Yunqi Yang ’25, an OTC Fellow, does research at the interface of materials science and biomedical engineering, focusing on innovative methods to form DNA-based nanomaterials for biomedical applications such as drug delivery.