The Sanford School of Public Policy graduation ceremonies on May 6, held in Cameron Stadium, recognized 302 Class of 2022 graduates from five degree programs.
It marked one of the final events of the celebration of 50 years of the public policy program at Duke University in 2021-2022.
During the graduate ceremony, the Sanford School awarded degrees to 77 Master of Public Policy (MPP) graduates, 29 International Master of Environmental Policy (iMEP), 15 Master of International Development Policy (MIDP) degrees and 6 PhD degrees. In the undergraduate ceremony, 174 received their bachelor’s degrees majoring in public policy (PPS).
Graduate Degree Ceremony
The graduate and professional programs ceremony was presided over by Associate Dean for Academic Programs Corinne Krupp. She began her remarks saying, “Isn’t it wonderful to be here in person?”
The Distinguished Alumna Speaker was Sonia Sekhar MPP’14, deputy director at the New York State Department of Health. She has worked on health policy issues at the federal and state levels, including in the White House Office of Health Reform.
She reassured the graduates and their families that choosing a public policy degree was the right choice, and made special note that many began their studies in the midst of the pandemic in the fall of 2020, “which not what you expected.”
Her own policy journey began as an undergraduate volunteer at a family help desk in Harlem Hospital. Seeing firsthand the hurdles these families faced in accessing the resources and services they needed. “This experience left me in a state of energized outrage, pretty much my baseline, and probably many of yours, when it comes to public policy,” she said.
She saw “how the policy sausage is made,” while working in the Obama White House after the passage of the Affordable Care Act. One of her accomplishments that she is most proud of in her current job in New York is the streamlining of the Medicaid process. “We took the application that took 45 days to process, back at the Harlem Hospital, onto an on-line platform that takes applicants 45 minutes to complete,” she said.
“Everyone has power,” Sekhar said. She pointed to the power of the world-class Sanford education and of the Sanford network. “There is power in being able to pick up the phone to talk shop with a Sanford classmate, who was eager to walk me through a policy her state is implemented and we were considering.”
“As a policy leader, it’s your job to bring people together and harness that collective power,” she said.
2022 Richard Stubbing Award - Sarah Komisarow
Assistant Professor of Public Policy Sarah Komisarow was honored with the 2022 Richard Stubbing Teacher/Mentor Award. The award recognizes outstanding contributions to the graduate programs of the school and commitment to the personal and professional development of graduate students. The winner is selected by the graduate students. Komisarow is a 2008 alumna and researches education policy.
“I’m seeing so many of my A22 students’ faces for the first time today; it really is wonderful,” Komisarow said in accepting the award. “Thank you for making teaching and mentoring a rewarding and fun and energizing experience.”
At a separate event on Thursday, the MPP program honored several students. Keren Abigail Hendel and Natalie Meltzer were named as MPP Outstanding Students. David Matthew Curtis, Rhea Elizabeth Ninan and Natalie Valent received MPP Citizenship Awards. Jessye Halvorson, Kelly Lynn Jasiura, Adina Emiliana Kuncz, Marc Alan Losito, Jorge Antonio Morales Alfaro, Liza Niccolls Rodler, Isabel Pollock Shapiro, William Shipman and Samantha Sloate received MPP Service Awards.
Six PhD candidates were recognized and five took part in the ceremony and were hooded by their mentors or Sanford faculty.
Marwa Khalid Ali AlFakhri’s dissertation was “Three Essays in Population Economics,” and her advisor was Marcos Rangel, Associate Professor of Public Policy.
Ajenai S. Clemmons’ dissertation was “Protecting & Serving: What Actually Matters to Young, Black Men in Durham, N.C.,” and her advisor was Deondra Rose, Associate Professor of Public Policy. Clemmons also received the Samuel DuBois Cook Award earlier in the semester from the Duke University Office of Institutional Equity.
Travis Dauwalter’s dissertation was “Three Essays on U.S. Electricity Policy,” and his advisors were Steven Sexton, Mark and Lynn Florian Assistant Professor of Public Policy, and Christopher Timmins, Professor of Economics.
Robert “Bobby” I. Harris’ dissertation was “Essays in Energy and Environmental Economics” and his advisors were Steven Sexton, Mark and Lynn Florian Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Billy Pizer, Research Professor of Public Policy
Seth Morgan’s dissertation was “Three Essays in Environmental and Land Economics,” and his advisors were Alex Pfaff, Professor of Public Policy, Economics and Environment and Marc Jeuland, Associate Professor of Public Policy.
David J. Tier’s dissertation was “American Civil-Military Relations and the Political Economy of National Security,” and his advisor was Nicholas Carnes, Creed C. Black Associate Professor of Public Policy.
Undergraduate Degree Ceremony
Student Speaker - Kyle Melatti
Kyle Melatti was the student speaker during the afternoon bachelor’s degree in public policy graduation ceremony. He was introduced by Professor Abdullah Antepli, who was Melatti’s mentor in an independent study course on religion and politics. Melatti was co-chair of the American Grand Strategy Student Council, served in Duke Student Government and was a TK Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics and a PEP fellow with Polis and the Hart Leadership Program.
“What a journey it has been,” he said. “We are the last class at Duke to have experienced a fully normal freshman year, before the pandemic.”
A first-generation American, Melatti’s parents are immigrants from Brazil. His mother had been a lawyer, but couldn’t practice here. “I wanted to follow in my mother’s footsteps,” he said and to make things better in his home state of Nevada.
“Majoring in public policy has made me feel like I am on the path of becoming the civil servant that I’ve always wanted to be,” he said.
Fleishman Distinguished Scholar Award - Rebecca DiLuzio
Rebecca DiLuzio was named the Joel Fleishman Distinguished Scholar for highest academic achievement in public policy, named in honor of the public policy program’s founding director. DiLuzio majored in Public Policy Studies and earned a certificate in Documentary Studies. She is a member of the Inside Joke sketch comedy troupe and took part in the American Grand Strategy program. DiLuzio is associate producer of a documentary project on systemic child abuse in the Boy Scouts. The film, Leave No Trace, will premier this summer at the New York City Tribeca Film Festival.
Best Honors Thesis - Arya Patel
Arya Patel won the Best Honors Thesis award. Her thesis, “The Triple Burden on Female Circular Migrants: Barriers to Access State Relief During COVID-19 in Ahmedabad, India,” was selected from a group of 38 senior honors projects of original research. Patel embedded herself with a grassroots organization to conduct interviews with migrant women. Her advisor, faculty member Anirudh Krishna, wrote, “Arya wrote a masterful survey of the literature on itinerant migrants,” with immediately relevant policy solutions, and “conducted rigorous, grounded research during the worst of COVID-19.”
Terry Sanford Leadership Award
This year, two graduates received the Terry Sanford Leadership Award; Shrey Majmudar and Olivia Reneau.
Olivia Reneau describes her leadership style as “horizontal,” not based on a power hierarchy. She was a teaching assistant for Hart Leadership Program’s democracy lab. As a Polis Director’s Fellow, she worked with a team to produce programming to highlight student activists. Reneau worked with a community partner to advocate Black economic justice through food.
One nominator said, “Olivia's skill in connecting with others and working toward shared goals is truly impressive. I've marveled at how adroit she is at taking the initiative to connect with her peers/teammates, who represent a diverse range of identities, perspectives, and lived experiences… [She has] a commitment to using her knowledge, skills, and voice to not only advocate for others but also to empower and create space for others.”
After graduation, Reneau will be a Hart Fellow, working in Atlanta with the Fulton County Reparations Task Force.
Majmudar “actually majored in Duke Student Government, where he was Chief of State, Vice President of Academic Affairs and founder of the Mental Health Caucus,” said Professor Catherine Admay during the ceremony. Majmudar also served on numerous university-level committees, including the Academic Integrity Committee, the Provost’s Library Council, the Student Advisory Board, and as undergraduate representative to the Board of Trustees in “relentless service to the university.” He started a syllabus bank for students and the Duke Buddy system, where all freshman are assigned an upper classman buddy to help them navigate their first year at Duke.
He will work in Washington, D.C. in national security consulting.
Tifft Teaching Award
This year’s Susan E. Tifft Teaching and Mentoring Award was presented to Suzanne Katzenstein, lecturer of public policy. The award is named for the late Susan Tifft, the Eugene C. Patterson Professor of the Practice of Communications and Journalism, and recognizes excellence in undergraduate teaching and commitment to the development of undergraduate students.
Katzenstein teaches the Democracy Lab and the Women as Leaders courses with the Hart Leadership Program and is known for her commitment to student-led and applied learning. “She is the reason I wanted to be a public policy major,” said one student.
Other University Awards
Liyu Berhanu Woldemichael received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, which recognizes outstanding commitment to service. A Baldwin Scholar, Woldenmichael has worked on DukeEngage environment project, and a leader for Duke’s chapter of the NAACP.
Four public policy seniors received the 2002 Forever Duke Student Leadership Award: Caroline Kincaid, Meghna Mahadevan, Eden Schumer and Ysanne Spence. Sponsored by the Duke Alumni Engagement and Development Office, the award recognizes students who display extraordinary leadership during their time at Duke. They were honored in a ceremony on April 12.
2022 Graduation Photo Gallery
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