Skip to main

Sanford students, both undergraduate and graduate, are always an impressive bunch. They come from all over the world, and just down the road in Durham. They start organizations, volunteer in the community, earn awards and develop friendships that have the potential to last a lifetime. Here are some of the stories of the Class of 2019.

Woman smiling, Washington Monument in distance
Shandiin Herrera PPS'19 is the 2019 Terry Sanford Leadership Award Winner. Watch her story >>



Young man, smiling

Quentin Harris PPS'19 isn’t sure what path he’ll pursue after graduation, he says it’s possible he’ll eventually follow in the footsteps of his father, who owns his own sporting goods wholesale company in Connecticut distributing to local high schools and colleges.

Harris majored in public policy, minored in economics, earned an Innovation & Entrepreneurship Certificate, and also played quarterback for Duke’s football team—so the combination of entrepreneurship and the sporting goods industry is an appealing one.

But he says that regardless of what career he pursues, his Duke experience has given him the general entrepreneurial and innovation skills to be useful in any job setting.

“I think it's a very important skill and a useful skill to be able to think creatively and innovatively to address a problem,” Harris says. Read Quentin's story >>



woman posing with professor and honors thesis presentation

Madison Mastrangelo PPS’19 is receiving the Sanford School of Public Policy award for Best Honors Thesis for her work on No Hit Zones, a policy to prevent corporal punishment. A version of her thesis, “A Policy Analysis of No-Hit Zones: What Are the Barriers to No-Hit Zone Implementation?” has been published in The Advisor, a journal of The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children. 



woman with baby

Veronica Sotelo Munoz MPP’19 became a new mother as a graduate student at Sanford.

When she found out she was pregnant before starting her first semester, she was worried about how Sanford could accommodate her. “It was very destabilizing and scary and I think the most difficult part was the uncertainty of not knowing what was going to happen,” Munoz said.

Yet, with the support of Sanford staff, including her advisor Genille Anderson, and the members of her MPP cohort (who sometimes served as babysitters!), Munoz pursued her interest in international policy by earning an International Development certificate along with her degree. She interned at the World Bank as well.

“It’s been nice having a supportive community here,” Munoz said. “In a way, having Olivia in the middle of my school year was challenging, but it was also very rewarding to see her grow into this little, sassy one-year-old.”

After graduation, Munoz, her husband and daughter will move to Chicago where she will work as an analyst at Mathematica.



Man with arm on railing, smiling

Lance Tran PPS’19 was on the inaugural board for Duke LIFE (Low-Income/First Generation Engagement) on campus. His goal is to help others find the support that he wishes he had when he started at Duke.

Tran is from Missouri, where he grew up working in his parents' restaurant. Both parents were refugees to the U.S.; his father, from Vietnam and his mother from China via Hong Kong. Tran’s grandfather was a political prisoner in China. Tran says many Duke LIFE students are often much closer to the issues talked about in public policy classrooms than the typical Duke student.

“A lot of the things that we talked about, I knew as a child, as reality,” he says. “I knew people who were deported.”

Tran hopes that being low-income or first-generation can become something a Duke student says with pride. Tran is thankful for Sanford’s Dean Judith Kelley, who spoke at a Duke LIFE event and faculty member Deondra Rose for their support. Both were first-generation college students themselves. Tran is a Hart Leadership Program Grant Recipient and he hopes to work in legal advocacy.



woman at table looking thoughtful


Amulya Vadapalli PPS'19 has been preparing to make a difference. By advocating for issues she is passionate about and taking on numerous leadership roles, Vadapalli has been gathering the tools she needs to make an impact.

In addition to public policy, Vadapalli also majored in Arabic. In her first summer at Duke, she spent eight weeks studying Arabic in a no-English program at Middlebury College, and she now can converse fluently in Modern Standard Arabic.

Read Amulya's story >>


woman wearing bright pink head covering

Before coming to Sanford’s MIDP program, Manal Kahla MIDP'19 was working as an urban planner and project coordinator in Palestine where she was contributing to the design of national development programs. As she leaves Duke to start a contract with the World Bank on a project to enhance living standards in the Middle East and North Africa, she says she will miss the friendly and supportive environment of the MIDP program and the diversity at Sanford. “I learned many things about different countries just in the time that I spent in the Sanford kitchen!”



two adults and two little girls

Rex Steele MPP’19 has been a leader in building community among Sanford students and will be the student speaker at the graduation ceremony for those receiving graduate degrees from Sanford.

Steele and some of his peers started the campus organization "Partners in Policy" to better integrate families and significant others into the Sanford community.

Steele said, “Our vision for Partners in Policy was to create an organization which holds events throughout the school year for students, partners, significant others and kids to all get to know one another through social gatherings and community service events.”

Steele has also been involved in the Durham community. He organized a volunteer event for Sanford students at the Ronald McDonald House. He and his family have a personal connection to the House, having stayed there before his young daughter’s surgery to treat a congenital heart defect.

“We were, and remain incredibly grateful for the compassion of the volunteers and staff at the House as well as those who came to lend a helping hand and will always do our best to give back to this, and organizations like it for the rest of our lives,” Steele said.

After graduation, Steele will be moving to New York where he will teach American politics at the United States Military Academy at West Point.



Blond woman, smiling

For her honors thesis, Emily Nagler PPS'19 interviewed migrant and seasonal farm workers in North Carolina about their experiences during Hurricane Matthew, which caused extensive flooding in 2016. She found that many migrant workers missed out on evacuation notices and transportation services because the government didn’t know where they lived due to language barriers and issues of trust. After analyzing qualitative narratives she collected from the workers and service providers in the area, Nagler wrote policy recommendations for future hurricanes. She shared them with policymakers and employees at the state and local levels. Read Emily's story >>



Woman, smiling

Jackie Park PPS’19 spent the spring semester creating an interactive data visualization of the daily routines of Sanford public policy students. She tried to find out what public policy  students actually do, and when, and for how long.  Forty-eight students filled out surveys about sleep, class, clubs, work, jobs, leisure, socializing, and health. Participants reported their activities in 30-minute units for 24 hours. They also provided characteristics like gender, race, and whether they hold a job. 

Turns out, public policy students spend much more time on work-related activities (work, class, job) than leisure-related activities (socializing, leisure, health).

Bar chart, lots of colors

“This confirmed the myth that Duke students are incredibly driven and keep themselves busy at all times,” Jackie jokes, “and pubpol students are not an exception!”

Only four percent of those surveyed study just public policy. The other 98 percent pursue other academic credentials, such as  another major or certificate. Her data shows that women dedicated more time to working outside jobs than men. Asian and black students also worked more at outside jobs than white students.

Jackie Park hopes to become a visual storyteller. She considered art school, but got hooked on public policy through her freshman year focus program, “Ethics, Leadership, and Global Citizenship.”

“The essence of a story lies in the content,” she says. “Through public policy, I was able to not only educate myself about what needs media attention, but also develop multimedia production skills through journalism classes. I feel like I got the best of both worlds; I couldn’t have chosen a more fitting major.”



Man at podium

Like many of his peers in the MIDP program, Chinmoy Kumar MIDP'19 already had years of professional experience and he came to Duke to expand his skillset.  “I was working with the Central Bank of my country (India) and will be returning there after graduation, this time with much greater insight into the use of data and analysis for policymaking. My advice to incoming classes is to make use of all the resources around you—you will find whatever you are looking for.”



woman, glasses, smiling

Sophia Tan MPP/JD’19 will be graduating with her JD from Duke Law School along with her master’s degree from Sanford. Tan has received an Independence Foundation Public Interest Law Fellowship to support her work at the Education Law Center in Philadelphia to secure access to adequate education for immigrant and English learner students and families.Tan arrived at Duke with a strong focus on education law and policy. She has interned at Children’s Rights, a national advocacy group in New York; Advocates for Children’s Services, a statewide project of Legal Aid of North Carolina; and the Government Accountability Office in Washington, D.C. She also worked in Durham through the Youth Justice Project at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and as a student in the Civil Justice and Children’s Law clinics.



Woman standing in front of Sanford sign

Yan Gao iMEP’19 has won the Student Leadership Award for her exemplary leadership in the International Master of Environmental Policy (iMEP) program which is primarily based at Duke Kunshan University in China. In nominating Gao for the award, fellow classmate Kelley Reardon said, “Yan always takes the first initiative whenever anyone has a problem. She does so much for all of us without even being asked and is always willing to go out of her way for others and does not expect anything for it.”

Gao was a founding member of the iMEPact Club, a student group that aimed to encourage Duke Kunshan University students’ awareness regarding trash and recycling. Julie Mao, another fellow classmate who nominated Gao said, “Yan does so much for the program and is always heavily involved in making things happen at DKU, and I appreciate all her hard work.”

The iMEP program is the first in the world to draw together the important core requirements in environmental management and public policy. The iMEP degree is a collaboration between Sanford and Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.



Man, sitting with graduation robes, Duke chapel in distance
Kushal Kadakia PPS'19 is receiving the Joel Fleishman Distinguished Scholar Award.


Man, glasses, smiling

The 2019 Distinguished Alumni Speaker for Sanford’s graduation ceremony for those receiving advanced degrees is Sarhang Hamasaeed MIDP’07. Hamasaeed is the director of Middle East programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP). USIP is a nonpartisan national institute created by Congress to support peace, conflict resolution and conflict prevention throughout the world.  Read his story >>




young woman, smiling

Vanessa Agudelo is the student speaker at the undergraduate ceremony. Agudelo is from Coral Springs, Florida. She completed degrees in Public Policy and Education, and hopes to someday become an education lawyer. She studied abroad in Madrid and also participated in the Duke in D.C. program for a semester, studying policy, leadership, and innovation.She interned at the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Federal Judicial Center, and at the Human Capital Management Division at Goldman Sachs, where she worked on projects to increase the recruitment of underrepresented populations.