DGHI Celebrates the Class of 2021

Commencement events honor graduates of the global health major and the Master of Science in Global Health program.

Published April 22, 2021 under Around DGHI

2021 commencement

Watch: MS-GH Ceremony | Majors Ceremony | Awards

The Duke Global Health Institute honored 49 global health majors and 33 Master of Science in Global Health students who completed their Duke degrees this spring.

In virtual ceremonies honoring each group, DGHI leaders noted the extraordinary challenges faced by students in this graduating class, including adapting to online courses and abandoning plans to travel to field sites to conduct research.

“You found new ways to learn, to collaborate and to enjoy your college experience. In the face of very challenging circumstances, you showed patience, perseverance and good humor,” said Dennis Clements, interim director of the institute and director of undergraduate studies. “Your ability not just to endure the conditions of the pandemic – but to thrive in spite of them – has been a source of constant inspiration to us all.”

In remarks to the graduating Master of Science students, Nathan Thielman, DGHI’s director of graduate studies,  said the fact that students overcame obstacles presented by the pandemic will prepare them well for the challenges they will face in their global health careers.

“The world needs your global health training and leadership more than ever before,” Thielman said. “But even more than that, we need your optimism. We need your passion and resolve to take on the many and complex barriers to health equity. And I know you have the tools and the will to do it.”

Your ability not just to endure the conditions of the pandemic – but to thrive in spite of them – has been a source of constant inspiration to us all.

Dennis Clements — Interim Director, Duke Global Health Institute

Master of Science in Global Health

Global Health Majors


DGHI announced its annual awards for outstanding students and faculty during the commencement ceremonies. Winners were:

Madeline Boccuzzi Outstanding Graduate Student Award in Global Health

Named in honor of Madeline Boccuzzi, a 2013 graduate of the Master of Science in Global Health program who passed away in 2014, this award honors a master’s degree graduate who has excelled in the classroom, in the field, and in building the Duke global health community.

This year’s award went to Hiwot Zewdie, whose master’s degree research focused on the relationship of green space to mental and physical health. Her thesis research, which explored the associations between low access to green space and symptoms of depression among young adults in Ethiopia, earned her the honor the best research poster at DGHI’s 2021 Student Research Showcase.

Zewdie was also part of a Bass Connections project team that studied the distribution of urban green space and its relationship to population health in Durham County. As part of this work she conducted geospatial analysis to explore where Durham youth engage in physical activity. These findings help inform the city’s efforts to revitalize neighborhoods and promote physical and mental health among marginalized communities. Zewdie led a student team in authoring a paper about the project that was published in a special issue in the Annals of Epidemiology on geospatial analyses and health.

Zewdie plans to pursue a PhD in epidemiology at the University of Washington.

Michael Merson Undergraduate Student Leadership Award in Global Health

Amina Mohamed, who is graduating with majors in public policy and global health, received the 2021 Michael Merson Undergraduate Student Leadership Award in Global Helth.

During her Duke career, Mohamed was involved with a number of global health and leadership activities. She completed a Duke Engage project in Jordan, where she worked to expand access to healthcare for Syrian refugees. She then joined the Duke Global Neurosurgery and Neurology group, where she participated in research on access to neurosurgery in Uganda. She has also been involved with Amnesty International, the Penny Pilgram George Women’s Leadership Initiative, the American Mock World Health Organization, and Dukes and Duchesses.

Mohamed is from Raleigh, N.C., and is the daughter of Somali immigrants. After graduation, she will pursue a Master’s of Public Health degree focused on global maternal health and plans to go on to medical school.

Capstone Award

This award recognizes an outstanding capstone project, which all global health students complete during a capstone course in their senior year. This year’s winning project is, “Wraparound Effects of COVID-19 in Durham: Understanding the Impact of the Pandemic through the WHO Social Determinants Framework.” Student team members are Naeema Hopkins-Kotb, Arthi Kozhumam, Joy Lu and Elle Strand

In this project, the team studied how rates of injury, violence and substance abuse in Durham County were impacted during the pandemic, including the impact of pandemic restrictions and restricted access to healthcare services. They found disproportionate impacts on marginalized communities, including women; children; Black, Hispanic and indigenous communities; and people with disabilities. This research was part of the capstone course taught by David Boyd, professor of global health, who mentored the students.

Graduate Faculty Award

Jennifer Headley, a research program leader with the DGHI Research Design and Analysis Core who teaches DGHI’s Qualitative Data Analysis for Global Health course, received the Graduate Faculty Award, which recognizes outstanding teaching and mentoring in the Master of Science in Global Health program.

Headley plays a critical hands-on role in helping master’s degree students design qualitative research and make sense of the data they collect. Award nominations noted in particular the extra effort Headley put in to help our students navigate the challenges of conducting thesis research projects during the pandemic.

Said one student, she “was constantly reminding us that we need to prioritize our mental health during COVID times.” Others appreciated how she took active interest in each student’s work and life and advocated for the time and support students needed to complete their research projects.

Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award

David Boyd, the Hymowitz Family Professor of the Practice of Global Health, received the Outstanding Undergraduate Program Professor award, which honors a professor singled out by our students for excellence in teaching and mentoring.

For many global health students ,Boyd was both the first and last global health professor they had at Duke. He teaches the introductory Global Health 101 course, as well as our senior capstone course. He’s also one of Duke’s biggest stars on Coursera, offering a very popular course on global health challenges that has been taken by tens of thousands of people around the world.

Students consistently praise Boyd’s accessibility and his eagerness to engage with students both in and outside of the classroom. Many noted his ability to explain complex material in ways that are easy to understand and inspire thought and reflection. He often uses personal stories and anecdotes to make course material relatable. As one nominator said: “it is so clear the genuine joy and appreciation he has for teaching and mentoring undergrads.”