DGHI Celebrates the Class of 2023

Seventy-nine students prepare for the next step in their global health journeys after completing their Duke degrees.

Graduates with certificates

By Alicia Banks

Published May 15, 2023, last updated on May 16, 2023 under Around DGHI

On May 12, DGHI honored 45 students who earned their Master of Science in Global Health and 34 undergraduates who graduated with a major in global health. The newest alumni were celebrated in two, separate ceremonies in Paul M. Gross Hall on Duke’s campus. The ceremonies included the presentation of annual student and faculty awards (winners are announced below).

Class of 2023 Master of Science in Global Health graduates

DGHI's Class of 2023 Master of Science in Global Health graduates. 
Photo by: Chris Hildreth/Rooster Media

Class of 2023 undergraduate global health majors

DGHI's Class of 2023 undergraduate global health majors. 
Photo by: Chris Hildreth/Rooster Media

In remarks to graduates, DGHI Director Chris Beyrer, M.D., underscored the importance of community in reaching this milestone, including the support of mentors, peers, family and others. Recognizing the strength of community will be essential to achieving future goals, he said.

“Each one of you is capable of greatness, but you don’t need to be great on your own,” he told graduates. “Share what you have learned, but recognize there will always be many around you who can teach you… Invite the perspectives and experiences of those around you, especially those who don’t have your power or privilege.”

If this day shows us anything, we have a whole room of people who support us and believe in us and our ability to achieve these goals. We have mentors to reach out to long after we leave Duke, peers to collaborate with, and the love of family and friends to keep us afloat.

Haley Cionfolo AB'23 — global health major

Perla Medrano MS’23, who was chosen as the student speaker at the graduate ceremony, told the crowd she’s the first in her family to earn a master’s degree. She described her pride in that accomplishment, but also noted that education is still too often a privilege enjoyed by some, and not a right open to all. 

“Communities of color are often meant to be on the receiving end of global health and equity efforts, yet are still too often left behind when it comes to education and training,” Medrano said. “If we hope to take the next step toward global health equity, we need to fight to close the gap in access to these opportunities.”

In the undergraduate ceremony, Haley Cionfolo AB’23 told the crowd she first visited Duke in 2017 and harbored doubts about whether she’d be admitted. While majoring in biology and global health, she worked with a Lancet Commission research project focused on hearing loss. She also traveled to England to give a conference presentation on an aspect of the study.

“For me and the graduates before me, the Duke Global Health Institute is a safe haven for personal and professional growth,” said Cionfolo. “And, if this day shows us anything, we have a whole room of people who support us and believe in us and our ability to achieve these goals. We have mentors to reach out to long after we leave Duke, peers to collaborate with, and the love of family and friends to keep us afloat.”

Throughout each ceremony, families and friends cheered the graduates as they walked across the stage. At receptions following each event, family members  congratulated their graduates with gifts and flowers, and several made video calls to loved ones who couldn't be there in person. 

Both ceremony were live streamed, and recordings can be viewed on the 2023 graduation page.

Dennis Clements with 2023 Students

2023 Global Health Awards

During graduation ceremonies, DGHI announced its annual awards for outstanding students and faculty.

Madeline Boccuzzi Outstanding Graduate Student Award

The award is named in honor of Madeline Boccuzzi, a 2013 MS-GH graduate who passed away from cancer in 2014.  The honor highlights a master’s degree student who excelled in the classroom, in research and in building the global health community at Duke.

This year’s recipient is Stephanie Stan. Her research focused on Peru’s response to COVID-19 and vaccine access as she also learned more about global health governance. Last summer, she split her time between Geneva, Switzerland and Peru. One of Stan’s faculty mentors described her thesis as “flawless,” with solid methodology and clear, actionable findings.

As a student, Stan served as a Margolis Scholar in Health Policy and Management. She also published several articles about Covid response and vaccines for the COVID GAP and Duke Global Health Innovation Center. In April, she shared her thesis work as a presenter at the Consortium of Universities for Global Health’s annual conference. Stan also produced a six-minute film about mental health titled “Love Shades,” which was accepted into two international film festivals this year.

Michael Merson Undergraduate Student Leadership Award

Named for DGHI’s founding director, Michael Merson, this award recognizes a graduating student for excelling in and outside of the classroom. Recipients through the years have demonstrated a deep commitment to global health equity through leadership and extracurricular activities.

This year’s recipient is Nikhita Gopisetty, a double major in biomedical engineering and global health. Also, she is enrolled in DGHI’s Accelerated Master of Science in Global Health program. While at Duke, she was involved in three global health projects in eastern North Carolina’s Pamlico County with Bass Connections, India and Kisumu, Kenya. Gopisetty also dedicated her time to student organizations such as UNICEF and Tech for Equity while serving as a peer coach for adolescents and young adults with chronic health issues. In her nomination, her advisors noted “her ability to create trust with research partners through her cultural sensitivity and sophistication.”

Outstanding Capstone Research Project

This award highlights an outstanding project presented in the global health undergraduate capstone course. Students complete the course in their senior year. They work in teams with outside experts to design a solution for a local or international health challenge.

This year’s winning project is “HeartWorks in Pamlico County, North Carolina: Progress, Practices & Performances,” completed by Audrey Alexander, Afreen Ashraf, Harrison Chen and Nadia Bey.

The team worked with HeartWorks, a nonprofit service agency dedicated to addressing the mental and physical health needs of youth and families in the county and surrounding areas. The team assessed the program’s impact on physical and mental health outcomes for underserved youth in the county. Judges noted the capstone team’s paper was well-written, organized and provided “concrete, sustainable deliverables for the organization.” Dennis Clements, M.D., Ph.D., mentored the team.

Global Health Graduate Professor of the Year

This award recognizes outstanding teaching and mentoring in the Master of Science in Global Health program. This year’s recipient is Gavin Yamey, M.D., associate director for policy at DGHI and director for the Center for Policy Impact in Global Health. He’s also the host of a talk show called “Conversations on Health Care,” which airs on Duke radio station WXDU.

Student nominators commended Yamey for finding ways to make complex topics understandable and relatable while bringing energy to every lesson he teaches. One student confessed to quoting Yamey to others and another wrote, “His knowledge, passion, dedication and wisdom are a perfect example of what a model professor should be.”

Global Health Undergraduate Professor of the Year

This award recognizes a professor, nominated by students, for outstanding teaching and mentorship. This year’s recipient is Rukmini Balu, Ph.D., an adjunct professor of global health. She also serves as the associate vice president and chief of staff of the Duke Office of Durham and Community Affairs.

Balu has implemented a unique way to teach her students real-world challenges and scenarios by using a board game she created, “ The Game of Life.” In her “Social Determinants of Health” course, students play a character while accumulating chips, which symbolize success and health. Sometimes, the identities of the characters make it harder to progress because of societal inequities. In her nominations, a student said Balu encourages her classes to collaborate and discuss in smaller groups. A second student wrote, she “always ensures that classroom learning is connected to real world issues in the realm of global health.”