DGHI Sends Off the Class of 2024

Graduation ceremonies showcase students’ pride and commitment to use their degrees to improve health equity.

2024 Graduation

By Alicia Banks

Published May 13, 2024, last updated on May 14, 2024 under Around DGHI

Fifty-four graduates marked the end of their Duke global health journeys on May 10. The students, including 28 undergraduate global health majors and 26 students who completed the Master of Science in Global Health were honored in two ceremonies inside Paul M. Gross Hall on Duke’s campus. 

DGHI's Class of 2024 Master of Science in Global Health graduates. 
Photo by: Chris Hildreth/Rooster Media

DGHI's Class of 2024 undergraduate global health majors. 
Photo by: Chris Hildreth/Rooster Media

DGHI Director Chris Beyrer, M.D., praised the resilience of the graduates, noting that the undergraduate students earning their degrees this year began their careers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Graduates from both programs completed challenging courses and participated in field experiences that broadened their perspectives, he said. 

But while the graduates have reason to celebrate their accomplishments, Beyrer urged them to continue to uphold the values their global health training instilled in them. 

“Defend health as a human right, work to address the social determinants of health, be an advocate for sound evidence and seek collaboration with humility and openness,” he said. “If you continue to center those values in your work, we have no doubt that you will accomplish much in helping to build a healthier, more equitable and just world.” 

Please, don’t hold back your skills. As a DGHI graduate, you have something to contribute.

Prince Antwi — 2024 Master of Science in Global Health graduate

 Prince Antwi MS’24, the student speaker for the master’s degree ceremony, reminded his classmates that the inequities in health that they studied and researched have not gone away, and it’s now their responsibility to use their skills to address them. Challenges only seem impossible, he said, until you confront them. 

“That’s why today is a commencement, not a finish line,” Antwi said. “I propose we take stock of the tools, values and relationships we have nurtured during our time here and begin to weave them together into effective solutions to the global health challenges of our day. Please, don’t hold back your skills. As a DGHI graduate, you have something to contribute.”

As graduates, it will be our undertaking to always seek out perspectives that challenge our understanding of the world, and motivate us to constantly grow to create solutions that promote health equity in all spaces, for all people.

Advika Kumar — Class of 2024 Global Health Major

In the undergraduate ceremony, student speaker Advika Kumar AB’24 said that while the COVID-19 pandemic showed her class the global scale of a health crisis, their fieldwork demonstrated the importance of smaller-scale community partnerships. Kumar described the powerful lessons she gained from working as part of a DGHI Student Research Training (SRT) team in Pamlico County, a rural North Carolina county where residents are vulnerable to natural disasters and lack access to many health services. 

“We have all had experiences like the ones I described from Pamlico, where total strangers entrusted us with their stories,” she said. “Our education has equipped us to understand that hearing these experiences is not only a gift but a responsibility to stay committed to treasuring this trust and acting on it. As graduates, it will be our undertaking to always seek out perspectives that challenge our understanding of the world, and motivate us to constantly grow to create solutions that promote health equity in all spaces, for all people.”

At receptions following the ceremonies, graduates posed for photos as they held gift bags and colorful flower bouquets. Families greeted faculty mentors with hugs and heartfelt thanks, with mentors reminding graduates to keep in touch. 

The ceremonies also marked the end of an era, as professors Mary Story, Ph.D., and Dennis Clements, M.D., Ph.D., are both retiring from leadership roles in the education program this summer. Story has served as DGHI's director of academic programs for the past decade, while Clements has held multiple roles, most recently serving as director of undergraduate programs. Both were recognized during the ceremonies for their outstadning service to the institute and commitment to students. 

Recordings of both ceremonies, as well as photo albums and profiles of graduates, can be found on the 2024 graduation page

Ronit Sethi and Parents

2024 Global Health Awards

At each graduation ceremony, DGHI announced its annual awards for exceptional 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 Pamela Espinoza Gonzalez. Her research was based in Tanzania, focused on the surgical outcomes for pediatric patients at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre. She spent hours reading handwritten, doctor notes instead of reviewing electronic medical records to better understand patients. 

As a student, Espinoza was a Global Health Policy Fellow in the Duke Global Policy Program in Geneva and served as a teaching assistant for a large undergraduate course, Fundamentals of Global Health. Espinoza’s advisor described her as “the brightest and most academically able person that I have worked with in my 14-year career in academic research and global health.”

 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 Shanzeh Sheikh, a double major in history and global health with a minor in Asian-American and diaspora studies. She served as president of Partners in Health Engage, a Duke student group that organizes events to raise awareness and advocacy for the health of the world’s poorest citizens. At DGHI, she participated in the SRT program located in Roatan, Honduras to assess the need for disability services for the island’s main health clinic. The team’s advisor described Sheikh’s work as “above and beyond what anyone would expect," noting that she frequently made time to talk with families and play with children she met.  

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 “Simprints Technology Engagement Report,” completed by Ashauna Lee, Kaitlyn Lewars, Ronit Sethi and Harris Upchurch. The students worked with Simprints, a nonprofit technology company seeking to expand vaccine access by using ethical digital IDs. The students completed a market analysis to help the company prepare for the rollout of the first malaria vaccine in Uganda. Judges described the team’s work as “excellent” for explaining Uganda’s fragmented health system while looking holistically at the issues involved in vaccine access. Dennis Clements, M.D., Ph.D. served as their mentor. 

 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 Eve Puffer, Ph.D., director of the Duke Center for Global Mental Health. She’s also the Pamela and Jack Egan Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience and Global Health. 

Student nominators praised Puffer for how she encourages class discussions in large courses where students may feel intimidated to speak up. One student described Puffer as a professor who goes “above and beyond to facilitate an environment where her students can talk about difficult topics kindly." 

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 Brandon Knettel, Ph.D., the associate director of the Duke Center for Global Mental Health and an assistant professor of nursing and global health. 

Student nominators commended Knettel for teaching the broad topic in a way they described as focused, engaging and intellectually stimulating. They appreciated the personal attention and support from Knettel to excel in the course. One student, who served as a teaching assistant, says, “I have witnessed firsthand the transformative impact” Knettel has on those he teaches.