Alumni in the Spotlight

What are Duke alumni up to?
March 3, 2015

Moviemaker Robert Yeoman '73

As a child growing up in the Chicago suburbs, Robert Yeoman was fascinated by movies.

“There was no Internet, no cable TV. So going to the movie theater was a big event,” said Yeoman, the acclaimed cinematographer who returned to campus as the keynote speaker for Duke Entertainment Media and Arts Network (DEMAN) Weekend last fall. “I loved westerns. I loved comedies. I got into Alfred Hitchcock...that always stayed with me.”

But making a career out of making movies was not in his original plan.

Yeoman arrived at Duke thinking he would pursue a premed track to become a doctor, but he ended up becoming a psychology major. Looking back, it was a fitting major, he said. “Studying psychology helped me to understand people and personalities and how things interact...and that’s a very strong component, certainly, in making a film,” he said. Yeoman’s turning point toward the film industry came during his sophomore year when he saw the Raleigh debut of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

“I was just so amazed by this film,” Yeoman said. “I remember driving back to Duke thinking, ‘I really want to get involved in this.’ It kind of was a moment that changed my life.”

Yeoman went on to earn an M.F.A. from the University of Southern California, where he pursued his love of cinematography. Throughout his career, he has worked on more than fifty films—including Bridesmaids, Get Him to the Greek, and all of director Wes Anderson’s live-action films.

—Christina Holder

Journalist Jeff Stern '07

Stern, who traveled to Guinea to report on the Ebola outbreak for Vanity Fair, returned to campus last fall to talk to students in the Sanford School of Public Policy about his career journey as a journalist and the lessons he learned while tracking the worst Ebola outbreak in history.

In an interview with Ken Rogerson, director of undergraduate studies at Sanford, Stern—a former student contributor to Duke Magazine—talked about how he retraced the outbreak of the Ebola virus to the village of Meliandou, where it is believed the virus was passed from a fruit bat to a toddler.

“The underreported part of the story is ecological—the fact that there’s been so much trauma to the land, mining, and deforestation, that you have species coming into contact with people who have never really had to spend much time with them,” Stern told students. “People have to get used to having new neighbors basically, and those neighbors carry pathogens that we’re not used to.”

Read Stern’s Vanity Fair article on the Ebola outbreak, “Hell in the Hot Zone."

Producer Eric Oberstein ’07

Oberstein recently won a Grammy award for producing Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra’s “The Offense of the Drum,” voted Best Latin Jazz Album. 

Oberstein’s mother is Cuban, so he grew up listening to Latin jazz, which he describes as jazz with “a different pulse.” In 2005, as a junior studying with Duke in New York, he learned about Arturo and his music. Son of the late legendary Cuban composer Chico O’Farrill, Arturo directed a Latin jazz big-band ensemble in honor of his father for years.

After graduating from Duke, Oberstein began producing albums with Arturo’s band, including a live recording of the Chico O’Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra’s last performance at Birdland, New York’s famous jazz club. Last November, “Final Night at Birdland” won a Latin Grammy in the category of Best Instrumental Jazz.

“Chico O’Farrill was one of the pioneers of Afro-Cuban big-band jazz, and it meant a great deal to see Arturo carry on that legacy and that mission,” says Oberstein.

Besides producing albums, Oberstein coordinates a colorful variety of performances as associate director of Duke Performances.

Duke Lacrosse Alumni

Chris Sussingham '83 and seventeen other Duke alumni lacrosse players are behind a historic visit by the “Original Blue Devil” to campus earlier this year.

Major Jean-François Lakomy, representing the French Army’s 27th Brigade— nicknamed “Diables Bleus” or “Blue Devils” during World War I and later adopted as Duke University’s mascot—spoke to the men’s and women’s lacrosse teams, attended the men’s lacrosse national championship ring ceremony, and met with President Richard Brodhead at the dedication of the new Kennedy Tower.

In 2013, John Danowski, head coach of the men’s lacrosse team, presented each graduating senior with an original beret from the famous French brigade. The brigade, known for its unique training to survive the rigors of the French Alps, wore a blue cape and beret as its signature uniform.

Lakomy continued the tradition, delivering new berets for the lacrosse team’s senior class.