Alumni newsmakers

December 16, 2016

Being named the chief academic officer of West Point has great meaning for CINDY JEBB A.M. ’92, Ph.D. ’97. It’s where, as a young woman, she found her place.

She discovered the United States Military Academy while browsing through a magazine. Jebb was an athletic high school student, so an article on West Point’s women’s basketball team—nicknamed the Sugar Smacks— caught her attention.

“I wasn’t from a military family, so I didn’t know about the Army,” she says. She had considered living a life of service, but she didn’t know how to get started until she read about the academy. “[The article] talked about values, service, and developing the whole person, and I liked the idea of being part of something bigger than myself. From the moment I read that article, I was hooked.”

When she entered in 1978, she was a member of the third class to admit women. The first summer is called “Beast,” she says. “It was intimidating, yet when I look back, the four-year West Point experience was transformative. It was very challenging, but we were brought together by a common purpose and strengthened by the phenomenal friendships we developed over those four years.”

After graduation, she served in the 1st Armored Division. By then, she’d also married her classmate Joel Jebb A.M. ’92. In 1990, the Army gave them a chance to enhance their education, and when they visited Duke, she says, they fell in love with the university.

Jebb studied political science, while her husband studied philosophy. (He later earned a doctorate from Columbia University.) “We have a special place in our hearts for Duke because we had such a great academic experience there and because our sons were born in Durham.” After having sons, Ben and Alex M.E.M. ’15, the couple later added a daughter, Olivia.

When she was named the first woman dean of West Point in June, Jebb succeeded Fuqua graduate Tim Trainor M.B.A. ’92 and joined Diana Holland A.M. ’99, the first woman to serve as commandant of cadets, as a pioneer in the military. Jebb says Duke provided great grounding through its community, curriculum, and culture of civic engagement. “I also think the number of Duke alumni at West Point, as faculty and staff, is a reflection of the valued civilian/military partnership between our institutions.”

And while being a “first” has meaning for her, she would rather talk about those she will lead. “I can’t tell you how much these young people inspire me. I look forward to working with West Point’s faculty and staff to help our cadets develop into the leaders of character our nation needs in these uncertain times.”

FD Connection: As of the fall 2016 semester, there were 66 active-duty military and 53 confirmed veterans studying at Duke.

KAREN L. SMITH ’84 knew, early in life, that she wanted to be a doctor.

Her father was a researcher for the National Institutes of Health, offering a science-oriented influence. And, after her mother died from an illness when Smith was eleven, she was further inspired to seek a life in health care.

She knew early, too, that she wanted to practice in a rural community. Although she grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, Smith spent weekends in her father’s and stepmother’s hometown, Indian Head, Maryland, a small naval town rich in history but lacking in many services. “I thought I’d go back there and practice,” she says. “There still are no doctors in that part of Maryland.”

Yet Smith ended up in North Carolina. The first detour came when she was choosing a college. The ardent NCAA basketball fan was headed to Wake Forest University. She was familiar with Duke only as a fan of stars Vince Taylor ’82 and Gene Banks ’81.

But while driving down Tobacco Road (“the hottest road I’d ever traveled in my life!”), she got to see the Sarah P. Duke Gardens and Duke Chapel. Enthralled, she put in an application that day.

After graduating with a major in biology, and then attending medical school at Hahnemann University in Philadelphia, Smith held to her idea of practicing in rural Maryland, even getting licensed in the state.

But again, Duke intervened. “One of the reasons I ended up staying was Harvey Estes,” she says. The former chair of Duke Community and Family Medicine was on a mission to recruit physicians to stay in North Carolina. Through him, she met Duke chancellor A. Kenneth Pye, who made a commitment to support Smith if she stayed in the state.

She did, and recently Smith was named the 2015 North Carolina Family Physician of the Year for the work she’s done in Raeford, North Carolina, a Hoke County town about twenty miles west of Fayetteville. It’s a place where there’s one primary- care doctor for every 16,000 residents. The award recognizes her “high touch, high tech” approach, her insistence on listening and being there for her patients, and the ways she offers cutting-edge technology to manage their health records and a modern outpatient clinic unavailable to most rural residents.

The award also honors her commitment and her realized dreams. “I am truly fortunate to be a change agent, a person dedicated and committed to making a difference in the lives of others,” she said as she received the award. “Anything which is done for the sake of another is an expression of love for all mankind to share.”

Former Duke basketball player ALAA ABDELNABY ’90 was playing for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings in 1995 when he got a call from the league office. An Arabic-language television network was looking for someone to broadcast the NBA All-Star game, and the Egyptian-born, New Jersey-raised Abdelnaby, who grew up bilingual, was the only Arabic speaker in the league.

“I saw it as a unique experience,” says Abdelnaby, who played for the Blue Devils from 1987 to 1990. “But I didn’t know what I was doing at all. The reason they invited me back was because I was able to get every All-Star to introduce themselves and say, ‘Hi, I’m Hakeem Olajuwon, or Charles Barkley, or whoever, and you’re watching the NBA on Orbit TV.’ ”

Abdelnaby has been broadcasting hoops in Arabic— and English—ever since. He’s done the Arabic playby- play at four different Olympics, serves as a color commentator for college basketball on the CBS Sports Network, and has been doing the same for Philadelphia 76ers broadcasts.

When it comes to college games, “I am definitely a player’s announcer,” says Abdelnaby. “Having been one, I know what they go through, and I’m not there to rip somebody apart. There is a mom and dad at home watching their son play, these kids don’t get paid, and their journey isn’t over yet.”

Abdelnaby was a McDonald’s All-American in high school, a six-foot-ten-inch scoring powerhouse, and top student recruited, he says, by at least 250 schools. He chose Duke because his family “wanted a school that was going to be a school you could take your degree and work with it. Education is important in our household—my sister is a surgeon, my brother went to Yale. I’m the black sheep; I wanted to play in the NBA, and my parents wanted me to go to the best school possible.”

He made the right choice. Duke’s basketball team made it to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen, two Final Fours, and the National Championship game during Abdelnaby’s time in Durham. (He also met Celeste Barnette ’88, a former Duke cheerleader whom he married last year.) “We won a lot when I was there, and you could see that fire in the locker room,” he says. “[Coach K] celebrated with the best of them, but ‘next play’ is a popular phrase with him. That consistency of hunger and drive. It’s a lesson for all of us—you need to bring it every day.” —Lewis Beale

FD Connection: Annually, about sixty people try out for Duke’s cheerleading squad.

Other newsmakers

Mike T. Brown ’08 launched Win-Win, a fantasy sports platform that allows users to give back to charity.

Tom Christensen M.B.A. ’03 leads Edison Agrosciences, a biotech company that uses sunflower seeds to make natural rubber.

Nicholas Pilarski M.F.A. ’15 is one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Film. Peter Friedlander ’96 is vice president overseeing content for Netflix original series.

LC Johnson ’10 and Sheldon Johnson M.P.P. ’15 are named a “Coolest Black Family in America” by Ebony magazine.

Peter Friedlander ’96 is vice president overseeing content for Netflix original series.

Alex Lavin M.E.M.P. ’16 is named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Science list for his research at artificial-intelligence company Numenta, which is exploring reverse-engineering of the human neocortex.

Catherine Ray ’09 is communications designer for Uber.

Robert Califf ’73, M.D. ’78 is the new commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

Dajun Hou M.E.M. ’04 is the cofounder of Dream Corps, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building libraries across China.

Biscuitville named Kevin Bennett M.B.A. ’16 as new chief financial officer.

Washington Post columnist Steven Petrow ’78 now hosts The Civilist, a podcast about LGBTQ issues and modern manners.

President Barack Obama presented Preston Whiteway ’04, the executive director of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, with the National Medal of Arts—the nation’s highest honor for achievement in the arts.

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