Paul Salem
Paul Salem

Ready to Launch

Four years ago, five freshman shared their expectations of college life with Duke Magazine as they embarked on their college journey ("Frosh Faces," September-October 2008). Now, as they prepare to head out to jobs and graduate school, these members of the Class of 2012 reflect on where they've been and what lies ahead.
May 31, 2012

Paul Salem

A Moral Imperative to Heal

As the oldest member of the Class of 2012 and its only combat veteran, former U.S. Marine Paul Salem arrived on campus with a clear sense of purpose. After a tour of duty that included counterinsurgency operations as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Salem came to Duke determined to become a physician. In addition to a premed curriculum, he volunteered with Duke EMS, Duke Hospice, and the extended care and rehabilitation center at the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Last summer, he worked at a community clinic near his family’s home in California.

 

Uniform intentions: Former U.S. Marine aspires to be a compassionate physician. [Jon Gardiner]

Uniform intentions: Former U.S. Marine aspires to be a compassionate physician. [Jon Gardiner]

Salem also took some time out of his premed schedule to explore topics that intrigued him, including a classics course and a class on the Old Testament. Through a forensic-anthropology course his sophomore year, he met paleontologist Steven Churchill, who became a mentor and adviser. The two worked together on Churchill’s research into how the development of Stone Age projectile weapons contributed to human evolution. He also became engaged to classmate Mona Xiao ’12, whom he began dating freshman year.

Coming out of the military, Salem had considered specializing in emergency or trauma medicine. But his experiences at Duke have broadened his perspective. “As a Marine, you’re trained to take action and accomplish the mission at hand,” he says. “My hope in doing the volunteer work I did in hospice and the clinic setting was that I would learn to be a more compassionate care- giver. I’ve had to consider that hard work and preparation, while necessary, are not sufficient for living with clear moral purpose. I hope that learning to become a physician will allow me to combine the discipline and perseverance I learned in the military with an appreciation for the beauty of human life.”

 This fall, Salem begins the next leg of his journey when he matriculates at the Mayo Medical School in Rochester, Minnesota. At this point, he says, he has no idea what area of medicine he’ll specialize in. “I just want to take care of human beings in the most satisfying way possible.”

 

Phyllis Mbewe

Engineering for Environmental Health

International student and University Scholar Phyllis Mbewe came to Duke with a plan to focus on infrastructure issues related to her home country of Zambia. But her research interests quickly expanded to broader issues in environmental engineering, such as groundwater remediation and improving sanitation in developing countries. Enrolled in the Pratt School of Engineering, Mbewe spent many days and nights in Hudson Hall. She conducted research as a Pratt Fellow with civil and environmental engineering associate professor Zbigniew J. Kabala and later did an independent study with professor Marc Deshusses.

 

Where she's from, where she's going: Mbewe says her post-Duke plans will eventually lead her back to her African roots. [Jon Gardiner]

Where she's from, where she's going: Mbewe says her post-Duke plans will eventually lead her back to her African roots. [Jon Gardiner]

In addition to the long hours spent in the lab, Mbewe pursued fieldwork opportunities that included testing the effluent quality of drinking water and wastewater during one of her summer vacations in Zambia. She also spent a summer in Kenya participating in a DukeEngage program with the Foundation for Sustainable Development, a non-governmental organization. While in Kenya, Mbewe worked on a recycling project with unemployed women and youth, helping them gain skills to create recycled products that could be sold.

Although her intensive engineering curriculum allowed little free time, Mbewe was able to indulge in a few non-science pursuits. She took courses in art history, French, economics, and psychology. She sang with the a capella group Sapphire, played Ping-Pong with friends, and served as a freshman advising counselor. Her freshman writing course, “Dance Into Words,” which required students to attend performances, write reflective and critical essays, and participate in dance, introduced her to capoeira, a Brazilian hybrid of martial arts, dance, and music. Unfortunately, she says, she was never able to fit in a swimming class into her engineering schedule, so she still hasn’t learned to swim.

Mbewe also has served as a mentor to three other students who came to Duke from Pestalozzi International Village Trust, the British high school she at- tended. “I told them that Duke is not easy,” she says, “but that they can learn to stand on their own two feet.”

After graduation, Mbewe will attend graduate school in the U.S. to earn a master’s and Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering. “Eventually I would like to teach and do research in Africa, but I also want to gain experience by working in industry,” she says. “Whatever happens, I still want to have an impact on improving conditions back home in Africa.”

 

Lauren Brown

Setting a Higher Bar

By the time Lauren Brown came to Duke, she had achieved success in the demanding world of professional ballet, devoting her childhood and teen years to perfecting her craft and spending a year with the Pennsylvania Ballet company between high school and college. After sacrificing “a normal childhood” for a life where ballet was everything, she embraced the array of academic and extracurricular choices that Duke offered.

 

Creative pursuits: As a professional dancer, Brown perfected grace under pressure, a skill that will serve her well in marketing and advertising. [Jon Gardiner]

Creative pursuits: As a professional dancer, Brown perfected grace under pressure, a skill that will serve her well in marketing and advertising. [Jon Gardiner]

The New York native immersed herself in physical activities like Bikram yoga, skiing, and basketball, which had been off limits because of the risk of injury or alteration to her ballet physique. She went skydiving at sunset, tented in K-ville, taught herself guitar, and took a drawing class. She joined the debate team and pledged Kappa Kappa Gamma. She forged close friendships with faculty members, several of whom became mentors. She became chief of campus involvement for the Duke University Partnership for Service, an umbrella group for student-led service organizations dedicated to social action. And she tutored engineering and science students in the Durham public schools.

Brown took a wide range of psychology courses with an eye toward medical school. But her innate curiosity led her to take additional courses in markets and management, software and Web development, and economics. The trajectory of her coursework and summer jobs led to an avid interest in advertising and marketing. She’s been hired by Durham's McKinney advertising agency and is excited about combining her creativity and understanding of human behavior with the data-driven science of marketing.

“I remember hearing when I was applying to colleges that Duke was a place where people were always willing to help you get to where you wanted to go, and that’s been my experience,” says Brown. “It’s a place where you can learn what you want to be rather than being pigeonholed.”

Even as Brown is poised to launch herself professionally, she continues to supplement her lifelong bucket list. Seeing the pyramids in Egypt. Mastering Rhapsody in Blue on the piano. And turning a mountain of handcrafted, custom-made pointe shoes into a huge piece of art, a sculptural tribute to a goal now crossed off that list.

 

Paul Harraka

Pursuing the Pole Position

On a windy spring afternoon, professional NASCAR driver Paul Harraka grabs a quick bite before heading to the airport to catch a flight to Boston. He’s presenting a talk at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference on how economic shifts in NASCAR are forcing drivers to become more entrepreneurial. In the past, he explains, talent alone could propel a great driver such as Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson to the front of the pack, and sponsors would sign on to cover the related costs of racing. But increasingly, the economics of the sport require drivers to secure private financial backing to progress through the ranks. Unless a talented driver has a wealthy family or private investors, sponsors are unlikely to follow.

 

Winning formula: At Duke, Harraka built his brand with the same no-holds-barred approach he brings to racing. [Jon Gardiner]

Winning formula: At Duke, Harraka built his brand with the same no-holds-barred approach he brings to racing. [Jon Gardiner]

“I’m extremely focused on going fast,” he says. “It’s what I love to do. At Duke, I’ve sought out people and opportunities that have helped me identify ways to continue climbing the ladder toward achieving my goals.”

He switched his major from mechanical engineering to sociology and earned a certificate in markets and management, taking additional classes in business, engineering, finance, and sports psychology. He built networks of people who could help him think strategically about building a brand, including law professor and senior associate dean for academic affairs Paul Haagen, visiting associate professor in markets and management George Grody ’81, and senior adviser to the president and provost for innovation and entrepreneurship Kimberly Jenkins ’76, Ph.D. ’80.

Harraka has been winning races since he was seven years old. He’s made steady progress climbing the NASCAR ladder, a progressively competitive system that begins with amateur races and culminates with the Sprint Cup Series. (He’s currently in the Camping World Truck Series, one of NASCAR’s three national series.) He is raising the significant capital needed to reach the Sprint Cup by selling an equity stake in his career, with investors sharing in his potential Sprint Cup winnings. (Sprint Cup winners earn, on average, more than any other professional athlete.) He’s also joining with veteran NASCAR crew chief Richie Wauters, whose previous NASCAR teams have racked up multiple wins.

While he’s in Boston, he’ll meet with three key seed investors, including North Bridge Venture Partners general partner Carmichael Roberts Jr. ’90, Ph.D. ’96. Harraka was introduced to Roberts, who serves on the Duke Alumni Association board of directors, through DAA associate vice president Sterly Wilder ’83, a long- time NASCAR fan.

“Carmichael helped me identify where exactly I wanted to get to with my career, then helped me think creatively about ways to get there,” Harraka says. “His hands-on approach to helping me has made all the difference.”

Harraka’s racing schedule took him away from campus most weekends, but he was able to carve out time to be involved with the Newman Catholic Student Center and helped Duke’s SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) Competition team design and build open- wheel racecars. Although his undergraduate trajectory was unusual, he says he doesn’t feel he missed out on anything. “I packed a lot in,” he says, polishing off his lunch. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

 

Taylor Clarke

Shaping the Digital Media Landscape 

When Taylor Clarke first arrived on campus, she pursued her interest in becoming an on-camera broadcast journalist. She landed an internship with Duke’s Office of News and Communications, filmed broadcast segments about the university, and moderated webcasts on topics such as college admissions and career planning. As a Robertson Scholar, she spent a semester at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill producing medical segments for the school’s cable channel.

Updating her profile pic: Clarke is heading to New York to work for Facebook. [Jon Gardiner]

Wanting to use her voice in more of an advocacy and leadership role, Clarke joined the Panhellenic Council’s executive board as head of public relations for Duke’s largest student group, representing more than a thousand women. She became an undergraduate research scholar for Fuqua’s Coach K Center on Leadership and Ethics and helped pro- duce the Coach K Leadership Summit. She joined the advisory board of the Duke Colloquium, a university initiative that encourages students to incorporate leadership and service into their professional lives after college.

Clarke also sought opportunities to stretch beyond her comfort zone. She enrolled in a couple of military-science courses, where she was one of the only non-ROTC students in the class. She landed an internship with Bloomberg Television’s Hong Kong bureau and later headed to Italy to spend a semester studying European history. As a senior, she signed up for a graduate-level biomedical engineering class that worked to bring a spinal-cord stimulation device to market. But what stretched her the most, she says, was learning from mistakes and how to recover from them.

She used the few setbacks she faced to her advantage. Clarke wanted to bring Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to campus to join Robertson Scholars benefactor Julian H. Robert- son Jr. in a discussion about their reasons for signing The Giving Pledge—the effort to encourage wealthy individuals to give away most of their money during their lifetimes to philanthropic causes. Dozens of e-mail messages later, her Facebook contact, impressed with Clarke’s drive and determination, told her Zuckerberg couldn’t possibly break away to come to Duke—but was she interested in a summer internship at the company?

Clarke spent last summer working at Facebook’s Palo Alto campus in the communications division. Clarke loved the innovative, “move fast and break things” ethos of Facebook. She’s decided to pursue a career in digital and social media and is heading to Facebook’s New York office after graduation.

“Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg talks about having a long-term dream and a short-term plan,” says Clarke. “My short-term plan is to work at Facebook, but my long-term dream is to make Duke proud.”