Alumni newsmakers

October 21, 2016

When MUYINATU LEDIJU BELL Ph.D.’12 lost her mother to breast cancer, a life cut too short set Bell on a fast-track to helping patients get more accurate diagnoses sooner.

The MIT undergrad spent her time at Duke developing a noninvasive imaging technique that is now being used to get clearer ultrasound images—helping doctors diagnose myriad conditions such as cancer and cardiovascular issues at earlier stages and giving patients a better chance at surviving.

The biomedical engineer is a rising star—recently named one of MIT’s “35 Innovators Under 35”— and now directs the PULSE (Photoacoustic and Ultrasonic Systems Engineering) Lab at Johns Hopkins University, where she studies how to improve imaging through new robotic tools and techniques. In 2017, Bell will launch a pilot study at the PULSE Lab on photoacoustic imaging. Using light and sound to create images, the technique has the potential to help neurosurgeons better see the brain in real-time during surgery.

For him, time is money

At Duke, ZACH MAURIDES ’07 was a student-athlete who struggled with time-management skills and often arrived late to football practice at Wallace Wade Stadium. There was a penalty for tardiness, Maurides says.

“When you forget an appointment or show up late, you run the stairs— and I ran a lot of stadium stairs,” he says.

It was that struggle that led Maurides to design a time-management app in his computer- science class during his sophomore year. The app became Teamworks, now a full-time business based in Durham that is used by sixty of the sixty- five college football programs in the Power Five Conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC).

“What we built at the time was a really basic hosted-calendar system that would start by pulling my class schedule from the campus system,” Maurides says, describing a system his coaches could use to ensure practice was on his schedule.

By using the app, Maurides could find all of his commitments in one place, keeping him accountable and on time. Soon he began talking to Duke Athletics to figure out how he could solve that problem for the entire Duke football team.

“Everything that we’ve built has been based on the feedback of our users, and particularly those first few folks at Duke,” Maurides says. “Those were the users who really guided us toward the right solution.”

What Maurides says he learned in those early years is that scheduling problems are “just a symptom of a larger issue”—and it was this issue of sharing information. Soon Duke’s lacrosse team wanted in, followed by Northwestern University’s football team.

Now Teamworks is beginning to branch out beyond college athletics, recently announcing a partnership with the National Football League Players Association as well as Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League. But Maurides says he won’t stop there. In the next two years, he has a goal of getting 100 percent of collegiate and professional athletic organizations in the U.S. to adopt the Teamworks system.

Maurides says he couldn’t have built Teamworks without the help of the Duke community. Recently the company moved into a spacious office in downtown Durham—and has added ten Duke alumni and students to its staff. Among those working there is current Duke football player Twazanga Mugala, as an intern, and cofounder and director of operations Mitch Heath ’11. “We always believed it could be what it is today,” Heath says, “and we believe it has a lot further to go.” — Justice Davis

Helping those who need a second chance

The floor-to-ceiling windows on the fifteenth floor offer a panoramic view of Kansas City, Missouri, a city that is in the midst of an emotional and economic revitalization.

From this perch befitting a top-ranked, international law firm, attorney LARRY TUCKER J.D. ’72 points to the park where hundreds of thousands of people gathered in November 2015 to celebrate the Kansas City Royals’ first World Series victory in thirty years. His wide smile gives him away as a Missouri native who grew up less than 100 miles south of here.

Around the corner, through a different pane of glass, Tucker motions toward a magnificent Art Deco tower. The Power and Light Building for decades stood as Missouri’s tallest, and although the office tower no longer serves its original purpose, the building is in the midst of being remade into apartments.

Tucker’s friend Richard Armitage housed his law office in that building. A dedicated, thoughtful attorney with an eighteen-month-old daughter, Armitage occupied an office that was also the site of his murder, a crime for which no one is serving time.

The incident changed Tucker’s life, taking his career in a direction he could never have expected.

Armitage had built a national reputation for his groundbreaking work with organ-procurement organizations, the regional groups that facilitate the donations and the transplantation of lifesaving human organs. After Armitage’s death, Tucker stepped into the gap.

“He’s honoring Richard’s memory,” says Armitage’s widow, Kathy. “His compassion, his integrity, his passion for what life’s all about—and what we’re supposed to do with the time we have on Earth—he’s got that down.”

Armitage died in May 2000, after being beaten in his law office. A lawyer with whom he shared the office was convicted of the crime in 2002 and initially sentenced to life in prison. Due to prosecutorial misconduct, that verdict was later vacated, and the accused was released from prison. There are no other suspects.

Tucker took over Armitage’s work almost immediately after being approached by the folks at Midwest Transplant Network, which had worked with Armitage for more than twenty years.

“When Rich died, it left a vacuum,” says Rob Linderer, CEO of Midwest Transplant Network. “Larry really stepped up during that difficult time.”

Tucker works with Midwest Transplant Network in a number of ways. He attends—and even takes minutes for—its board meetings. He assists with nonprofit governance issues and handles Medicare cost-review cases. Tucker says it is fulfilling and rewarding work.

When Armitage died, Kathy honored her husband’s wishes by donating his kidneys and heart. In subsequent years, she became friends with the man who received his heart. “His family was so grateful for that second chance at life,” she says.

Through Tucker, his work lives on as well. —Matt Ehlers

Other newsmakers

Paul Zwillenberg ’89 is the new chief executive of Britain’s Daily Mail.

Denise Cetta ’90 produced a 60 Minutes spot on a Duke University therapy that uses the polio virus to attack glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer.

Rachel Boillot M.F.A. ’14 produced “Post Script,” a photography project featuring the disappearing post offices of the rural South.

William Kaelin ’79, M.D. ’83 wins 2016 Albert Lasker Award, known as the “American Nobel,” along with two other physician-scientists for discovering the pathway by which cells from almost all multicellular animals adapt to changes in oxygen levels. Their research is leading to new trials for treating cardiovascular diseases and cancers.

Melissa Harris-Perry A.M. ’97, Ph.D. ’99 is now editor-at-large of Elle.com.

Tico Almeida ’99 was honored with the 2016 Stevens Award from the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation for work on LGBTQ civil rights cases. He heads and cofounded Freedom to Work, an organization that works to prohibit discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

Dawn Kernagis Ph.D. ’12 was part of the NEEMO (NASA Extreme Environment Missions Operations) mission in which crew members lived in an undersea habitat in the Atlantic Ocean to simulate space exploration.

President Barack Obama nominated Lawrence Robert Silverman A.M. ’80 as the ambassador to Kuwait and appointed Geeta Pasi ’84 as ambassador to Chad. Silverman has since been confirmed by the Senate.

Renzo Lara M.B.A. ’05 is the new country manager of Teradata Peru, a big-data firm.

Paramount Pictures optioned the life rights and forthcoming autobiography of drone-warfare fighter Brett Velicovich M.B.A. ’12 for a planned biopic.

Cultural historian Josh Kun ‘93 was awarded a 2016 MacArthur Fellowship, aka the “genius grant.” He’ll receive a no-strings-attached $625,000 over the next five years.

Amanda Blumenherst ’09 served as an analyst for the Golf Channel’s coverage of the 2016 NCAA Women’s Golf Championship. She is one of the most decorated collegiate women’s athletes and a 2008 U.S. Women’s Amateur Champion.

David M. Simmons ’77 has been appointed director of the Billings Farm & Museum, a Vermont-based outdoor museum that combines a dairy farm with an immersive museum experience.