Each year, 15 Kenan Graduate Fellows are selected to be part of an inter-disciplinary research community focused on significant normative questions. This year’s cohort come from Ph.D. programs in five faculties/schools, and 12 different departments at Duke. They will meet throughout the year with the general aim of enhancing each other’s ability to contribute to debates involving ethical issues, and to do so in ways that engage scholars and others within, and especially outside, their own academic disciplines. Professor Wayne Norman, who directs the Graduate Fellows program, notes that “This year’s Fellows all face a double challenge. They were selected because they are each tackling timely – and often timeless – questions in their Ph.D. dissertations: political polarization, diversity and inclusion in higher education, religion and violence, global inequality, and sources of bias in moral reasoning from law to political science. But they are also trying to make sense of our world and their own career paths as we struggle to climb out of a global pandemic.”
Some students, from disciplines such as philosophy, political theory, or theology, focus directly on fundamental ethical or political concepts and theories. Other Fellows, from the sciences and social sciences, try to understand phenomena that are relevant to major, and often controversial, public-policy debates. Still others attempt to resolve debates in their areas of research that seem to be sustained by long-standing disagreements over both empirical claims and ethical or ideological commitments.
Read more about the Kenan Graduate Fellowship. Meet the Fellows
Suhyen Bae is a PhD student in Political Science at Duke studying political behavior and political communication. Her dissertation focuses on how social isolation and loneliness shape political attitudes and preferences, specifically examining internet and social media use as an underlying mechanism. She also works on projects involving legislators, Twitter networks and social media campaign advertisements, utilizing big data and machine learning methods. Suhyen received her BA and MA in Political Science and International Relations with honors and distinction from Seoul National University in South Korea.
Mary Dance Berry is a Ph.D. student in the Graduate Program in Religion, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament track. Her research interests center on divine violence and divine judgment/justice as well as comparative hermeneutics, feminist criticism, and postcolonial criticism. More specifically, her work examines how different communities, from American Evangelical readers to African biblical interpreters, read and understand often troublesome biblical texts and the import of their understandings. Mary earned a B.A. in government and classical studies at Sweet Briar College and an M.Div. at Duke Divinity School.
Curtis Bram is a PhD Candidate in Political Science at Duke. He is writing about people's expectations for what candidates will do if elected, where those expectations come from, and their political consequences. Before coming to Duke, he completed an M.A. in International Relations at the University of Chicago and a B.A. at Tulane University.
Aaron Ebert is a PhD. candidate in Duke's Graduate Program in Religion, focusing on Early Christianity. He studies and writes on various aspects of early Christian thought and practice, especially in its relation to ancient and modern philosophy. The questions that most exercise him are those related to philosophical anthropology, hermeneutics, and moral and intellectual formation. His dissertation explores envy, rivalry, and schadenfreude in the thought of Augustine. Most of his spare time is given to raising and keeping up with his four children, with whom he and his wife like to garden, eat ice cream, and explore the North Carolina outdoors. Aaron received a B.S. from the University of Montevallo and an M.T.S. from Duke Divinity.
Melissa Karp is a fourth year PhD candidate in the Program in Literature at Duke. She previously graduated from Oberlin College with a B.A. in Comparative Literature, East Asian Studies, and French. Her dissertation takes a comparative approach to memory studies, focusing on the ways that the wartime collaborator is represented, mythologized, and instrumentalized in French and Korean literary and memory cultures. She is particularly interested in postwar patterns of memory and forgetting that work to reify or hybridize ethnonational boundaries.
Sinja Küppers is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in Classical Studies at Duke University. In her dissertation, she investigates The Social History of Higher Education in the Late Roman Empire. She is particularly interested in how language and institutions reflect social norms and questions of class, diversity and equity. For her presentation on “Studying ‘Abroad’ in Antiquity: Student Movement and Educational Policy” Sinja received the 2021 Presidential Award for Outstanding Graduate Student Paper by The Classical Association of the Middle West and South. At Duke, she co-founded the first-generation graduate student organization Duke F1RSTS. Before coming to Duke, Sinja received a MSt from the University of Oxford and a B.A. from the University of Cologne.
Jane Leer (she/her) is a doctoral student in Duke University’s Joint Program in Public Policy and Psychology, where her work focuses on social inequality, policy, and human development with the goal of informing the design and delivery of culturally responsive social and education policies. Her dissertation is examining (1) how the types of diversity-related values that schools communicate relate to racial and socioeconomic disparities in adolescent social belonging, mental health, and academic engagement, and (2) how growing up in a gentrifying neighborhood relates to academic engagement among adolescents experiencing poverty. In a second line of work, she examines the causal effect of policies and interventions designed to strengthen family, school, and community learning environments. This includes projects evaluating the impact of home visit parenting programs on early childhood development in Latin America and social norms interventions on adolescent gender attitudes in West Africa, as well as current work exploring how structural racism may impact Black families’ engagement in nurse home visit services in North Carolina.
Elisabetta “Betta” Menini is a third year PhD student from Italy in the Marine Science and Conservation at the Duke Marine Lab. Her dissertation is focused on the conservation of deep-sea environment in international jurisdiction within the context of deep seabed mining. The aim of her research is to inform ocean international policy and decision-making processes with the best available science and best practices in ocean conservation. She is studying the use of Area Based Management Tools to protect and manage deep hydrothermal vents. She holds two master's degrees (Marine Biology and Maritime Spatial Planning) obtained in her home country and through international programs in Europe. She recently worked in the context of public participation, and she has experience in maritime geopolitics, marine spatial planning, and invertebrates' biology and phylogenetic.
Jessica Paek is a Ph.D. candidate in the Management & Organizations department at the Fuqua School of Business. Her research examines prosocial behaviors and goal pursuit in organizations. Specifically, she investigates how leaders can offer different types of help to their employees and how receiving help can impact the goal pursuer’s future motivation. She is also interested in people’s perception of steady versus unsteady goal progress. Jessica received her B.A. in Psychology from Columbia University.
SaeHim Park (she/her) is a fourth year PhD candidate in Art, Art History and Visual Studies. Park's dissertation, "Image Politics of Representing Sexual Violence in the Asia-Pacific," examines how images shape affects, values, and judgments associated with rape, sex-trafficking, sexual slavery, and prostitution.
Kristen M. Renberg, Ph.D., is a J.D. candidate at Duke University School of Law. She studies judicial behavior and access to justice in courtrooms across the United States. Her dissertation explores the ways in which courts strategically organize themselves to encourage or evade appellate review. She received her B.A. in Political Science from the University of California, Merced. Kristen completed her M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science from Duke University in 2020.
Minato Sakamoto is a Japanese composer, pianist, and improviser from Osaka. Ranging from classical concert music to electronic music with heavy uses of computational technologies, his compositions practice the unserious seriously, fuse spontaneous and organic qualities, and demonstrate a clear connection to the past. His works have been featured across the United States, East Asia, and Europe in both traditional concert settings and internationally acclaimed conferences. Minato is currently studying towards his Ph.D. in composition at Duke University. For more info, please visit minatosakamoto.com.
Ben Sarbey is a PhD candidate in Philosophy at Duke University. He works on topics in end-of-life ethics, including what it means to "die well," palliative care ethics, and the moral psychology of grief, aging, and dying. While focusing on philosophical and policy questions, he also has interests in medical humanities and what memoirs of dying can tell us about the dying process. Ben received his J.D. from Duke in 2017, specializing in health law and policy, and was recently a Visting Scholar at the Hastings Center.
Kelly Shi is a PhD student in Philosophy at Duke. She studies the relationship between systemic oppression and the moral development, moral challenges, and moral opportunities of oppressed individuals. She received her BA in Philosophy from Santa Clara University.
Joshua Strayhorn is a PhD candidate in History at Duke University. His research interests include 19th century African American history, specifically Emancipation, Reconstruction, and migration. His dissertation examines race, religion, and migration in post-emancipation North Carolina. More specifically, it investigates the political, economic, social, and religious factors that contributed to black desires to migrate, utilizing a religious lens to analyze how faith and spirituality shaped people's politics and freedom dreams.