Duke Engineering Students Flex Their Leadership Muscles

3/27/23 Pratt School of Engineering

Sydney Hunt and Joshua Crittenden on how the Duke experience inspired them to become finalists for Duke Young Trustee

Joshua Crittenden, left, and Sydney Hunt of Duke University
Duke Engineering Students Flex Their Leadership Muscles

Update, April 10, 2023: President Vincent Price nominated Sydney Hunt to be a Duke Young Trustee.

Engineers do a lot. They’re designers, yes. Technically skillful, surely. Problem solvers; that’s in the job description. But as faculty, staff and students at the Pratt School of Engineering know, authentic problem-solving and innovation are team sports. And teams need leaders.

So, Duke educates engineers to be leaders, too.

From EGR 101 (First-Year Design) for undergraduates to master’s course EGRMGMT 540 (Management to High-Tech Industries) to the career preparation program for engineering doctoral students PhD Plus, teamwork and leadership skills are placed alongside physics, mathematics and design in the Duke Engineer’s toolbox for life.

‘I found my purpose at Pratt’

“I found my purpose at Duke and the Pratt School of Engineering,” said Sydney Hunt, a senior in electrical and computer engineering, who is an undergraduate finalist to become a Duke Young Trustee. “When I came to Pratt, all I knew was that I loved art and math and that I wanted to help people. Now, after four years, I see becoming a Young Trustee as a continuation of my journey.”

Similarly motivated is Joshua Crittenden, a PhD candidate in environmental engineering, who is a graduate/professional student finalist for Young Trustee.

What is a Young Trustee?

  • Young Trustees are members of the university’s Board of Trustees—a 37-member body charged with ensuring the long-term health of Duke
  • Young Trustees are expected to consider, as all trustees do, the whole of the university. The position of Young Trustee was created to ensure the board includes individuals who are closer to the experience of today’s Duke
  • Each year, an individual from the undergraduate student body and an individual from the community of graduate and professional students are elected as Young Trustees

More about Duke’s Young Trustees »

“I think there’s a need for diverse voices on the Board of Trustees, in all dimensions of diversity, including in ways of thinking,” said Crittenden, a native of Connecticut, whose research is focused on using fungi and bacteria to clean a benzene-polluted Superfund site in the Hampton Roads region of coastal Virginia. “Engineers learn very early on how to work effectively in teams, and what is a Board of Trustees but a kind of team?”

The Board of Trustees is Duke’s governing body. Its members are responsible for Duke’s long-term health. That work includes overseeing and strategic direction, educational policy, finances and operations.

The Selection Process

Each year, two young trustees are selected: one from the undergraduate student body and the other from the graduate and professional student body. This year, the student selected for the undergraduate student position will serve a three-year term on the board, beginning July 1. The student selected for the graduate/professional student position will serve a two-year term on the board, beginning July 1.

Only one engineering student has served as the undergraduate Young Trustee, in 2017. This year’s selection process is nearing its conclusion.

Finalists have been named, and receptions and meetings have been held for students to meet the finalists in person. After surveys and feedback are received from students and a nominating committee, President Vincent Price will make final nominations to the Board of Trustees, who will elect the Young Trustees.

Hunt said that she sees her undergraduate experience at Duke, including her work as an engineering student, as having been a privilege, and that she is motivated to give back to a campus community that has challenged and nurtured her.

“I received the Reginaldo Howard Memorial Scholarship, which provided me with access to all the wonderful things that make up the Duke experience,” said Hunt, a native of the Hudson Valley Region of New York, who will start work on her PhD in artificial intelligence and deep learning at Stanford University after graduating. “I want to ensure that all Blue Devils have access to and awareness of the many resources at Duke, engineering-related and not.”

She also spoke of the desire to bring the problem-solving mindset of an engineer to the board that oversees all aspects of the university and spends much of its time thinking about and planning the university’s future.

“Duke’s centennial is coming up,” she said. “This is a really important time to reflect the entire Duke community [in the board room].”

Mentors and Mentorship

Hunt pointed to an array of faculty who have enriched her experience at Duke, including dance professor Ava LaVonne Vinesett, engineering professors Shani Daily, Rebecca Simmons and Sophia Santillan, math professors Tori Akin and Shira Viel, and Kari Boyd-Sinkler, director of Diversity, Inclusion and Community at Duke Engineering.

Crittenden, who expects to complete his defense within the next year or so, credited Duke CEE’s Claudia Gunsch with providing inspirational mentorship and guidance during his doctoral work. Duke, he said, would have never been on his radar in his late undergraduate years if not for meeting Pratt’s founding DEIC director, Johnna Frierson, during a National Society of Black Engineers conference.

“Diversity efforts are effective,” he said. “I wouldn’t be at Pratt; I wouldn’t have fallen in love with Duke without them.”