Helping Students Find Community at Duke

4/25/24 Pratt School of Engineering

Michell Tampe has been deeply rooted in Duke's community, contributing to its educational culture by fostering a collaborative atmosphere for students.

Michell Tempe of Duke University
Helping Students Find Community at Duke

Michell Tampe started at Duke in the early 2000s, working closely with deans in development and finance as a staff assistant at first, and it was then that her interest was piqued.

Wanting to expand her knowledge in the field, Tampe pursued a master’s degree in business administration and human resource management in 2016 and has since been a key part of undergraduate and graduate education at the Pratt School of Engineering.

Tampe’s family ties to Duke go way back, from her aunt and uncle to her cousins, they were all fans and employees, and that connection is what drew her to the space.

“I’ve always been a Blue Devil fan,” Tampe shared. “So once I finally, and officially, came onto campus, I asked myself: ‘What do I have to do to best represent being a Blue Devil?’”

The community is what provided that answer.

From students to faculty, Tampe says the collaborative atmosphere showed her just how connected Duke could be and how she could contribute to that culture. She’s now the graduate studies program coordinator in the Thomas Lord Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science, where she plays a large part in helping PhD students. She also frequently coordinates with the Graduate Student Committee (GSC).

“Our GSC members are an amazing group of students, and I strive to not just listen to what they are saying, but to hear them.”

Michell Tampe
Graduate Studies Program Coordinator, Thomas Lord Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science

Tampe’s working relationship with GSC is support-focused—she frequently listens to and advocates for them. And not just for GSC, but any of her PhD students, she says.

“Our GSC members are an amazing group of students, and I strive to not just listen to what they are saying but to hear them,” Tampe shared.

The student group organizes departmental holiday and graduation parties, community events for graduate students within the department, and a monthly coffee chat, among other community-focused events. Tampe depends on them heavily when they host a recruitment day, “As without them, our recruitment wouldn’t flow as smoothly as it does,” she said.

When it comes to recruitment, the GSC is a crucial factor in getting the word out to prospective students about the exciting research opportunities and inclusive community MEMS provides its students.

“We have biweekly meetings,” Tampe said. “There are a number of important projects the students are juggling, so I try to help out whenever an extra hand is needed.”

Michell Tampe, third from left, and Shauntil Gray, far left, alongside the Graduate Student Committee

Building relationships with graduate students has been the most rewarding for Tampe.

“PhD students come in, and from the very first day, you’re working with them until you actually get to see them graduate,” she said.

Watching that process unfold over the years brought Tampe a sense of pride in her students, and the impact of those bonds resonates across the MEMS community.

On one occasion, an international graduate student found themselves attending a conference across the country and ended up feeling quite homesick.

“I remember speaking with them and learning how isolated they felt,” Tampe explained. “I decided to set up weekly Zoom calls with them so that they knew they weren’t alone, that somebody cared, and they had someone they could reach out to.”

When thinking of future students she’ll be getting to work with, Tampe’s advice is to stay true to who you are regardless of the challenges. “If you’re accepting of yourself, then other people will see that and will ultimately become accepting of you as well.”