Building Our Own Tree of Life

Pranav Mukund reflects on Dean Lynch's emphasis on diverse experiences.

The rings of a tree tell a captivating tale of experience and resilience – every year, as the tree’s trunk expands, new cells form in the shape of concentric circles, extending outward to tell a story of its growth, its triumphs, and its struggles. In his address to the Huang Fellows this summer, Dean Jerome Lynch reminded us that, just as each ring represents a season of the tree’s existence, our experiences and milestones shape us, leaving behind imprints that echo through our lifetimes.

Before Professor Lynch took the helm of the Pratt School of Engineering, he embarked on several intellectual journeys, each yielding more formative experiences than the last. He started by walking us through his decision-making calculus at pivotal moments in his life, from the very first internship he completed after his sophomore year at Cooper Union College, to the two startup companies he founded before arriving at Duke. While retelling a story of how he traveled to Japan to conduct environmental and structural engineering research, he mentioned how he’s always maintained an interdisciplinary outlook on life. This was the driving factor behind his unusual double major in computer science and civil engineering, which would later pave the way for him to complete multiple graduate degree programs in electrical and civil engineering at Stanford. Shortly after completing his Ph.D., he launched a startup in the wireless sensor business. While that startup unfortunately failed, Dean Lynch went to great lengths to share with us the specific lessons that he learned and some insights that would prove to be critical to successfully launching his second startup a few years later.

“Dean Lynch was careful to stress that breadth is more important than depth, especially in the context of one’s undergraduate education.”

In these retellings, Dean Lynch was careful to stress that breadth is more important than depth, especially in the context of one’s undergraduate education. He reminded us that the best leaders are often well-read and are familiar with economics, literature, and policy. While addressing the engineering students in the room, he recommended that we reach beyond the standard engineering curriculum and explore liberal arts classes to round out our studies. Additionally, he encouraged the Huang Fellows to think past our immediate plans post-undergrad and to take a step back when making decisions: “maintain a wide aperture and follow your ambitions intrepidly.”

As I sat in Gross Hall absorbing Dean Lynch’s words, I couldn’t help but relate his story to the concentric circles found within tree trunks. These circles never overlap. Instead, they build on each other, forming a strong foundation on which the tree can grow. Similarly, diverse experiences, even those that seemingly have no relation to one another, can broaden our personalities and shape our careers. Just as a tree thrives when it has a strong and plentiful set of rings, we too flourish when we embrace a diverse intellectual journey.

Pranav Mukund, Huang Fellow ’26

Dev ShahPranav Mukund is a first-year student from Dallas, Texas, intending to major in biomedical engineering with a certificate in health policy.