The Courage in One’s ConvictionsVelda Wang's reflection on Dr. Sally Kornbluth's (Duke University Provost) career talk
Growing up, I was always surrounded by strong women who inspired me to be the best version of myself: my mom, who worked full-time while taking night classes, taught me the value of education and hard-work; my grandma, who traveled across the world to a foreign country to help take care of my sister and I, taught me the importance of family and community; and many of my teachers taught me to ask questions and to challenge myself. Even now, I am constantly inspired by my female peers, especially the other female students in my cohort, as well as my professors and mentors at Duke. Therefore, when Dr. Sally Kornbluth came to speak to us, I was incredibly excited to learn about her journey from being a student in our shoes to her current role as Duke University Provost.
As an undergraduate, Dr. Kornbluth studied political science at Williams College, but she developed an interest in biology, specifically genetics, and she pursued this interest by studying genetics at Cambridge University through a prestigious fellowship. Despite seemingly disparate fields, Dr. Kornbluth said that both disciplines contributed to her education and training as a cell biologist. After hearing this, I was relieved, especially as someone with multidisciplinary interests, to learn that following your passions is not simply a cheesy piece of advice but actually is significant to our intellectual growth and development. However, what struck me the most about Dr. Kornbluth’s career trajectory was after accepting the position of Vice Provost of Academic Affairs and having the announcement published, she contacted the then Provost to decline the job and returned to her role as Vice Dean for Basic Science at Duke University School of Medicine. I admire Dr. Kornbluth immensely because she knew herself, her values, and her desires really well and had a great deal of courage to turn down an offer after it had been made public. I am not sure that I would be able to make the same decision if faced with a similar situation, but after hearing from Dr. Kornbluth, I’ve learned the importance of having confidence and courage in one’s convictions.
As the first woman to serve as Duke University Provost, Dr. Kornbluth embodies many of the values that I hope to develop during my time at Duke, including speaking up for herself, commanding a seat at the table, and using her scientific background to inform her choices in her current role. Additionally, I have been in STEM classes where I was only one of three girls in a class of 20 students, so when I saw that our Huang cohort had 15 girls, I was simultaneously empowered by the representation and shocked because I had never experienced such representation before. I am fortunate to be in this program and at a school where female representation in the sciences and administration is part of the conversation. I hope to continue learning from my peers, professors, mentors and to help serve as a mentor to other aspiring female scientists.
Velda Wang, Huang Fellow ’25
Velda is a rising sophomore from Atlanta, Georgia planning on studying neuroscience, global health, and health policy