What Do Huang Fellows Do in Their Free Time?

Huang Fellow Alex Oesterling Gives an Insider's Perspective on How the Huang Fellows Spend Their Summer

The Huang Fellowship prides itself in offering a full-time, immersive, research experience to its undergraduates. However, this experience only takes up 40 hours of our week, raising the question: what do Huang Fellows do in their free time?

Although fellowship programming sometimes consumed evenings with additional readings or projects after a long day of research, we were given plenty of free time to socialize and explore the local area. A large problem with the Duke experience is the undergraduates’ inability to get off campus, for a variety of reasons such as large amounts of work and a lack of desire to spend money on food off campus when we are required to purchase food plans as well. The Huang Fellows program facilitated our engagement with the local area, be it getting dinner off campus or even just weekly shopping trips to Harris Teeters. Some went to local film festivals or simply the movies; for me, this would be a rare occurrence during the semester. Other weekends, small groups went hiking, and even visited a drive-thru goat farm. These events, especially at the beginning of the program, allowed the fellows to develop close friendships which would carry them throughout the program and beyond.

One particular Friday, we went into downtown Durham to explore the local museums and galleries which had opened up for an art crawl. One of our program directors, Professor Ron Grunwald, walked the fellows around and showed them to all of the galleries. I however, could not go, because I was doing something even more fun! The local music store, High Strung, was hosting a small jazz jam. As a jazz guitarist, I have not found many ways to continue to play music in college. However, I showed up to this jazz jam with my roommate and fellow fellow, Rishi Dasgupta, and played with Durhamites for a couple hours. I had so much fun and found a newfound love and appreciation for the city around me. Surprisingly, one of the saxophonists who came to jam was actually a grad student in my lab! We had interacted many times before in the context of our work, but this serendipitous moment only excited me more about my research as well as Durham as a city.

In the middle of the program, we also planned a large excursion to Wrightsville Beach. After coordinating with the busy weekend schedules of all the fellows (some were participating in amazing activities such as going to dance competitions and more!), we settled on a weekend and pitched in to rent out an AirBNB. The trip was a great bonding experience; many fellows who had been swamped in work were able to meet and talk with those they had not gotten to know well yet. After a long day of sunbathing and group photos in the famous “golden hour” of sunset, we all went back to the house to watch a movie and spend the night. The next morning, many of the fellows woke up at 5 am to catch the sunrise, grab pancake mix, and cook a large brunch. After another day at the beach (many of us reading our assigned papers and books for our labs as well as the fellowship’s programming), we drove back and prepared for another productive week at work.

The part of Huang that many prospective students do not see, the community and engagement which naturally grows out of apartment living with bored college students in the summer, is a vital aspect of the program which gave me and others a newfound appreciation for the town we go to school in as well as the greater area of North Carolina in addition to forging friendships that will last a lifetime.

Alex Oesterling, Huang Fellow ’22

Alex OesterlingAlex is from Menlo Park, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley, and is majoring in Biomedical Engineering with a minor in Philosophy.