Congratulations! ¡Felicidades! ¡Parabéns! The Duke Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies presents May 2021 graduates who have completed one of our certificate programs

The Duke University Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies is celebrating our students who graduated with our program certificate during a very hard year which limited their research and travel but not their success. We have invited them to explain their research, reminisce about their time at Duke, and thank their professors. This year, we honor our graduates and their achievements on this page.

Completing certificate requirements in 2021 are undergraduates Hannah Branch, Danielle Brown, Melissa Marchese, Rafaela De Oliveira, and Luisa Stalman, and graduate students Michael Becker, Courtney Crumpler, Gray F. Kidd, Marco Cuevas Meza, and Jeffsky Poincy.

Center director Ambassador Patrick Duddy had some words for our graduates:


Hannah Branch

Hannah Branch graduated with a major in International Comparative Studies with a concentration in Latin America and the Caribbean.

She participated in a Bass Connections project called Migration and Deportation among Guatemalans in the U.S. and North Carolina and traveled to Chile during the 2019 anti-government protests, which she found incredibly enlightening. Additionally, she studied abroad in Cuba with the Duke in Cuba program.

Left: Bass Connections project team in Guatemala. Right: Hannah on beach in Cuba.

After graduation she will be working as a tutor for low-income students in Jackson, Wyoming, and plans to go to graduate school within the next few years to study clinical psychology.

Danielle Brown graduated with a degree in Environmental Science with a concentration in Marine Science and Conservation and a minor in Biology. She was a Rachel Carson Scholar at the Nicholas School of the Environment and completed her senior thesis, "Disparities in access to potable water in Puerto Rico post Hurricane María: a water management case study."

Danielle studied abroad in Vietnam, Morocco, and Peru. "I was part of a program that looked at the impacts of climate change on food, water, and energy in different contexts," she said.

She also spent a semester at the Duke Marine Lab, conducting research on fisheries in Professor Xavier Basurto's lab. One of her favorite courses was a community-based conservation course at the Marine Lab.

"To me, that class really highlighted the intersection between environmental movements and community, specifically in Latin America. That class definitely encouraged me to pursue this certificate," Danielle said.

Danielle sent a shout-out to one of her favorite professors, Dr. Rebecca Vidra, associate dean and director of the Duke Environmental Leadership program: "She has been an incredible mentor to me throughout my time at Duke. Her passion for environmental and community work is so inspiring and had really shaped my personal and career goals. I am so grateful to her for believing in me and taking the time to support me over the last four years."

Following graduation, Danielle will serve with Teach for America in a high school in Oahu, Hawaii.

Melissa Marchese is graduating with a degree in Environmental Science and Policy, with a minor in Global Health.

She has worked for four years in the Bernhardt Lab studying mercury contamination from artisanal gold mining in the Peruvian Amazon where she spent two summers conducting fieldwork as part of a Bass Connections project. Her senior thesis focused on how mercury pollution in the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems accumulates in staple foods and poses exposure risks for affected communities.

Read more about her project testing mercury levels in domestic chickens.

Taking feather samples with boat driver and field assistant, Pancho. (Photo: Fernanda Machicao)

During her junior year, she studied at the Duke Marine Lab and traveled to China through the Duke Immerse project, “Oceans, Human, and Environmental Health.” She is also a Rachel Carson Scholar.

Melissa traveled to Madre de Dios, Peru, and Kunshan, China, for research.

Her favorite course was a global health ethics class taught by Dr. David Toole. She read works from many different cultures, learned the history of global health research, and grew as a writer.

After graduation, she is pursuing an accelerated Master of Science in Global Heath at Duke where she will continue to do environmental health research.

Luisa Stalman graduated with a major in Political Science with a concentration in Political Economy and Security, Peace and Conflict, and a minor in History.

During her senior year she conducted research at the Inter-American Dialogue on prison policy in Latin America in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report is available here.

Luisa traveled abroad to Madrid and also Bogotá, Colombia, where she studied the recent history of the Colombian conflict at the Universidad de Los Andes under professors and experts in the field. The course included visits to the U.N., the Colombian Congress and other government institutions as well as meetings with Colombian government officials and former guerrilla members to learn about the peace-building process in Colombia.

Luisa said political science professor Karen Remmer was instrumental to orientating her passion toward Latin American history.

"I took her course, The Political Economy of Latin America, in my sophomore year and it was my first in-depth, academic approach to studying Latin America in college. I was astonished by her level of knowledge, personal experiences in Latin America and hopes for the future," she said.

After graduation, Luisa plans to move to Washington, D.C.

Graduate Students

Michael Becker earned his Ph.D. in history. His dissertation, "The Rule of the Lash and the Rule of Law: Amelioration, Enslaved People's Politics, and the Courts in Jamaica, 1780-1834," examined amelioration – the effort to create a more “humane” or reformed version of slavery – as it intertwined with enslaved people’s everyday conflicts and the legal system of the Jamaican colonial state. In the context of a rising anti-slavery movement in metropolitan Britain, some pro-slavery advocates adopted colonial legal reform as a strategy to present slavery as redeemable and colonial governments as capable of restraining slaveholders’ worst impulses. While these reformers were often cynical in their aims, enslaved people took these proclaimed legal rights seriously and strategically mobilized their rhetoric to secure a semblance of justice and redress within – and without – the legal system.

Michael traveled extensively to the United Kingdom and Jamaica and was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to study in Jamaica for ten months.

He credits the guidance of Professor Barry Gaspar for shaping his career at Duke.

"I've been blessed with many wonderful professors and mentors while at Duke, but I must single out my advisor and dissertation committee chair Barry Gaspar for appreciation," Michael said. "He has been an exceptional advisor, offering extensive comments, strong counsel, and quiet encouragement. His consistent push for the close and careful reading of documents and the push to understand the role the courts played within the broader landscape of Jamaican society made the dissertation a much stronger manuscript."

Michael was a certificate student in the College Teaching program and taught seminars for the Thompson Writing Center, and has been a teaching fellow with the International Comparative Studies Program for the 2020-21 academic year.

Fulbright fellow Michael Becker and his neighbor in Jamaica, about to leave on a bus trip.

One highlight of his time at Duke was organizing, with Prof. Gaspar and fellow grad student Kristina Williams, the Rethinking Caribbean Emancipations conference at the Franklin Humanities Institute.

"It was a pleasure and an honor to bring so many brilliant scholars in our field to Duke for a rich day of conversation and exchange," he said.

Courtney Crumpler has the distinction to be among the first graduates in the Dance MFA: Embodied Interdisciplinary Praxis program at Duke. Her masters project, "Gathering my people: movement-based relational organizing to dismantle white supremacy," was based on her transformative experiences as a movement artist and organizer in Brazil and in the United States. She has been also been a Vice Provost for the Arts Fellow since 2019.

"My project applied embodied lessons I learned in Brazil about how to disorient from U.S. hegemony and white supremacy in my home context in the United States. In it, I made a proposal for movement-based relational organizing responding to the call from leaders of the Black freedom movements from the 1960s through to the present for white people to “organize your own.” Read more about her project here.

One of Courtney's favorite professors was Silvio Luiz de Almeida, a CLACS Mellon Visiting Professor in the spring of 2020. She worked with him on the Black Lives Matter: Brazil-USA project.

"I had the privilege of working with a bi-national team of graduate and undergraduate curators to produce a website and installation outside Penn Pavilion addressing movements to defend Black lives in Brazil and the United States.

Top left: Courtney with Prof. Silvio Almeida; right: Courtney at a demonstration in Brazil. Bottom: The Black Lives Matter: Brazil-USA project team.

The project, co-taught by history professor John French, shaped her career at Duke.

"Their mentorship and guidance in class and beyond informed my approach to my thesis work and my commitment to anti-racist organizing," Courtney said.

Courtney received a GradEngage fellowship for work with the local movement “Durham For All" and served in the Emerging Leaders Institute at Duke and on the planning committee of last year’s Community Dance Day. She worked on two book projects, Katya Wesolowski’s book Playing Capoeira: A Memoir of Creative Connectivity and J.P. Gritton’s translation of Cidinha da Silva’s Um Exu Em Nova York.

She was also recognized by the Duke Alumni Association with the 2021 Forever Duke Student Leadership Award. Recipients are individuals of high integrity who have done great things not only at Duke, but for Duke, and who exhibit qualities worthy of the award, and who leave Duke a better place than they found it. For her service to the Latin American/Caribbean community, Courtney received the Dennis A. Clements Outstanding Service Award in Latin American & Caribbean Studies, which recognizes extraordinary commitment to service, civic engagement, and social entrepreneurship in Latin America and/or the Caribbean and comes with an award of $500.

As a dancer, Courtney performed in the piece monuMEnts by Stefanie Batten Bland, as well as Andrea Woods-Valdés’ restaging of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company work Continuous Replay: Come Together.

Gray F. Kidd received his Ph.D. in history, specializing in race and popular culture in modern Brazil.

His dissertation, Surrendering to the Street in Mid-Century Recife: The Living Legacies of Slavery in Black and White, is an urban cultural history of slavery’s afterlives in the Northeast Brazilian state (Pernambuco) that received one-fifth of the enslaved Africans that landed in the Western Hemisphere. It examines Brazil’s “public secret” of racism while exploring how Recife’s nonwhite majority contested these hierarchies through humor, religiosity, and forms of popular entertainment that proved capable of influencing the literate upper-class, with a chapter each focusing on the multitalented artist and documentarian Liêdo Maranhão (1925-2014) and Recife’s famed playwright and novelist Hermilo Borba Filho (1917-1976).

Since arriving at Duke in 2014, Kidd has held multiple roles in the public humanities. From 2014 to 2016, he coordinated the Global Brazil Humanities Lab, an interdisciplinary hub for the study of the world’s fifth largest country. The GBHL fomented conversations across the humanities, social sciences, and physical sciences through cluster signature projects focused on social movements, the environment, and the arts. It is also in this role that he successfully planned five Global Brazil Conferences (2015 , 2016 , 2017 , 2019 , and 2020 ), which brought over a dozen scholars in and of Brazil to Duke for a series of public-facing events.

Gray Kidd with José Antônio Rufino, of the municipality of Paulista, Pernambuco, and mãe-de-santo (mother of the saint) Elza de Iemanjá at a roundtable on racial equality in Paulista, Pernambuco, Brazil. September 2017.

Spending a total of nearly 32 months in Brazil was made possible through the generous support of a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Award (DDRA), two Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowships for the study of Portuguese, and countless travel grants from the Duke Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Duke Brazil Initiative, Department of History, and The Graduate School. Gray was also fortunate to present his research internationally, including in Colombia, Mexico, and Italy.

Gray Kidd, Amparo Araújo (left), and José Antônio Rufino (bottom) during a pre-pandemic visit to the Oficina de Francisco Brennand. Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil. December 2019.

In 2016 and 2017, he co-led a binational team of faculty, undergraduate, and graduate student collaborators from Duke and the Multidisciplinary Institute of the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro that examined the impacts of Brazil's vast expansion of free public higher education since 2000. The team’s work centered on the Baixada Fluminense, a racially and socially stigmatized region of greater Rio de Janeiro. Close study revealed that policymakers do not sufficiently understand the various obstacles that racially and socioeconomically marginalized populations face when they pursue mobility through higher education. Most recently, Kidd advised a group of undergraduate student curators who produced the virtual exhibit “Black Lives Matter Brazil-USA: The Global Fight for Breath.”

The binational team consisting of undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty from Duke and the Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro after The Cost of Opportunity Conference. Durham, North Carolina. March 2017.

Gray was another of our students who received the Duke Alumni Association 2021 Forever Duke Student Leadership Award.

In August, Gray will will join the history faculty at The Agnes Irwin School in greater Philadelphia.

Marco Antonio Cuevas Meza, center, cheers on the Duke Blue Devils.

Marco Antonio Cuevas Meza earned his Masters in International Development Policy degree from the Sanford School of Public Policy.

His masters project, "Civil Service Reform in Mexico: Merit-Based Recruitment and Clear Rules," outlines the causes that prevent Mexico from having a modern and merit-based civil service and offers several policy options that can help to mitigate these issues.

Marco was a Rotary Peace Fellow at the Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center, where he promoted national and international cooperation, peace, and the successful resolution of conflict through service activities.

Last summer, Marco took part with two other Sanford fellows, in the Geneva Challenge, a contest for graduate students organized by the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies.

"My team analyzed the impact of gender-based violence on economic development in the State of Chihuahua Mexico, which is one of the Mexican states with higher levels of this crime," he said. "Specifically, we studied some of the main economic disruptions created by gender-based violence, and how extreme gender-based violence, such as femicide, prevents women from participating in productive activities. Sex trafficking victims experience many difficulties to find a formal job in Chihuahua, a topic which is very relevant for Mexico, in general, and for the State of Chihuahua, in particular, because most crime scientific research in Mexico has been conducted on drug trafficking and its economic, social and political implications, but there exists a lack of research on gender-based violence and basically on its economic effects."

Marco said a particularly memorable opportunity he had as a MIDP student was a three-day trip to Washington, D.C., where he met Duke alumni from all over D.C.

"I had the opportunity to visit the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs with several classmates and made some great connections there who ended up inviting me for interviews for internships that summer," he said. "Unfortunately, my internship was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, I do believe that these connections will be very valuable once I graduate from Duke."

Marco and a fellow student visited the World Bank his first year in the MIDP program.

Marco said his favorite professor at Sanford is Dr. Indermit Gill, who was recently appointed World Bank Vice President for Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions.

"He is is a very kind, passionate and open-minded professor, but above all he is great at creating a sense of community and belonging in the classroom, so all the fellows feel free and confident to express their opinions about the topics discussed in class. He has also given me very valuable advice that can help me to boost my chances of getting hired after graduation," Marco said.

Marco and colleagues visit the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, N.C.

Upon completing his studies in the United States and returning to Mexico, Marco is considering a career as an elected official. "So I could be closer to the people in order to better understand their needs and implement more focused policies at the local level, but also to promote peace and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions in my county."

Jeffsky Poincy recently completed a master's degree in international development policy focusing on governance at the Sanford School of Public Policy. His interests lie at the intersection of politics, governance, and economic development. Jeffsky is also a political activist in Haiti, where he is involved in social justice and anti-corruption initiatives. He was one of the young people at the forefront of the largest anti-corruption social movement "PetroCaribe" in Haiti in 2018.

His master's project focused on civil society-led strategies to prevent and fight misuse of funds in the context of emergencies in Haiti, such as the case of COVID-19. The project's objective was to identify the areas most at risk of misappropriation of public funds in the emergency response chain; and to identify action strategies and policies that civil society organizations (anti-corruption organizations, human rights organizations, activist groups) can implement to prevent and mitigate the risks.

While at Duke, Jeffsky focused all of his work on Haiti. He wrote papers on various Haiti-related issues, such as: "Extending social protection to informal workers in Haiti," "Haiti Governance challenges and Reform Action Plan," "Overcoming the Budget approval Gridlock in Haiti," "Breaking the instability Trap in Haiti," "Poverty Reduction Strategy of the World Bank in Haiti: Review and recommendations," and others.

Jeffsky taking part in the "PetroCaribe" anti-corruption movement in Haiti in 2018.

Among the courses defining Jeffsky's time at Duke are Policy Analysis, Governance and Development, Corruption and Economic Analysis, and Legislative Advocacy Lobbying. Each at their level has helped shape the program according to his professional aspirations.

Natalia Mirovitskaya, Jeffsky's academic advisor, and Phyllis Pomerantz are the two professors that have had the most significant impact on his education at Duke.

Top left: Jeffsky with Prof. Phyllis Pomerantz; top right: Jeffsky consults with his academic advisor, Prof. Natalia Mirovitskaya; bottom: Prof. Mirovitskaya's Policy Analysis class.

Regarding his future plans, Jeffsky is still reflecting on which path to take while remaining committed to his core mission of contributing to a more just and equitable society. For him, this degree in public policy comes with specific responsibilities, including the commitment to foster policies that aim to achieve social and economic justice and contribute to the betterment of society.

Congratulations to a new Duke alumnus!

The CLACS team congratulates all of our certificate students. We're proud of you!

Group photo via Zoom! Clockwise from top left: Natalie Hartman, associate director; Miguel Rojas-Sotelo, special events coordinator; Ambassador Patrick Duddy, director; and Jennifer Prather, staff assistant.

For more information on the graduate and undergraduate certificates in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, see our website.

Created By
Jennifer Prather