Following the people and events that make up the research community at Duke

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Author: Emily Zou

On the — Very Cold — Ground for the Iowa Caucus

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As a kid who grew up on the west coast, the midwest has always befuddled me. This land of blizzards, corn fields, cheese, and a severe lack of ocean was a complete mystery. And to be quite frank, this was a mystery I had zero desire in solving. 

Evan Brown, Olivia Schramkoswki, Anne Dillon, Amaia Clayton, and Emily Zou at the Fox News Town Hall with Nikki Haley.

However, from January 4 to 9, I found myself in Des Moines, Iowa with a group of around 20 other Duke students. I put on my best ski gear and braved the snow to observe a truly Iowan experience — the presidential caucuses. Although we missed the caucus itself because we had to be back in Durham for the first day of classes, we had amazing opportunities to meet presidential candidates, get behind-the-scenes tours of debate stages, meet with journalists and campaign teams, and speak with Iowans to understand their voting priorities. 

“My favorite part of the trip was getting to meet all of the presidential candidates and ask them questions of my own,” said first-year political science major Evan Brown. 

Duke professor Mark Dalhouse has been taking students to the Iowa caucus for multiple election cycles starting in 2008, first at Vanderbilt, then at Elon, and now at Duke. Students who are interested in politics visit Iowa to observe rallies, volunteer for presidential campaigns, and to learn more about the Iowa caucus. He says the trip is intended to help students learn lessons in bipartisanship and make our campus less politically polarized. 

When asked about polarization on Duke’s campus, Professor Dalhouse said “I think the very first step is doing what we did in Iowa; talking to individuals and learning their story, seeing people who might have different belief systems than we do as people, not as “them.” I think this demystifies stereotypes and enables us to see that we have a lot more in common with those on the other side of the political fence than we might think.”

Vivek Ramaswamy at his rally in Toledo, IA on January 4.

The Iowa caucus is a way of nominating a party’s presidential candidate. As a party-run process, Democrats and Republicans both have their own particular methods for caucusing. For 50 years, Iowa has been the first state that each party has held their caucus in. However, after Biden took office in 2021, he changed the processes for Democrats. You can read more about that decision here. That means that this year, only Republican Iowans participated in this coveted first-primary-of-the-election-season tradition. Registered Republicans across Iowa come together in school gymnasiums, church basements, and community centers to advocate for their primary candidate of choice and submit a secret vote. 

Nikki Haley at her rally in Indianola, IA on January 6.

On the first day, we attended a Vivek Ramaswamy rally and back-to-back CNN town halls with Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis. The Ramaswamy event took place in a small room in a motel; he brought out his wife and kids.

“I thought that Vivek was a very intelligent man and very well-spoken,” Brown said. “But, at that event, the solutions to our country’s problems that he proposed solidified, to me, the fact that he is not my candidate.”

Ramswamy suspended his campaign on caucus night after an underwhelming performance that he felt left no real shot at a presidential nomination. 

At the CNN town halls, we got to see the media-trained versions of Haley and DeSantis as Iowan voters asked their questions to the two candidates. 

Nikki Haley at her CNN Town Hall, with me.

The second day, we went to a DeSantis rally at a wine bar. He was accompanied by Representative Chip Roy of Texas. Freshman public policy major Amaia Clayton said, “The DeSantis rally was packed, and people seemed especially eager to engage and ask him lots of questions.” DeSantis finished second in the caucuses but suspended his campaign on January 21.

We attended a Ron DeSantis rally and got to meet him.

On the third day, we saw Haley at her own event at a vineyard. She was introduced by New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu. Clayton said, “She had a unique method of talking about her policy goals… [she] was very intentional in explaining the ‘why’ behind many of her policies.”

We also attended an event for former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson at a restaurant. As an underdog in the Iowa caucus, he dropped out of the presidential race shortly after the results came out. “It was interesting to see that when he had a much smaller audience than the other candidates, of which many were students, he altered the issues that he spent the most time talking about,” Brown said.

This year, the Republican primary candidates were heavily overshadowed by former President Donald Trump. With 51% of the votes, he was crowned the winner of the Iowa caucus only minutes into the vote counting process, proving his decisive lead in the polls. Following behind him was Ron DeSantis with 21.2% and Nikki Haley with 19.1%. Vivek Ramaswamy received 7.7% of the votes and candidates Ryan Binkley, Asa Hutchinson, and Chris Christie (who called off his campaign days before the caucus) all received less than one point. 

When speaking to voters, the candidates very clearly fell into two camps: pro-Trump and anti-Trump. Voters at Ramaswamy, Haley, and DeSantis rallies all echoed their disapproval of the chaos that tended to follow Trump. Although all three candidates had praises for Trump’s policy priorities, they emphasized his tendency to get caught up with media frenzy and make enemies. That said, Trump won every single district in Iowa except Johnson County, where he was losing to Haley by a single vote as of January 17.

Asa Hutchinson at his event in Waukee, IA on January 7.

On the topic of Trump, Professor Dalhouse said, “Trump changed this Caucus just by the steady accumulation of his continued command of the front pages in the news. He is the story and everything else is tangential. His four trials, his successful planting of the idea that our voting system is “rigged,” and his successful articulation of the anger I referred to earlier made him the prohibitive favorite in Iowa. Also, he has a much better on the ground organization than in 2016 when Ted Cruz beat him.”

“If you crunch the numbers from this Iowa Caucus, it’s quite interesting,” Dalhouse said. “In Iowa, there are 719,000 registered Republicans. Only about 56,000 came out on Caucus Night; of those, nearly half voted AGAINST Trump. This suggests to me that he has some structural weaknesses even among Republicans. I think this also suggests the strong potential that he will bleed votes all year long into November and that number will go up if he is convicted of even one felony between now and November. I think that will give a lot more Republicans pause before voting for him. As the old baseball saying goes, ‘it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.’” 

As someone who was raised in a very Democratic area and family, I had never truly been immersed in Republican politics like I had on this trip. Although I went into the trip with caution, I can confidently say that it was an extremely eye-opening experience.

Talking with Iowan Republicans, it was obvious to see that they were Americans who had much in common with me. At the rallies, it was clear that Democrats and Republicans both saw similar problems with our country: increasing rates of mental health disorders, a broken immigration system, a lack of access to affordable housing, and much more. Obviously, the pathways to solving those problems are where the political parties tend to diverge.

This did leave me with a lot more perspective on political polarization. On one hand, common viewpoints can spark bipartisan and productive conversation. On the other, the two parties so clearly see the same things from completely different angles.

The next step for the candidates still in the running is the New Hampshire primary, which will take place on January 23. You can read more about the NH primaries and what to expect here.

Post by Emily Zou, Class of 2027

Liam Frumkin and AHAV: Improving Lives Through Simple Snacks

We’re all familiar with the quintessential elementary school bake sale: hand-drawn posters, homemade treats, and shockingly high price tags, all in the name of charity. However, for Duke sophomore Liam Frumkin, his Few Quad bake sale resulted in a potential Shark Tank Product.

Liam Frumkin, Trinity '26
Liam Frumkin, Trinity ’26

Frumkin is a 20 year old economics major who recently got back from a gap year developing AHAV, a snack company specializing in healthy treats. AHAV, which means “to love” in Hebrew, has a mission statement “To Improve Lives Through Simple Snacks and Simple Ingredients!” Through selling healthy cookie dough bites and donating a portion of the proceeds to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) and No Kid Hungry, Frumkin has been able to turn his bake sale into an amazing entrepreneurial venture. 

Frumkin’s story started seven years ago when he began to develop an eating disorder. Throughout his freshman and sophomore years of high school, Frumkin remembers losing unhealthy amounts of weight through constant exercise and eating very little. At grocery stores, he was overwhelmed by ingredient lists and nutritional contents of the snacks lining the aisles. 

His eating disorder came to its peak during his junior year, when he was hospitalized and began professional treatment for his eating disorder. Throughout treatment, Frumkin began to cook more in order to create snacks that both satisfied his cravings, and felt comfortable and safe to eat. At first, he says, Frumkin was doing this “just for [him]self”. 

When Frumkin arrived at Duke in August of 2021, he continued cooking in his dorm kitchens. Intrigued, his dorm-mates and friends would stop by to inquire and try Frumkin’s creations. Frumkin said he received stellar feedback about the nutritional value and deliciousness of his treats (I can confirm, having tried AHAV chocolate chip cookie dough bites, that they are, in fact, delicious). Because of his obsession with Shark Tank (I’m sure we can all relate), Frumkin began looking into how to capitalize on his passion of creating nutritional snacks. 

Liam and his very first batch of cookie dough bites.

And so, Frumkin began to hold bake sales in front of Few Quad on West Campus, selling ziploc bags of his homemade treats. Within a couple of months, he had made thousands of dollars, far surpassing my elementary school bake sales. When the Duke Administration caught wind of Frumkin’s bake sales, they informed him that the sale of foods without a license were illegal and encouraged him to find a professional kitchen.

Frumkin agreed with Duke and began searching for a professional kitchen, eventually finding a Duke alumnus who had started their own food business through an accelerator program called Union Kitchen. Union Kitchen accepts eight people a year and in exchange for 10% equity, allows access to kitchens, resources, and connections.

Frumkin applied to the program with zero expectations, not even telling his parents about his plans. However, after receiving the good news, his parents were nothing but supportive.

Liam and his parents in the AHAV kitchen.

With nothing but a few suitcases and ziploc bags of cookie dough bites, Frumkin began his semester off, moved to Washington D.C., and started work on AHAV. 

Pretty soon, a gap semester turned into a gap year, and Frumkin launched AHAV on January 1, 2023. At the time of the launch, Frumkin had already partnered with local retail stores to sell AHAV products in-store. When I talked with Frumkin, he expressed immense appreciation for Union Kitchen’s connections and their help getting his company off the ground.

Liam and the first bag of AHAV ever produced.

Frumkin turned to TikTok and Instagram to share his own journey with his eating disorder and to market AHAV, receiving resounding support from his followers, who resonated with both Frumkin’s story and AHAV’s mission. AHAV has more than 120,000 followers across various social media platforms and a team of six full-time employees based out of Washington D.C.

The AHAV logo

From applying for Shark Tank, to grocery stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, AHAV clearly has a bright future. AHAV has also donated over 120,000 meals to kids in need and helped over 6,000 kids get treatment for their eating disorders. Frumkin’s philanthropy has really lived up to AHAV’s meaning of “to love” and the heart-based logo. 

During his time-off, Frumkin found himself struggling with loneliness, having no consistent interactions with students his own age. Since he’s been back, Frumkin says he’s still searching for that perfect work-life-school balance. Despite this, he still says it is hands-down the smartest decision he’s ever made, which he largely credits to Duke’s support. During his time-off, Frumkin said Time Away From Duke was extremely supportive and accommodating. Since being back on campus, he’s reached out to the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Office and connected with fellow Duke students who are eager to help with video editing, marketing, etc. Frumkin also found support from Duke’s extensive alumni network, which he met through the pre-orientation group Project Edge, as well as the Duke in Silicon Valley program. 

Frumkin says that as a freshman, he still continued to struggle with disordered eating. He frequently met with a nutritionist from Duke Student Health, who he says was very helpful, specifically around his obsession with nutrients and ingredients. Frumkin stressed that students with eating disorders can fight their battles together. He says one of the most rewarding parts of starting AHAV has been sharing his journey and helping other people realize that they’re not alone. 

By Emily Zou, Class of 2027

How Faculty Can Improve Neurodiverse Student Experiences

We all have the teachers who changed our lives. They paid special attention to us, taught with grace and generosity, and just seemed to understand us on another level. 

For Navya Adhikarla, that professor opened her to a new understanding of herself. As an international graduate student, her professor helped her participate in class discussions, feel comfortable asking questions on class material, and, most importantly, navigate her neurodiversity and accommodations. 

These experiences and more were shared at the Neurodiversity Student Perspectives Panel hosted by Neurodiversity Student Connections on September 26. The panel was an opportunity for faculty and staff to learn more about accommodating and understanding neurodiverse students.

Duke Neurodiversity Connections defines neurodiversity as “[recognizing] the diversity of human minds and the inherent worth of all individuals. As a social justice movement, the neurodiversity movement aims to celebrate the strengths and advocate for the needs of those with autism, ADHD, and other neurological differences.” The organization works with students like Adhikarla to create a positive campus culture and academic environment. You can read more about Duke Neurodiversity Connections and their resources on their website

Panel participants from left to right: Jadyn Cleary, Alex Winn, Sam Brandsen, Ph.D., Navya Adhikarla

The three panelists came from a variety of experiences and backgrounds. Alex Winn is a recent 2023 graduate who is currently the technical director of the Duke Cyber team and does research with the Department of Mathematics. Jadyn Cleary is a senior at Duke who is in the Duke Disability Alliance and acts as the President of The Clubhouse. Navya Adhikarla is a graduate student in the Master of Engineering Management program. She serves as the Student Program Director at Duke GPSS. The panel was moderated by Sam Brandsen, Ph.D., who graduated from Duke and is currently a research scholar at the Center for Autism and Brain Development.

The panelists talked about the various barriers they’ve encountered at Duke: feeling ashamed to use their accommodations, a lack of psychological safety on work teams, and inaccessibility to resources. Cleary talked about the barriers within the accommodations themselves. She said that even when accommodations are given, it often feels like “[they’re pushing you into] how to make you act like a neurotypical student when you aren’t” instead of genuinely serving neurodiverse students.

However, a common thread was the power of a professor to change a student’s experience. All three panelists spoke about how individual professors were the ones to connect them to resources such as the Duke Student Disability Access Office (SDAO), the Duke Disability Alliance, the Clubhouse, Duke Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS), DukeReach, and Duke Neurodiversity Connections. Without these professors, the panelists said they wouldn’t have been able to find these resources themselves. Instead, it was simply luck that they had run into professors who could inform them of the support that Duke offers. 

Because of this shared experience, the panelists wished for resources to be explicitly accessible by publicizing them during orientation week and other visible places. They also suggested creating resources like self-advocacy groups, catered career coaches, and specialized mental health services. 

Another common piece of advice was for professors to “pre-accommodate” all students. This could look like allowing mental health days with no questions asked, giving multiple forms to complete an assignment (essay, voice recording, infographic, etc.), using various modes of communication, offering explicit instructions for assignments, and giving adequate time for all students to finish the exam. By doing so, professors eliminate singling out students with accommodations, preventing the fear of embarrassment from peers that neurodiverse students often face. 

The panelists offered numerous specific examples of how Duke administration and faculty can create a more inclusive environment. At the end of the session, all three panelists urged professors to educate themselves on how to make their classrooms inclusive. But the overwhelming sentiment was asking for professors to care. Winn, in particular, emphasized the importance of the power of example when it comes to professors, graduate students, or TAs sharing their own experiences with neurodiversity: “Seeing others be comfortable in that way has always helped me be comfortable in that way.”

Adhikarla said about the professor who changed her perspective: “She really cared, that’s all she did. She really cared.”

By Emily Zou, Class of 2027

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