Life's Broad Sea: alumni in the spotlight

Shirley Fulton J.D. ’80 and Robert Bridges Ph.D. ’79 are among the twelve individuals selected for North Carolina’s 2014 Heritage Calendar, which honors contributions to the African-American experience in the state. In conjunction with the calendar’s release, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction has developed lesson plans and other materials online that teachers can use in their classrooms.

Fulton earned her law degree as a single mother. After graduating, she moved to Charlotte and became the city’s first black female prosecutor; she became the first black woman elected to the state’s Superior Court in 1988. 

Bridges has spent his career in the education field. In the mid-1980s, an all-white school board named him the first African-American superintendent of the Wake County Public School System. He became provost at Saint Augustine’s College (now Saint Augustine’s University) in Raleigh, and then worked as an education and management consultant and chaired the N.C. Advisory Commission on Raising Achievement and Closing Gaps. 

This is where you find her: Davidson on set with Tina Fey. Courtesy Mia Fram Davidson

When a casting agent invited Mia Fram Davidson ’01 to play a cantor in the film This Is Where You Leave Me, she initially thought she was being punked. As it turned out, a friend had suggested Davidson to the agent, who was seeking a real-life cantor for the movie. Based on the novel of the same name by Jonathan Topper, the comedy centers on a dysfunctional family sitting shiva after the death of the family patriarch. Davidson, associate cantor at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, New York, knew it was no prank when she sat down for hair and makeup near leading actresses Jane Fonda and Tina Fey. The film, directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, Date Night), also stars Jason Bateman, Connie Britton, Adam Driver, and Timothy Olyphant.

Davidson spent three days on set. She taught Fonda how to sing the traditional Jewish hymn “Hineh Ma Tov,” and actor Ben Schwartz, who plays a rabbi, how to wear his prayer shawl correctly. She also shivered alongside Fey during a cold day on location at a cemetery for the movie’s opening scene.

In addition to her cantor duties at Westchester Reform Temple, Davidson writes a parenting blog, Mia, at

In his Washington Post column “Innovations,” technology entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa took Twitter to task for having no women on its board. A followup column listed sixteen women who Wadhwa, executive-in-residence in the Pratt School of Engineering, management program, believed would be exceptional additions to Twitter and other tech company boards. Two Duke alumnae made the list: Sonal Shah a.M. ’93 and Brooks Bell ’02.

Tech leader: Brooks Bell. Ryan Jones

Currently a senior fellow at the Case Foundation, Shah was the inaugural director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation. She also led Google’s global development initiatives for its philanthropic division and was a vice president at Goldman Sachs, where she helped develop and manage the firm’s environmental strategy. Born in Mumbai, she also cofounded an international nonprofit, Indicorps, which offers fellowships to encourage development projects in India.

Bell is founder and CEO of Brooks Bell, a testing and optimization company that works with national consumer organizations to increase market share. She co-founded HQ Raleigh, an incubator offering office space and networking opportunities for high-impact startups. In 2012, she was president of the Raleigh-Durham chapter of the global business network Entrepreneurs’ Organization, and she has served on the Duke Task Force for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

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