Trio Tapped for Academic Team


Three Duke seniors have been named to USA TODAY’s 2001 All-USA College Academic first team—and they’re all Angier B. Duke Scholars [“The Best from the Brightest,” Duke Magazine, September-October 1998]. Matthew Baugh, Pooja Kumar, and Brian Skotko join seventeen other honorees selected by a panel of judges from 682 students nominated by colleges across the country. Each will receive $2,500 and a crystal trophy.
This is only the second time in the All-USA College Academic Team’s twelve-year history that one school has notched three first-team spots in the same year. Seven Duke students have now cracked the top twenty since 1990.
“It just seems all too perfect,” says Skotko, who rooms with Baugh in an off-campus apartment and shares weekly dinners with Baugh and Kumar. “It would have been too bad if only one or two of us had gotten it. This makes the award that much sweeter.”
In its February 15 edition, USA TODAY cited individual scholarship or intellectual achievement and leadership roles on and off campus as the most important judging criteria. Students also were judged on academic performance, honors, awards, rigor of academic pursuits, and their ability to express themselves in writing.
Baugh, who is concentrating on development studies and public health in his self-designed major, became Duke’s thirtieth Rhodes Scholar in December. Last March, he received a Truman Scholarship to pursue graduate studies toward a career in public service. He was named a Faculty Scholar, the highest honor given by Duke’s faculty, in May.
“It’s been a fantastic year,” says Baugh, who, with Skotko, is co-president of the Duke Red Cross Club. “I can’t imagine a better finale than sharing it with two of the people who have had the most impact on my intellectual and moral development at Duke.” Currently, he is at work on his senior thesis, which gauges the effectiveness of a radio-based health education program he wrote, recorded, and broadcast last summer in Haiti.
He wrote nineteen songs in Creole on prenatal care, breastfeeding, diarrhea, and other topics, and they have been heard by about 70 percent of the island nation’s 40,000-person broadcast audience. A number of health organizations working in Haiti have requested copies of Baugh’s tapes after hearing an interview with him two months ago on National Public Radio. The songs and accompanying explanatory information are also slated to
be included in a new Creole translation of a book for health-care workers in rural and impoverished areas.
This summer, Baugh, from Raleigh, plans to work on humanitarian intervention issues for the National Security Council in Washington, D.C. He is bound for Oxford in the fall to study under Adam Roberts, Britain’s leading scholar on the politics of humanitarian intervention.
Skotko, who was also named a Faculty Scholar, is a biological anthropology and anatomy major from Strongsville, Ohio, with a minor in mathematics. He plans to attend Harvard Medical School in the fall and to continue his work with children who have disabilities.
Skotko says he’s looking forward to the publication this spring of his first book, Without a Doubt: Celebrating Life with Down Syndrome, a collection of stories, photographs, and research featuring individuals with Down syndrome from across the country. He also completed research projects on literacy in children with Rett syndrome, and on the anatomy of the mammalian tongue, and a four-year study with an amnesic patient from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology [“Under the Gargoyle,” Duke Magazine: “Mind Maze,” May-June 1998].
Kumar, from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, designed her own curriculum in health policy and social values, focusing on war’s effect on health. She is applying to medical schools with the idea of working in international health. Born in India, she also has lived with her family in Singapore, Indonesia, and Canada.
As a high-school senior, Kumar traveled with her grandmother and brother to Calcutta to work in Mother Teresa’s care facility. As a Duke junior, she did an independent study of the mid-1990s cholera outbreak among Rwandan refugees.
Last summer, she traveled to East Timor to conduct assessments for the Save the Children Federation. She helped to design a national maternal and child health program and delivered health services to street children. “That really shaped the path I’m now on,” Kumar says. “It opened my eyes to things I’d never thought of before.”
A photographer, Kumar received a John Hope Franklin Student Award through Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies to teach East Timorese street children to use cameras to describe their experiences before, during, and after the violence. An exhibition of their work and her own photographs was held in the Center for Documentary Studies this semester.
She has also worked with pediatric patients at Duke Hospital, teaching them to use photography to express their views of illness and their own lives. “Photography was just one of those things I always wanted to do in college,” say Kumar. “It’s just become a wonderful, wonderful part of my life.”

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