Newly Named Luce Scholar Aims to Make a Mark in Global Health

Mar 12 2013 | By Melanie A. Farmer | Photo: Claire Duvallet

Biomedical engineering senior Claire Duvallet has been named a Luce Scholar, making her the first student from SEAS to achieve the prestigious honor.

Claire Duvallet
Claire Duvallet atop a mountain in Queenstown, New Zealand, the summer after studying abroad in Australia.

As one of just 18 students nationwide chosen for the annual fellowship, Duvallet, 21, will travel to Asia after graduation and have the opportunity to work as a biomedical engineer in a specific focus area of her choosing. The new class of fellows was selected after an intense three-month-long process, handpicked from 17 nominating institutions and a pool of 168 outstanding candidates.

Duvallet was on her way to a friend’s house when she got the news via a phone call; it was just three days after her interview with the officials at the Henry Luce Foundation. “I had felt really, really good leaving my interview, and I knew that even if I hadn't gotten it, the whole process had been so rewarding that it would be okay,” she recalls. “Getting the Luce, however, was just that extra icing on the cake and the biggest sigh of relief but also a cheer of success—I officially knew what I was doing after graduation, and it was the best of all of my possible options!”

The Luce Scholars Program was launched by the Henry Luce Foundation to enhance the understanding of Asia among young American leaders. Luce scholars represent a wide range of fields other than Asian studies including arts, journalism, science, public health, and international relations. They receive a stipend, language training, and individualized professional placement in Asia. The foundation strongly considers candidates who demonstrate potential for leadership and accomplishment.

An avid traveler, Duvallet sought the Luce Scholarship, drawn to the opportunity to get industry experience as a biomedical engineer while being immersed in a different culture. This is exactly how she wanted to spend a year before heading back to school to pursue a PhD in biomedical engineering. “When I found out about the Luce,” she says, “it just seemed like the perfect trifecta of everything I wanted for my gap year: a professional experience, that lasts one year, in an Asian country, specifically for people who know nothing about Asia. I saw that and thought, ‘Hey, that’s me!’”

Having worked in Associate Professor Samuel Sia’s laboratory, Duvallet has developed a keen interest in technologies for global health, such as point-of-care diagnostic devices. As a Luce Scholar, she hopes her placement is in a country with significant discrepancies in their health care and, ideally, working in the biomedical devices or diagnostic fields.

Duvallet grew up in Austin, TX, and is a dual citizen of both the U.S. and France. She has always loved math and science but equally has a desire to help people and “really tangibly influence the larger world around me,” she says. She’s found that she can accomplish this through biomedical engineering. “Biomedical engineering is an awesome combination of all of that; it’s a highly technical field, but at the end of the day, it’s also ultimately focused on helping people.”

When she is not hitting the books, she is hitting the dance floor. Duvallet has practiced swing dancing since her high school AP chemistry teacher started a social dance club; now she is a dancer in the Columbia Swing Club. “It’s a super great way to turn on parts of my brain that don’t always get to be used,” she says. She also plays percussion in the Columbia University Orchestra, and beginning this year, in a small chamber group.

Duvallet’s adviser, Assistant Professor Hayden Huang, calls her a highly motivated and intelligent student, “often asking questions that made it abundantly clear that she really tries to understand the material as a whole.” Huang taught Duvallet in his Fluid Biomechanics course and has been her academic adviser for the past year.

“Claire clearly has solid technical knowledge so the Luce will provide an outstanding opportunity for her to acquire broader experiences that cannot be obtained via coursework alone,” says Huang. “I think immersive traveling can show people different ways of doing things and may help people find what they are passionate about. Given her academic performance and potential for achievement, Claire definitely deserves opportunities such as the Luce Scholarship, and I wish her the best.”