Two Duke Employees Receive Service Award

Duke makes donations to Piedmont Wildlife and Emily K centers

Duke medical technologist Celeste McKnight lets barred owl Athena perch on her arm. She regularly volunteers at the Piedmont Wildlife Center. Photo courtesy of Celeste McKnight
Duke medical technologist Celeste McKnight lets barred owl Athena perch on her arm. She regularly volunteers at the Piedmont Wildlife Center. Photo courtesy of Celeste McKnight

Spending time outdoors with raptors is Duke medical technologist Celeste McKnight's "yoga."

Duke math and physics professor Hubert Bray finds fulfillment in discussing dark matter with high school students.

Both Duke employees received the Community Service Award this month from Duke's Office of Durham and Regional Affairs. McKnight and Bray volunteer on a weekly basis, but one spends time with owls at the Piedmont Wildlife Center, and the other kickstarts astrophysics conversations at the Emily Krzyzewski Center.

"It's a simple little way of acknowledging the many ways that our employees are connected to their communities in service," said Sam Miglarese, director of the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership. "It's enjoyable to see and discover their interests."

His office and the Duke Community Service Center started the Employee Community Service Award in 2004, as a complement to the Lars Lyon Volunteer Service Award, which is given to one rising sophomore, junior or senior Duke student annually in April.

As part of the employee award, the Office of Durham and Regional Affairs contributed $200 to both the Piedmont Wildlife and Emily K centers. Miglarese said past winners have volunteered with animal rights organizations, participated in pastoral care and even helped within Durham Public Schools.

McKnight, who works at the Clinical Microbiology Lab in the Department of Pathology, fundraises, attends community events and feeds the birds at the Piedmont Wildlife Center, which promotes local nature and wildlife education.

McKnight takes care of the raptors at the wildlife center, including a red-tailed hawk, red-shouldered hawk, Eastern screech owl and her favorite - a barred owl named Athena.

"It's so totally different from what I do," said McKnight, who reads clinical specimens during her day job. "When I'm there, I'm totally in the moment with the birds and not thinking about anything else."

At the Emily K Center, which was founded by Coach Mike Krzyzewski to provide after-school opportunities for local students, Bray has started a new class this semester focused on math and science.

He has volunteered at the Emily K Center since 2011, and he and his students meet once a week and have discussed trigonometry, chemistry, the nature of matter and the Big Bang theory.

"Last week, we spent most of the two hours talking about astrophysics," Bray said. "On other occasions, I've already talked to them a little bit about calculus."

Steven Howell, the educational programming support specialist for the Emily K Center, said in the nomination letter that "Mr. Hugh" has inspired students and has become one of their most requested tutors.

"To have a fulfilling life, you need to help other people, and I already feel like I get that from teaching Duke students," Bray said. "... The cherry on top is the opportunity to go outside of Duke and help students in the Durham area."