Blue Devil of the Week: Duke’s Presidential Fellow for 2022-23

As a researcher, teacher and budding leader, Adrienne Stiff-Roberts is learning about Duke from many angles

Adrienne Stiff-Roberts
Adrienne Stiff-Roberts leads a lab which explores the potential of materials which can be used in semiconductors. Photo by Stephen Schramm.

“It’s really helped create a community among our students,” Stiff-Roberts said. “That’s crucial because a big piece of student success is feeling like you belong, that you have a community on campus. Being able to provide that across disciplines is very satisfying.”

During the 2022-23 academic year, Stiff-Roberts has another role as a Presidential Fellow.

Launched in 2021, the Presidential Fellowship program gives a faculty member the chance to receive mentorship from senior leaders and observe leadership in action through participation in leadership meetings and projects of interest.

“You get to be a sponge and absorb all of this different information,” Stiff-Roberts said. “You can see the much bigger picture that’s behind the things that affect what you do every day.”

What she values about working here: Stiff-Roberts teaches courses for both graduate students and second-year undergraduates. Whether helping Ph.D. students take the final steps toward their degree or teaching undergraduates about solar cells, she’s continually inspired by the curiosity and commitment of the students she encounters.

Adrienne Stiff-Roberts enjoys the time she gets to spend with students both from Duke, such as these from her research group, and the wider Durham community. Photo courtesy of Adrienne Stiff-Roberts.

“They’re all very earnest, excited, open to learning and wanting to do their best,” Stiff-Roberts said. “The students make it really easy to teach and to mentor. They make my job very enjoyable.”

She’s found a way to inspire curiosity in younger minds through an outreach program she’s developing with a teacher from Durham’s Lyons Farm Elementary School. The program provides students with learning modules informed by engineering design concepts.

Something people may not know about her: Since childhood, Stiff-Roberts has been fascinated by anime, the style of animated storytelling that originated in Japan. Often with vivid colors, multi-layers stories and a cinematic feel, anime has legions of devoted fans.

Stiff-Roberts recalls only being able to find anime titles on late-night TV or hard-to-find DVDs. But with the advent of streaming, anime has become much easier to find, and in turn, share with her two sons, who have become fans themselves.

“I think it’s the combination of the animation style and having something that you associate with being for children but which explores stories and themes which speak to adults that’s compelling,” Stiff-Roberts said.

Is there a colleague at Duke who has an intriguing job or goes above and beyond to make a difference? Nominate that person for Blue Devil of the Week.