Duke alumnae share life goals during Women’s Weekend

Feb. 22, 2014 @ 10:21 PM

When Laurie Patton, Duke dean of the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, works with grad students, she regularly asks them, “What is your question?” 

By asking that, she wants students in her classroom to articulate their own sense of life purpose, to be authentic about their quest to understand the world.
On Saturday at the Washington Duke Inn, hundreds of Duke alumnae shared their own questions pertaining to life goals with the crowd.
The panel was one of the last held during the “Find Your Moxie” weekend, organized by the Duke Alumni Association specifically for Duke women.
One by one, women in business suits and dresses stood up with a microphone.
“How do we create a climate of self-reflection in this busy, tuned-in world?”
“How can I further extend my ability to empower others?”
“How do we see each other for who we truly are?”
Sally Dalton Robinson, a 1955 Duke grad and former trustee, said she often wonders about how to maintain life balance.
Saturday, she recalled a piece of advice she received from a fellow church member: “I know how busy you are, but don’t neglect your soul.”
A panel of Duke alumnae took turns talking about how they discovered their life’s question and how it has evolved over time.
Maya Ajmera, a 1993 Duke graduate and senior adviser for Duke’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative, said she realized her question during a global trip that took her from Thailand to Pakistan.
She witnessed a volunteer teaching children who lived on a train station platform in India. That teacher came by every day, sitting in the middle of the chaos with flashcards. Ajmera then realized her question - “How do I live a life with purpose?”
As a Duke graduate student, she founded The Global Fund for Children, a nonprofit that works with community organizations around the world to help vulnerable children. As the fund’s leader for 18 years, she traveled to 70 countries and helped impact the lives of nearly 9 million children.
She stepped away from The Global Fund two years ago, to start her own family.
“I’m thinking a lot about how do I continue to live a life of purpose but also for my daughter to live a life of purpose,” Ajmera said.
Ashley Koff, a 1995 Duke grad and registered dietitian, shared her question: “What does healthy feel like?” instead of what healthy looks like. She recently became involved in the “Let’s Move!” campaign started by first lady Michelle Obama.
Ana Homayoun from the class of 2001 discussed how she wants to encourage and inspire others to be leaders. She founded Green Ivy Educational Consulting, an organization that works with parents, students and educators, and has written on why millennial women are burning out by age 30.
Class of 2012’s Becca Ward won bronze medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics’ sabre events, and her question was about moving her life forward. She is balancing her love of fencing with environmental activism, after she witnessed Beijing’s pollution firsthand. Prim Siripipat, a 2003 grad, former Duke varsity tennis player and now an ESPN sportscaster, said her question also is about finding balance and putting importance in friendships and relationships.
Renee Lewis, class of ’83 and a managing director with Hudson Realty Capital based in New York, said her life question revolves around community impact.
She discovered the importance of connecting with her community after going through major life changes, She was going through a divorce when her father, a pilot, died in a plane crash. She later was diagnosed with cancer and went through a year of treatment.
She soon became active in Big Brothers Big Sisters, affordable housing issues and a realty development association, among others.
Community involvement “remained sort of a North Star for me,” Lewis said, “to remain not focused on the goal but aware and moving toward my community.”