A. James Clark Scholars host a STEM Leadership Camp for over twenty Durham middle-school students in spring 2019.
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Duke University

All the way up

Gifts to the Engineering Annual Fund give already exceptional students like Philip Liu the opportunities they need to rise to their fullest potential.

In Texas, high school graduates in the top 10% of their class gain automatic admission to in-state public universities. Aside from this guarantee, which Philip earned, Duke was the only place he applied. 

Getting here wasn’t always easy. Philip’s parents owned and ran restaurants in the Austin area. Financially, there were ups and downs. But coming from a low-resource background gave Philip perspective. Talking with customers also helped him open up to the world.

When Philip was in middle school his parents transferred him to a school district across town with better rankings and more resources. The school even had a robotics team, which Philip became involved with on the technical side. Building machines to perform human tasks was neat. It allowed him to think in different capacities. Soon he considered business and marketing. He began advocating for others, helping to launch initiatives so kids in underserved schools could have equal access to STEM programs. Finding a place where he could pursue excellence in engineering, technology and business is why Philip ultimately became a Blue Devil.

Achieving is believing

As a member of the Class of 2022, the last current class to have experienced a full year pre-pandemic on campus, Philip is a master of making the most of his time. He is majoring in mechanical engineering, minoring in economics, earning an I&E certificate, studying philosophy and politics, participating in numerous co-curricular programs, soaking in Cameron Crazie traditions, and more. Despite the hurdles of the past two years, Philip has done exceedingly well. For this, he credits his upbringing and superstar mentors.

“The biggest thing is how I was raised. Kudos to my parents,” he says. “My parents, especially my mom, sacrificed a lot for me to have the opportunities I did.” 

Philip's parents taught him to always be kind, to follow through with promises, to keep himself accountable and to be transparent. They also encouraged him to find his passion and go for it. “For my dad, food was definitely his passion. He could have gone different ways in life, but he followed his dreams.” 

Now, having 24-hours a day for four years to focus solely on college feels like a dream. Philip feels fortunate, knowing everyone doesn’t get the same opportunity. 

One experience that stands out from Philip’s time here is the Ronald & Carrie Ludwig Duke in Silicon Valley Program. He completed the month-long summer experience between freshman and sophomore year along with 24 other students. In the morning, they’d take classes with professor, advisor and entrepreneur Salman Azhar M.S. ’90, Ph.D. ’94, P ’18

“It was really cool to learn about his experiences, tied into a Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship and Harvard Business School curriculum. In the afternoon, we’d do site visits at companies such as Facebook, Apple and Google. We’d hear from Duke alumni in the company and see what it was like to work there.” 

And then, of course, there’s the A. James Clark Scholars program, where he was in Duke’s inaugural cohort. The program brings together students with strong academic and leadership potential and grants them a community full of mentorship and collaboration.  

“The program is unbelievable. It’s led by Bill Walker B.S.E. ’90, Ph.D. ’95. As a mentor, he’s been there for me since day one.”  

Thanks to you

What Philip has found in Duke is an academic community of professors, alumni and peers that have shaped his education and experiences in many rewarding and surprising ways. Much of this is thanks to donors behind the scenes who support the Engineering Annual Fund. It provides unrestricted support for Jerome Lynch, Vinik Dean of Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering, to say yes to incredible engineering school opportunities, pay for need-based financial aid and enable promising students like Philip to apply what they learn in the classroom in the real world. 

“The Annual Fund literally transforms your Duke experience,” Philip says. “You get one experience sitting in the classroom watching a professor lecture on slides and an overhead document on camera. 

“You get a completely different one by doing experiential learning: study abroad, internships, project-based classes, and independent studies, such as creating my own affordable robotics kit. I find so much value in hands-on learning because you’re engaged with it.” 

Having the unique perspective of Duke as a student in both a pre- and post-COVID world, Philip shares that while so much is adapting and changing, the most important aspects of the university remain the same. “People, experiences, and culture make up Duke and are why it will always be special.”