Class of 2023 CASE Scholars

CASE welcomes the Class of 2023 CASE Scholars! Learn more about our scholars, in their own voice, below.

Shreyas Chandra Shekar

In India, a farmer commits suicide every 48 minutes. The majority of India’s population (58%, or 800M people), depends on agriculture as the primary income source. Of those individuals, 86% have an average of 0.6 hectares of land (half the area of a football field), which is insufficient to scale, reinvest for growth, or sustain their families. Furthermore, most farming families belong to the lowest castes in the Hindu caste system and were forbidden formal education until just a generation ago. Illiteracy and lack of education among farmers make them vulnerable to exploitation from intermediaries in the supply chain and unable to benefit from technological advances and Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) that can help them scale and negotiate deals that are more equitable than today’s (<20% of what the end-consumer pays). As a result, financially strained farmers take on insurmountable debt and eventually corner themselves into committing suicide.

Since I was 18, I’ve scoured government data, research papers, and media reports to understand the challenges that compel so many farmers, like my father, to take their lives. When I discussed this pressing issue with my classmates in college, none could truly comprehend and relate, since most of them hadn’t even met a farmer, much less grown up in a farming family.

During my second year in college (2013), I learned how large-scale reforms in agriculture are achievable through policy and governance. So, I started an independent campaign to elect a pro-farmer political leader as the Chief Minister of my state, Karnataka (50M voters, 75M population). My efforts started small, organizing meetups and discussions with supporters I found through social media. By 2017, I was managing 3,000+ active volunteers, 50,000+ registered members, and social media accounts with 200,000+ followers and 3M monthly unique viewers (30% of total social media users in the state). We had coverage in every district across the state. The movement had become the most popular political campaign in Karnataka, compelling the pro-farmer leader to reach out and ask me to lead his official election campaign. Realizing this was my ticket to impact farmers’ lives, I quit my well-paying job in Decision Sciences to lead the campaign full-time, without pay, and succeeded in helping the leader come to power in the 2018 Karnataka state elections.

Following the election, as Assistant to the Chief Minister, I helped implement a $2.2 billion loan waiver scheme, which waived outstanding loans of 2.7 million farmer families – and contributed to a reduction of farmer suicides in the state by 45% YoY.

Why Fuqua?

Working closely with a former Prime Minister of India and Chief Minister of Karnataka taught me the importance of establishing strong professional relationships. When I was researching MBA programs, an extremely tight-knit Fuqua community and the well-known loyalty of Duke alumni made all the difference. The camaraderie among alumni and current students I interacted with was highly evident and convinced me that the Duke MBA was the best fit for me. My interactions with Erin Worsham, the Executive Director of CASE, reaffirmed my observations. It became clear that I’ll have a lifetime support system of staff, faculty, and fellow scholars at CASE to lean on as I embark on my future endeavors.

What impact do you hope your Fuqua education will allow you to have on the world?

I want to acquire and leverage the highest levels of influence in business and politics to create large-scale positive changes in people’s lives. While I continue building personal relationships in politics and government, Fuqua will help me develop connections in the business world. Post-MBA, I want to work in a client services role so that I can interact with business leaders of some of the world’s largest corporations. Long-term, I want to tap my network in business, politics, and government to drive impact-oriented business decisions and government policies.

A Fun Fact:

I did not take even a single day off work (politics) from November 2017 to March 2020 (the start of the COVID-19 lockdown) – not even weekends! (Maybe I’m an extreme example of intrinsic motivation?!)

Ashlynn Polanco

My mother immigrated to the United States when her home country of Nicaragua was embroiled in a civil war. She traversed hundreds of miles with my brother – who was only a baby at the time- before entering the U.S. southern border.  Growing up I experienced the dynamics of my identities and how they interplayed in the context of U.S. systems, often barring me from entering certain spaces that were not created for me to access. I am a Latina-American, formerly low-income, daughter and sister of undocumented immigrants.  I envision a country where communities that have been marginalized can thrive, are free of systemic oppression, and can obtain economic prosperity. Through my work, I have assisted asylum-seeking children and mothers in the U.S detention centers through the organization Kids in Need of Defense, and mentored 100+ Latinx college youth (through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute) to navigate Capitol Hill and the influence policy that impacts their communities.  Most recently, I worked for several years at ProInspire to deliver strategic consulting to operationalize REDI (Race Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) within organizations. In 2020, the racial reckoning during the COVID-19 pandemic amplified the need to dismantle systems of oppression in the workplace, create inclusive environments, and shift mindsets and behaviors to transform into a more equitable culture.

I’m also passionate about self-care, and how essential it is in creating sustainable advocacy for racial and social justice movements. I created a training series for people of color to center their wellness and healing in this journey; here is a post I wrote about this effort.

Why Fuqua?

As a first-generation student, navigating my MBA recruiting experience was challenging, and I gave up on the process many times. Had it not been for my network of mentors, colleagues, and friends who motivated me to continue, I would not be here today. When I first interacted with Fuqua and learned further about the culture of “Team Fuqua” I knew that this was exactly what I was searching for in my MBA program, a community of support and acceptance, who would enable me to grow and achieve my goals.  

Ultimately, it was my interactions with Erin Worsham, Executive Director of CASE and Rony Cepeda, current CASE scholar that solidified my reasons to pursue Fuqua, as I knew I would always have a team rooting for my success.

What impact do you hope your Fuqua education will allow you to have on the world?

I have a vision of making the world a more just and equitable place. I want to build upon my skills and experience in creating human centered, DEI-driven structures of leadership and management that deliver effective business outcomes to clients and create organizational transformation. My goal is to pivot to a multinational, private enterprise management consulting firm to make a larger systemic impact, as it would allow me to engage with many of the institutions who are in the position to either address or exacerbate many of the disparities amongst marginalized communities. I would like to take a part in addressing them.

While my comfort zone has been working in the nonprofit sector, my Fuqua education will allow me to grow my confidence, knowledge, and capability to tackle the complex challenges of private enterprises in the age of globalization and technology.

A Fun Fact:

On a solo trip to France, I met an elderly French man in the Jardin Tuileries. We start a conversation and six hours, a McDonald’s visit, and many Google Translations later, I learned you can share a lifetime during one moment of connection

Caroline Davidsen

Caroline Davidsen

As a third-grade teacher in the South Bronx, I witnessed firsthand my students’ dedication to school and their joy of learning. But I also witnessed how the systemic challenges of poverty and the overarching demands of high-stakes testing left many students without critical resources to navigate structural barriers, and without time for curiosity and exploration.

Recognizing that in my role as a teacher I was unable to address many of the obstacles faced by my students, I pursued a Master’s in Education Policy and Management at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) to better understand the causes of systemic inequity. As a master’s student, I explored the roles of the multitude of actors in the education system – and recognized the importance of collective action to strengthen outcomes for all students.

Upon graduating, I sought a role in education consulting to learn how education organizations can increase impact and reach. As a strategy consultant at Tyton Partners, I worked with companies providing learners of all ages better opportunities to reach their full potential. I focused on how technology can create personalized learning pathways, differentiating instruction to meet varying student needs. During the pandemic, I also saw the limits of technology to inspire learners and help with the challenges of unequal access.

My strategy consulting work solidified my belief that the private sector can help close opportunity gaps – while acknowledging that without intentional, collaborative public-sector partnerships, systemic change will be stymied. While at Fuqua and beyond, I’m excited to address the challenges of unequal access to high-quality educational experiences, so that all learners have the resources to pursue their passions.

Growing up near Washington, D.C. to Danish-American parents who met working for the United Nations, I’m no stranger to policy discussions around the dinner table (I was also a Politics major at Princeton University). I look forward to bringing a business angle to those conversations as I start my Fuqua journey.

Why Fuqua?

Choosing Fuqua was an easy decision because of the program’s emphasis on teamwork and collaboration, the many leadership opportunities, and the ability to pursue experiential learning through CASE (e.g., Fuqua on Board, CASEi3). The countless number of students offering to connect prior to my arrival on campus was a reflection of the supportive culture here at Fuqua; I was quickly assured that this was the perfect place for me to build my business acumen in a supportive environment, test hypotheses about my career interests, and form life-long friendships. Finally, the outreach from CASE’s Executive Director, Erin Worsham, confirmed that I would be able to pursue my interests in education at a rigorous MBA program and be surrounded by like-minded students invested in leveraging the private sector for social impact.

What impact do you hope your Fuqua education will allow you to have on the world?

Post-MBA, I hope to work at an education technology company that provides online, real-time education and career training where I can work to deliver effective online education, ensure data privacy, and understand customer needs and preferences. In such a role, I will continue to refine my understanding of the opportunities and limitations of education technology to increase access to high-quality education. Ultimately, I would like to apply these strategies of effective instructional design and data privacy at a mission-oriented education organization, explicitly focused on expanding equitable education opportunities.

Share one of your 25 facts from your application essay.

Spending time with Danish family and friends growing up, I was often asked to pronounce “rødgrød med fløde,” a Danish word notorious for stumping foreigners. I always turned as red as this rhubarb dessert, but it taught me the value of taking risks to learn new languages.