Senior Stories: How a Self-Designed Major and a Important Mentor Created a Career Path

A woman in a pink shirt with a big city behind her

Senior Eleanore van Marwijk Kooy always felt like her background and experiences have been a bit more unconventional than those of her peers.  

After graduating high school, van Marwijk Kooy did not one but two gap years. She lived in Chile to improve her Spanish, worked on natural resource management projects in rural Tanzania, and challenged herself at a data science bootcamp in downtown Chicago. 

“My gap years are where my interest in sustainability was piqued, so it made perfect sense that my scholastic journey at Duke should also reflect my varied interests,” van Marwijk Kooy said. She is finishing her degree at Duke in Program II, which has turned out to be the perfect fit.  

An individualized degree program, Program II allows students to design their own unique course of study, guided by an advisor. Students must apply and be accepted in order to participate.  

Van Marwijk Kooy’s designed major lies at the intersection of economics, finance, sustainability and data analytics. She explored the feasibility of implementing international climate-change solutions and the quality of relevant policies through the lens of an economist, politician, financial institution, policy maker and ethicist. 

Change from the economics major to Program II caused a few challenges for Van Marwijk Kooy. She had already completed three semesters of challenging math and economics courses, and faced criticism from peers stating Program II wasn’t a “real major.” However, the possibility of designing a curriculum that reflected her ideals and passions appealed to van Marwijk enough that she persevered. 

It paid off.  

“I believe my unique major allowed me to stand out from highly technical and accomplished Economics or Computer Science majors. I heard from countless interviewers and bosses that my authenticity was refreshing and my genuine passion and excitement for my field of study was apparent,” she said.  

An integral part of the program for van Marwijk Kooy was the relationship she formed with Economics professor Connel Fullenkamp.  

“From first-year fall in Econ 101 to Corporate Finance, Risk Management and two independent studies for my graduation with distinction project, this mentorship has been an integral part of my Duke experience,” she said. 

Following graduation, Van Marwijk Kooy will be working at Goldman Sachs on their new climate risk team.  

“My post-graduation plans are an obvious reflection of the core components of my Program II,” she said. “My role will combine both a technical component (modeling climate data and analyzing the results) with a more holistic, macro element (translating the results into policy decisions for the bank).”  

Van Marwijk is proud of what she’s accomplished at Duke and urges incoming students to find the friends who celebrate their successes, and to remember that everyone else is trying to figure it out, too.  

“I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity at Duke, and after college, to take a holistic and interdisciplinary approach to understanding the subtle, delicate nuances of the role of global sustainability policy within the financial services sector,” she said.