Duke Senior Josephine Vonk Wins 2023 Julia Harper Day Award


The Julia Harper Day Award was created by the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) in 1992 in memory of the young woman who was CDS’s first staff member, a writer and photographer of real accomplishment. This $500 award goes to a graduating Duke University senior who has demonstrated excellence in documentary studies and contributed significantly to CDS programs. The 2023 Julia Harper Day Award went to Josephine Vonk, a psychology major who graduated with a Certificate in Documentary Studies and in Innovation & Entrepreneurship.

As the daughter of a Dutch father and a Malaysian mother, creativity and blending cultures and ideas was a staple of the household. For Josephine, she never believed there was just one way forward, but rather that there were many different branches of how her life could look. Duke provided the perfect playground to discover which of her interests and passions could be a lifelong career. “I sort of stumbled into Documentary Studies and the community drew me right in,” Josephine wrote. Her first course with Professor Susie Post-Rust was the catalyst for three years as a Service-Learning Assistant for Professor Post-Rust’s courses.

Of Josephine’s work, Susie Post-Rust wrote, “Josie’s intuitive ability to connect with people was central in the two documentary classes she took with me as a freshman, and in almost three years of working with me as a Service-Learning Assistant.  Photographically, she understands what it takes to convey the deeper nuance of her subject, revealing the heart of a story.  As my SLA, Josie’s positivity set a wonderful tone in class as she offered insightful and supportive suggestions to our students.”

During her sophomore summer, Josephine was awarded a grant through the Service Opportunities in Leadership (SOL) program associated with the Hart Leadership Program at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy. Partnering with Rainbow Drive-In (RDI), located in Honolulu, she engaged in a community-based research project by documenting the recovery of Rainbow in a post-COVID landscape through photographs and videos. Her senior capstone documentary film, Ohana on a Plate, is the final piece that showcases the tenacity and heart of the family running this business. She is grateful for the support of her peers, Professor Post-Rust, and Professor Chris Sims for their mentorship during the film’s creation as well as for the welcoming attitude and kindness of Chris, Crystine, and all the other RDI team members.

In her work back in Durham, Josephine explored the food industry through documentary photography by collaboration with local Durham restaurants like Blue Corn Cafe and Rose’s Noodles, Dumplings, and Sweets. Spending time in the kitchen with the line cooks and learning more from these family-owned restaurateurs sparked her interest in diving into the cooking world herself. Those connections proved invaluable in starting off Josephine’s career, beginning as a pastry chef at Rose’s, where she worked for a year and a half during her undergraduate studies.

As an aspiring food entrepreneur, Josephine credits the diverse experiences offered by Duke and Durham for providing a wide palette of food for thought to shape her future directions. Classes such as “Foodpreneurs” taught by Professor Jill Willet, the capstone course for the SOL program with Professor Andrew Nurkin, and “Christian Orthodoxy & Heresy” by Professor Jillian Marcantonio pushed Josephine beyond her comfort zones and challenged her to connect with others who are successful within the food industry. While she has mastered macarons, delicate cakes, and rich ice creams during her senior year, there are a plethora of other recipes to attempt as she continues to discover what her future holds.