Bass Connections Selected Highlights from 2020-2021

Improving Food Security for Latinx Communities

In 2020-2021, 13 Bass Connections project teams tackled research related to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. One project team took on the problem of food insecurity among Durham’s Latinx residents, one in five of whom said they sometimes skipped or limited their meals. In the context of the pandemic, access to sufficient nutritious food took on even greater importance.

Working with Root Causes, an organization run by Duke medical students, the team researched strategies for adapting to COVID-19, such as modes of contactless food delivery. Using surveys and deidentified medical records, team members assessed the impact of Root Causes’ Fresh Produce Program on patient health and food security amid pandemic conditions. Through interviews and a comparative study of food redistribution organizations, the team identified (and continues to identify) local and global best practices in addressing food insecurity as part of the response to the pandemic.

Members of the team have continued their work during the summer of 2021, facilitating a Community Consultation Studio with Triangle area food security organizations in conjunction with Duke’s CTSI Community Engaged Research Initiative (CERI).

Partnering with the Duke Campus Farm, the team also expanded the Fresh Produce Program to around 150 households in Durham, including many high-need Latinx families. Deliveries included fresh food as well as masks, household essentials and educational materials.

Team members wearing masks at Duke Campus Farm.
Team members at the Duke Campus Farm
Fresh produce in boxes.
Volunteers pack and deliver the food bags
Elaijah Lapay.
I felt a connection to the members of my team, even if the age gap between us could span years. I was able to use some of them as resources for what I wanted to pursue academically during my own time, and I felt that I could make a contribution to the team’s trajectory and analysis of the issues, even as a first-year student. –Elaijah Lapay ’24

Rising Seas, Local Impacts

This project team explored how the arts can educate, motivate social action and imagine a more resilient future.

Team members examined how scientists and artists address social and ecological crises, and constructed Spectral Seas, an art installation depicting the scale of future sea level rise. Woven out of over 400 plastic bags collected from the Durham community, the tapestry features layers of color representing different sea level rise predictions for 2100. The team incorporated multimedia video projections and sound to evoke the threat sea-level rise poses to humans and the environment. The finished piece will remain on display at the Rubenstein Arts Center through 2021-2022.

Team members used StoryMaps to showcase the science and local impacts of sea level rise, as well as their artistic process. See their resulting products: Science of Sea Level RiseLocal Impacts, Crisis and Resilience in North Carolina Waterways and Spectral Seas Installation.

Student working on items for an art installation.
Team members work on creating items for the installation
Raquel Salvatella de Prada working on the art installation.
I think we’ve been able to create something that everybody is proud of. The experience has been so enriching and positive, and we have all learned different mediums we haven’t worked in before. –Raquel Salvatella de Prada, Associate Professor of the Practice of Art, Art History & Visual Studies

A New Approach to Mental Health Support for Students

College students face many stressors that can affect their well-being but often shy away from seeking help. Feelings of shame, skepticism about effectiveness and concerns about being misunderstood are common barriers.

DukeLine is a new student-operated texting platform aimed at improving the mental health of students through anonymous peer support within minutes of outreach. A complement to existing resources, DukeLine gives students access to free, anonymous peer support.

The option to text an anonymous fellow student trained to serve as a peer coach offers a low-stakes avenue for seeking support. Students can test what it feels like to share vulnerabilities. Coaches take part in a semester-long training course for credit.

This project team organized the pilot launch of DukeLine in three campus communities, collected pre- and post-text data from users and coaches, and developed infrastructure for expanding the service. Pilot data indicate that users are extremely satisfied with DukeLine and likely to reach out to a peer coach for support in the future.

DukeLine logo.
Visit the DukeLine website
4 easy steps to text DukeLine.
Learn how DukeLine works
Jalisa Jackson.
As a member of this team, I was able to get more invested in research, propelling me to complete a senior thesis and search for ways to continue building research skills before applying to graduate schools. More importantly, I developed connections to faculty, graduate students and fellow classmates – a priceless network based on the common ground we established on conducting research to improve students’ experience along the lines of mental health and the responsibilities of college life. –Jalisa Jackson ’21, Psychology and African & African American Studies

Promoting Regenerative Grazing in North Carolina

Beef production has become one of the largest contributors to climate change. This project team set out to communicate that “it’s not the cow, it’s the how.” Using regenerative practices such as rotational or managed grazing, beef production can provide net-negative emissions and other economic, environmental and social benefits.

Working with numerous partner organizations, team members from the four major Triangle research universities (Duke, NC Central, NC State, UNC) developed healthy soils policy recommendations for North Carolina, as well as tools to help producers and policy-makers understand the potential of grazing. An ArcGIS-based tool for farmers and producers helps them easily document regenerative grazing practices, even when out in the field with no internet access. And farmers who wish to begin implementing practices such as strip and rotational grazing can use the team’s carbon offset protocol, which outlines the methodology for measuring the offsets from a regenerative grazing project.

A monthly newsletter and an online guide to key terms helped inform producers about regenerative grazing, and a webinar featured three people in the business. The team also produced a collection of case studies that explain how managed grazing has the power to be regenerative to the land, to producers and to rural communities.

For her stellar work on this team, law student Bridget Eklund received a 2021 Bass Connections Award for Outstanding Mentorship.

Team members visiting a farm.
Team members monitor changes due to regenerative grazing
Bridget Eklund.
We’ve been working with the Triangle Land Conservancy on a specific piece of land, on which they are implementing some of these grazing practices. Developing relationships with people who are in the Triangle area has been really valuable, both personally and professionally. –Bridget Eklund, J.D. ’21, Presidential Management Fellow with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service

Unearthing Root Causes of Migration

In this Story+ summer project, students pursued research on the social, political, economic and environmental forces that push people to leave their countries of origin.

Selecting their own families’ origins, the students focused on Ghana, Honduras, Iran, Italy, Malaysia and Singapore. Common threads included the impact of western imperialism and colonialism, labor and resource exploitation, and preservation of migrant stories.

Partnering with Migrant Roots Media, team members created presentations with timelines, narratives and visuals. Undergraduate team member Shania Khoo won a 2021 Koonz Prize for a zine she created after her Story+ experience. 

Shania Khoo.
View Shania Khoo’s zine, “(be)longing”
Unearthing the root causes of migration.
View Nima Babajani-Feremi’s presentation
Dubie Toa-Kwapong.
Against the backdrop of COVID-19, Story+ offered a vital co-learning setting through which scholars at different junctures in their careers can convene to engage in cross-disciplinary research and dialogue about the varied and complex phenomena shaping our world today. –Dubie Toa-Kwapong, Ph.D. student in Cultural Anthropology

Designing a System to Learn From Waste

A Bass Connections project team is contributing to the effort to develop a Smart Sampling Toilet, led by Duke’s Center for Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Infectious Disease (WaSH-AID). This team seeks to capture some of the health information that’s lost with the waste we flush away.

To advance the project, students designed and built a device that can dispense fecal immunochemical test strips and expose them to human excreta. After the sample is collected on the strip, the device sends a signal to an endoscopic camera, telling it to capture an image of the test results—one line if the sample is negative for biomarkers indicating possible gastrointestinal disease, and two lines if it is positive.

Team member and Ph.D. student Jin Zhou received a 2021 Bass Connections Award for Outstanding Mentorship.

Alina Suarez.
Alina Suarez works on a door for the test strip dispenser
Bryent Takayama.
We were urged to design something from zero. We’ve had to do a lot of figuring things out on our own—being creative, using whatever resources we have around us. I got to collaborate with great students. It was really special. –Bryent Takayama ’24, Electrical & Computer Engineering

Coping With COVID-19 as a Family

Professor Eve Puffer has spent much of her career building therapeutic programs to improve families’ mental health in sub-Saharan Africa. She had long been interested in bringing some of those approaches to the U.S., so when the pandemic arrived, Puffer led a survey of parents in 17 southern states to learn more about their well-being. She and her colleagues found significant levels of depression and anxiety symptoms; concerns about social, emotional and behavioral difficulties in children; and reports of deteriorating relationships within families.

A Bass Connections project team set out to adapt several approaches that had proved effective in Kenya for use in North Carolina with local community partners.

In May 2021, around 25 families in Durham and surrounding areas began the Coping Together program, meeting virtually with trained facilitators from the partner organizations. In the eight-week program, adapted in collaboration with the partners, families participated in activities designed to address stress, strengthen relationships, reduce conflict and improve problem-solving techniques. “I don’t see it ending at the end of eight weeks,” said Wanda Boone, the founder and director of the community coalition Together for Resilient Youth that implemented Coping Together

Covid-19 Family Study graphic.
Learn more about the COVID-19 Family Study
Wanda Boone.
Usually, it’s an institution hiring people to come in and do this work, and I don’t know about the success of that. With this, because it’s embedded within the community and has full community participation, I think that is really going to be what makes the difference. –Wanda Boone, Founder of Together for Resilient Youth

Race and Home Values in Durham

The median white household in the U.S. holds about ten times as much wealth as the median Black household. This Data+ summer project, in partnership with the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity, examined the relationship between race and home values across several units of analysis.

To investigate racial disparities in home values in Durham, team members drew on census data, Durham County records, CoreLogic data for home sales, North Carolina voter registrations and other sources. They found that home values are strongly associated with the racial composition of areas, and that homes in Black neighborhoods are worth less and accumulate less value over time.

The team discovered that if homes in Black census tracts (defined as an area with a majority Black population from 1970 to 2014-2018) had appreciated at the same rate as homes in white tracts, their average value would be nearly $95,000 greater at the end of that time period. Racial disparity in home value increased by 279%.

“I decided to work on the project even after Data+ ended because I thought it was an excellent opportunity to contribute to an academic paper,” said team member Pei Yi Zhuo ’23, Sociology and Statistical Science. He and the team presented findings at the 2021 Data-Intensive Research Conference.

Durham map showing redlining.
1937 map of Durham showing "redlining"
Nick Datto.
I didn’t really know how data science research applied to social science, but Data+ showed me that it can be a really successful avenue for discovery and change. –Nick Datto ’23, Political Science and Public Policy

Reducing Hypertension Disparities

Hypertension is a leading cause of death and disability in the United States. Racial disparities are well documented in hypertension treatment, control and outcomes.

In Durham County, more than two in five adults suffer from hypertension. Since there is a strong association between hypertension and residential racial isolation, this project team tested strategies to intervene at the neighborhood level. Students made outreach calls to an identified group of 258 Black men with severe hypertension seen at Lincoln Community Health Center. These patients were offered hypertension education and counseling along with a free blood pressure cuff.

About half the men who received a blood pressure cuff began using it consistently. Students made follow-up calls offering education on the effects of hypertension and strategies to lower blood pressure. The calls were well-received among patients, who appreciated the individualized coaching and partnership.

Lincoln Community Health Center exterior.
Durham’s Lincoln Community Health Center
Hypertension team poster.
The team’s poster
Ashwin G.
I was able to get first-hand experience working with students from a multitude of disciplines and academic levels to understand what it takes to implement an effective community interventional study. I was especially surprised how open the professors and graduate students were to working directly with undergraduates. –Ashwin Gadiraju ’24, Biomedical Engineering

Refugee Experiences in Durham

Through a Bass Connections Collaborative Project Expedition, Ph.D. candidate Colin Birkhead worked with Jen’nan Read to redesign her course on immigration and health. Together they created hands-on, project-based learning experiences with a community partner, World Relief Durham, in order to enhance in-class lectures and academic readings.

Instead of choosing generic topics related to immigration and health, students now work on real issues in Durham. During the Fall 2021 course, students analyzed data from World Relief Durham on refugee children, created infographics and wrote policy briefs with recommendations.

Jen'nan Read.
Jen’nan Read, Professor of Sociology
Students visit Duke Gardens.
Read’s class during a masked break in Duke Gardens
Colin Birkhead.
I now have a blueprint for creating project-based courses, and I plan on applying this experience to my area of expertise to create a new course that ties real-world examples from a community partner with theoretical background from academic research. –Colin Birkhead, Ph.D. candidate in Sociology