Back Together Again for a Year of Growth and Change

This year marked a series of welcome returns as our 61 Bass Connections project teams resumed their in-person work on campus and in the field, and we capped off the year together at our annual Fortin Foundation Showcase, the first in Penn Pavilion since 2019.

Person wearing mask and holding up a test tube to show others gathered around.
Maria Morrison ’22 shares her team’s research on the Ellerbe Creek Watershed. (Photo: John West)

We have relished the opportunity to reunite our interdisciplinary community of more than 1,200 students, faculty, staff and community partners. At the same time, we have also sought to build on the creativity that teams displayed over the last two years in developing more flexible modes of conducting collaborative research.

One team aiming to improve neurosurgical capacity in Uganda partnered intensively with faculty and students at Mbarara University of Science and Technology, meeting virtually throughout the year to develop post-hospital rehabilitation resources for traumatic brain injury patients. When Duke students and faculty visited Uganda during the summer, their prior virtual collaboration provided a strong foundation of shared goals and working practices that enhanced the productivity of the larger team. Successful virtual collaboration strategies helped other teams develop effective relationships with collaborators from Alabama to Antarctica.

More than 15 project teams explored dimensions of climate change and biodiversity conservation, including a team that’s developing cutting-edge surveillance technologies and AI tools to collect and analyze forest biodiversity data. This team, which spent three weeks at a biological preserve in Costa Rica during the summer, has been selected as a semifinalist for the $10 million Rainforest XPRIZE, a global competition to incentivize technology innovation for biodiversity assessment.

Male student holding a pole and observing a drone inside a classroom as others look on.
Students practice using a drone to drop traps. (Photo: Jared Lazarus)

We also launched a new theme, Race & Society, which will host seven project teams in its inaugural year, an effort that will further Duke’s commitments to racial and social equity.

As we begin this new chapter, we bid a fond farewell to our Education & Human Development theme (EHD), which supported 121 projects over the past nine years, involving more than 650 students. The impact of this theme will continue through ongoing faculty and student research, lasting partnerships with community organizations and a cohort of EHD alumni who have embarked on careers in related fields.

A group of six students, faculty and staff pose for a photo.
One EHD project team involved a collaboration to strengthen partnerships between local universities and Durham Public Schools. Amy Ellis, Eliza Mathew, Donnie Hale, Songia Wynn, Josh Podl, Amaya Jackson are shown here during a research trip. (Photo: University of Central Florida)

A key goal in recent years has been to embed elements of the program into the curriculum. Toward that end, we launched our second cohort of Collaborative Project Courses Faculty Fellows in partnership with Duke Learning Innovation. Fourteen faculty are designing graduate and undergraduate courses in which applied projects form the center of the student learning experience. Many students have already felt the impact of this program through courses taught by faculty from our first cohort, including one course in which students examined archival materials and oral histories on Latinx activism at Duke to create an interactive exhibit in Perkins Library.

Interior view of exhibit in library.
The students’ exhibit traces the history of Latinx students, faculty and staff at Duke from the early 1900s to the present. (Photo: Duke University Archives)

As we look ahead to our tenth year in 2022-23, we are eager to celebrate the program’s successes and share the lessons we’ve learned with communities beyond Duke. Early in 2022, we partnered with Methodspace on a series exploring the impact of Bass Connections on society, students, faculty and alumni. In the coming year, we look forward to additional avenues through which to commemorate our first decade.

We remain ever grateful for the support and engagement of our donors and other members of the Duke community that has enabled this program to grow and thrive.

Edward J. Balleisen
Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies
Laura Howes
Director, Bass Connections