Ten Groups of Faculty Receive Intellectual Community Planning Grants for 2020

Campus in winter.

The Provost’s Office has awarded Intellectual Community Planning Grants to ten groups for the 2020 calendar year.

A key goal of Together Duke is to invest in faculty as scholars and leaders of the university’s intellectual communities. To foster collaboration around new and emerging areas of interest, Intellectual Community Planning Grants (ICPG) ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 are available to groups of faculty. Recipients can use the funds to support the exploration of new collaborations, covering the cost of meeting venues, food, external speakers or other meeting costs, and research to identify potential collaborators at Duke and elsewhere.

The 2020 grants include faculty from all of Duke’s schools as well as the University of North Carolina, NC State University, and NC Central University.

Bridging Social Determinants of Health with Clinical Extensions of Care for Vulnerable Populations

Bridging team members.

This group will establish a partnership between Duke’s Clinical Translational Science Institute and the Social Science Research Institute in order to develop a portfolio of scholarly activity that tackles the interplay of social determinants of health, clinical health outcomes, and the advancement of health equity. Members will develop a compilation of resources to facilitate interdisciplinary and collaborative research and take advantage of short-term synergies that allow for additional coauthored publications. They will also develop research proposals to design and test one or more interventions.

Developing a Neuroethics and Theological Studies Network

Developing Neuroethics team members.

What can theological studies contribute to neuroethics, and vice versa? How can the engagement of theological studies with neuroethics best be facilitated? How can further interdisciplinary collaboration at Duke shape such dialogue? This group seeks to foster and expand the work of an emerging international cohort of scholars working at the intersection of theological studies and neuroethics.

Duke SciReg Center: Science in Regulation, Law, and Public Policy

Duke SciReg ICPG members.

Bringing together Duke faculty and students from STEM disciplines, law, and policy, this group will seek to facilitate the provision of timely comments from Duke experts to state and federal agencies on pending regulations that implicate scientific and technical issues. Following a series of conversations and planning events, members hope to establish a center at Duke that would create a unique model for interdisciplinary education in science, law, and policy through actual participation in the regulatory process.

Entity Resolution with Applications to Public Policy and Business

Entity Resolutions ICPG members.

This collaboration will enable the formation of a multidisciplinary lab of social scientists, public policy analysts, business scholars, mathematicians and statisticians who seek to understand the practical issues related to entity resolution (ER)—the processes of removing duplicates from large databases and engaging in accurate record linkage across databases. There will be regular meetings of the member research groups to explore applications of ER tasks in public policy and business; one Ph.D. student will work on a project to implement members’ developed tools into software for public distribution and a working paper.

Housing and Health: A Multisector Community-driven Approach to Achieving Health Equity

Housing ICPG members.

Combining a community engagement process with interdisciplinary expertise, these faculty hope to address social, economic, and environmental influencers of health, with the eventual goal of transforming Durham into a healthier place for its most vulnerable residents. Members will participate in an interactive, facilitated pre-planning meeting and four design-thinking workshops with community partners, followed by a post-workshop debrief and a meeting to determine next steps and future directions.

Human Rights Futures

Human Rights ICPG members.

This community of human rights scholars plans will discuss a new temporal framing for human rights: one that remains aware of past grievances and the need for reparations, but that places such awareness in the service of a sustainable and desirable future. Involving graduate and undergraduate students, the group will explore a number of ideas for how this multiyear project might come to life. Following several working lunches, the group plans to launch a “speculative fiction book club,” host a guest speaker, and convene a day-long workshop.

  • Lead: James Chappel, History, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Kathi Weeks, Gender, Sexuality, & Feminist Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Robin Kirk, Cultural Anthropology, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Adam Rosenblatt, International Comparative Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Liliana Paredes, Romance Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Marion Quirici, Thompson Writing Program, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Jen Ansley, Thompson Writing Program, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Emily Stewart, Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute

Light-based Methods in Neuroscience and Biology

Light-based ICPG members.

This group aims to cross-pollinate ideas among neuroscientists, engineers, and data scientists. Each meeting focus on related questions requiring interdisciplinary engagement (e.g., How can we use light-based methods, such as scanless holography, adaptive optics, computational optics approaches, and genetically encoded activity sensors and actuators such as bacterial opsins, to investigate neural function?) Members will share information about resources for addressing these questions and communicate across Duke to strengthen imaging infrastructure.

North Carolina Saltwater Intrusion and Sea Level Rise

NC Saltwater ICPG members.

Predicting the impacts of sea level rise and the accompanying saltwater intrusion on freshwater coastal wetlands is a complex challenge. While the formation of “ghost forests”—the rapid death of trees due to salt stress—is gaining attention, our understanding remains fragmented. This group will convene a one-day workshop to develop an overarching research framework, with the goals of then pooling resources, sharing data, and submitting joint grant proposals.

Opioid Detection Technologies and Their Application to Addressing Various Aspects of the Opioid Crisis

Opioid ICPG members.

How can novel detection technologies be brought to bear on the opioid crisis? Members of this group will explore that question by undertaking two parallel activity streams: monthly collaboration meetings to share information; and acquisition of initial compound signatures on two fundamental detection technologies (X-ray diffraction and mass spectrometry). These faculty will pursue increased cross-disciplinary understanding of the opioid crisis and its detection needs; a baseline signature library of relevant compounds to support future analysis and design; and one or more joint proposals on topics related to detection and the opioid crisis.

Transformative Learning: A Shared Intellectual Interest across the University

Transformative Learning ICPG members.

This group’s primary goal is to identify transformative learning moments among Duke students. Members will meet monthly to develop a shared knowledge of transformative learning practices and assessment. They will host a dinner with Dr. Stacey Johnson of Vanderbilt University, a renowned expert in transformative learning in language education, convene two campus-wide discussions, and invite a nationally recognized speaker to give a public talk. The group will create a shared toolkit of assessment tools for transformative learning and develop conference proposals and a publication to showcase this work.

  • Co-lead: Cori Crane, Germanic Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Co-lead: Deb Reisinger, Romance Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Co-lead: Joan Clifford, Romance Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Jennifer Ahern-Dodson, Thompson Writing Program, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Alessandra Dinin, Office of Assessment, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Jennifer Hill, Office of Assessment, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • David Malone, Program in Education, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Liliana Paredes, Romance Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Melissa Simmermeyer, Romance Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Read about the 2019 recipients of Intellectual Community Planning Grants and view the 2018 summary report.

See all initiatives in the Together Duke academic strategic plan, including the current RFP for Collaboratories for Research on Immigration or on Science, Technology & Ethics (deadline: January 24, 2020; to learn more, attend an information session on Thursday, January 9, from 3:00 to 4:00 in the Karl E. Zener Auditorium, 130 Sociology-Psychology).

Integrating Purpose, Character, and Ethics into Undergraduate Engineering Education

Pratt School of Engineering.

As the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University continues to evolve its undergraduate curriculum, the school is working to integrate crucial but often overlooked pieces of a holistic engineering education. With a new grant from The Kern Family Foundation’s Entrepreneurial Engineering Program, Duke Engineering will work with Duke colleagues and external professionals to create a framework for focusing on character values throughout the undergraduate experience.

“Today’s engineering students want to see how engineering impacts people’s lives and makes the world a better place,” said George Truskey, senior associate dean of the Pratt School of Engineering and the R. Eugene and Susie E. Goodson Professor of Biomedical Engineering. “At the same time, we’ve witnessed serious ethical lapses by major corporations in recent years. We feel that it is very important to infuse character values throughout our programs and to encourage students to think about what ethical issues new technologies may pose before they even come out.”

The grant, titled “Purposefully Duke: Reimagining Engineering Education for Purpose, Character and Ethics,” draws Duke Engineering together with the Duke Divinity School and Duke’s Kenan Institute for Ethics. The grant will also bring in experts from outside the university to create a working group of faculty and staff to develop an approach for discussing character-based ethics in a manner that is easily integrated into the current student experience.

“The Purposefully Duke initiative is designed to build a ‘muscle for reflection’ amongst our students and help them frame success in a way that leads to a life of purpose, meaning and ethics⁠—a fulfilling life where professional success is not the end goal of college, but one ingredient in a larger journey of personal growth.  We are grateful to the Kern Foundation, and to our Duke colleagues in the Divinity School, the Kenan Institute for Ethics and the Provost’s office, for their support in this important embrace of a higher responsibility that all of us share in higher education.”

Ravi Bellamkonda
Vinik Dean of Engineering

The end goal is to create a proposal that develops and implements curricular, co-curricular and mentoring programs that explore and reinforce issues of character, purpose and ethics in engineering. Once completed, the leaders plan to submit a larger proposal to implement the new findings and ideas by Fall 2020.

The Kern Family Foundation was established in 1998 to empower the rising generation of Americans to build flourishing lives anchored in strong character, inspired by quality education, driven by an entrepreneurial mindset, and guided by the desire to create value for others. Earlier this year, Duke Engineering joined the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN), which is a national partnership of engineering faculty focused on developing and promoting innovation in engineering education for the good of society. While the Kern Foundation wants to keep the focus of KEEN on fostering an entrepreneurial mindset in students, the budding program dovetails nicely into their broader goal of adding meaning and purpose to students’ educations and careers.

While planning is still in the early stages, Truskey says he envisions tapping into Duke Engineering’s extensive alumni network and other professionals in the field to recount their experiences and how they dealt with challenging situations. That way students can see that ethical dilemmas are real issues dealt with by real professionals on a regular basis, not just things that come up in the news from time to time.

“We need to find ways to engage students that allow them to see the complexity of the problems that can come up,” said Truskey. “If you give a student a case study of a serious ethical flaw, they’re going to immediately figure out what the right thing to do is. The challenge is to put them into a situation where there are gray areas so that they can see all the pressures and tensions that conflict with each other. Then it becomes more realistic and more challenging for them to think the problem through.”

“This grant addresses issues of central importance to engineering, higher education, and broader issues in people’s lives and the world of reinvigorating our vocations with character, purpose and ethical commitment,” said Gregory Jones, dean of the Duke Divinity School.

“We’re excited to collaborate with Pratt and the Divinity School on this important work of reimagining engineering education to make questions of purpose and meaning core learning outcomes,” added Suzanne Shanahan, director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics.

Originally posted on the Pratt School of Engineering website

Ethics Students Find Power Plant Proposal Sheds Light on Gray Areas of Decision Making

A proposal by the electric operator Duke Energy to site a combined heat and power facility on the Duke University campus became a teachable moment for 10 Duke students in a course on the ethical dimensions of environmental policy. The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions’ Kay Jowers, led the course David Toole who holds joint appointments in the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Duke Global Health Institute, and the Duke Divinity School. They saw a ready-made case study of the influence on policy of assumptions about how things should or ought to be in the university’s process for considering the proposal.

“We weren’t looking to have the students weigh in on a decision on the proposed plant so much as help them engage with a real-time decision-making process in order to assess the underlying commitments and assumptions of its participants,” said Jowers.

That effort involved social science, philosophy, and even theology, along with data collection. In particular, it trip included a trip to a hog farm so the students could learn how it makes biogas, one potential fuel source for Duke Energy’s proposed 21-megawatt plant.

To learn how biogas production might affect nearby residents and how stakeholders perceived many other aspects of the proposed plant, the ethics students conducted interviews with four small focus groups.

“I was shocked to learn how drastically differently each group viewed stakeholder engagement in the decision-making process,” said Elizabeth Allen, a rising junior studying environmental science and policy who facilitated the interview with local community members and sat in on her classmates’ interview of university administrators.

Allen said she began the course with a “theoretical understanding of environmental justice and stakeholder engagement” and left it awakened to the reality that “there are no ideal solutions. At the end of the day, decisions must be made—and these decisions will never make everyone happy,” a reference to varying perceptions about the benefits and costs of the project, now delayed indefinitely as the university focuses its attention on expanding opportunities to use environmentally friendly fuels to advance its goal of carbon neutrality by 2024.

In a final report compiled by the students that will be submitted to focus group participants, the students detail those perceptions. But the main audience for the just-out report is Duke administrators.

“The report recommends communication improvement strategies for engaging stakeholders,” Jowers said. “It supports open engagement with community stakeholders, accountability to the environment and the community, and transparency and inclusiveness.”

Allen said getting her head around a real-world issue with environmental justice components was what she was after and what the ethics and environmental policy course provided.

“It helped me think about the gray areas of decision making, tradeoffs, and stakeholder engagement,” Allen said. “I came out with a more nuanced understanding of how real-world decisions are made, which will help me when I am working to advocate for or change decisions being made.”

Originally posted on the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions’ website

Work was supported by The Issachar Fund. Images courtesy of Matthew Nash and Ruxandra Popovici.

Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) 2017-2018 Report

Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) grantees


Together Duke, the university’s 2017 strategic plan, includes a goal to provide a transformative educational experience for all students and sets forth increased opportunities for graduate and professional school students to prepare for a wide array of career options.

Duke’s Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) program supports doctoral and master’s students to stretch beyond their core disciplinary training and deepen preparation for academic positions and other career trajectories. Through this internal funding mechanism, students are encouraged to propose an experience that would enhance or expand their training (e.g., an internship, training workshop, or hands-on learning opportunity not available within their program or at Duke).

Proposals require endorsement from the student’s primary faculty mentor, and a clear explanation of how the experience will broaden the applicant’s intellectual perspective and potentially impact his or her dissertation research or capstone project. The proposed experience may last for up to one full semester; most take place during the summer. All current graduate students (including master’s, professional, and Ph.D. students) in any program at Duke University are eligible to apply. All internships, work, and services proposed must be performed outside of Duke (i.e., may not be work for Duke).

This grant program began in 2016-2017; for information about the first cohort, please see the 2016-2017 GSTEG report.

Applicant Pool

For the 2017-2018 academic year, a January 2017 RFP invited all current Duke graduate students to propose training enhancement activities lasting up to one semester. We received 58 proposals, which were reviewed by an ad hoc committee convened by the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies with representation from faculty, institute directors, and graduate students, representing all divisions of knowledge.

Among the applicants, there were 47 Ph.D. students, 9 master’s students, 1 M.D. student, and 1 Th.D. student. Together they represented Arts & Sciences (29 students), Nicholas School of the Environment (10), Sanford School of Public Policy (4), and School of Nursing (4) as well as the Divinity School, School of Medicine, and Pratt School of Engineering (1 each); the remaining 8 applicants came from various interdisciplinary graduate programs.

2017-2018 GSTEG Recipients

Eighteen students received 2017-2018 GSTEG grants. The majority (15) were Ph.D. students, with 2 master’s students and 1 Th.D. student. They came from Arts & Sciences (7), Nicholas (5), and Divinity, Medicine, Nursing, Pratt, and Sanford (1 each); 1 student was in the Global Health master’s program based in the Duke Global Health Institute. The average award was $2,225.

Student Program Proposed Use of GSTEG Faculty Mentor
ARTS & SCIENCES            
Sarah (Sally) Bornbusch Ph.D. in Evolutionary Anthropology Work at North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences’ Genomics & Microbiology Research Lab to learn how to assess antibiotic resistance in bacterial microbiomes of nonhuman primates, to inform dissertation on relationship between primate gut microbiomes and host health Christine Drea
Lok Chan Ph.D. in Philosophy Take part in Udacity Machine Learning Program to develop skills needed to produce a web-based application for logic education and, through practice, a deeper understanding of philosophical differences between Bayesian and Frequentist statistical methods, which will inform dissertation on learning and testing through lenses of philosophy and statistics Kevin Hoover
Emily Cherenack Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology Volunteer with Femme International to implement reproductive health intervention for adolescent girls in Tanzania, and receive training from Dr. Adam Carrico at University of Miami on how to use biological measures in research with women, which will further ability to conduct research on reproductive and sexual health among adolescent girls in Tanzania Kathleen Sikkema
William Cioffi Ph.D. in Ecology Attend course at University of Utah on stable isotope biogeochemistry and ecology, which will support dissertation proposal to use baleen from fin whales to reconstruct individual life histories and assess changes in foraging ecology, reproduction and stress Andrew Read
Stephanie Manning M.A. in Digital Art History Attend course at Sotheby’s Art Institute on finance and art markets to deepen understanding of the art market industry, including financial aspects behind valuing and appraising art, to prepare for career as specialized art consultant or investment analyst Sheila Dillon
Kate Thomas Ph.D. in Biology Conduct coding-intensive research at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, drawing on its database of millions of deep-sea animal sightings, to inform research on vision and bioluminescence in deep-sea cephalopods Sönke Johnsen
Jillian Wisse Ph.D. in Ecology Learn a novel analysis technique (liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry for blubber analysis) at National Institute of Standards and Technology, to support a preliminary analysis using remote blubber biopsy samples from pilot whales Douglas Nowacek
Dustin Benac Th.D. in Theology Attend Qualitative Research Methods Intensive Seminar at University of North Carolina’s Odum Institute for training in qualitative data collection and interpretation, to be applied to a pilot study examining patterns of connection among five church-related educational institutions in Pacific Northwest Craig Dykstra
Bria Moore Ph.D. in Medical Physics Attend course on radiation emergency medicine at Oak Ridge Associated Universities to learn practical aspects of handling contaminated patients in a hospital setting, which will improve ability to communicate effectively with medical professionals in emergency situations Terry Yoshizumi
Amelia Meier Ph.D. in Environment Train at Institute for Research in Tropical Ecology in Gabon to learn genetic analysis methods necessary to identify individual forest elephants, which will inform dissertation on elephant tracking in Gabon John Poulsen
Kirsten Overdahl Ph.D. in Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health Purchase software licenses for cheminformatic programs Schrodinger and Py Mol, which are required for a UNC course on research in pharmaceutical sciences, which will inform dissertation on chemical pollutant structure/occurrence and biological effects P. Lee Ferguson
Ryan Peabody Ph.D. in Earth and Ocean Sciences [later decided to graduate with M.S. degree] Take course at Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences on modern observational oceanography with a focus on carbon and nutrient sampling, to support research employing oceanographic data, satellite remote sensing data and models to examine linkage of large-scale ocean circulation and ocean productivity Susan Lozier
Seth Sykora-Bodie Ph.D. in Marine Science and Conservation Participate in Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey to inform dissertation on comprehensive approaches to Antarctic resource management and conservation Lisa Campbell and Andrew Read
Anna Wade Ph.D. in Environment Train at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in use of silicon-32, a radioisotope serving as a novel dating tool for environmental processes, which will support dissertation research on legacy sediment Daniel Richter
Allison Lewinski Ph.D. in Nursing Attend course at University College London on applying principles of behavior change in behavioral research interventions, which will help in characterizing social interaction and support among individuals with type-2 diabetes who engage with one another in a computer-mediated environment Allison Vorderstrasse (formerly of the School of Nursing)
William Gerhard Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering Intern with Danish Hydraulic Institute in Singapore to incorporate antibiotic resistance genes and pathogens into a global ballast water movement model, which will support dissertation research and potentially inform policy and regulatory decisions under debate by the United Nations Claudia Gunsch
Mercy DeMenno Ph.D. in Public Policy Gain hands-on experience interning with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development conducting research related to the theory and practice of effective regulatory governance in the financial sector Frederick Mayer
Sophie Galson M.S. in Global Health Take part in residential immersive Swahili course at The Training Centre for Development Cooperation in Eastern and Southern Africa in Tanzania, to support research project on hypertension in emergency department of Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center Catherine Staton

Types of Grant Activities and Examples of Impact

Hands-on Training

Assessing Antibiotic Resistance to Understand How Wild and Captive Lemurs Stay Healthy

Sally Bornbusch spent a summer with the Genomics & Microbiology Research Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences learning how to assess antibiotic resistance in bacterial microbiomes of non-human primates such as lemurs. This experience will inform her dissertation on the relationship between primate gut microbiomes and host health.

Sally BornbuschI learned laboratory skills (e.g., qPCR) necessary to assess the presence of 86 known antibiotic resistance genes in the gut and armpit microbiomes of multiple lemur species. I was also able to spend a portion of the summer collecting lemur microbiome samples both from lemurs at the Duke Lemur Center and, with the help of collaborators, from wild lemurs in Madagascar. With my newly acquired analysis skills, I will be able to characterize antibiotic resistance in these invaluable samples, a novel research project that greatly enhances my dissertation research.

Sally Bornbusch, Ph.D. in Evolutionary Anthropology

With New Skills in Genetic Analysis, Ph.D. Student Enhances Study of Forest Elephants

Amelia Meier researches forest elephants in Gabon. She set out to learn how to conduct genetic analysis to help identify individual elephants, which will inform her dissertation.

I was able to receive one-on-one training in genetic analysis at the Institute for Research in Tropical Ecology in Gabon. Over 14 days I worked directly with the scientist who developed the Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) panel necessary to identify individual elephants from their dung.

After learning the theory behind SNP genotyping, I was trained on how to use and interpret results from DNA sequencing equipment such as a Real-time Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machine. These skills are critical to my dissertation.

Amelia Meier, Ph.D. in Environment

From Hawaii to the Antarctic, Ph.D. Student Works to Protect Endangered Species

How can marine protected areas be used to reduce habitat degradation and biodiversity loss? Seth Sykora-Bodie took part in the Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey to inform his dissertation on Antarctic resource management and conservation.

Seth Sykora-BodieI applied for GSTEG to participate in a large-scale marine mammal survey being conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fishery Service to gain experience in collecting the data that underlies federal conservation and management decisions. I learned more about survey design and methods, marine mammals acoustics, and even seabird identification. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life and significantly improved my understanding of the data, and how it is collected, that underpins much of the work of my dissertation.

Seth Sykora-Bodie, Ph.D. in Marine Science and Conservation

Biologist Builds Skills in Coding to Study Deep-sea Marine Animals

Kate Thomas conducted research at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, drawing on its database of millions of deep-sea animal sightings, to inform her work on vision and bioluminescence in deep-sea cephalopods. She will be a postdoctoral fellow at the Natural History Museum in London.

Kate ThomasI spent two months using physical oceanographic data collected at sea to model light levels in the deep ocean and test how these correlate to patterns of animal distributions.

This project expanded the scope of my scientific training and how I think about my future research goals. In addition, it has turned into an ongoing collaboration across three institutions and a long-term effort to understand the variability of midwater light fields and their effects on deep-sea communities.

Kate Thomas, Ph.D. in Biology

What’s in the Soil? Student Heads to IsoCamp to Learn New Skills for Analyzing Forests

Anna Wade attended the University of Utah’s two-week IsoCamp, which trains Ph.D. students and postdocs how to use stable isotopes to model environmental and ecological processes, to enhance her dissertation research on lead (Pb) in southeastern forest soils.

Equipment[I learned] how to use a ThermoElectron isotope ratio mass spectrometer, how to collect and prepare environmental samples, and how to use isotope-mixing models to interpret the results. Because of this training experience, I’ll have a much better grasp of how to use stable isotopes of Pb to delineate between natural and contaminant sources of lead. The tools and connections will provide solid groundwork for my isotopic research.

Anna Wade, Ph.D. in Environment

A Deep Dive into Blubber Samples Yields a Novel Method to Study Whales

Jillian Wisse studies a species of pilot whale that dives especially deep. To learn more about how they relate to their environment, she sought specialized training at the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Hollings Marine Laboratory in Charleston.

Hollings Marine LaboratoryI worked with a leading endocrine researcher to learn hormone extraction and tandem mass spectrometry. With her guidance, I developed a novel analysis method, which will allow scientists to conduct more efficient and comprehensive hormone analyses of these tissue samples, aiding efforts to understand the behavior and physiology of these difficult-to-access animals.

Jillian Wisse, Ph.D. in Ecology


Learning New Skills to Study Girls’ Mental and Reproductive Health in Tanzania

To enhance her dissertation on mental and reproductive health among adolescent girls in Tanzania, Emily Cherenack volunteered with a nonprofit and received specialized training on biological markers.

Emily CherenackFor half the summer, I worked with Dr. Adam Carrico at the University of Miami to learn how to use biological markers in research with HIV-positive women. For the other half, I lived in Moshi, Tanzania, and worked with the NGO Femme International. I learned how to conduct research on menstruation with adolescent girls in schools and saw how to implement education interventions with girls.

GSTEG was essential for me to gain these experiences and work with experts and in the field to develop an interdisciplinary dissertation that merges the fields of clinical psychology and reproductive health.

Emily Cherenack, Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology

Research Residency with the OECD Provides Hands-on Experience with Regulatory Policymaking

Mercy DeMenno completed a three-month research residency at the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) in Paris, where she worked with the Directorate for Public Governance in the Regulatory Policy Division.

Mercy DeMennoI undertook a wonderful experiential learning and collaborative research experience in 2017, which enabled me to contribute to the theory and practice of effective regulatory governance.

The Regulatory Policy Division’s portfolio covers a range of regulatory governance issues, and the Division has developed key competencies in several areas germane to my dissertation research—including stakeholder participation in rulemaking, regulatory impact assessment, and international regulatory co-operation—making it an ideal place to work at the intersection of the theory and practice of effective regulatory governance as a doctoral student. The GSTEG experience contributed to my envisaged academic and professional trajectory by improving my research, leadership, and communication skills; enhancing the quality and impact of my dissertation; and embedding me in a network of critical importance to my post-degree job search.

Mercy DeMenno, Ph.D. in Public Policy

What’s in the Water? Ph.D. Student Studies the Organisms in Large Ships’ Ballast Tanks

Ships fill and empty their ballast tanks as needed for stability. Whenever ballast water is taken on or discharged, aquatic plants and animals go along for the ride, which increases the risk of introducing invasive species. William Gerhard spent a month in Singapore for an internship with the Danish Hydraulic Institute (DHI), where he learned how to incorporate antibiotic resistance genes and pathogens into a global ballast water movement model.

William GerhardThis company specializes in creating modeling software for hydrologic systems. In addition, DHI operates the only tropical ballast water testing facility in the world. My dissertation focuses on the microbial community of ballast water in large ships, so their expertise in ballast water and modeling proved especially informative to my ongoing work. The unique opportunity afforded by GSTEG allowed me to explore a potential future career path while also expanding comfort zones within my dissertation research.

William Gerhard, Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering


An Interdisciplinary Exploration of Patterns of Connection in the Practice of Faith

Dustin Benac wanted to enhance his training in theology and organizational theory by integrating qualitative data collection and interpretation into his research. A summer course at UNC’s Odum Institute for Research in Social Science proved timely, and he went on to apply this new knowledge to a study examining patterns of connection among five church-related educational institutions in the Pacific Northwest.

Dustin BenacThe impact extends well beyond this single course. I have since worked with colleagues from across the university to consider approaches to visually depict the preliminary findings from my qualitative research. I will present a paper at the Pacific Northwest American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting and have a book review coming out in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies.

The opportunity to receive supplemental training has deepened my knowledge, vastly expanded my network, and equipped me to engage and support a wider range of research from across the university. While the specific methods training and research experiences will certainly inform the scope and content of my dissertation, I anticipate the range of relationships and experiences that have followed will have the most significant impact on my development as a scholar.

Dustin Benac, Th.D. in Theology

Machine Learning Techniques Help Philosopher Build an App for Logic Education

Lok Chan is writing a dissertation on learning and testing through the lenses of philosophy and statistics. To develop the skills he needed to produce a web-based application for logic education, he enrolled in Udacity’s Machine Learning Nanodegree Program.

Lok Chan's logic app exampleWhat I learned has had a tremendous impact on both my interest as a researcher and as an educator. This program provides practice-oriented training in various machine learning techniques, such as supervised learning, reinforcement learning, and convolutional neural networks. Using these techniques, I have made substantial improvement to the logic education application I have previously developed.

Initially, my application could only generate logic problems in a purely random manner. With machine learning techniques, however, I have devised a model in which a student’s response could be used as a basis for generating a problem that addresses her particular strengths and weaknesses.

Lok Chan, Ph.D. in Philosophy

Ecology Doctoral Student Analyzes Whales’ Baleen to Reconstruct the Story of a Species

What can a fin whale’s feeding apparatus tell us about that animal? William Cioffi took a summer course on stable isotope ecology to support his dissertation on using baleen from fin whales to reconstruct individual life histories and assess changes in foraging ecology, reproduction, and stress.

William CioffiBaleen whales are named for the keratin plates that comprise their feeding apparatus. These plates grow continuously throughout an animal’s life. By repeatedly sampling for stable isotope analysis along the growth axis of an individual plate, a time series can be generated that provides information about foraging and migratory behavior that might have been occurring when that part of the plate was growing. These data provide a window into the past for populations that may no longer exist, but for which baleen plates have been archived in museums or other collections.

Most exciting about this course was the opportunity to discuss ideas and challenges with other students and instructors who had all spent a great deal of time thinking about these issues. The participants included those studying vertebrates, geology, botany, and even forensic science.

William Cioffi, Ph.D. in Ecology

From Durham to Moshi, New Skills Strengthen Research on Hypertension and Emergency Care

Sophie Galson has been collaborating on a research project on hypertension in the emergency department of Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center in Moshi, Tanzania. To build her language skills and strengthen her contribution to this ongoing work, she enrolled in a residential immersive Swahili course at The Training Centre for Development Cooperation in Eastern and Southern Africa (TCDC).

Sophie GalsonI have greatly enjoyed learning the language and culture, and the weekly tutoring sessions have helped greatly to accelerate this progress. The TCDC course was a perfect capstone experience and I was able to start at an intermediate level due to the tutoring.

This grant has also had effects beyond myself. Our team has been motivated by my experience to slowly start to incorporate more Swahili into our weekly meetings. I am thrilled to be staying at Duke and will be starting this summer as an assistant professor in the Department of Surgery, Division of Emergency Medicine!

Sophie Galson, M.S. in Global Health

Delving into Behavior Change to Help Improve Health Outcomes in Adults with Diabetes

To inform her work on social interaction among individuals with type-2 diabetes who engage with one another in a computer-mediated environment, Allison Lewinski took part in a week-long course at the University College London Centre for Behaviour Change.

Allison LewinskiThis course expanded my knowledge about all the components to consider when designing behavior change interventions! I obtained insight into what behaviors to select and target in an intervention and what factors to consider when developing an intervention. I interacted with individuals from a variety of backgrounds who were also interested in developing interventions focused on changing behaviors. Overall, this course better prepared me for the postdoctoral position I recently started in health services research at the Durham Center for Health Services Research in Primary Care at the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Allison Lewinski, Ph.D. in Nursing

Summer Course Provides an Immersive Exploration of the Value of Art

In preparation for a career as a specialized art consultant or investment analyst, Stephanie Manning took a summer course at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London to deepen her understanding of the art market industry.

Stephanie ManningThis experience has forever changed the way I view art. I have always considered the intrinsic value when viewing art, and now I push deeper into my thoughts on the financial value of the work to consider how much others would be willing to pay for it, and the value I place on the emotional response I gather from the work.

Through this experience, I was able to better understand the valuation and appraisal of art and the cultural heritage of Sotheby’s art auctions. Being able to personally interact with gallery curators and to visit some of the most prestigious and historic museums in London allowed me to experience how art professionals interact with the art they showcase and preserve, and how intertwined and complex the cultural and financial values are in the art of appraisal.

Stephanie Manning, M.A. in Digital Art History

Training in Radiation Emergency Medicine Prepares Student for Role in Patient Care

Bria Moore enriched her training by attending a course on radiation emergency medicine at Oak Ridge Associated Universities. Learning about the practical aspects of handling contaminated patients in a hospital setting will improve her ability to communicate effectively with medical professionals in emergency situations.

Bria MooreThis experience was invaluable. The opportunity to work hand in hand with experienced emergency medicine physicians, nurse practitioners, and general physicians in an emergency room setup was amazing. As one of only two physicists in the room, I enjoyed the chance to determine my niche in patient care for radiological events.

I left Oak Ridge with a new confidence in my abilities to meld well in an emergency room, and a broad network of friends and colleagues in a variety of medical fields that I hope will be valuable resources later in my career.

Bria Moore, Ph.D. in Medical Physics

Graduate Student Sees Clear Benefits of Observational Oceanography Training in Bermuda

Ryan Peabody sought to learn more about modern observational oceanography to support his research on the linkage between large-scale ocean circulation and ocean productivity. A hands-on course at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences provided a vital supplement to his graduate training.

Ryan Peabody and fellow studentsI had the opportunity to learn about the capabilities of modern ocean observing platforms and to gain practical experience working with them in the field.

It was a great chance to meet other oceanographers and oceanography students, and learn more about the field methods being developed in the field.

Ryan Peabody, M.S. in Earth and Ocean Sciences

Research Materials

Molecular Modeling Techniques Aid Exploration of Environmental Contamination

Kirsten Overdahl’s work explores the occurrences and biological effects of emerging environmental contaminants in indoor environments. To further her dissertation research, she sought to purchase software to implement machine learning-based molecular modeling to predict chemical behaviors.

Kirsten OverdahlI spent Fall 2017 in the Molecular Modeling Lab in the Eshelman School of Pharmacy at UNC-Chapel Hill three times per week, training on the modeling techniques that we have since begun to implement in our laboratory. We spent Spring 2018 exploring how we could successfully implement public-domain programs; while we can do many things with these programs, we elected to purchase Schrodinger’s Materials Science Suite. This program will allow us to generate all possible 3-dimensional conformers of the 2-dimensional molecular structures we are able to identify in our search for emerging environmental contaminants.

Kirsten Overdahl, Ph.D. in Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health

Looking Ahead

A January 2018 RFP invited all current Duke graduate students (including master’s, professional, and Ph.D. students) to propose graduate training enhancement activities lasting up to one semester. We received 36 proposals for the third GSTEG cohort. Proposals were reviewed by a panel of faculty and graduate students from across the university.

Fourteen students received GSTEG grants for use in 2018-2019. Their graduate programs are housed in Arts & Sciences (7 students), Nicholas School of the Environment (4), School of Law (1), School of Nursing (1), and Pratt School of Engineering (1). Thirteen are Ph.D. students; one student is pursuing her S.J.D. The average award was $3,254. Recipients will report on their activities by June 30, 2019.

Student Program Proposed Use of GSTEG Faculty Mentor
Torang Asadi Ph.D. in Religion Enroll in human computer interaction and user experience research courses at UC-Berkeley, Coursera, and Stanford in Summer 2018 to learn methods for studying ways in which humans and machines are intertwined in constituting humanity, to support research on healthcare among Iranians in northern California David Morgan
Christina Bejjani Ph.D. in Psychology and Neuroscience Attend one of two Computational Summer Schools to acquire computational analytic skills, learn how to incorporate novel and innovative themes within human neuroscience research, and network with leading researchers and fellow attendees Tobias Egner
Yanyou Chen Ph.D. in Economics Take part in week-long Railway Operations module of Railway Executive Development Program at Michigan State University, to learn about such topics as how a rail network is formed and operated, how locomotive and car leasing works, and how carpooling and fleet management is conducted Christopher Timmins
Gray Kidd Ph.D. in History Engage in six weeks of professional training in the production of documentary films in Recife, Brazil, in order to produce a companion piece to dissertation, reach underrepresented publics in field research, and build skills as a public humanist John D. French
Zachary Levine Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology Enroll in plant medicine course at the Jardim Botânico of Rio de Janeiro in Spring 2018 to develop a more rigorous understanding of science-based fundamentals of plant healing, in support of research on Brazil’s state-sanctioned use of ayahuasca Diane M. Nelson
Adrian Linden-High Ph.D. in Classical Studies Attend International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) workshop at University of Victoria, Canada, in June 2018, to build skills in using ultra-high-resolution photographic reproductions of cultural heritage objects Mary T. Boatwright
Julia Notar Ph.D. in Biology Take part in two-week Sensory Ecology Course at Lund University, Sweden, in October 2018, to learn about multiple topics in the field of sensory ecology and support dissertation research on visual ecology Sönke Johnsen
Christine Ryan S.J.D. in Law Conduct fieldwork to examine the role of international human rights law in access to abortion in Kenya; collaborate with advocacy organizations, policymakers, healthcare workers, and grassroots organizations; assess relevance of international human rights law in tackling obstacles to implementing court judgments and national abortion laws Katharine T. Bartlett
Patrick Gray Ph.D. in Marine Science and Conservation Attend Rutgers University Marine Technology Glider Camp to gain experience using oceanographic gliders and intern with a team experienced in applying artificial intelligence data analysis techniques to ecology, to better design and answer novel questions about the ecology of marine mammals David W. Johnston
Hillary Smith Ph.D. in Marine Science and Conservation Spend two months as a fellow of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) headquarters in Rome to learn more about the organization’s role in small-scale fisheries policy, to support dissertation on implementation of FAO’s first global policy instrument for the small-scale fishing sector Xavier Basurto
Weiyi Tang Ph.D. in Earth and Ocean Sciences Collaborate with Dr. Julie Robidart’s laboratory at National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, UK, to acquire training on how to identify types of diazotrophs in North Atlantic Ocean and explore how the microbial community influences N2 fixation rates, to support research on marine N2 fixation Nicolas Cassar
Phillip Turner Ph.D. in Marine Science and Conservation Develop informational materials in collaboration with the International Seabed Authority (ISA) and take part in the 24th Session of the ISA Council in Kingston, Jamaica, in July 2018, to introduce the seabed beneath the Middle Passage as a potential cultural heritage site Cindy Lee Van Dover
Morine Cebert Ph.D. in Nursing Attend three courses at Odum Institute’s Qualitative Research Summer Intensive at UNC-Chapel Hill in July 2018 and complete online Nurse Certificate Course for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, to support research on reproductive endocrinology care among African-American women Rosa M. Gonzalez-Guarda and Eleanor Stevenson
Siddharth Kawadiya Ph.D in Civil and Environmental Engineering Intern at Firmenich in Geneva to learn analytical methods of headspace analysis of reinvented toilets (which are off the grid; without any connections to water, sewer, or electricity), and incorporate the methods into the lab-scale testing of odor elimination capacity of odor-removing pouches Marc A. Deshusses

Learn More

The next RFP will be released in early 2019. All current Duke graduate students may propose graduate training enhancement activities lasting up to one semester, for use during the 2019-2020 academic year. If you have any questions, please contact the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies (216 Allen Building, 919-684-1964, interdisciplinary@duke.edu).

Interdisciplinary Groups Led by Duke Graduate Students Receive 2018-19 D-SIGN Grants

D-SIGN grantees 2018-19

The Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies has awarded Duke Support for Interdisciplinary Graduate Networks (D-SIGN) grants to six graduate student groups for the 2018-2019 academic year.

Duke-ACRE Partnership

  • Core students: Katherine Pringle, M.A. in Economics; Ryan Juskus, Ph.D. in Religion; Emma Lietz Bilecky, Master of Environmental Management

Up to 90% of households in Lowndes County, Alabama, have either no or inadequate access to sanitation, which poses serious health risks for residents. The Duke-ACRE Partnership aims to support doctoral and professional students from the Graduate School, Law School and Nicholas School of the Environment to address wastewater treatment in the county through an interdisciplinary, community-based research project. In conjunction with a 2018-19 Bass Connections project, the group will evaluate different strategies to address the wastewater management problem, combining engineering, policy, economic, and scientific solutions, as well as creatively representing the human face of the issue.

Fostering Community Participation in the Arts

  • Core students: James Budinich, Ph.D. in Music Composition; Brooks Frederickson, Ph.D. in Music Composition; Rebecca Uliasz, Ph.D. in Computational Media, Arts, and Cultures

Through the techniques of interactive media, improvisation, and community art-making, this group hopes to promote an equal role between creator and community member in fostering a more connected, democratic artistic community. With the help of guest experts, the group plans to present performative works to the Duke and Durham communities that blur the boundary between performer and audience. They will present four events over the 2018-19 academic year under the umbrella of the Duke Music Department. This approach views the community not as the recipient of artistic works, but rather as an equal partner in the artistic process.

Riding the Belt and Road

  • Core students: Yating Li, Ph.D. in Environmental Policy; Travis Dauwalter, Ph.D. in Public Policy; Seth Morgan, Ph.D. in Environmental Policy; Zainab Qazi, Master of Environmental Management; Santiago Sinclair Lecaros, Master of Environmental Management

Many countries’ pursuit of economic development depend on enormous investments in infrastructure, none more so than China’s new Belt Road Initiative. This mammoth undertaking seeks to establish a “new Silk Road” linking China with over 60 countries in Asia, Africa, and Europe. The group aims to ignite a discussion among students and faculty members on multiple facets of the Belt Road Initiative, with a focus on environmental impacts. By identifying green development projects, sharing knowledge in a monthly seminar series, and connecting with researchers and stakeholders outside of Duke, the team hopes to promote graduate students’ involvement in this cutting-edge global issue. (See the group’s website and sign up for the listserv.)

Social Science Methods Network

  • Core students: Valerie-Jean Soon, Ph.D. in Philosophy; Kobi Finestone, Ph.D. in Philosophy; Peng Peng, Ph.D. in Political Science

This project aims to create an environment in which graduate and professional students working on social scientific projects can engage in interdisciplinary methodological debates and concrete collaboration as they work on turning research findings into publishable outputs. The format will involve monthly working groups in which scholars from different disciplines will share their original research. The working groups will be organized around a shared conceptual and or methodological problem faced by researchers across the social sciences.

Theology, Religion, and Qualitative Methods Network

  • Core students: Michael Grigoni, Ph.D. in Religion; Dustin Benac, Doctor of Theology; Emily Dubie, Ph.D. in Religion; Sarah Jobe, Doctor of Theology; Ryan Juskus, Ph.D. in Religion

Recently, we have seen a shift within the fields of religion and theology toward the study of physical bodies and everyday practices of religious experience. This group aims to formalize the relationships between religion and the social sciences by employing methodological tools from the social sciences to better understand how cultural groups talk about holy figures and navigate ritual engagement with the sacred. Members plan to provide opportunities to engage in regular dialogue about findings from fieldwork, explore how to incorporate insights from interdisciplinary conversation partners, discuss methodological challenges associated with this work, and consider the implications of qualitative research experience for students’ emerging vocations as scholars.

Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Interdisciplinary Network of Graduate Students (WaSHINGS)

  • Core students: Lucas Rocha Melogno, Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering; Stewart Farling, Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering; Siddharth Kawadiya, Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering; James Thostenson, Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering; Billy Gerhard, Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering

Current UN estimates indicate that 1.8 billion people use a drinking water source that is fecally contaminated, while 2.4 billion lack access to basic sanitation services. World-wide, more people have cell phones than access to suitable sanitation. The global challenge of access to water, sanitation, and hygiene has brought together people from a wide range of backgrounds. This project hopes to extend this network to Duke graduate students focusing on strategies to improve water sanitation. WaSHINGS will establish an interdisciplinary platform where engineers, policy makers, educators, and entrepreneurs can share their perspectives and collaborate on this highly complex challenge.

About D-SIGN

This internal funding mechanism encourages graduate students to explore beyond disciplinary lines, both in research and coursework. The goal is to enable graduate students to build or extend their networks and to integrate collaborative, cross-school experiences into their programs, thereby increasing the number of individuals whose graduate training reflects Duke’s commitment to interdisciplinarity and knowledge in the service of society.

A January 2018 RFP invited all current Duke graduate students (including master’s, professional, and Ph.D. students) to propose interdisciplinary groups and activities. Proposals were reviewed by a panel of faculty and graduate students from across the university.

See previous recipients (2017-2018 and 2016-2017) and review the 2016-2017 summary report.

Photo, first row: Katherine Pringle, Ryan Juskus, James Budinich, Brooks Frederickson, Rebecca Uliasz, Yating Li; second row: Travis Dauwalter, Seth Morgan, Zainab Qazi, Santiago Sinclair Lecaros, Valerie-Jean Soon, Peng Peng; third row: Michael Grigoni, Dustin Benac, Emily Dubie, Sarah Jobe, Lucas Rocha Melogno, Stewart Farling; fourth row: Siddharth Kawadiya, James Thostenson, Billy Gerhard. Not pictured: Emma Lietz Bilecky, Kobi Finestone

An Interdisciplinary Exploration of Patterns of Connection in the Practice of Faith

Dustin Benac

Dustin Benac, a Doctor of Theology candidate at the Divinity School, wanted to enhance his training in theology and organizational theory by integrating qualitative data collection and interpretation into his research. A summer course at UNC’s Odum Institute for Research in Social Science proved timely, and he went on to apply this new knowledge to a study examining patterns of connection among five church-related educational institutions in the Pacific Northwest.

Benac was among 18 Duke University students who received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) in 2017-18 from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies for training beyond their core disciplines. His faculty mentor is Craig Dykstra. He shared an update:

Dustin BenacThe GSTEG award provided funding to undertake supplemental training in qualitative research methods through a partnership between ICPSR and The Odum Institute at the University of North Carolina. The opportunity to take a short-course during the summer following my coursework offered a timely complement to my training in theology and organizational theory by providing an orientation to qualitative research methods and using qualitative data analysis software.

The impact of the GSTEG funding extends well beyond this single course. During the fall 2017 semester, I secured funding to complete the first phase of fieldwork at five religious educational institutions in the Pacific Northwest, which explored the patterns of connection across educational institutions and the practice of religious leadership. As a 2017-18 Lab Fellow in Duke’s Ph.D. Lab in Digital Knowledge, I have since worked with colleagues from across the university to consider approaches to visually depict the preliminary findings from my qualitative research. I will present a paper based on research in May at the Pacific Northwest American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting and also have a book review of Theology as Interdisciplinary Inquiry coming out in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies.

The opportunity to receive supplemental training has deepened my knowledge, vastly expanded my network, and equipped me to engage and support a wider range of research from across the university. While the specific methods training and research experiences will certainly inform the scope and content of my dissertation, I anticipate the range of relationships and experiences that have followed will have the most significant impact on my development as a scholar.


This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages doctoral and master’s students to step away from their core research and training to acquire skills, knowledge, or co-curricular experiences that will give them new perspectives on their research agendas. Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants are intended to deepen preparation for academic positions and other career trajectories.

Photo: Dustin Benac giving a presentation based on his research

With D-SIGN Grants, Graduate Students Build Networks and Advance Research Interests

D-SIGN Duke grantees

Five groups led by Duke graduate students received Duke Support for Interdisciplinary Graduate Networks (D-SIGN) grants for the 2016-17 academic year, becoming the first cohort of students to make use of this new program from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies. D-SIGN’s purpose is to enable graduate students to build or extend their networks and to integrate collaborative, cross-school experiences into their programs, thereby increasing the number of individuals whose graduate training reflects Duke’s commitment to interdisciplinarity and knowledge in the service of society.

The D-SIGN grantees included students from the School of Nursing, Sanford School of Public Policy, Arts & Sciences and the Nicholas School of the Environment who advanced a range of research projects and educational experiences that reach beyond disciplinary lines. Here are brief summaries of the groups’ activities.

Global Alliance on Disability and Health Innovation (GANDHI) – Children and Adolescents Health Group

Brittney Sullivan (Ph.D. in Nursing ’17, School of Nursing) and Anna Martin (Master of Public Policy student, Sanford School of Public Policy), established a graduate network affiliated with the Bass Connections project Global Alliance on Disability and Health Innovation (GANDHI) but focused on young people rather than adults. Their faculty sponsor was Janet Prvu Bettger (Nursing).

They aimed to establish the evidence for improving systems of care for children and adolescents living with disability after an acute hospitalization. Using a socioecological approach to identify the key needs for children newly living with disability, network members set out to examine and compare the social supports, health and community services and policies in three countries.

The group held weekly meetings with guest speakers throughout the year, supplemented by four group dinners. Three members traveled to Uganda in April to conduct interviews and observe some of the organizations that the group identified.

Anna Martin and Nelia Ekeji ’19 presented “GIS Study of Posthospital Services Supporting Children with Surgical Need in Uganda” at a Duke event, Strategies to Strengthen Health Systems Globally.

The group has a manuscript in preparation, “Spatial Distribution of Rehabilitation Services for Children Following Surgery in Uganda: Using the Data to Plan Interventions.” Members are transcribing and coding interviews, and Sarah Barton (Th.D. student, Divinity School) will lead the group in 2017-18.

Global Energy Access Network (GLEAN)

Three graduate students teamed up with faculty sponsors Subhrendu Pattanayak (Sanford School of Public Policy) and Brian Murray (Nicholas School of the Environment) to bring together students across Duke who are working on global energy transitions, energy access and energy poverty.

Rob Fetter and Faraz Usmani (University Ph.D. Program in Environmental Policy students, Nicholas School and Sanford School) and Hannah Girardeau (Master of Environmental Management student, Nicholas School) established GLEAN to ignite a research and policy dialogue around an understudied global issue.

GLEAN has grown into a network of 50 graduate and undergraduate students, representing at least seven schools and departments across Duke. Members met once or twice each month to update the broader community about relevant activities taking place at their respective schools and departments.

Through the Energy Access Speaker Series, GLEAN organized seven talks by experts on energy, environment and development. Five of these events were co-organized with other Duke programs, which helped the members to forge new partnerships.

In June, the group published an edited volume of energy access case studies, Energy & Development. The six chapters are coauthored by graduate or undergraduate students and focus on five countries (India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Nicaragua, Peru). With support from the Duke University Energy Initiative—GLEAN’s institutional home—the group will promote the publication widely this fall.

Several members worked with three paid research associates to compile a detailed annotated bibliography of energy, environment and development data sources available publicly that will be useful in creating an Energy Access Index. The group received a follow-on D-SIGN grant to conduct an energy access and air quality survey, engage two keynote speakers, produce case studies on energy and development and coordinate an “Imagine Energy” photo contest and exhibition.

Rethinking Regulation – Graduate Student Working Group

Based in the Rethinking Regulation Program at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, this group provides a forum for student-led interdisciplinary discussion, research and analysis of issues related to regulatory governance. Mercy DeMenno (Ph.D. in Public Policy student, Sanford School) sought a D-SIGN grant to support research workshops, writing group meetings, analyses of contemporary regulatory policy issues and other collaborative activities.

The group has grown to involve 25 students from 13 disciplines/programs and nine schools/departments as well as an active alumni group. Faculty sponsors are Lori Bennear (Nicholas School) and Jonathan Wiener (Law).

The group convened 12 research workshops in which members received feedback on their conference papers, articles, dissertation proposals, chapters and research plans. Presentations covered a range of topics, including regulatory impact assessment, regulatory disclosure regimes for fracking, regulating household energy technology, private accreditation in education, water and sanitation service provision in the Middle East and tort reform.

In addition, the group convened two writing groups that met twice per month. One group focused on dissertation prospectus and grant proposal development while the other focused on dissertation articles, chapters and extensions.

A key initiative was the development of a student-led regulatory governance blog. The Rethinking Regulation Blog publishes short articles connecting scholarly work to contemporary regulatory policy issues, with an emphasis on interdisciplinary, collaborative and applied academic inquiry.

A STEM Researcher-Educator Network to Improve K-12 Science Literacy

Three doctoral students teamed up with faculty sponsors Kate Allman (Program in Education) and Brad Murray (Nicholas School) to create a network of STEM graduate students and Master of Arts in Teaching students who work together on lesson plans for local K-12 educators. Rebecca Lauzon (Ph.D. in Earth and Ocean Sciences student, Nicholas School), Eleanor Caves and Patrick Green (Ph.D. in Biology students, Arts & Sciences) utilized the structure of the Scientific Research and Education Network (SciREN), which develops relationships between researchers and educators to incorporate current research into K-12 classrooms.

They recruited two MAT students and 17 STEM researchers to develop K-12 lesson plans. The network produced 16 lesson plans, which were shared with 150 educators at SciREN’s annual networking event and added to SciREN’s portal.

“Polymers Matter” and “Modeling Cell Organelles” were selected for inclusion in SciREN’s lesson plan kit program. Educators were able to order these lessons and have all the necessary supplies mailed. These two lessons reached six schools and 400 students. “Exploring Marshes and Barrier Islands with a Scientific Model” and “Make It Rain: The Water Utility Management Game” were shared with an additional 50 educators at SciREN Coast, an educator-researcher networking event organized by the Duke and UNC marine labs.

The group organized two workshops for STEM researchers. Sixty people attended Demystifying STEM Outreach. Getting Down to Basics: Strategies for Communicating Complex Science was an interactive workshop for 25 students. From these events, the group produced a database of outreach/science communication opportunities.

Pre- and post-surveys revealed that after participating in the network, STEM graduate students felt more qualified to do outreach with K-12 students and educators and to create lesson plans. The MAT students felt they built a network of scientists and gained experience-planning lessons on complicated subjects.

Duke Conservation Society

With faculty sponsor Stuart Pimm (Nicholas School), Priya Ranganathan (Master of Environmental Management student, Nicholas School) sought a D-SIGN grant to expand the Duke Conservation Society beyond the Nicholas School to engage interdisciplinary approaches to conservation.

The group’s mission is to enhance students’ understanding of the various scientific, political, economic and managerial tools available to address conservation issues; facilitate collaborations among undergraduate, master’s and Ph.D. students on conservation projects and analyses; and provide opportunities for professional development such as networking with conservation professionals, seminars and guest speakers.

The Duke Conservation Society organized multiple symposia and events geared toward sharing international perspectives on conservation. Members worked with Conservation X Labs, a company that produces technology for wildlife conservation, and Duke Conservation Tech, a student organization affiliated with the Pratt School of Engineering, to produce Blueprint: People + Wildlife. This was a competition for teams of undergraduate and graduate students in the Triangle area to create blueprints for novel conservation technologies to assist in fighting the illegal wildlife trade. Approximately 50 students participated in teams.

The group also used the D-SIGN grant to for a dinner seminar to discuss a project on urban gardening that the Divinity School and the Nicholas School will undertake together. The dinner featured Saskia Cornes of the Duke Campus Farm and Norman Wirzba of the Divinity School. The speakers discussed the intersection of conservation, urban agriculture and Christianity, and students from both schools collaborated on designs for the proposed courtyard garden at the Divinity School.

Learn More

Read about the six groups that received D-SIGN grants for 2017-18 and what they plan to do. The next call for proposals will be released in early 2018. Any current Duke graduate student (including master’s, professional and Ph.D. students) may submit a proposal for interdisciplinary projects, trainings or experiences during the 2018-19 academic year.

Stretching beyond Their Disciplines, Graduate Students Gain New Perspectives


Last year 19 Duke graduate students received 2016-2017 Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies. The disciplinary homes of these students ranged from engineering, environment and biology to history, theology and medicine.

A key feature of Together Duke, the university’s new academic strategic plan, GSTEG allows graduate students to deepen preparation for academic positions and other career trajectories. Stretching beyond their core disciplinary training, these doctoral and master’s students acquired skills, knowledge and field experiences that widened their intellectual networks and enhanced their original research.

Explore the links to below to learn more about the recipients’ experiences with hands-on training, internships, workshops, courses and community engagement.

Hands-on Training

Nanotechnology at Los Alamos

Zhiqin Huang (Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering) spent half a year at the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Exposure to the lab’s cutting-edge facilities and other resources amplified her dissertation research on novel nanostructures that can generate extremely low-energy and ultrafast plasmonic switches.

The main purpose of the visit was to learn optics-related experiment techniques. Based on the rich resources, I even built a new pump-probe system independently and did a group of experiments using newly fabricated samples and obtained primary results. Furthermore, I attended several forums related to nanooptics as well as invaluable seminars. Through discussions with some talented experts in the field of my research, I gained a much better understanding on both theory and experiments.

Coastal Wetlands

Fateme Yousefi Lalimi (Ph.D. in Environmental Science, Nicholas School of the Environment) visited Dr. Andrea D’Alpaos’s lab at the University of Padova and conducted fieldwork in the Venice Lagoon, in order to strengthen her dissertation on coastal wetlands.

I was able to extend a hydrodynamic model of coastal wetlands to larger scales with the use of robust numerical modeling techniques. Visiting and working in Venice marshes expanded my observational perspective beyond the study sites I was familiar with in North Carolina and Virginia. Besides the academic training and research aspect of this experience, I could extend my professional network and scientific collaborations with leading scientists in my field. I am currently working on a scientific paper that is the result of my trip.

A Closer Look at Stormwater

Mark River (Ph.D. in Environment, Nicholas School of the Environment) works in the Duke University Wetland Center. For his dissertation research on how phosphorus is transported by particles in stormwater, he tapped into the resources at Virginia Tech’s National Center for Earth and Environmental Nanotechnology Infrastructure (NanoEarth).

I traveled to Virginia Tech and learned hands-on transmission electron microscopy on two different instruments, which I had no exposure to previously. Using the data I obtained in the two full days at Virginia Tech, I am working towards a nice publication that I would not otherwise have the data for.

A Social Science Angle on Coral Restoration

What do managers of coral reefs need to know about coral restoration methods before they start new restoration projects? Elizabeth Shaver (Ph.D. in Marine Science and Conservation, Nicholas School of the Environment) set out to answer this question in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and The Nature Conservancy.

In the process of creating and implementing the survey, I learned valuable skills in the social sciences that I otherwise would not have obtained in my graduate work, including training on the wording of surveys, the Institutional Review Board process and pre-testing, to name a few. And the NOAA workshop I attended was a small and selective group of practitioners and scientists that I was only able to attend because of my role in this project. This workshop provided countless networking opportunities that I have since used to develop a postdoctoral proposal on coral restoration.

Sticky Business of Underwater Adhesive

Zoie Diana (Master of Environmental Management, Nicholas School of the Environment) went to the Okeanos Research Laboratory at Clemson University to probe for chitin in the decorator worm (Diopatra cuprea) tube and underwater adhesive. This training furthered her understanding of conserved molecular mechanisms in invertebrate bioadhesive and structure and informed her thesis, “Learning to Glue Underwater: Inspiration from the Decorator Worm.”


Brazilian Governance

Travis Knoll (Ph.D. in History, Arts & Sciences) served as an intern at the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia. He focused on issues ranging from Brazil’s internal political scene to the key role the country’s foreign policy plays in the region and beyond.

My time in Brasilia helped me connect historical debates with public policy. Both writing policy reports on affirmative action and meeting important public figures has opened up the possibility for focusing less exclusively on the push for affirmative action in Rio de Janeiro state.

Sufi Spirituality and Social Justice

To strengthen his dissertation research on the Sufi spiritual movement and commitment to social justice, Daanish Faruqi (Ph.D. in History, Arts & Sciences) traveled to Jordan and Turkey to help Syrian refugee communities through relief foundations operated by Sufi networks.

I did considerable work with the Syrian refugee community under the auspices of SKT Welfare, a charitable organization founded and run by the Sufi spiritual movement that is the subject of my academic research. It made painstakingly clear the intimate connection between this group’s spirituality and commitment to worldly service. This experience will be crucial in helping better piece together the social and humanitarian dimensions of Islamic spirituality more broadly, and in understanding this movement that forms the basis of my dissertation in particular.

British Art and Poetry

Christopher Catanese (Ph.D. in English, Arts & Sciences) interned at the North Carolina Museum of Art to contribute to the exhibition “History and Mystery: British Old Masters, 1550-1850,” which provided experience within two departments of a major public arts organization and informed his research on 18th– and early 19th-century British poetry.


Capitalism, Slavery and Freedom

Alisha Hines (Ph.D. in History and African & African American Studies, Arts & Sciences) attended the History of Capitalism Workshop at Cornell University. She learned about technical content areas such as statistics, accounting and economic theory in order to apply quantitative methods and techniques to her study of slavery and freedom in the middle Mississippi River Valley.

The workshop was quite useful to me because I use steamboat company records in my research and I now feel more confident reading ledgers and account books, and can ask new questions about the hiring practices, for example, of steamboat captains and how they might have assessed the risk of employing enslaved men and women in river work. In addition, I was able to learn more about mapping techniques I can use to chart patterns of mobility of black women in the Mississippi River Valley.

Modeling and Data Analysis for Biology

Eight months before defending her dissertation on the effects of genetic variation on signaling dynamics, Selcan Aydin (Ph.D. in Biology, Arts & Sciences) spent two weeks in the Computational Synthetic Biology Track of the Quantitative Biology (Qbio) Summer School at the University of California, San Diego. She built skills needed for the modeling and data analysis challenges of her research.

The group project was very helpful in gaining hands-on mathematical modeling experience where I had the chance to interact with computational biologists. This allowed me to improve my collaboration and scientific communication skills in addition to the scientific knowledge I have gained in computational and mathematical modeling.

Big Data and a Bird Migration Route

Danica Schaffer-Smith (Ph.D. in Environment, Nicholas School of the Environment) participated in a week-long workshop on environmental data analytics in Boulder, Colorado, offered by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). The technical knowledge she gained will inform her dissertation on spatiotemporal variability of inland waterbodies along the Pacific flyway. More than a billion birds use this flyway every year as a north-south migration route.

Participating in the workshop assisted me in developing new modeling and computing skills, including an emphasis on big data and integrating diverse datasets in a unified analysis framework. The tutorials on Bayesian data analysis and spatiotemporal data analysis have proven to be directly applicable for my own work and I am currently using these methods in two chapters of my dissertation.

Environmental Genomics

Tess Leuthner (Ph.D. in Environment, Nicholas School of the Environment, Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health Program), attended the Environmental Genomics training program at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory.

I gained the knowledge to create, manage and analyze genomics datasets, but I also met new colleagues and collaborators. I continue to communicate and collaborate with scientists and peers that I met during this course.

Evolutionary Quantitative Genetics

Brenna R. Forester (Ph.D. in Environment, Nicholas School of the Environment) participated in two workshops hosted by the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) in Knoxville and a workshop on conservation genomics in Montana, to inform her dissertation research in the emerging field of landscape genomics.

I learned skills that have allowed me to be a more effective collaborator, and have better prepared me for the postdoctoral position I have just started at Colorado State University.


Printmaking and Suffering

Stephanie Gehring Ladd (Ph.D. in Religion, Arts & Sciences) took a printmaking course at UNC Chapel Hill to gain insight into the process of intaglio printmaking. This experience enhanced her observational powers in writing about prints and informed her dissertation on attention to suffering in the work of Simone Weil and Käthe Kollwitz.

Professor Brian Garner was fantastic to work with. He let me custom-tailor a course within his Introduction to Intaglio, so that I was able to focus on the intaglio printmaking techniques most used by the artist I am studying, Käthe Kollwitz. I learned an enormous amount about how her work was done.

Singapore’s Urbanization

Nathan Bullock (Ph.D. in Art, Art History and Visual Studies, Arts & Sciences) spent a semester taking courses at the Yale School of Architecture to inform the application of architectural theory to his dissertation on contemporary Singapore.

Seeing how students learn about architecture in a professional program was eye-opening in comparison to the approach taken by humanists in an art history department. I was most struck by how deep the divide really was between theory and practice. This experience will certainly change how I interact with and write about the architects I study in my dissertation research.

Marketing and Philosophy

Adela Deanova (Ph.D. in Philosophy, Arts & Sciences) completed a series of online courses in digital marketing in order to contribute to Project Vox, a digital initiative that recovers the lost voices of female philosophers in the early modern era.

The experience proved to be very valuable for me, not only because I learned about leading-edge business marketing practices in theory, but also because it allowed me to apply the theoretical insights to three practical projects: the Capstone Project for the Digital Marketing certification; the user experience strategy for Project Vox; and the Story+ project for RTI International.

Christian Engagement with Architecture

Joelle A. Hathaway (Th.D., Divinity School) took a photography course at Durham Tech and conducted fieldwork in England. Her aim was to compile a portfolio of high-resolution images of religious art and architecture and conduct interviews about contemporary art in Anglican cathedrals, which will inform her dissertation about Christian practices of engagement with architecture and built environments.

I presented a paper at the Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion based on the interviews and research I did at Salisbury Cathedral. I have two other paper proposals submitted for other academic conferences, also on cathedrals from my trip. I could spend the next decade researching and unraveling the different threads I uncovered through this experience!

Community Engagement

Empowering Young People to Become Healthy Adults

Banafsheh Sharif-Askary (M.D., School of Medicine) established the Health, Advocacy and Readiness for Teens (HART) program with partners Bull City Fit and Healthy Lifestyles. The program equips young people with tools and resources to help them lead healthier lives and learn behaviors that will continue into adulthood.

The Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grant was a crucial component of starting HART and ensuring that we had the necessary resources to serve our teens. Personally, HART has challenged us to be more flexible, thoughtful and accountable and we believe that these qualities will better equip us to be high-quality patient-oriented clinicians.

Art and Community Self-help

Jung E. Choi (Ph.D. in Art, Art History and Visual Studies, Arts & Sciences) traveled to Singapore to nurture community self-help in deprived urban neighborhoods and to inform her dissertation on the intersection of art, technology and space. Since then, Choi received her Ph.D. and completed the Graduate Certificate in Information Science + Studies.

I organized 12 different meet-ups among artists, community members and visitors and had opportunities to discuss various ways to enhance the understanding of the neighborhood and find better ways to engage with the environment involving art. Through this project, as a curator/scholar, I was able to understand the practical issues of curation that involve ongoing conversations among community members as well as the integrated approach to art and life.

Learn More

See which students received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants for 2017-2018 and what they plan to do.

In late 2017 or early 2018 an RFP will invite all current Duke graduate students (including master’s, professional and Ph.D. students) to propose graduate training enhancement activities lasting up to one semester, for use during the 2018-2019 academic year.