Two Perspectives on How Bass Connections Benefits Graduate Students

Bass Connections team in Brazil

In a new video from The Graduate School, two Ph.D. students discuss how participating in a Bass Connections project, The Cost of Opportunity? Higher Education in the Baixada Fluminense, has helped them with their own research.

“I originally conceived of my own research as being a separate project from Bass Connections,” said Gray Kidd, a Ph.D. student in History. “The more that I’ve worked with this project, looking at access to higher education on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, I realize that being involved with this project and then having my own dissertation work, they’re actually coming together in unanticipated but really fascinating ways.”

Stephanie Reist is pursuing a Ph.D. in Romance Studies and a master’s in Public Policy. “As someone who’s interested in romance studies and Portuguese and Latin American culture and public policy, I have very broad interests,” she said. “So picking a dissertation project, I could go anywhere. Bass Connections helped me focus and recognize that I already have this body of knowledge, and now I’m currently participating in a research project that lets me build on that and integrate it into my own research.” Her work looks at center-periphery dynamics, urban belonging, and Black cultural production in Rio’s Baixada Fluminense suburbs.

Kidd noted that his participation has given him valuable experience as an instructor. “Often times it’s not until the fourth, fifth, sixth, or even seventh year that people have the ability to pilot a course and have a trial run with students. I think it’s helped me grow quite a bit in terms of communicating expectations, coming up with research questions, piloting assignments that are a bit different—not research papers, not exams. As a third-year [student], this has given me a set of experiences that others do not have.”

Graduate students play pivotal roles within Bass Connections projects, in which students at all levels collaborate with faculty, postdocs, and outside experts on interdisciplinary research that tackles complex societal challenges. Because the teams include faculty and undergraduates, who are often most familiar with a lecturer-learner model, graduate students often become facilitators who serve as project managers and additional mentors for undergraduate students.

“The ongoing mentoring relationship has been very rewarding,” Reist noted. She won the Bass Connections Award for Outstanding Mentorship last year.

For graduate and professional students, benefits of participating in Bass Connections include:

  • Enhancing dissertation or master’s thesis research (see examples)
  • Co-authoring publications
  • Deepening relationships with key faculty
  • Gaining project management experience and opportunities for funding
  • Accessing professional development resources
  • Honing career-enhancing skills to stand out on the job market
  • Networking with colleagues in diverse fields
  • Getting experience mentoring others, particularly undergraduates.

Browse stories from Ph.D. and master’s students on their Bass Connections experiences.

Volunteer Work with Syrian Refugees Deepens Understanding of Sufi Spirituality

Daanish Faruqi

To strengthen his dissertation research on the Sufi spiritual movement, History doctoral student Daanish Faruqi traveled to Jordan and Turkey to help Syrian refugee communities through relief foundations operated by Sufi networks.

He was among 19 Duke students who received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) in 2016-17 for training beyond their core disciplines. His faculty mentor was Engseng Ho. Recently he shared some reflections on his experience:

Both in Jordan (June and July 2016) and in shorter trips to Turkey (July 2016, and again in December 2016), 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.

During my summer in Amman I worked in SKT’s office as a volunteer teacher, tutoring Syrian refugee students in English and offering administrative support to SKT leadership. The key outcome of this experience was the centrality of the spiritual dimensions of Islam in service of social justice, as an animating dictum behind the organization’s charitable arm. This came full circle in my trips to Turkey, where I participated directly in food aid deployments in Reyhanli, near the Syrian/Turkish border.

What we offered was merely a drop in the bucket of the full needs of these communities, but offering even nominal aid—and realizing the remarkable sophistication of SKT leaders and volunteers that culminated in putting together their aid apparatus, and in vetting and surveying entire communities to establish aid delivery quotas—proved deeply edifying. Again, it made painstakingly clear the intimate connection between this group’s spirituality and commitment to worldly service.

All of this will be central as I pursue my dissertation research. 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.

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages graduate 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.

See who received these grants for 2017-18, and read about other 2016-17 recipients’ experiences:

Eight Doctoral Students Receive Internships through Versatile Humanists

Eight Duke Ph.D. students have been selected for internships in Summer or Fall 2017 through Versatile Humanists at Duke (VH@Duke), an initiative to prepare Duke doctoral students in the humanities and interpretive social sciences for transformative roles in higher education and beyond.

The VH@Duke internship program provides Ph.D. students with exposure to work experiences, organizations and professions relevant to their scholarly interests. The internship experiences are designed to enrich students’ dissertations and further prepare them for both academic and nonacademic jobs. Students can apply for internships at preidentified partner organizations or propose their own internship.

VH@Duke is funded by a three-year Next Generation Ph.D. Implementation Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. In addition to internships, VH@Duke also provides opportunities and resources such as innovation grants for curriculum enhancement, collaborative research experiences and one-to-one advising for Ph.D. students.

The application period for the next cycle of VH@Duke internships will open in Fall 2017. Students who are considering proposing their own internships are encouraged to contact Maria LaMonaca Wisdom ( for preliminary feedback.

The 2017 VH@Duke interns are:

BanellaLaura Banella, Romance Studies (Summer)

Banella is interning with the International Society for the Study of Medieval Culture (SISMEL), a nonprofit research and cultural institute located in Florence, Italy. SISMEL’s mission is to promote and support the study of medieval culture. In her role at SISMEL, Banella will help build research and bibliographic databases and organize programs and events.

GoldsmithWilliam Goldsmith, History (Summer)

Goldsmith will be interning with RTI International, an independent nonprofit institute dedicated to improving the human condition by applying interdisciplinary research to complex scientific and social challenges. In his role, Goldsmith will work with RTI’s Innovation Led Economic Growth team, engaging in research, writing and policy analysis.

LazarYael Lazar, Religion (Fall)

Lazar is interning with the National Humanities Center (NHC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to advanced study in all areas of the humanities. She will be curating a digital online resource for the NHC’s “Humanities Moments” campaign and helping to support local and national outreach components of the initiative.

NunnNora Nunn, English (Summer)

Nunn is also interning with the National Humanities Center.  She will be working with researchers in the NHC’s Trans-Pacific Teacher-Scholars Program to develop interactive, inquiry-based classroom materials to align with the upcoming commemorations and anniversaries of the American Vietnam War.

SmithNathan Smith, Literature (Summer)

Smith is interning with Mono No Aware, a nonprofit community film organization based in Brooklyn, New York. Mono No Aware’s mission is to build community through the experience of the moving image. In his internship, Smith will be setting up and facilitating film workshops, supporting fundraising activities and creating a film of his own.

StadlerJohn Stadler, Literature (Summer)

Stadler will be interning with The Cupboard Pamphlet, a micropublisher of creative prose based in Littleton, Colorado. In his role at The Cupboard Pamphlet, Stadler will cultivate the publication’s expanding catalogue and engage in research of new literary markets and opportunities.

VenturaRafael Ventura, Philosophy (Fall)

Ventura will be interning with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. During his internship, he will work closely with the museum’s Community Engagement team, supporting outreach efforts through event management, program development and public relations.

YoungAshley Rose Young, History (Summer)

Young will be interning with the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. She will be curating an update to one of the museum’s exhibits—Food: Transforming the American Table—and working in the Archives Center.

Originally posted on Versatile Humanists at Duke

Rethinking Regulation: History Student Examines North Carolina Development Policies


The Rethinking Regulation Program at the Kenan Institute for Ethics is an interdisciplinary research, teaching and outreach network exploring the broad terrain of regulatory governance. It focuses on disciplinary and methodological approaches from departments including Law, Economics, Political Science, Philosophy, History, Public Policy, Environmental Sciences, Business and Sociology.

William D. Goldsmithgoldsmith, a Ph.D. Candidate in History, is a Rethinking Regulation Graduate Scholar who has taught an undergraduate course on the history of the modern regulatory state. He is also the 2015 recipient of the Rethinking Regulation Graduate Research Award. This year he presented a paper, “Failures of Co-operative Capitalism in the North Carolina Black Belt,” at the Business History Conference in Portland, Oregon. The paper explored a 1980s policy experiment with a public-private partnership that sought to harness the supply chain needs of an engine manufacturer to stimulate black capital formation and equity-oriented community development.

His dissertation examines the construction and evolution of education and economic development policy in North Carolina from 1960 to 2000 in order to understand how a rural Jim Crow state with the nation’s lowest manufacturing wages and abysmal educational attainment became an emblem of the “New Economy.” His work traces how the civil rights revolution created policy space for the emergence of “education for economic growth” as a central focus of state economic development efforts as well as the uneven implications of such policies for rural areas and economic equality.

Rethinking Regulation Graduate Scholars and Affiliates are graduate students whose research interests align with those of the program in Rethinking Regulation at the Kenan Institute for Ethics and who regularly participate in Rethinking Regulation events. In addition, Graduate Scholars are actively engaged in research projects funded by Rethinking Regulation.

gswgThe Rethinking Regulation Graduate Student Working Group is a forum for Graduate Scholars and Affiliates to collaborate on topics of regulatory governance. The group meets monthly to present research, discuss interdisciplinary regulatory scholarship and analyze contemporary regulatory policy issues.

If you are interested in joining the Rethinking Regulation network, please contact Amber Díaz Pearson. To receive the email newsletter, sign up online. Any graduate students interested in participating in the Working Group meetings should contact Mercy DeMenno.

Originally published in the Rethinking Regulation newsletter

Duke to Convene Year-long Sawyer Seminar on Corporate Rights and International Law


Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant to support interdisciplinary scholarship on the nature of the global corporation

From politics to popular culture, the corporation is one of the most critical institutions of the modern era. It’s also one of the most controversial. Do corporations have rights? Are corporations people, societies or even governments? What are their civic, social, ethical and political responsibilities?

Supported by a grant of $175,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Duke University will convene a year-long Sawyer Seminar to wrestle with these complex issues about the global corporation.

“Corporate Rights and International Law: Past, Present, and Future,” will be organized by Rachel Brewster, Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Center for International and Comparative Law, and Philip J. Stern, Sally Dalton Robinson Associate Professor of History.

The seminar will bring together an interdisciplinary community of scholars to explore how international, commercial and political rights have shaped corporate power, and consider how corporations should govern, and be governed, in our ever-globalizing world.

Hosted by the Franklin Humanities Institute and the Center for International and Comparative Law, the seminar will galvanize a robust community at Duke and in the wider Research Triangle area of North Carolina. A roundtable in Spring 2017 will convene core faculty for discussion, and the heart of the seminar will take place throughout the 2017-2018 academic year through an ambitious program of meetings and keynote addresses. It will conclude with a day-long roundtable on the intersection of corporate history and the history of human rights, and the effect of both on structuring corporate responsibility and accountability.

Sawyer Seminar awards include support for a postdoctoral fellow and for the dissertation research of two graduate students. Duke will advertise these opportunities in the coming months.

“This seminar exemplifies the capacity of Duke faculty members to imagine compelling humanistic explorations across the divides of disciplines, societies and eras,” said Edward Balleisen, Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies. “Rachel’s and Phil’s collaboration will spark important dialogues about the pivotal roles of the corporation in the early modern and modern worlds, as well as the salience of the deeper past for contemporary policy-making.”

Duke is the recipient of previous Sawyer Seminar grants, most recently in 2010, which have each made a lasting contribution to the university.

Further information on the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation can be found at

Pen and ink cartoon by Albert Reid depicting American financier J.P. Morgan grasping the Earth in his arms, ca. 1895-1905.

Originally posted on Duke Today

New Faculty Books Explore Topics from Motivation to Fraud


From the hidden logic affecting your motivation to the resilience of Syrian activists and a chancellor’s reflections on changes in health care, Duke writers explore a wide array of topics in their latest books. Duke Today shares a roundup of this season’s latest publications.

Among the authors is Edward J. Balleisen, Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies and Associate Professor of History and Public Policy. His book, “Fraud: An American History from Barnum to Madoff,” will be published by Princeton University Press next month.

Learn more about this Fall’s new books from Duke faculty.

Immersive Experience in Brazilian Government Informs History Dissertation


Travis Knoll, a Ph.D. student in History at Duke, received a Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grant to serve as an intern at the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia this summer. 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. Now back on campus, he shared this update.

The internship itself was not dedicated to my area of research per se. As an unpaid intern, I was tasked with fulfilling many of the functions of a junior officer staff member during a staffing transition this summer. Drafting reports, preparing congressional reports, and note-taking in meetings with Brazilian officials made up the majority of my internship work. I worked on issues ranging from nuclear proliferation liability and biological weapons conventions to reporting on Brazil’s ongoing political transition. I did, however, write two reports dedicated to recent changes in Brazil’s affirmative action policies as well as two key Brazilian congressional reports on discrimination and violence against black youth.

Separately from my department work, I made important contacts in Brasilia’s black movement. Such contacts ranged from religious and cultural leaders to Chamber deputies and diplomats. I also encountered several journals at the University of Brasilia’s (UnB) archives dealing with Brazilian culture and debates around race in the 1970s.

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 (both in universities and the public sector, approved in 2001). I might instead connect the 2001 initiatives more explicitly to legislation that Brazil’s National Congress would approve a decade later (2012 and 2014). Better knowledge of the legislative process and the legal underpinnings of the national affirmative action laws’ intersection with gender and labor legislation will allow me to elaborate on the connection between women’s, workers’ and racial struggles for equality. Social movement leaders’ denial of the Catholic Church’s role in supporting affirmative action policies, despite evidence they themselves cite to the contrary, has also focused my attention on the controversy (and thus opportunity) that such a link could pose both historiographically and politically.

Finally, with the time my internship allowed me in Brasilia, I presented a quantitative source critique of a black movement oral history project at Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies Research Institute (CEFOR) and talked to Brazilian government officials who benefited from affirmative action policies. Such encounters allow me to better connect my research period during the 1980s to continuing debates in Brazil itself.

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages graduate students to step away from their core research and training to acquire additional 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 courtesy of Travis Knoll (at right, with other interns at an Embassy-sponsored party)

Workshop on Capitalism Informs Study of Slavery and Freedom

Workshop on Capitalism Informs Study of Slavery and Freedom

Alisha Hines is a Ph.D. candidate in History and African and African American Studies at Duke. Last spring she received a Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grant to attend a summer workshop on the history of capitalism; her aim was to learn 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. Now back on campus, she shared this update.

At the History of Capitalism Workshop at Cornell University this summer, I participated in an intensive introductory series to a range of topics and skills including corporate finance, statistics, economics and other topics. Participants attended class each day from 9:00 to 6:00, during which the day’s lecturer would introduce us to their field of specialization (the majority of our lecturers were faculty at Cornell or nearby institutions). The idea is that historians of capitalism would be able to gain a greater sense of how corporations work, the logic of accounting and the grammar of economics in order to approach our sources and topics in new ways and with more technical grounding.

In addition, we spoke with historians of capitalism in the field who have implemented the kind of skills we were developing in the course in their own work. Archivists from repositories with collections related to business history, such as the Baker Library at Harvard, walked us through some of their collections and resources that might be useful to our work. The sort of “hard” skills we learned were how to use statistical software (JMP), Excel and also some digital mapping techniques.

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 that are somewhat more accessible than GIS, which I can use to chart patterns of mobility of black women in the Mississippi River Valley.

Finally, I was able to meet a number of historians whose work overlaps geographically or thematically with my own and have some invigorating conversations about our research ideas and the history of capitalism more generally. I have even planned to submit a panel proposal to an upcoming history conference with a fellow cohort member. The organizers of the workshop have facilitated an ongoing network among participants in the program that I will certainly continue to draw on and contribute to as I proceed in my academic career.

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages graduate students to step away from their core research and training to acquire additional 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 courtesy of Alisha Hines (History of Capitalism Summer Workshop 2016 cohort)