Making the Most of Duke on the Road to the Ph.D.

Three students share opportunities that strengthened their doctoral education
Doctoral students.
Hannah Ontiveros (far left) poses with Bass Connections colleagues Imani Mosley and Charles Thompson; Edgar Virgüez cheers on the football team with his daughter and wife; Jessica West celebrates her successful dissertation defense

Jessica West, Ph.D. in Sociology

Joining a Team of Global Experts on Hearing Loss

Jessica West Jessica West.studies the health and well-being of individuals with disabilities. She is particularly interested in the experiences of people with hearing loss, as she herself has worn hearing aids since the age of 17.

West’s dissertation, “Stress Proliferation and Disability over the Life Course,” is organized into two chapters that address questions regarding stress proliferation and disability using data from the Health and Retirement Study, a longitudinal, nationally representative sample of U.S. adults over the age of 50 and their spouses.

How she got involved with a working group on hearing loss stigma

“During the second year of my Ph.D. program, I reached out to Dr. Debara Tucci, an otolaryngologist at Duke. I was interested in meeting her because in addition to her fantastic basic science research, some of her clinical research focused on addressing barriers to hearing health care.

“In 2019, The Lancet Commission on Hearing Loss (LCHL) was formed to identify ways to reduce the global burden of hearing loss. Dr. Tucci invited me to participate in the inaugural meeting. Once the Commission realized they needed a stronger focus on stigma, Dr. Tucci asked me to become part of the stigma working group, which is co-led by Dr. Laura Nyblade (RTI) and Dr. Howard Francis (Chair of the Department of Head and Neck Surgery and Communication Sciences at Duke).

Researchers pose for a group photo.
Jessica West (fourth from right) at the inaugural meeting of the LCHL in October 2019

“The RTI team is part of this working group and has several tasks. First, we are conducting an extensive literature review of past evidence on the stigma related to hearing loss and hearing-related assistive devices. Second, we have been tasked with creating a framework for thinking about hearing loss stigma. Finally, we are creating a survey that will be fielded in two countries to generate a more current understanding of hearing loss stigma.

“Through the LCHL, I have had the opportunity to meet and work with world experts in hearing loss whose work I have read and cited throughout my doctoral training. Joining the RTI team has introduced me to Dr. Nyblade, who has extensive expertise in stigma and discrimination, especially surrounding HIV and AIDS. In some of her past work, Dr. Nyblade has developed, tested, and standardized a tool for measuring stigma. Working with Dr. Nyblade has shown me ways in which academic research can be translated into public health interventions.”

Edgar Virgüez, Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences & Policy

Making the University a Better Place

Edgar.Edgar Virgüez is an energy systems engineer promoting a rapid and cost-efficient energy transition toward a decarbonized electric power system. His research integrates methods from operations research, geospatial analysis and environmental economics. At Duke, he has received several of the most prestigious awards for graduate students, including the Graduate School Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Forever Duke Student Leadership Award.

Virgüez has served on numerous boards and committees across the university. He took part in The Graduate School’s Emerging Leaders Institute, where graduate students and postdocs work in teams to improve Duke’s campus environment, a Bass Connections project (read his reflection) and many other interdisciplinary endeavors. Expecting to graduate later this year, he has accepted a postdoctoral position at Stanford University.

What he gained from engaging in governance

“For the last few years I have served on the resources committee of the Board of Trustees. Through that experience, President Price invited me to be part of the search committee for the new executive vice president. I learned about the most pressing challenges for higher education, and how to engage in the decision-making process to prepare the university to confront these challenges.

“I have worked with eight of the eleven vice presidents that we have. Through our interactions I have learned so much from them. They have answered my questions and shared their wisdom and expertise. My dream is to become a university president, and they gave me so much insight, information and passion for continuing this path.

Edgar presenting at a meeting.
Edgar Virgüez speaks on a panel of Cross Scholars at the Association of American Colleges & Universities 2020 Annual Meeting.

“I’ve also made the most of my Duke experience by actively participating in the Graduate and Professional Student Government, where I have served since 2017. For example, last fall, I introduced a resolution to remove the GRE as a mandatory requirement. Engaging students, admissions officers and members of The Graduate School taught me how to tailor a proposal that reflects multiple perspectives. The final product received approval from the student government. I believe it provides a platform for student advocacy efforts to remove some of the barriers that prevent Duke from being a more inclusive and diverse place.

Edgar, Vincent Price, Temis
Edgar and his wife Temis with President Vincent E. Price

“I hope to return to Duke one day. This place has become a home for us. My wife [Temis Coral Castellanos, MEM ’19] finished her master’s degree here. We had our first baby at Duke Hospital. This place provided so many resources for us that it changed our lives forever.

“While our experience at Duke has been defining, this does not mean that everybody else’s experience has been as positive. There are things to improve. Rather than sitting down and being passive, we have been actively trying to change the university. We want Duke to be a place where everybody can thrive regardless of where they were born or how they self-identify. Even if you don’t have the resources to apply for the standardized exams, or you face multiple barriers to entry, you should have a chance to be part of the Duke family.”

Hannah Ontiveros, Ph.D. in History

Looking at Humanitarian Work from a New Angle

Hannah.Hannah Ontiveros studies the history of women in the 20th century. Last summer, while working on her dissertation about American humanitarian responses to the Korean War, she took on two research projects for CWS Durham. This branch of Church World Service supports immigrant and refugee new arrivals in the Triangle area.

Through a Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grant she designed herself, Ontiveros explored strategies for fundraising and community outreach, and conducted interviews with congregational partners and CWS staff. From her research, she crafted reports on her findings and recommended strategies for shaping future programs.

Ontiveros also served as a Story+ graduate mentor and a Bass Connections project coordinator (read her reflection).

Why she chose this internship

“I specifically wanted to work for a progressive faith-based organization, because those are the kinds of institutions I write about in my dissertation. I knew that understanding how these organizations operate on a practical, local, contemporary basis would strengthen my historical analysis of how they operated in the 1950s. Conversely, I wanted to bring my historical research on these organizations to bear on present-day operations.

CWS logo.“CWS was a great fit. The organization’s emergency relief efforts crop up a lot in my dissertation; CWS Durham operates locally and works in grievously under-served communities; and the organization’s focus on refugee resettlement and advocacy addresses a timely problem with roots in the historical period that I study.

“My work with CWS showed me how such organizations continue to operate 70 years later. As part of my research for CWS, I interrogated how donors and volunteers articulate their duty to serving refugee populations. I address the same kinds of questions about duty and motivation in my research. In both cases I found similar answers, demonstrating narratives of deservingness, civic duty and care that run across 70 years. It demonstrated to me the ongoing necessity of studying how and why humanitarianism operates, and how it functions in American society.

“My research for CWS required me to use methods outside and beyond the historical and archival ones I’m accustomed to. I had the opportunity to conduct interviews, to engage philanthropic studies literature, and to utilize some qualitative and quantitative research methods on congregations’ mission statements. Through my research I pushed myself to think in a more interdisciplinary way.”

Advice for Doctoral Students

“Make connections with people outside of your home discipline because they can often provide perspectives or other connections that you might not otherwise be able to access. The benefit of these connections may not be immediate – it may take a few months or years, but they are still worth fostering.” – Jessica West

“Push yourself to find an internship that’s as far outside of your direct area of inquiry as you can. This will help you develop an understanding of broad implications of your research and of your skillset. It will also expand your employment prospects, both in adding a diverse c.v. line and in pushing your research and writing skills into new environments. Also, don’t be afraid to send that introductory email to a potential internship host.” – Hannah Ontiveros

“Use the interdisciplinary initiatives that we have at Duke. There is a tool from The Graduate School called Duke OPTIONS to quickly identify all of the resources that we have here. Anything that you could dream of, there is a possibility that we have a resource related to that.” – Edgar Virgüez

Congratulations to all of the 2021 Ph.D. recipients! Current students, learn more about making the most of Duke this summer and beyond.

By Sarah Dwyer, Duke Interdisciplinary Studies

Pilot Funds Available for Interdisciplinary Research on Global Environmental Health

Request for proposals.

Deadline: April 15, 2021

The Nicholas School of the Environment (NSOE) and the Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI) invite pilot research proposals in the field of global environmental health. Through this RFP, NSOE and DGHI seek to provide pilot funds to stimulate interdisciplinary research in global environmental health, with the larger goal of enabling investigators to leverage preliminary findings and data to obtain larger awards of external funding.

We are especially interested in funding research around the effects of climate change on health outcomes. Collaborative and interdisciplinary proposals are required. Investigators are particularly encouraged to submit proposals that plan to leverage existing studies, population cohorts, or data sets to address an important and novel global environmental health problem. Junior faculty and newly appointed faculty are encouraged to apply and will be given special consideration.

  • Collaborative and interdisciplinary proposals are required. Teams including new investigators, investigators new to global environmental health, and/or investigators from low and middle-income countries, are encouraged.
  • NSOE and DGHI are looking for global health research ideas that will improve health equity and benefit hard-to-reach populations, low-resourced areas and partners.

Eligible Applicants

Duke regular rank faculty are eligible to apply for funding. Proposals that include collaborators from other institutions are encouraged. Study teams must include NSOE and DGHI participants and have a plan for leveraging this seed funding for additional external support.

Budgets

The budget may include: supplies, support for technicians, research assistants, and graduate students/postdoctoral affiliates; research-related travel; and other justifiable and allowable research expenses. Faculty salary, travel to scientific meetings, and indirect costs will not be paid by DGHI and should not be included in the budget submitted. Applicants may apply for up to $50,000 for a 12-month project. Smaller proposals for shorter periods are also encouraged. Given current spending and travel restrictions at Duke, expenses must be approved by your Department. If possible, please discuss your budget with appropriate Department personnel before submitting; we will be confirming approval before an award can be made.

Application Requirements

Proposals must be for activities in low, lower- and upper- middle-income countries (a listing of eligible countries can be found at the World Bank website: http://data.worldbank.org/about/country-and-lending- groups) OR focused on health disparities in the American South. (If you wish to propose a global health project that does not include LMIC or American South activities, please contact  Kelly Deal to discuss and receive approval.) Applicants are encouraged to identify collaborating in-country/local investigators, and should describe plans for how the results generated will be  applied to future external funding, as this will be an important criterion in the review.

Cover Page. Must include the following information:

  • Proposal title
  • Name, title, departmental affiliation, address, email address, and telephone number of all proposed investigators
  • Designation of a Principal Investigator or Co-Principal Investigators

Abstract (250 words maximum)

Research Plan (3 page maximum; single-spaced, 12 point font, 1” margins) including the following sections:

  • Statement of research objectives
  • Significance of the research (including significance to NSOE/DGHI and/or Global Health and to research setting)
  • Proposed methods and plans for data analysis (specific details recommended)
  • Work already completed related to the proposed work (if relevant)
  • Description of the research team and research setting, including site collaboration plan
  • Plan for leveraging this seed funding for future external grant support
  • [a bibliography can be included as needed and does not count toward page limit]

Appendix Materials (1-page maximum each; single-spaced, 12 point font, 1” margins) including:

  • Research timeline and milestones
  • Letter of support from a collaborating researcher at research site

Budget and Justification (1-page maximum)

NIH Biosketch OR Curriculum Vitae

  • Include current grant support and limit to 5 pages for each investigator

Submission Format

Please combine all required elements into a single pdf document and submit via email to kelly.deal@duke.edu with the subject line of “NSOE/DGHI Pilot Grant Submission.”

Schedule

  • Application receipt date: April 15, 2021
  • Project start date: May 30, 2021

Inquiries

We welcome the opportunity to answer questions from potential applicants. Please submit inquires related to this funding announcement to: Kelly Matthews Deal, MPH Assistant Director, Research, Duke Global Health Institute: Kelly.deal@duke.edu

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).

Protecting the State’s Drinking Water: Research Team Maps North Carolina Infrastructure

A team of students from the Nicholas School of the Environment and Pratt School of Engineering has been working for more than a year to create a single digital map of the service boundaries of North Carolina’s drinking water systems. Developed as part of a interdisciplinary project known as Innovations in Infrastructure, the map will inform research into policies that can help the state better manage risks to local water supplies.

An interdisciplinary group from two universities is taking a data-driven approach to help protect North Carolina’s drinking water supply.

The Innovations in Infrastructure project is using the state’s drinking water systems as a lens to examine policies for better building and maintaining infrastructure necessary for delivery of basic public services. Funded by a multiyear Collaboratory grant from Duke University’s Office of the Provost, the project brings together Duke faculty and students with the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“There are a lot of platitudes about an infrastructure crisis in the United States and sweeping indictments that list 20 problems to explain why our infrastructure is failing,” said co-principal investigator Megan Mullin, associate professor of environmental politics at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. “Our suspicion was that all of those 20 indictments hold, but they hold for different systems under different conditions. As long as we’re bundling everything together, we’re not going to be able to help improve infrastructure in particular places at particular points in time.”

The Collaboratory team has since narrowed its focus to policies affecting how drinking water is provided in North Carolina. As in much of the United States, it is “an expensive public service that’s supported locally and is extremely fragmented,” Mullin said. Some systems deliver water to just a few hundred paying customers. That is a small revenue base to support maintaining “capital-intensive infrastructure,” which can include building treatment plants, repairing or replacing aging pipes, or tapping new sources of water.

These water systems can face numerous challenges—increases or decreases in population, changing economic conditions, or impacts related to climate change, such as droughts or floods. How the local governments and utilities that operate these water systems see the risk from these challenges can differ from how the state or private sector sees them, said co-principal investigator Amy Pickle, director of the State Policy Program at Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Co-principal investigator Megan Mullin (right) reviews the mapping project with Carolyn Rossman (foreground) and Jannette Morris (top).

“The overarching question for me is: How well does North Carolina assess the risks that impact the sustainability of local water supply and then prepare for those risks with either funding, education, or other policy solutions?” Pickle said.

They needed a critical piece of information, however, to get the right level of detail for the research.

“We have to understand the areas these water systems are serving, and no one knows that,” Mullin said.

Like most states, North Carolina does not have a single digital map showing where every local water system is located. So the project team would have to build one.

To get started, the researchers turned to the North Carolina Division of Water Resources, which has become an invaluable partner in the project. In 2009, the General Assembly passed a law to help prepare for droughts that requires communities to submit water supply plans to the Division’s Bureau of Public Water Supply. As part of that reporting, the Bureau received PDF maps of service boundaries for each of the more than 500 community water systems in the state.

The trove of system maps came with varying degrees of quality. While some were generated with pinpoint accuracy by mapping software, many others were drawn by hand.

Walker Grimshaw (left) and Shawn Li refine the service boundaries for one local drinking water system in North Carolina. Students worked in pairs during the mapping process to learn from each other and provide added accountability.

For more than a year, a team of eight student assistants from the Nicholas School of the Environment and the Pratt School of Engineering has been incorporating those system maps into a single digital statewide map. The challenging work gave the students an opportunity to learn new skills from each other, an important part of the educational component of the project.

“The team structure is amazing on an interdisciplinary level,” said Katy Hansen, a PhD student in the University Program in Environmental Policy who serves as the research lead for the project. “Lots of people are operating on the edge of their learning curves.”

The student team has been directed by Hansen and lead project manager Rachel Gonsenhauser, a master of environmental management (MEM) student in the Nicholas School. Bringing different backgrounds and levels of mapping expertise, they spent months refining a process for digitizing the water system maps. With a procedure in place, they have worked in pairs to incorporate the system boundaries into the larger map, checking each other’s work and sharing ideas as they go.

Kartik Pathak, a master of engineering management student in the Pratt School, is among the students who benefited from the pairs approach. Pathak came to the project with an interest in the topic but little GIS experience. His knowledge has grown from working with his “mapping buddy.”

Among the key members of the team has been Walker Grimshaw, who is working toward both an MEM degree from Duke and a master’s in environmental sciences and engineering from UNC. Grimshaw brought both GIS experience and an understanding of why the map was so vital based on his time with the Environmental Finance Center at UNC.

“I would keep meeting people who wanted what our end product will be—a tool showing where the water utilities are serving people,” Grimshaw said.

Example of water system map digitization process
Example of water system map digitization process

State agencies and researchers are excited to have that information, Mullin said. Once the students’ work on the map is complete, the Division of Water Resources will be able to go back to individual water systems to reduce any measurement errors in their boundaries. And this summer a new set of students will build an online tool to make that process easier for local governments and utilities, through Duke’s Data+ program.

Among the next steps for the project is an informal workshop in the spring with Division of Water Resources staff to go over the map and data related to risks that water systems are facing. The project team will also discuss policy innovations that can improve the flow of water supply information, both from local governments to the state and between different parts of the state bureaucracy.

By Jeremy Ashton; originally posted on Duke Today


Request for Proposals: Collaboratories for Research on Immigration or on Science, Technology & Ethics

Deadline: January 24, 2020

Through funds from Together Duke, the Provost established a program to support groups of faculty whose engaged research targets selected societal challenges in alignment with Duke’s strategic priorities. After the first two cycles, the Provost’s Office has selected two new themes for the 2020 grant competition: Immigration; and Science, Technology & Ethics.

Project funding ranges from $40,000 to $200,000 annually. Proposals may request funds for one, two, or three years; the project budget should match the horizon of the proposal.

Please see the RFP for eligibility, selection criteria, review process, proposal requirements, timeline and contact information.

Thirteen Faculty Seek Out New Skills and Experiences to Enhance Teaching and Research

FTREG grantees.
Top row: Angrist, Bennett, Furtado, Guevara, Hartemink; middle: Maren, Mestyan, Miles, Shapiro-Garza, Starn; bottom: Stein, Weinthal, Vadde

Thirteen Duke University faculty members have been awarded Faculty Teaching/Research Enhancement Grants (FTREG) to acquire skills, knowledge, or experiences outside or beyond their main disciplines in 2020-2021.

A key goal of Together Duke is to invest in faculty as scholars and leaders of the university’s intellectual communities. Now in its second year, FTREG is intended to enhance faculty members’ capacity to carry out original research and provide transformative learning experiences for students.

Plain People, Modern Medicine: Gene Therapy Trials in Amish and Mennonite Patients in Lancaster, PA

Misha Angrist, Social Science Research Institute; Initiative for Science & Society

Angrist will spend time in Lancaster observing and chronicling the experiences of Anabaptist patients participating in gene therapy trials to treat their rare genetic diseases. Building on previous trips to Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, this experience will inform a proposal for a book that will shed light on a new biomedical, social, and cultural phenomenon and prompt caregivers, researchers, policymakers, and patients to think about healthcare in new ways. This research will also enhance Angrist’s Focus course (Patient Activism and Advocacy) as well as his science writing course (Science and the Media) and the course he coteaches for NIH-funded trainees (Responsible Conduct of Research).

Distributed Computational Techniques for Machine Learning

Victor Bennett, Fuqua School of Business

Bennett will pursue a two-course sequence on tools—Scala and Spark—related to machine learning in distributed computing environments offered by Databricks in McLean, VA. His current project about the future of work requires matching three million establishments to 22 million shipments of automation technology, which would take years of computing on the Fuqua server. Knowledge of parallelization techniques will allow him to make use of code that would get the match down to within a day, and will enhance his ability to serve as a resource for doctoral students and faculty at Fuqua and across the university.

Mapping the Amazonian Moving Image: Territoriality, Media, and the Senses

Gustavo Furtado, Romance Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Furtado’s research project explores the ways in which visual and audiovisual media participate in efforts by competing sociocultural groups to appropriate the Amazon region symbolically and materially. In order to finish gathering materials, he will visit museums, cultural institutions, and film collections in three Amazonian cities: Iquitos, Belém, and Manaus. This research will contribute to a book-length monograph and enhance his undergraduate course, “Perspectives on the Amazon.”

Training in Biomarker Analysis to Enhance Integrative Research on Evolution of Aging

Elaine Guevara, Evolutionary Anthropology, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Under the expert guidance of Virginia Kraus and Janet Huebner, Guevara plans to train in biomarker analysis at the Biomarkers Shared Resource Core in the Duke Molecular Physiology Institute. This training will assist her in developing a more integrative research program with methodological, analytical, and theoretical approaches drawn from evolutionary biology and basic aging research. Mastering new methods will help her train students in this area and foster interdisciplinary interactions among the Duke Lemur Center, Arts & Sciences, and the Molecular Physiology Institute.

Visiting Rhodes House to Learn About Character, Service, and Leadership Program

Alexander Hartemink, Computer Science and Biology, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Hartemink will undertake a trip to Rhodes House at Oxford University in order to learn more about its Character, Service, and Leadership Program. He intends to visit during a three-day retreat for scholars-in-residence, and engage in conversations with program staff the following day. This experience will strengthen his first-year seminar, “The Examined Life,” by providing new and/or better methods for allowing students to reflect on their values, build a meaningful life, and be prepared to lead in the world. It will also enhance his contribution to the Office of University Scholars and Fellows, where he serves as faculty director, as well as his capacity to mentor and advise all his students.

A Cultural, Social, and Political History of Barbed Wire

Mesha Maren, English, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Maren will undertake fieldwork to scope out a new direction that will take her research, writing, and teaching deeper into the field of creative nonfiction writing. To inform a monograph that is part personal essay and part cultural, social, and political history, she will travel to several World War I battlefields where barbed wire first played a significant role. Maren will conduct research in the museums, memorials, archives, and guided tours at battlefields in Italy and France as well as museums in Rome, Florence, and Paris.

The Power of Land Survey: A History of British Surveying in Occupied Egypt, 1890s-1950s

Adam Mestyan, History, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

During a trip to London, Mestyan will conduct preliminary research for a book on the history of land survey in the early 20th-century British Empire. Marking a new research direction, this project will help him understand the British use of land survey, the mechanisms of metropolitan and imperial land survey, and the history of imperial British surveyors in occupied Egypt. This research will also enhance his course, “Engineering the Global Middle East,” and contribute to the development of a new course on land and law in modern Islam.

On Guard for Peace and Socialism: The Warsaw Pact, 1955-1991

Simon Miles, Sanford School of Public Policy

To jump-start the archival research process for a book, Miles will travel to Kyiv to consult the KGB’s in-house journal containing articles by intelligence community leaders and analyses of major issues, and to Prague to work in four key repositories. His grant will also support initial archival research carried out by a research assistant in Moscow. A broader archival scope is likely to amplify the book’s impact on the field, burnishing Duke’s standing as a top destination to study these questions. It will also inform his teaching of courses such as “American Grand Strategy” and “The Global Cold War.”

Global Environmental Justice: Scholarship, Teaching, and Practice

Elizabeth Shapiro-Garza, Nicholas School of the Environment

To support the incorporation of environmental justice concepts and case studies into her teaching and enhance her scholarship on how these issues are impacting communities in North Carolina, Shapiro-Garza will participate in a workshop, “Bridging Research, Policy and Activism for Environmental Justice in Times of Crises,” at the University of Freiburg. She will also serve as a scholar-in-residence at the University of Barcelona’s Institut de Ciéncia i Tecnologia Ambientals, a center for research on global environmental justice issues and the social movements addressing them. These experiences will deepen her understanding of global environmental justice issues, strategies to address them, and the methods to analyze their dynamics and outcomes.

Understanding Peru’s Moche Civilization

Orin Starn, Cultural Anthropology and History, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

At its height around 700 A.D., the Moche’s achievements included adobe pyramids as large as those in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings and highly advanced irrigation systems to water their desert lands. During a trip to Peru, Starn will join local excavation teams at new sites in the Chiclayo and Trujillo areas. Learning more about the process of archaeological research and deepening his knowledge of Moche culture will enhance his teaching by incorporating more material on indigenous civilizations. It will also serve as the basis for a book about the quest to understand the Moche.

Jerusalem: Human Rights in a Contested City

Rebecca Stein, Cultural Anthropology, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences; Erika Weinthal, Nicholas School of the Environment

Stein and Weinthal will take a joint trip to Jerusalem establish partnerships with Israeli nongovernmental organizations and human rights groups that will benefit future teaching on the Israel/Palestine conflict. The Shufat refugee camp will provide the basis for on-site learning modules in the course, which will include an examination of the ways that Palestinian refugees residing in the camp navigate access to services. This experience will also benefit the professors’ scholarship by providing an opportunity to consider refugee issues within the broader context of environmental issues, rights, and mobility.

We the Platform: Contemporary Literature in the Sharing Economy

Aarthi Vadde, English, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

To enhance her research and writing on the ways in which social media platforms configure contemporary literary and popular culture, Vadde plans to gain knowledge of how programmers and artists think about data, network architecture, and human-computer interaction. Pursuing training in information science and media archaeology, she will incorporate new knowledge and tools into a research program that links the history and future of the web to the sociology of literature. Increased computational literacy will strengthen her sociotechnical approach to analyzing literary works and readerships and inform a new course that connects humanistic criticism with responsible computing.


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 Save Elephants, We Need Different Approaches for Separate Species

Amelia Meier; elephant
At the Wonga Wongue Presidential Reserve, where I am collecting a fecal sample used for genetic analysis while following one of the GPS-collared elephants; a GPS-collared elephant in the forest (photo by Liam Sjolander, a field assistant on the project

By Amelia Meier, Ph.D. Student at the Nicholas School of the Environment

How does one manage an animal that some people believe is a god or must be protected at all costs because of its intrinsic value, while others are terrified of it because they compete with it for food and water or wish to sell ivory to feed their family?

Elephants are one of the most iconic animals in the world. However, when it comes to how they should be preserved, there is a schism between conservationists.

CITES booklet cover.After dramatic population declines in the 1970s and 80s, elephants were banned from international trade in 1990 by the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). This international political decision is touted as the reason some elephant populations have rebounded today. Indeed, in some countries elephant populations have grown so much they are reported to be dangerous pests, devastating the protected areas where they are located and threatening the livelihoods of people in nearby villages.

But one species of elephant is in big trouble. In contrast to the better-known savanna elephants in eastern and southern Africa, forest elephants in western and central Africa are rapidly declining.

Fast-forwarding nearly 30 years, elephant conservation is still one of the most heated debates at the CITES Convention of the People (CoP); however, the topic has become more divisive.

The international policies decided at the CITES CoP have strong top-down control on the global ivory trade and major impacts on forest elephant conservation. This year contradictory proposals to completely protect or reduce trade restrictions on elephants were proposed by different elephant range states.

Amelia Meier and Dr. Webb.
At CoP 18 with Dr. Grahame Webb, head of the Crocodile Specialist Group who allowed me to participate as part of his organization Wildlife Management International

Through the generosity of the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies, I had the opportunity to attend the 18th CITES CoP in Geneva, Switzerland. I spent ten days learning from a variety of people—from private interest groups, to nonprofits, to voting party members. My experience highlighted the influence lobbyists possess and the essential role “Species Specialist Groups” have providing clear, honest communication to decision makers about the status of different species.

In the end, the parties were unable to agree and rejected all but one proposal concerning elephants, whereby elephants are no longer allowed to be shipped outside of their range states.

Gaining Insights on Forest Elephants

There is an urgent need for countries harboring elephants to effectively manage their populations. Behaviorally, morphologically and genetically African forest elephants and African savanna elephants are separate species. Officially designating them as such would enable the regions that proposed these contradicting proposals to govern their elephants as they view necessary.

As a PhD student at Duke, I have spent the last five years studying forest elephant behavior with the intent to help inform anti-poaching strategy in Gabon. By combining genetic and satellite technologies we are able to gain insight into where and when forest elephants are likely to form larger aggregations.

As I near graduation I intend to increase my involvement in forest elephant research and policy by providing clear, applicable research relating to forest elephant ecology and conservation needs. Participation in organizations such as Duke’s Forest Elephant Working Group that further our understanding of forest elephants can help inform the designation of African forest elephants as a separate species.

Originally posted on Medium

Nicholas Institute Welcomes Inaugural Cohort of Duke Environmental Impacts Fellows

Group of fellows.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions announced the selection of 19 doctoral students from Arts & Sciences, Nicholas School of the Environment, Pratt School of Engineering, and Sanford School of Public Policy as the inaugural Duke Environmental Impacts Fellows. These students have diverse backgrounds and come from a wide range of doctoral programs, but they share a common passion for protecting, managing and improving our environment.

The Duke Environmental Impacts Fellow Program (EIF) is a new, professional development opportunity for Duke Ph.D. students keen on making a high impact in their careers. This pilot program aims to fill a gap in traditional Ph.D. training by providing an opportunity for students to consider the full variety of potential career paths they might follow, including nonacademic or nontraditional academic positions. The program offers trainings focused on leadership, teaching, communication, and engagement to enhance students’ critical thinking and leadership skills. At the completion of the program, participants will have a broadened view of their career options, and be prepared to be thought-leaders inside and outside the academy.

The program has been funded by and developed in cooperation with faculty from Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, Sanford School of Public Policy, Pratt School of Engineering, Divinity School, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, and Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. The Office of the Provost contributed funding.

2020 Fellows

Hussain Alshammasi, Nicholas School of the Environment

Axel Berky, Nicholas School of the Environment

Alice Carter, University Program in Ecology

Travis Dauwalter, Public Policy & Economics

Kimberley Drouin, Earth & Ocean Sciences

Jacqueline Gerson, University Program in Ecology

Kathleen Horvath, Electrical Engineering

Brandon Hunter, Civil & Environmental Engineering

Faye Koenigsmark, Environmental Engineering

Anna Lewis, Civil & Environmental Engineering

Reshma Nargund, Nicholas School of the Environment

Anna Nordseth, University Program in Ecology

Ekta Patel, Environmental Policy

Erika Smull, Nicholas School of the Environment

Margaret Swift, Nicholas School of the Environment

Emily Ury, University Program in Ecology

Michael Valerino, Environmental Engineering

Paige Varner, Civil & Environmental Engineering

Dana Wright, Marine Science & Conservation

Emily Bernhardt on Interdisciplinary Collaboration

“I am engaging in a wholly new set of important questions about how mercury is being added to and cycling through the Peruvian Amazon”

Emily Bernhardt at a creek outside the Phytotron Building on Duke’s campus (Photo: Megan Morr).
Emily Bernhardt at a creek outside the Phytotron Building on Duke’s campus (Photo: Megan Morr)

Emily S. Bernhardt is interested in how humans affect the movement of water, chemicals, and energy through ecosystems. She’s the Jerry G. and Patricia Crawford Hubbard Professor in Duke’s Department of Biology and Professor of Environmental Sciences and Policy.

In the Peruvian Amazon, humans’ gold-mining activities are resulting in mercury pollution and deforestation. Bernhardt is leading a Bass Connections project team to study the impacts of this mining; other faculty members include Bill Pan, Ernesto Ortiz, and John Terborgh, joined by an interdisciplinary team of graduate and undergraduate students. Recently, she reflected on her involvement in this collaborative research project. Below are excerpts from her comments.


Engaging a Diverse Team of Students

Our Bass Connections team is really an amazing collection of people. Jackie Gerson [Ph.D. student in Ecology] is an incredibly capable lead and she did a great job recruiting and selecting students.

We have three global health/environmental health-focused undergraduate students. Two [Kelsey Lansdale and Eliza Letourneau] are seniors and both are conducting their honors thesis on component research projects within this study. Our sophomore student Melissa Marchese is conducting an independent study and already thinking about how to return for a second trip and use the data collected for her senior thesis.

Kelsey Lansdale, Jackie Gerson, and Melissa Marchese (Photo: courtesy of Jackie Gerson)
Kelsey Lansdale, Jackie Gerson, and Melissa Marchese (Photo: courtesy of Jackie Gerson)

These three great undergrads are complemented by three really impressive professional students. Tatiana Manidis is a MEM student who is interested in the human exposure part of this study. Chris Lara is a Public Policy master’s student from Colombia with 15 years of experience working at the UN on behalf of South American environmental policy issues. Natalia Rivadeneyra heard about our group and asked to join us. We were thrilled because Natalia is a practicing environmental lawyer in Peru who is at Duke earning her law LLM degree. She has started an environmental nonprofit in Peru and is assisting us with a comparative analysis of the legal and policy frameworks governing (or failing to govern) this illegal and highly polluting form of gold mining.

We are providing a truly unique and interdisciplinary educational experience for seven students from five degree programs, and I can honestly say I am learning a ton from all seven of them.

I am also realizing that my role is to facilitate. I am good at helping set agendas and priorities for groups and that is the one skillset this group collectively lacks. They are individually impressive and quite collaborative but need help pointing their considerable energies into a single direction.

A New Research Effort

This [Bass Connections project] has introduced an entirely new research effort for my lab group, allowing us to apply our tools in biogeochemistry and ecosystem science to a new problem of the Anthropocene.

I hope we will follow the same trajectory as our work on mountaintop removal coal mining, in which a small amount of seed money led to a decade of work and a major foundation and NSF grant as well as real impact on the science and policy arena surrounding this important environmental issue.

Data to Guide Policy Decisions

I am engaging in a wholly new set of important questions about how Hg [mercury] is being added to and cycling through the Peruvian Amazon. This would not have been possible without Bass Connections’ support. I think we are already generating vitally important information to guide management and policy—we are providing the first ever measures of soil and water methyl mercury (the bioavailable form) in Peru—and we are poised to provide far more.

A gold-mining operation on the Madre de Dios river (photo: courtesy of Jackie Gerson).
A gold-mining operation on the Madre de Dios river (Photo: courtesy of Jackie Gerson)

Data collected from this summer’s field work is accumulating. We expect to generate several high-profile papers and to have sufficient information to go after a much larger grant to continue and expand upon this research on Hg pollution associated with artisanal gold mining in one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots—Peru’s Madre de Dios river.


See other faculty profiles, and learn more about Bass Connections.