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.

From Improv to Book Design, Five Faculty to Broaden Skills through New Grant Program


Five 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.

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

iO Summer Five-Week Intensive in Improvisation

Jody McAuliffe, Theater Studies and Slavic & Eurasian Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

To deepen her knowledge of improvisation, McAuliffe will take part in the Summer Five-Week Intensive offered by the iO Theater in Chicago. Each week, a different iO teacher will instruct the class in a particular aspect of the curriculum. The program culminates in a performance in the iO Theater. This intensive experience will enhance McAuliffe’s ability to teach improvisation to undergraduate and graduate students at Duke, including Master of Engineering students enrolled in the Design Thinking course. She will also offer a new course in improvisation to undergraduates in Theater Studies.

Alexander Technique Training Workshops

Eric Pritchard, Music, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Pritchard will attend workshops on the Alexander Technique at Holy Names College in Spokane and the Barstow Institute at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. He has been offering an Alexander Technique course for performing musicians, MUS 116, every semester since Fall 2017, and would like to open the class to undergraduates who are studying dance and theater. The workshop in Washington will give him access to a team of distinguished instructors grounded in multiple artistic disciplines. The Nebraska workshop will provide access to a different group of teachers than the ones he has worked with before.

Book Design and Typography

Christopher Sims, Center for Documentary Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

A monograph of Sims’ photography project, Theater of War: The Pretend Villages of Iraq and Afghanistan, will be published in Spring 2021. To leverage this opportunity and gain insights into the field of book design and print publication, Sims will attend two workshops. The San Francisco Center for the Book “Introduction to Book Arts” course is a two-day intensive workshop designed for experimentation across disciplines. Lensculture’s “Book Design Masterclass” in Amsterdam is a six-day collaborative workshop covering the practical aspects of book-making as well as how to solve the challenge of the printed book medium—shifting from singular images to the book as an object.

Linking Community Forest Carbon Management and Wildlife Movement with Geospatial Technologies

Jennifer Swenson, Environmental Sciences and Policy, Nicholas School of the Environment

Swenson plans to explore how her research can be applied in a unique indigenous land management context. In Mexico, she will meet with a nongovernmental organization, Integrator of Indigenous and Campesino Communities of Oaxaca (ICICO), and community leaders. Together they will consider how to complement their current field efforts for wildlife (e.g., camera traps) with geospatial models of connectivity. Using data gathered through previous monitoring, she will help the communities select species for conservation efforts. Then, using geospatial analysis combined with participatory land use planning techniques, they can determine the siting of biological corridors or conservation areas for these species. If their efforts are successful, this will be Mexico’s first wildlife corridor that is based on community lands. Swenson, Elizabeth Shapiro-Garza, and John Poulsen have assembled a group of three master’s students to contribute to this work.

Enhancing Teaching of Marine Science and Ethics through Faculty Collaboration

Rebecca Vidra, Environmental Sciences and Policy, Nicholas School of the Environment

The grant will support a two-week summer residency at the Duke Marine Lab, where Vidra will meet with colleagues, visit their classrooms, and participate in some of their research projects. Drawing on the strengths of Marine Lab faculty, Vidra will develop a three-week module on marine issues for ENVIRON 102: Introduction to Environmental Science and Policy, and will prepare a course proposal for an undergraduate/graduate seminar on the ethics of marine conservation and policy. Vidra will also forge new collaborations that build on her research on community-based fisheries management in Kauai, in order to bring this work into her teaching.

See all current initiatives in the Together Duke academic strategic plan.

Image, left to right: Jody McAuliffe, Eric Pritchard, Christopher Sims, Jennifer Swenson, Rebecca Vidra

Taking It Outside, Doctoral Students Build Girls’ Science and Leadership Skills

Jacqueline Gerson and Emily Levy

Duke University doctoral students Jacqueline Gerson (Ecology) and Emily Levy (Biology) wanted to increase hands-on science opportunities for young women and other groups that are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math.

With fellow Duke students Emily Ury and Alice Carter, they created a free summer program called GALS (Girls on outdoor Adventure for Leadership & Science). High school students who identify as female or gender nonconforming, students of color, and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are welcome to participate.

For the inaugural program in 2017, the founders created a science curriculum and taught eight young women about the scientific method, environmental science, and backpacking. While it was a success, they identified two areas that would strengthen the program: a standardized curriculum, and a humanities component to complement the environmental science focus.

To further this work, Gerson and Levy established a network to enrich the GALS program and received a Duke Support for Interdisciplinary Graduate Networks (D-SIGN) grant from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies for use in 2017-2018. Their faculty sponsors are Erika Weinthal, Nicolette Cagle, Naomi Kraut, and Megan Mullin.

; learning about evolution via natural selection during GALS 2017

“I can’t stress enough how beneficial the D-SIGN network has been to this program,” said Levy. “I am especially thankful for the time and effort of colleagues outside of the fields of biology and ecology who added a new level of thoughtfulness, intentionality, and depth to our curriculum. The connections we made through our D-SIGN network will continue to strengthen our program and help us accomplish the GALS mission.”

Here are excerpts from their year-end report.

The D-SIGN network helped us fill the two gaps of a standardized curriculum and a humanities component. We worked with a Duke Master of Arts in Teaching and Master of Environmental Management student, Katrina Herrera, to overhaul our curriculum. Our lessons are now matched to state and national educational standards, and they include more hands-on and place-based learning activities.

We held four D-SIGN network meetings with Duke graduate students and postdocs from the Sanford School of Public Policy, the Medical Physics Graduate Program, the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, the Economics Department, the University Program in Ecology, the Nicholas School of the Environment, and the Biology Department. Our intellectual breadth allowed us to tackle topics that the original GALS team (comprised of ecologists and biologists) didn’t have the expertise to do. Through these meetings, we created four new lessons and documents that will critically enhance the GALS curriculum.

a 2017 GALS participant studied snail velocity on different substrates for her independent research project

The D-SIGN-supported network created a lesson about Environmental Values and Economics, in which students will learn about different ways in which humans place value on the environment. In this lesson, students first reflect on their own valuation of different aspects of nature. Then, they will each represent stakeholders in a town hall debate about whether to build the Fontana Dam (which was built in the 1940s).

We also created a lesson plan about environmental policy. In this lesson, students will learn how to assess environmental issues, identify those who have power over those issues, and act to effect change in those systems. Students will create a ‘power map’ of a CAFO [concentrated animal feeding operation, or large farm in which animals are raised in confinement] in North Carolina to identify the people and institutions who can sway the status quo. Students will then write letters to these entities, which will be mailed upon returning to Durham.

The third lesson we produced focuses on the causes of, consequences of, and solutions to environmental justice issues. Students will consider the relevance of environmental justice to their own lives, take on the persona of stakeholders in a North Carolina CAFO to discuss a current instance of environmental justice, and finally take time to reflect on how to fight for environmental justice in their own communities.

GALS instructors during the 2018 instructor training trip

During our last D-SIGN network meeting, we produced a “GALS Instructor Guide for Sensitive Science Topics.” This 8-page document provides instructors with tips for facilitating discussions about topics that may be uncomfortable for some students (e.g., evolution). It also describes the scientific background behind 10 different “sensitive” topics that students asked about last year (e.g., Weather vs. Climate, Extinction & Biodiversity, GMOs).

Funds have also been used to attend diversity trainings, purchase educational materials, and organize a backpacking training weekend for GALS instructors.

About D-SIGN

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

  • See who else received D-SIGN grants in 2017-2018.

Photos: Jacqueline Gerson and Emily Levy; learning about evolution via natural selection during GALS 2017; a 2017 GALS participant studied snail velocity on different substrates for her independent research project; GALS instructors during the 2018 instructor training trip