Duke’s Newest Faculty Members Are Joining a Robust Interdisciplinary Community

Nine new faculty at Duke

“New faculty are the lifeblood of a robust and dynamic academic community,” says Duke Provost Sally Kornbluth. “As described in our academic strategic plan, our overarching imperative for the next decade is to grow, connect, and empower communities to enhance the creation, delivery, and translation of knowledge. These new faculty will play a valuable role in accomplishing these goals in our core missions of research, teaching, and service.”

Nine new faculty members told the Office of University Communications what motivates them in their scholarship and why Duke is the right place for this work. Duke’s strengths in interdisciplinary scholarship and collaborative inquiry stood out to many of them.

Below, we excerpt brief comments. See the full article, and meet other new faculty highlighted in Duke Today’s new faculty series.

Alberto Bartesaghi

Associate Professor of Computer Science, Biochemistry, and Electrical & Computer Engineering

BartesaghiThe field has changed completely from 13 years ago to today. Now there are many more possibilities. I thought coming to a university environment like Duke would allow me to tap into all the different disciplines.

Here you can talk to people in the math department, the School of Medicine, biochemistry, engineering… pharmacology is on this floor. There is a wider variety of things I need, but especially math, and computer science and engineering. They have a big role to play here.

Brandon Garrett

L. Neil Williams Professor of Law, School of Law

GarrettOne reason that I am so excited to be part of the Duke community is that my work has become more and more interdisciplinary and focused on public policy over the years. Researchers at Duke collaborate so well across the entire university – it is such an innovative place with people dedicated to making a difference in the world through their research.

In my criminal justice research, I increasingly work with psychologists in my work on eyewitness memory and risk assessment, statisticians in my work on forensic science, and governance and finance scholars in my work on corporate crime.

David Gill

Assistant Professor of Marine Conservation, Duke Marine Lab, Nicholas School of the Environment

GillDrawing on tools, theories and approaches from multiple disciplines, I seek to answer questions like: how does marine management affect fish populations and the wellbeing of communities? What are the economic gains from conserving coral reefs and what are the potential losses from inaction?

The Duke Marine Lab has a strong focus on interdisciplinary research and teaching on marine conservation and human-natural systems, and these closely tie into my academic interests.

Po-Chun Hsu

Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science

HsuMy research looks to tailor the heat transfer properties of wearable devices. From applications in spacesuits to firefighters to everyday clothing, engineering the properties of materials can keep people—or delicate machinery—at the right temperature. We do this by engineering the nanoscale structures of fibers to interact with light or infrared radiation—better known as heat—in a specific way. This requires a wide range of expertise including material scientists, mechanical engineers and physicists.

I came to Duke because it’s a special place where there’s a variety of very talented people in the fields of heat transfer, polymer physics and biomedical applications. It’s the perfect environment to find collaborators and to find inspiration to further my research.

Sally Nuamah

Assistant Professor, Sanford School of Public Policy

NuamahGrowing up in Chicago and attending public schools, I felt like policies were always happening to me, and I did not quite understand why. I made a decision to learn about how the policy process works so that maybe one day I could work to make it better.

On my first visit to Sanford, I was given about 20 to 30 minutes to talk to nearly one dozen faculty members. I went over the time for each person I met with.  I just found each person’s work so important, interesting, and relevant. I knew that these were colleagues that want to do work that matters to them, that want to do work that’s important. They care about the community that they’re directly involved in. That’s the kind of community I want to be a part of.

Adam Rosenblatt

Associate Professor of the Practice, International Comparative Studies

RosenblattAs a professor, I have the power to help shape student experiences. So it’s good to ask: What kinds of doors to I want to open for them? For decades now people have talked about theory versus practice. That’s boring and it’s wrong. We sometimes do a disservice when we present students with a binary — the classroom versus community engagement. I’m more interested in how you make sure both spaces are influenced by each other. How can the classroom and the community work in conversation?

I’ve always taught in interdisciplinary programs, but Duke is a bigger sandbox than I’ve been able to play in before. My students here have a tremendous array of interests, in terms of regions and disciplines.

Marc Ryser

Assistant Professor, Population Health Sciences and Mathematics

RyserBecause it is hard to predict which tumors will turn out lethal, most patients are treated quite aggressively. The big question is: which of these patients are treated for a good reason, because they would eventually get lethal cancer, and how many of these are basically over-treated, for something that would never become symptomatic cancer?

For me Duke is attractive because it provides an ideal environment for my interdisciplinary research at the interface of medicine and the quantitative sciences. There are so many world experts in both areas of research, and there is a lot of data being generated — a very exciting place to be! By developing mathematical and statistical modeling techniques that integrate diverse data sources I hope to foster new bridges between the School of Medicine and Arts & Sciences.

Caroline Stinson

Professor of the Practice of Music and cellist in the Ciompi Quartet

StinsonI’m looking forward to being in an academic community. It struck me during my interviews, when other professors of musicology and music theory wanted to talk to me about projects I’d been involved in, they were excited to talk about the music I was playing – and that’s just within the music department. It’s totally new for me to think about how my work can not only collaborate with other areas in the university but be influenced by, and to influence, people in other areas. And Duke gives me the space to think about the projects that have been in the back of my mind for at least five years, and to dive even deeper into string quartets and collaboration in my work with the Ciompi.

Ismail White

Associate Professor, Political Science

WhiteMy research focuses on African-American political behavior. I try to answer why so many black Americans are so partisan, why so many are Democrats, over 90 percent — that’s an extraordinary amount of support.

The answer to that question seems obvious, you know, it must have something to do with race. I discovered a lot is race-based, but I explain that it’s also sociological, historical and even psychological. I seek to unify the explanation.

One of the reasons I came to Duke is because of the large African-American community in North Carolina. Certainly North Carolina has its share of racial politics, and very interesting racial politics. I look forward to working in the community and getting to know the political environment here.

Photos by University Communications

For Three Students, Research Trip in the Amazon Takes Unexpected Twists and Turns

Bass Connections team's collection site in Peruvian Amazon

By Melissa Marchese ’21, Kelsey Lansdale ’19, and Jacqueline Gerson (Ph.D. Program in Ecology)

“Uh oh” is not what you want to hear, ever, but this phrase is especially nerve-wracking when you’re conducting fieldwork on the impacts of gold mining in the Amazon using expensive equipment and sensitive mercury collectors amongst a crowd (miners) that does not want the authorities in their business.

This particular “uh oh” came from the least likely person – our boat guide Ramiro, who is incredibly nonchalant, always telling us not to worry and that bullet ants only hurt un poco. So, as we sat in the boat and saw Ramiro’s reaction as he walked up the riverbank and into one of our sites, we knew something crazy must have occurred, but we couldn’t even begin to imagine what we saw next.

An area once so dense it required a machete to enter, now was flattened; there were no trees, bushes, or even small plants – just heaping piles of branches that had been stacked while the surrounding forest was burned.

As we entered one of our sites – which was once a pristine, seemingly untouched area of the rainforest near the Chilive River – we were shocked to find that about a hectare of land around our collection site had been completely cleared and burned. An area once so dense it required a machete to enter, now was flattened; there were no trees, bushes, or even small plants – just heaping piles of branches that had been stacked while the surrounding forest was burned.

On top of the lack of forest, there was now a house being built about twenty feet from our collection site, complete with a firepit and clothes drying on a line – likely the new home of a logger wanting to live closer to the forest he cuts down.

Upon seeing the destruction, we ran to our open precipitation collection site (a group of five, meter-tall PVC tubes containing funnels and bottles to collect rainwater). We wanted to see if anything had been tampered with and expected our collection setups to be damaged, along with the rest of the forest. Amazingly, it seemed our “DO NOT TOUCH/ NO TOCAR” sign had deterred the people from touching our sensitive tubes or burning within a small radius around them. They had also left untouched our active air sampler, which has a valuable battery and solar panel attached. This further proves our belief that the people here are some of the most polite in the world.

The objective of our deposition, air, and soil collection – placed at five locations along the Madre de Dios River – is to track the movement of mercury from gold mining through the ecosystem and to distinguish between mercury sourced in the soil versus the atmosphere.

Although there is obviously an issue with the random decimation of fully forested areas in an extremely biodiverse and delicate ecosystem, our minds also went quickly to how it would affect our data. Burning organic material, like the soil, leaves, and wood, releases mercury. The objective of our deposition, air, and soil collection – placed at five locations along the Madre de Dios River – is to track the movement of mercury from gold mining through the ecosystem and to distinguish between mercury sourced in the soil versus the atmosphere.

Some have speculated that the soil in this region of the world has a naturally high mercury content but, as with many aspects of this complicated ecosystem, it has not been thoroughly studied. We seek to shed light on that in our research, but because of the burning, our results will be used differently than how we had originally planned.

This unexpected burning at our site will most likely change the amount of mercury measured in the air, precipitation, and soil; our results will thus show mercury released not just from the gold mining downstream, but also from the deforestation occurring at the site.

One of the main things that we have learned from conducting fieldwork abroad is that you have to go with the flow and improvise when things do not go according to plan, which they often don’t. This unexpected burning at our site will most likely change the amount of mercury measured in the air, precipitation, and soil; our results will thus show mercury released not just from the gold mining downstream, but also from the deforestation occurring at the site.

Now, we can analyze the air and precipitation samples from the Chilive site during and after the fires to understand how much mercury is released in burning and how it affects an ecosystem since, sadly, the practice of deforestation and setting fires is an everyday occurrence here. Whether it is by clearing areas to make a campsite, logging, burning fields to “cleanse” them before the next crop, or incinerating garbage, seeing smoke billowing from the towns and stumbling upon fully deforested areas is common.

The practice of deforestation and setting fires is an everyday occurrence here.

This experience at our Chilive River site of peeking behind the riparian zone – the area containing the trees lining the river – was eye-opening. We were shocked to find our previously forested collection site devoid of plants, littered with plastic, and under construction. Sadly, this experience was not unique.

Boating down the river, all we see for hours on end are trees, with the exception of mining in the river and a few villages dotting the shore. Yet, despite so much dense forest alongside the river, we often found ourselves wondering why we did not see canopy trees extending into the distance beyond the riparian zone. Our previously forested collection site (as well as several afternoon hikes in which we have suddenly found ourselves in fields of massive deforestation) sheds light on why this might be – massive deforestation occurring along the river, which is seemingly invisible to those who do not venture past the shore.

When we ran into a group of high school students passing through this area of the Peruvian Amazon, we asked one of the leaders his favorite part about traveling through the region. He described his awe of the “untouched natural beauty.” Admittedly slightly jaded at this point, we nodded politely and thought to ourselves how much remains unseen here, even to those who come to experience the Amazon. Keeping illegal activity hidden from the eyes of tourists and the National Guard is common practice for loggers, miners, farmers, and anyone else whose land use involves cutting down forest. What would a boatful of visitors think as they drove by endless piles of wood where there should be soaring trees? Peru would quickly lose a driver of its economy – ecotourism.

Keeping illegal activity hidden from the eyes of tourists and the National Guard is common practice for loggers, miners, farmers, and anyone else whose land use involves cutting down forest.

The riparian zone is like a curtain drawn along the river, hiding the massive amounts of deforestation stored just behind it. When you think of the Amazon rainforest, hear about it in biology class, or see it in nature documentaries, it brings about expectations that are almost otherworldly compared to our usual surroundings. It’s easy to imagine a forest with trees the size of buildings, plant and fungal growth on every surface, and animals everywhere. However, the reality, while often strikingly beautiful, has evoked unexpected feelings. We still have a lot to learn about the pristine natural world here, and who better to teach us than its people?

Melissa Marchese with a child in PeruDuring our time in Madre de Dios, we wanted to give back to the communities that have warmly welcomed us into their homes and towns, so we brought art supplies to be shared at the local schools. When we arrived in Boca Manu, we learned that schools had been let out on winter break for a few weeks and the teachers and students had returned to their hometowns. So, as usual, we improvised, quickly set up a meeting with the mayor, and created a plan to gather all the children living in the small town of Boca Manu.

Our plan was to do a quick and fun activity teaching them about conservation and the importance of the river while providing a creative visual art outlet using supplies that are not readily available to them. We brought markers, crayons, colored pencils, and paper and led a discussion with the kids about the role the river plays in their lives and then asked them to focus their art on the river. Since school was out, the age range we were working with was from one to fifteen years old, and everyone present seemed to enjoy the activity and ability to draw freely with their new materials. Even in a group of ten-year-old boys, we could see intense concentration. The effort that they put into the activity and the effect it seemed to have on them was awesome…until they snapped out of it, realized drawing was probably uncool, and proceeded to rip up their delicately sketched work to compensate.

Kelsey Lansdale with a child in PeruWe were very impressed with the projects we saw. Some pictures included indistinguishable squiggles, tigers, ambulances, and Legos on the river; however, most of the pictures show a beautiful river with large trees floating down it, boats moving through it, and animals gathering nearby.

We were shocked by how realistic the pictures were and how perceptive the children are. While we planned originally only to work in Boca Manu, which is upstream of mining and in a protected area (so no mining occurs around it), we started to wonder how the pictures might change as we moved downstream toward mining. As these kids drew pictures of the river they saw, would the children in Boca Colorado, a large mining town, draw a river strewn with sediment piles and mining contraptions? Would their view of the river be as ours was before coming, or show the drastic manmade developments (mining and deforestation) that have since shaped our view?

We’re still upstream, waiting for our collectors to fill with rainwater, so we don’t yet know the answer to how kids in mining communities will interpret their river systems. What we do know is that the river plays an important role in the lives of these upstream communities – providing them with transportation, food, and a means of income. If deforestation and mining continue to spread, moving closer and closer to these towns, the culture and values of these communities will change. It might remain largely unseen to travelers – residing just out of view to those remaining in a boat on the river – but the effects will be felt by all within the vicinity.

Learn More

  • Review the team’s first and second posts about this fieldwork.

 

Photos courtesy of Jackie Gerson

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

Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) grantees

Background

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

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

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

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

Applicant Pool

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

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

2017-2018 GSTEG Recipients

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

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

Types of Grant Activities and Examples of Impact

Hands-on Training

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

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

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

Sally Bornbusch, Ph.D. in Evolutionary Anthropology

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

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

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

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

Amelia Meier, Ph.D. in Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kate Thomas, Ph.D. in Biology

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

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

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

Anna Wade, Ph.D. in Environment

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

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

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

Jillian Wisse, Ph.D. in Ecology

Internships

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

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

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

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

Emily Cherenack, Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology

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

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

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

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

Mercy DeMenno, Ph.D. in Public Policy

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

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

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

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

Courses

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

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

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

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

Dustin Benac, Th.D. in Theology

Machine Learning Techniques Help Philosopher Build an App for Logic Education

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

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

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

Lok Chan, Ph.D. in Philosophy

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

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

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

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

William Cioffi, Ph.D. in Ecology

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

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

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

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

Sophie Galson, M.S. in Global Health

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

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

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

Allison Lewinski, Ph.D. in Nursing

Summer Course Provides an Immersive Exploration of the Value of Art

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

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

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

Stephanie Manning, M.A. in Digital Art History

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

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

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

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

Bria Moore, Ph.D. in Medical Physics

Graduate Student Sees Clear Benefits of Observational Oceanography Training in Bermuda

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

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

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

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

Research Materials

Molecular Modeling Techniques Aid Exploration of Environmental Contamination

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

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

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

Looking Ahead

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

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

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

Learn More

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

Graduate Student Network Imagines a World with Sustainable Energy for All

A few of the entries to ImaginEnergy

The Global Energy Access Network (GLEAN) is an interdisciplinary group of more than 50 Duke graduate and professional students who aim to advance sustainable solutions to address the world’s energy access challenges.

Yating Li, Muye Ru, Faraz Usmani, and Heidi VreelandHoused at the Duke University Energy Initiative, GLEAN received a Duke Support for Interdisciplinary Graduate Networks (D-SIGN) grant in 2016-17 and a follow-on D-SIGN grant in 2017-18. Doctoral students Yating Li and Faraz Usmani (Environmental Policy), Muye Ru (Earth & Ocean Sciences), and Heidi Vreeland (Civil & Environmental Engineering) served as coordinators. Their faculty sponsors were Subhrendu Pattanayak and Brian Murray.

Here are excerpts from their year-end report.


Speaker Series

A meeting of GLEAN students with Jim Rogers;GLEAN’s Energy Access Speaker Series brings world-renowned energy-access researchers and practitioners to Duke. Critically, the selection of speakers is driven entirely by the students who are part of the GLEAN community, ensuring overlap in mutual interests between visiting speakers and students.

GLEAN sponsored and organized the visits of three speakers: Professor Shu Tao (Peking University), who spoke on the rural energy transition in China; Dr. Akanksha Chaurey (ITP India), who shared her experiences developing a renewable energy strategy for Afghanistan; and Professor Jill Baumgartner (McGill University), who highlighted the importance of clean-energy programs in the context of air pollution in China.

The Speaker Series creates tangible opportunities for graduate, professional, and undergraduate students to engage with leaders in the field.

–Faraz Usmani

GLEAN’s visiting speakers recognize the breadth of talent and experiences that the students in the network have.

–Muye Ru

Case Studies

cover of volume 1 of GLEAN case studiesCurrently in its final stages of production, GLEAN’s second volume of energy-access case studies will present important research takeaways from up to five GLEAN members, providing distinct experiences on energy access across key regions of the developing world.

Focusing on a diverse range of topics—from the implications of improving energy finance for India’s solar industry to measurement of the impacts of cleaner cooking technologies in rural Madagascar—the volume aims to inform researchers, practitioners, students, and others working on energy access and energy transitions.

GLEAN’s second volume of case studies is expected to be released by the end of Summer 2018. The first volume was published in June 2017.

GLEAN members have contributed to a wide range of energy-relevant research applications across the world. The case studies collection will compile these experiences for policymakers, practitioners and researchers, who frequently find themselves ‘reinventing the wheel’ when engaging with unfamiliar contexts or communities.

–Heidi Vreeland

ImaginEnergy Photo Contest

Hannah Girardeau’s entry to ImaginEnergyRecognizing that visual media can highlight the reality of energy poverty in remote, rural settings in new and distinct ways, GLEAN organized the ImaginEnergy Photo Contest—open to students from across the world. The contest received over 40 submissions.

Winners—selected via a social media campaign led by the Energy Initiative—had the opportunity to display their photos as part of a DUU VisArts curated exhibition at Duke’s Brown Art Gallery, which runs through the end of Summer 2018.

Their photographs were also on display during the annual meeting of the Sustainable Energy Transitions Initiative (SETI), which was hosted by Duke for the third consecutive year in May 2018.

Lack of access to energy is a multidimensional challenge, and sometimes a picture is indeed worth a thousand words when it comes to demonstrating the scale of the challenge.

–Yating Li

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: A few of the entries to ImaginEnergy; Yating Li, Muye Ru, Faraz Usmani, and Heidi Vreeland; a meeting of GLEAN students with Jim Rogers; cover of volume 1 of GLEAN case studies; Hannah Girardeau’s entry to ImaginEnergy

Learning System Dynamics to Support Policy Research, No Advanced Math Required

Professor Mavrommati’s webinar

For students exploring policy research, skills in systems thinking and computer modeling can be a valuable asset. However, many modeling tools are only accessible to those with advanced mathematical backgrounds.

The Modeling Health & Environment Graduate Working Group, organized by Shashika Bandara (M.Sc. in Global Health) and Varun Mallampalli (Ph.D. in Civil & Environmental Engineering), provided an opportunity for Duke students from multiple disciplines to learn about system dynamics modeling and build complex models relevant to their research.

System dynamics is a modeling method that allows the user to create complex graphic representations of systems and identify policy intervention points.

Bandara and Mallampalli received a Duke Support for Interdisciplinary Graduate Networks (D-SIGN) grant from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies for 2017-2018. Their faculty sponsors were Kevin Schulman and Mark Borsuk.

Here are excerpts from their year-end report.


We had a working group consisting mainly of engineering, global health, and public policy students. Our strategy was focused around exposing graduate students in global health and public policy to system dynamics modeling and exposing engineering students to the world of practical policymaking.

We used STELLA software that allows students to graphically build complex models. We chose this software as all students do not have the advanced mathematical background required by many modeling software.

Varun MallampalliAs a Ph.D. student in engineering, I was able to improve my teaching skills and collaborative skills by being part of this working group. Being exposed to issues related to global health and the potential avenues for collaborative research was a great learning experience for me.

–Varun Mallampalli

We provided basic training on STELLA software for graduate students, opportunities to learn more about the use of modeling in research environments, and self-learning tools and relevant lectures from the project on an online platform. We also created course material based on the working group sessions.

The first session centered around an interactive exercise where students actively engaged in building a model to ward off a hypothetical flu epidemic at Duke. Students responded by saying, “I would take a course on this” and “This was very useful.” The interactive environment meant students exchanged ideas and identified different ways to address the flu epidemic at Duke. Below is a diagram of the system students built over a two-hour interactive learning session.

diagram of students’ model to ward off a hypothetical flu epidemic

; Professor Yamey’s guest lecture on evidence-based policymakingIn the second and third sessions we invited guest lecturers from Duke to outline the practical aspects of policymaking and modeling. Professors Mark Borsuk and Kevin Schulman talked about practical use of modeling in the context of environmental and health systems respectively. Professor Gavin Yamey from the Duke Global Health Institute engaged students on evidence-based policymaking and improving writing skills.

The fourth session was an interactive learning session around modeling predator-prey systems in the environmental sciences. The fifth session was a webinar with Professor Georgia Mavrommati, Assistant Professor of Ecological Economics at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. She spoke to students about sustainability in coupled human natural systems, specifically looking at coastal and lake systems and their ecological health as a consequence of human interaction.

Shashika BandaraAs a global health master’s student, it was a great opportunity to consider how I can use modeling as a powerful policy advocacy tool. As a group, we benefited not only by the technical modeling-related knowledge sharing but also by the advice given by guest lecturers on communication, research, and careers. It was rewarding that even students outside the working group expressed interest in learning modeling due to the guest lectures. This is why we hope to make the learning tools available online for all students.

–Shashika Bandara

Based on the feedback from the working group and requests we received from undergraduate students, we decided to create an online resource for students to learn system dynamics modeling. Thus, our current steps include building a series of instructional videos. We will make these videos, guest lectures and other resource material available on a website dedicated to this project. We also aim to develop course materials integrating all our lessons learned during the five sessions. We hope this course will serve as a guide to students to engage more deeply with this subject.

As two graduate students from different fields, this project provided us with the opportunity to understand potential collaborative opportunities between global health and engineering. Also, it gave us the opportunity to reach across and beyond the campus to gain expert opinions on the use of modeling.

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: Professor Mavrommati’s webinar; Varun Mallampalli; diagram of students’ model to ward off a hypothetical flu epidemic; Professor Yamey’s guest lecture on evidence-based policymaking; Shashika Bandara

Duke Students Share Skills with a Rural Mexican Community to Strengthen Ecotourism

Duke Desarrollo Mexico team

Ruxandra Popovici, a Ph.D. student in Environment, teamed up with Emilio Blanco Gonzalez and Adam Cullen, master’s students in Mechanical Engineering, on a proposal to help a rural Mexican community develop a renewable energy strategy and a business plan for sustainable ecotourism.

They 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, with faculty sponsor Elizabeth Shapiro-Garza.

Last summer, the three graduate students traveled with undergraduate Matheus Dias to Playa Grande. They assessed the community’s ecotourism business and energy needs, and generated two reports with recommendations.

Here are excerpts from their year-end report.

Playa Grande is a Mexican ejido, where land is jointly owned by a group of 70 community members. Residents of Playa Grande, like many rural communities in Mexico, participate in government-funded conservation programs where community members receive monetary compensation in exchange for their involvement in the sustainable management and stewardship of communal natural resources. Their conservation activities include fire prevention, protection against illegal logging and hunting, and maintaining corridors for jaguar protection.

Ejido Playa Grande

Ejido Playa Grande is part of a small group of communities that decided to invest their conservation program earnings into an ecotourism business, which is jointly owned by community members. Their company has been growing but community members are looking to improve their business strategy in order to attract more customers, as well as to transition to a renewable energy strategy to power their tourist center.

Selva Ecoturistica Playa Grande

A common problem encountered by rural communities in Mexico is that it is difficult to access experts that can provide specialized assistance in fields such as business, marketing, and engineering. To remedy this situation, students at Duke created Economic Sustainability, an initiative that connects rural community members to “student experts” that assist residents with their business and engineering needs.

Solar panels, Playa GrandeAdam and Emilio evaluated three renewable energy options – hydro, wind, and solar – and recommended that the community invest in additional solar panels, which they have found to be the most cost-effective option. Community leaders in Playa Grande have already bought additional solar panels based on this recommendation.

Matheus, an economics major, created a report documenting the community’s existing business structure and activities. This report is extremely useful for community members, as it provides concrete documentation about their business, which they can use to apply for loans and government grants. In addition, Matheus conducted research on the region’s ecotourism market and provided suggestions for improving the ecotourism business and developing future services.

Ruxandra interviewed micro-entrepreneurs. She facilitated a partnership with NC State’s P1tLab, whose students, faculty, and staff provide guidance on the community’s marketing and business strategy. Due to the very competitive and vertically integrated nature of the tourism industry in the region, this community is struggling to “capture” visitors from the international enclave destination of Puerto Vallarta. Through this partnership with Duke and NC State’s P1tLab, members of Ejido Playa Grande will attempt to penetrate local retail monopolies to advertise their services directly to potential visitors.

Duke students, Playa Grande

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.

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

Collaborative Research Project Tackles Environmental and Social Inequities in Alabama

Catherine Flowers and Duke team members in Lowndes County

Catherine Coleman Flowers is the founder of the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise (ACRE). Since 2015, she has partnered with the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute and the Nicholas School of the Environment to find solutions for the lack of wastewater infrastructure in Lowndes County, Alabama.

The situation exemplifies the social and environmental inequities facing rural communities of color in the American South, which include endemic poverty, lack of economic opportunity, hazardous health conditions, and inadequate infrastructure.

A recent article by Flowers and Duke’s Erika Weinthal, Elizabeth Albright, and Emily Stewart, “Solution-centered Collaborative Research in Rural Alabama” describes the ongoing environmental justice project in Lowndes County.

This year, an interdisciplinary network led by Duke graduate students has taken the lead in diagnosing the interlaced physical, financial, legal, and political barriers to sanitation access in Lowndes County and evaluating potential solutions.

Next year, Flowers will be involved in a Bass Connections project team with colleagues from the Nicholas School of the Environment, the Pratt School of Engineering, and the Duke Human Rights Center.