Duke Ph.D. Students Find Unexpected Benefits in an Unusual Summer

Six students share insights from their 2020 Provost’s Summer Fellowships
Amanda Rossillo.
“This experience looks great on a resume and it’s very fulfilling to apply your narrow research topic to something outside of academia,” said Amanda Rossillo, pictured in her lab.

When COVID hit last spring, many graduate students had to give up their summer plans for teaching, field research and internships. The Provost’s Office quickly pledged support, and Vice Provost Ed Balleisen spearheaded the effort to identify virtual opportunities.

Experiential fellowships with eight host organizations and research assistantships with more than 20 Duke units provided summer funding and career development for all 59 Ph.D. students in need. Every student who responded to Duke’s end-of-summer evaluation would recommend this kind of internship experience to other Ph.D. students.

Kim Bourne.
Kim Bourne chose a part-time fellowship, which she said was “a great way to gain experience in an area outside of my dissertation without hindering my progress.”

Kim Bourne (Civil & Environmental Engineering) got off to a strong start with Duke’s Bass Connections program. “It was incredibly helpful that my host gave me a list of goals at the beginning,” said Bourne, who developed resources for remote and in-person learning. “This experience helped me explore an area I am interested in professionally and is a great addition to my resume as I apply for jobs.”

Zach Levine (Cultural Anthropology) worked on syllabus design and modules for Durham Tech instructor Tom Magrinat’s psychology courses. “It’s very divergent from my dissertation,” said Levine, “but over time I’ve seen how helpful it is to think about other means of storytelling. It’s refreshed the importance for me of moving between different types of genre and tone.”

Four ingredients for natural selection.
A slide from a presentation Amanda Rossillo created for a lesson plan on evolution

Amanda Rossillo (Evolutionary Anthropology) benefited from constructive feedback as she worked with the Triangle Center for Evolutionary Medicine to create a lesson plan on evolution for teachers in North Carolina. “Working with Dr. Meredith Beaulieu as my mentor was an amazing experience,” Rossillo said. “Not only did she help me shape the content of my lesson plan, but more importantly, through this experience I became aware of one of my shortcomings, and my mentor helped me realize that and guided me in the right direction to work on improving.”

Khari Johnson.
Khari Johnson

Khari Johnson (Biomedical Engineering) spent his summer with RTI International to assess how misinformation affects people’s receptivity to health initiatives. Looking back, Johnson highlighted the value of collaborative research. “For me, the biggest takeaway was that you can always find [people with] similar passions in the place you least expected it, and building on those collaborations can be very fruitful.”

Also at RTI, Mavzuna Turaeva (Public Policy and Economics) conducted data analysis, coding and researching for the International Education division. “I think the most useful element [of the fellowship] was exposure to nonacademic literature,” Turaeva reflected. “It turns out there is a huge body of research conducted by economists with Ph.D.s who work in nonacademic institutions, and I don’t think we get enough exposure to that literature during our program.”

Brooks Frederickson.
Brooks Frederickson is currently working on a project for Duke Symphony Orchestra using some of the skills he honed over the summer.

Brooks Frederickson (Music Composition) helped Sō Percussion host its first virtual summer institute for college-aged percussionists and composers. Having developed and delivered an online curriculum, Frederickson said the experience “helped me to gain knowledge of tools and procedures that I immediately put into practice as a Tech TA for the Music Department this semester.” Frederickson thanked Duke “for stepping up in a major way to ensure that the graduate students had opportunities this summer. This internship was a huge lifeline for me.”

Deepening a Partnership with Durham Tech

Eight external organizations (American Historical Association, Durham Tech, Modern Language Association, Museum of Durham History, National Humanities Alliance, National Humanities Center, RTI International, Society for Biblical Literature) served as summer fellowship hosts. Three students worked with Durham Tech faculty, extending a partnership between Duke and the community college.

Through a Humanities Unbounded pilot program begun in 2019, Durham Tech faculty and Duke Ph.D. students team up over the summer to develop new pedagogical modules for courses at the community college. In the fall, the Ph.D. students help implement the projects.

In the first cohort, Lisa Blair of Durham Tech worked with Patricia Bass (Art, Art History & Visual Studies) to incorporate more Francophone African literature and culture. Marina DelVecchio partnered with Maggie McDowell (English) to redesign courses on American women’s studies and literature.

The 2020 Durham Tech/Duke pairings were Janel Thompson and Pratistha Bhattarai (Literature), Jason Moldoff and Caoimhe Harlock (English), and Tom Magrinat and Zach Levine (Cultural Anthropology).

By Sarah Dwyer, Duke Interdisciplinary Studies

A Community That Writes Together

Black faculty create an effective structure to boost productivity and support each other’s scholarship

Faculty members writing.
Members of the Writing and ReseArch Productivity (WRAP) Group for Underrepresented Faculty take part in a writing retreat. (From left: Sarah Gaither, Gustavo Silva, Sherilynn Black, Tyson Brown, Robert Turner, Jarvis McInnis, Sally Nuamah, Jean Beaman)

“Write!”

For Sarah Gaither, this command reminds her what she needs to make time to do. As an assistant professor of psychology & neuroscience at Duke, she balances a robust teaching and research load with administrative duties, meetings with collaborators and students, leadership of the Duke Identity & Diversity Lab and more. Advancing her own scholarship can get squeezed to the margins, but she can’t allow that to happen during this critical period in her career.

From manuscripts, grants and book chapters to opinion pieces and responses to editors, junior faculty need to write to build their tenure files and advance in rank.

Protected writing time is key. And for Black scholars like Gaither, a supportive community can be a big help in navigating this stage of faculty life.

Wrtite.
WRAP members create a reminder of their purpose at a weekend retreat.

A Group for Writing, Mentoring and Friendship

Musah.
“I have been sitting on a grant idea for months, and having this structured writing time finally gave me the opportunity to start drafting and editing the proposal.” –Samira Musah, Biomedical Engineering

Gaither joined the Writing and ReseArch Productivity (WRAP) Group for Underrepresented Faculty shortly after coming to Duke. Today she serves as co-leader along with Tyson Brown, associate professor of sociology, who founded the group in 2016.

Smith.
“Attending WRAP improved my writing and productivity. It is a wonderful space where I feel welcomed and validated.” –Martin Smith, Education

WRAP offers weekly writing sessions, weekend writing retreats and other programming. The aim is to build community among Black faculty, increase their publication rates and enhance their sense of inclusion on campus.

“With very few minority faculty in my department, WRAP has been essential in creating a support system for my faculty life transition,” Gaither says, “and the guided writing time has been critical during my first years on the tenure track.”

As universities pursue efforts to improve the racial climate on their campuses, Brown says that “faculty of color often do a disproportionate share of racial equity labor such as serving on diversity committees, helping to navigate racial incidents and recruiting and training students of color. While racial equity labor is essential, it can also be taxing and take away from time for research.”

Seed Funding for Faculty Initiatives 

Duke’s Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement has provided seed funding for WRAP since 2018. Faculty Advancement Seed Grants provide a financial head start for faculty-led initiatives aiming to foster a sense of community, build networks and promote a welcoming and respectful climate for all members of Duke’s academic units.

The seed grants program is part of the office’s multifaceted approach to faculty development and advancement, whose goals are to support hiring and retention, to provide resources and programs to help faculty succeed as scholars and mentors and to foster a welcoming and professional environment.

“When faculty mobilize around campus, that influences the whole ecosystem here,” says Sherilynn Black, associate vice provost for faculty advancement. “Everyone can benefit, including postdocs, students and staff.”

A member of the Duke community for the past two decades, Black earned her Ph.D. in neurobiology, followed by a postdoc position and an appointment as assistant professor of the practice of medical education.

“Being with the group is like exhaling,” says Black, who is an active participant in WRAP herself. “It’s implicitly understood what you’re going through.”
Cary.
“WRAP sessions help to transcend boundaries to create a highly productive workspace that fosters a real sense of community.” –Michael Cary, Nursing
Learn more about the Faculty Advancement Seed Grants Initiative and check out the Faculty Advancement and Success (FAS) Workshop Series, which provides learning opportunities, resources and networking for all faculty at Duke.
Faculty standing outside.
WRAP members build community at the Durham Hotel. (From left: Tyson Brown, Gustavo Silva, Sherilynn Black, Jarvis McInnis, Sarah Gaither, Jean Beaman, Sally Nuamah, Robert Turner, Paul Robbins)

Structured Writing with Accountability

Wilbourn.
“This group reminds me of the importance of writing and connects me to minority faculty for questions about being underrepresented at Duke.” –Makeba Wilbourn, Psychology & Neuroscience

WRAP members participate in a weekly two-hour writing session. “In the first 10 to 15 minutes, we talk about our goals for that session,” Gaither says. “We go around the table and hear from each person. Then we do 90 minutes of writing. We close by taking 15 minutes and asking each person to assess the success of that session” as well as how things are going with research, teaching and life in general.

Harris.
“WRAP has been one of the highlights of my first year at Duke.” –Deonte Harris, International Comparative Studies

If faculty are not on campus, they can join the group virtually.

Each week an average of seven members show up and a total of 22 faculty and postdocs have participated. They represent 14 disciplines and units across campus.

“It’s like a triple accountability system,” Gaither says. “You’ve got the time blocked, and people mark their calendars. And when we’re writing with similar people, we want to see how things are going; if someone doesn’t show, I’ll call them and ask where they were. There’s also a shared Google sheet. Everyone logs the hours and minutes they spend every week on writing.”

In addition to the weekly sessions, two weekend-long writing retreats are offered during the year to increase the group’s writing time. Each person aims to create a publication-ready article by engaging in structured writing sessions.

Bridging Gaps

Silva.
“WRAP is an incredible initiative that allowed me to protect my writing time in a very supportive environment.” –Gustavo Silva, Biology

As the group evolves, Brown and Gaither are adding some new components. They see a need for making connections between faculty ranks and plan to encourage Black associate professors and visiting faculty to join. Senior faculty members and campus leaders will also bridge the gap by serving as guest speakers.

A one-day writing retreat in Durham will supplement the weekend retreats and accommodate faculty for whom overnight travel is a challenge.

WRAP members help each other by reviewing drafts and discussing strategies for navigating job situations. A listserv with 30 members supplements in-person conversations.

Increased Productivity, Confidence and Inclusion

Addo.
“I was warmly welcomed into this community of brilliant scholars that had created a space for research productivity, accountability and fellowship.” – Fenaba Addo, Sanford School of Public Policy

“Co-leading and participating in WRAP programmatic activities has greatly enhanced my productivity, and led to opportunities and connections with faculty in other units across the university,” Brown says. “I’ve found that meeting weekly to write alongside others has been useful for providing accountability and protected time for writing. Participating in the group has also fostered a sense of community and provided opportunities for us to discuss our scholarship, teaching and unique experiences.”

Other members report improved daily writing habits, greater self-confidence both academically and personally, increases in research productivity and enhanced feelings of inclusion and community.

At last count, Brown and Gaither identified a substantial output among members over the past two years: collectively they submitted 28 papers, 17 grant proposals and 14 conference abstracts, and they have two books in preparation.

Perhaps most importantly, they are doing this work together as a community. “The group has been so supportive,” says Gaither. “It has made my Duke experience better!”

Faculty on beach.
WRAP members take a break during a writing retreat at the beach. (From left: Fenaba Addo, Paul Robbins, Samira Musah, Omer Ali, Sherilynn Black, Gustavo Silva, Sarah Gaither)

By Sarah Dwyer; originally posted on Duke Today

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).

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).

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

Four Groups of Duke Faculty Receive Collaboratory Grants for Research on Issues Affecting North Carolina and Global Communities

Yadkin River, NC; solar panels; summary ejectments per square mile in Durham; Bass Connections research in Madagascar.
Yadkin River, NC; solar panels; summary ejectments per square mile in Durham; Bass Connections research in Madagascar

Four groups led by Duke University faculty have been awarded Collaboratory grants for research into pressing local and global challenges.

“From investigations in our own backyard into evaluating water safety and lessening the impact of evictions on child development, to research aimed at increasing solar energy efficiency and minimizing the spread of infectious diseases on a global scale, these proposals speak to our dedication to improving the human condition,” said Provost Sally Kornbluth. “Supporting faculty research is an essential way to advance the fundamental learning and discovery at which we excel, and those investments provide ripple effects that benefit teaching and service.”

The grant period is one year with a possibility of renewal.

Drinking Water Contamination in North Carolina: Water Use, Human Health, and Going Beyond GenX

  • Principal Investigators: Heather M. Stapleton, Nicholas School of the Environment; Lee Ferguson, Pratt School of Engineering and Nicholas School of the Environment

Changes in water availability, increases in pollution, and policy regulations are resulting in substantial challenges for water protection, and consumers bear the social and economic burden when drinking water sources are contaminated. One of the most relevant threats to public drinking water in the U.S. is a class of chemicals called poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). These chemicals made local headlines in 2017 when news stations reported contamination of drinking water wells with “GenX” in New Hanover and Brunswick counties.

In 2018, the state legislature appropriated several million dollars for testing all surface waters across the state. Despite the broad documentation of PFAS contamination, no funding was included to evaluate health impacts on affected communities or to identify sources.

This collaboratory will build a water model to help identify potential point source(s) of PFAS contamination, and underlying variables influencing the water levels, in the Piedmont region. In addition, the researchers will examine the relationship between water levels and biological PFAS levels, and conduct geospatial analyses to determine if poorer health outcomes at birth are associated with areas of higher PFAS contamination. The group will also investigate effects of PFAS on birth outcomes using an animal model, and integrate environmental and human health knowledge into management and policy recommendations regarding water use policies.

Minimizing the Influence of Air Pollution on Solar Energy Production

Particulate matter, including air pollution and dust, has dramatic impacts on both climate and human health. It also reduces solar energy production by about 15% on a global average and as much as 40% in some regions. This current loss in efficiency is estimated to account for the loss of power output valued in the tens of billions of dollars annually, dramatically affecting cost effectiveness and renewable energy access. The problem is not well understood and few studies are available that quantify the impacts, although it will become increasingly important with solar power production expected to increase globally by nearly four-fold over the next 20 years.

This collaboratory will assess the regional impacts of air pollution on solar energy production, determine cost-effective strategies to minimize the influence of particulate matter on solar energy production, and develop and test novel surfaces and coatings that hold great promise in minimizing the influence of deposited particulate matter on solar energy production.

Evaluating and Mitigating the Impact of Evictions and Other Housing Insecurity Issues over Health and Child Development in North Carolina

  • Additional Team Members: Jillian Hurst, School of Medicine; Sarah Dickerson, postdoctoral associate, Sanford School of Public Policy; graduate and professional students

In the U.S., 10-15% of households experience housing insecurity. For families with young children, this number is much higher. Lack of secure housing is associated with a host of health consequences including psychological distress and exacerbating chronic conditions. For children, housing instability is associated with increased problem behaviors, respiratory conditions, infectious diseases, and decreased access to healthcare. In Durham, 16% of children aged 0-8 live in a household where housing costs exceed 50% of the household income—leaving few resources for other needs such as food, clothing, and transportation.

This collaboratory brings together a multidisciplinary team to study how housing insecurity affects children’s health and education and what policy solutions may be implemented to mitigate the associated harms. To inform evidence-based policies and help communities promote population-level health, this study will assess patterns of population movement in Durham County and the relationship of these patterns with housing insecurity, examine the effects of housing insecurity and evictions on the education of children across North Carolina and in Durham County specifically, and investigate the effects of housing insecurity and evictions on children’s healthcare utilization and health status in Durham County.

Identifying Infectious Disease Transmission Pathways for Improved Population Health and Pandemic Preparedness

  • Principal Investigators: Charles L. Nunn, Evolutionary Anthropology, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences; Randall Kramer, Nicholas School of the Environment; James Moody, Sociology, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences; Linfa Wang, Duke-NUS Medical School
  • Additional Team Members: Alma Solis, Ph.D. student in Evolutionary Anthropology; other graduate students

The title of a recent high-profile Commentary in Nature proclaimed, “Pandemics: Spend on surveillance, not prediction.” If resources and time were unlimited, scientists would exhaustively sample wild animals, domesticated animals, and humans, and they would fully investigate the ecological contexts in which transmission occurs; all of these foci are crucial for predicting disease emergence. Given the reality of limited resources, new approaches are needed to deepen understanding of disease transmission pathways from animals to humans.

This collaboratory will use new surveillance tools and apply analytical frameworks from network epidemiology to disentangle the drivers of disease transmission at the human-animal ecological interface. The group’s research takes place in rural Madagascar. Members will collect and analyze blood samples and expand socioeconomic data collection; this research will provide crucial pilot data to increase the competitiveness of external grant submissions, while also providing opportunities for students involved in the research to publish early findings and present those findings at conferences. In addition to collecting data in the field and shipping samples to Singapore for analysis, funding will enable us to develop new analytical pipelines for network epidemiological analyses, including with graduate students on Duke’s campus.

About the Collaboratory Grants

Part of the Together Duke academic strategic plan, Collaboratory grants provide support for groups of faculty seeking to provide solutions to targeted problems in three areas:

  • Energy and water resources
  • Race, religion, and citizenship
  • Population health.

Over time, these thematic areas will likely evolve. Project funding ranges from $20,000 to $200,000 annually. The offices of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies and the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs oversee this seed grant program.

The first round of Collaboratory grants was announced in April 2018. The six groups and principal investigators were Decisions, Risks, and Governance of Geoengineering (Mark Borsuk, Jonathan Wiener, Billy Pizer, Drew Shindell); Innovations in Infrastructure (Megan Mullin, Amy Pickle); The Duke Polarization Lab (Christopher Bail); Understanding the Transforming U.S. South (Kerry L. Haynie, John Aldrich, Linda Burton, Adriane Lentz-Smith, Mark Anthony Neal, Donald Taylor); The Duke University Precision Health and Wellness Initiative (Geoff Ginsburg, Susanne Haga); and A Road Map for Affordable Healthcare in the 21st Century (Nimmi Ramanujam).

Can a Small Green Idea Provide Energy Access in Rural Nepal?

Graphic of mountains in Nepal.

As Subhrendu Pattanayak and a group of researchers from Duke University navigate narrow catwalks high into the Annapurna mountain range in the Himalayas, they begin to understand first-hand the difficulties of establishing any set infrastructure in such difficult terrain.

Gone are the paved roads of Pokhara, the Nepali city where they had begun their day, or even the narrow dirt roads that had carried them deep into the mountainside.

Ahead, the whir of engines in symphony with the rushing water of a nearby stream mark an end to their journey: a tiny structure containing within it a single turbine, waist high and six feet wide. Here lay the source of electricity for an entire community.

Eighty percent of the geography of Nepal is composed of mountain ranges like Annapurna, making the big power grids that we take for granted in the developed world an impossibility in much of Nepal. For most mountain communities, living off-grid is the only option.

But rather than fight against their geography, many of these communities have discovered a way to use the mountains to their advantage, harnessing the power of the fast-flowing mountain streams for power using a system called a micro-hydro minigrid.

For many communities, these systems not only provide power for basic necessities like lighting and cooking, but also are drivers of local economies.

In other villages however, these systems are far less effective. Many don’t produce enough electricity for the community, or sometimes none at all.

It is for this reason that the team of Duke researchers find themselves in the Himalayas: to find out why some work and some don’t, and to see if this small but beautiful alternative energy source may be a viable solution for providing electricity to off-grid communities not only in Nepal but around the world.

Robyn Meeks and Subhrendu Pattanayaak’s work is funded by the Duke University Energy Initiative’s Energy Research Seed Fund. Both researchers are also affiliated with the Duke Energy Access Project, an exciting initiative that takes an interdisciplinary approach to developing sustainable, modern energy solutions around the world.

For their work in Nepal, Robin and Subhrendu are collaborating with the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre, which is a part of the Government of Nepal in its Ministry of Energy, Water Resources, and Irrigation.

Originally posted on the Ways & Means website. Ways & Means is a podcast produced by Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

Faculty to Pursue Collaborations through 2019 Intellectual Community Planning Grants

ICPG 2019.

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) are available to groups of faculty.

These grants cover the cost of food, meeting venues, external speakers or other meeting costs, and exploratory research into potential collaborators at Duke and elsewhere. The offices of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies and the Executive Vice Provost oversee this seed grant program.

For the 2019 calendar year, eight groups received Intellectual Community Planning Grants ranging from $1,000 to $5,000.

Big Data and Social Interactions

Big Data and Social Interactions faculty members.

This group will facilitate interactions among faculty who want to learn how technological advancements and big data can improve our understanding of the ways in which social norms and interactions affect individuals’ and firms’ behavior. The primary goal is to produce sustained interactions and research papers capable of being published in leading scholarly journals. A kick-off event will include a visiting speaker. Subsequent meetings will invite faculty to provide overviews of recent research and discuss new ideas; review colleagues’ early-stage research ideas; and share early work with a guest speaker who is a pioneer in the field.

  • Lead: Jillian Grennan, Fuqua School of Business
  • Chris Bail, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Sanford School of Public Policy
  • Ines Black, Fuqua School of Business, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative
  • Ofer Eldar, Law School, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative
  • Sarah Gaither, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Sharique Hasan, Fuqua School of Business, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative
  • Rachel Kranton, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • David Robinson, Fuqua School of Business, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative

Building Duke’s Community of Theoretical Chemists via a Summer Undergraduate Research Program

Building Duke’s Community of Theoretical Chemists via a Summer Undergraduate Research Program faculty members.

An emerging community of theoretical chemists at Duke is spread across schools and departments. This group has begun to organize a Summer Undergraduate Research Program in Theoretical Chemistry, which will help strengthen the pool of graduate student applicants from North America. The Intellectual Community Planning Grant will enable the participation of more faculty (those who could not fully fund a student on their own) and support team-building excursions. All faculty will present multiple seminars and mentor the summer undergraduate researchers.

  • Lead: David Beratan, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, School of Medicine, Duke University Energy Initiative
  • Hashim Al-Hashimi, School of Medicine
  • Volker Blum, Pratt School of Engineering, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke University Energy Initiative
  • Patrick Charbonneau, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Stephen Craig, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke University Energy Initiative
  • Bruce Randall Donald, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, School of Medicine, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, Duke Center for Genomic and Computational Biology
  • Jianfeng Lu, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Michael Rubinstein, Pratt School of Engineering, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Warren S. Warren, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, School of Medicine
  • Weitao Yang, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke University Energy Initiative

Exploring STEAM (Science, Arts, and Humanities) at Duke

Exploring STEAM at Duke members.

A working group of Duke faculty, staff, administrators, and students will explore overlapping and complementary interests in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, arts, and humanities (broadly referred to as STEAM), and promote more robust interdisciplinary research, coursework, and public engagement in this space, both within and beyond Duke. The group will organize a half-day forum to catalog and describe innovative STEAM activities occurring at Duke and spark new collaborations among faculty, students, staff, and administrators.

  • Lead: Misha Angrist, Social Science Research Institute, Duke Initiative for Science & Society, Sanford School of Public Policy
  • Co-lead: Jory Weintraub, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Project manager: Ariana Eily, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Nicolette Cagle, Nicholas School of the Environment
  • Aria Chernik, Social Science Research Institute, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative
  • Claudia Gunsch, Pratt School of Engineering, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University Energy Initiative
  • Jules Odendahl-James, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Nimmi Ramanujam, Pratt School of Engineering, School of Medicine, Duke Global Health Institute, Duke Initiative for Science & Society, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative
  • Nina Sherwood, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, School of Medicine, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Kearsley Stewart, Duke Global Health Institute, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Victoria Szabo, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative

Health as an Ecosystem: Expanding Our Imaginations of Health

Health as an Ecosystem faculty members.

In ecology, an ecosystem is a community of living organisms and their interactions with the abiotic environment. Dynamic and complex, they may flourish in settings of balance, diversity, and responsive resilience, or they may flounder in contexts of deficit and disruption. This group will apply the ecosystem concept to health and explore new perspectives on health systems, population health, well-being, and disease. During monthly meetings, members will consider a range of questions and engage in activities whose focus will encompass capstone projects, seminars, and future grant proposals.

  • Lead: John Moses, School of Medicine, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Co-lead: Jennifer Lawson, School of Medicine, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Charles Nunn, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Richard Di Giulio, Nicholas School of the Environment, Pratt School of Engineering
  • Alice Ammerman, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
  • Eliana Perrin, School of Medicine
  • Eric Richardson, Pratt School of Engineering
  • Jan Holton, Divinity School
  • Brett McCarty, Divinity School
  • Bill Walker, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative
  • Peter English, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Gopal Sreenivasan, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, School of Medicine, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Norman Wirzba, Divinity School, Nicholas School of the Environment
  • Jon Fjeld, Fuqua School of Business, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative
  • Ray Barfield, School of Medicine, Divinity School, School of Nursing, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Warren Kinghorn, School of Medicine, Divinity School, Duke Initiative for Science & Society

Launching a Triangle-Wide Seminar in the Economics of Education

Launching a Triangle-Wide Seminar in the Economics of Education faculty members.

Currently, there is no regular forum for economists from the Triangle to discuss new empirical work on the economics of education. This group will change that by organizing a one-day workshop. Hosted by the Center for Child and Family Policy, the event will include invited presenters, discussants, and a keynote speaker. It will also serve as a means to explore the possibility of launching a year-long seminar series in 2019-2020 on the economics of education.

Marine Medicine: Multidisciplinary Research at the Nexus of the Environment and Human Health

Marine Medicine faculty members.

Marine medicine is focused on research that cuts across disciplines, including cross-species comparative analyses of cancer protective mechanisms, understanding the risk of disease from exposure to environmental toxins, and discovery of new drugs from marine compounds. This working group will convene monthly and invite guest speakers to provide critical feedback on papers and proposals. Members will also host an annual symposium with a keynote speaker and a networking event to establish collaborations between faculty across the School of Medicine and the Nicholas School of the Environment, and create a long-term strategy for sustained interactions.

Parasite-Host Evolution Network Optimization (PHENO) Working Group

Parasite-Host Evolution Network Optimization (PHENO) Working Group faculty members.

Better methods are needed to identify new pathogens or known animal pathogens with the potential to infect humans and cause disease. Given that pathogens transmit through chains of contact, network-based approaches that represent these epidemiological pathways offer great promise. Through regular meetings, this group of faculty and postdocs will investigate the application of network approaches to a wide range of disease systems and aim to develop new and fundable research projects.

  • Lead: James Moody, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Social Science Research Institute
  • Charles Nunn, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Craig Rawlings, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Gregory Gray, School of Medicine, Duke Global Health Institute
  • Chris Woods, School of Medicine, Duke Global Health Institute
  • Meira Epplein, School of Medicine
  • James Herrera, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Dana Pasquale, Duke Network Analysis Center

Social Studies of Science Working Group

Social Studies of Science Working Group faculty members.

The social study of science, often referred to as science and technology studies, is an interdisciplinary field whose scholars explore topics ranging from the ethical implications of data hacking and the politics of nuclear power to questions of personhood emerging from neuroscience. This group will bring together faculty who are interested in the rapid scale-up of research in the biomedical sciences, data and computational sciences, and environmental sciences as well as the increasing overlap of science and technology studies, medical humanities, and environmental humanities. Members aim to build a network of Duke and Triangle faculty and foster linked research endeavors.

  • Lead: Harris Solomon, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke Global Health Institute, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Nicole Barnes, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke Global Health Institute
  • Nima Bassiri, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Paul Bendich, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Rhodes Information Initiative at Duke
  • Mark Olson, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke Initiative for Science & Society, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative
  • Cate Reilly, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Gabriel Rosenberg, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Priscilla Wald, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Ara Wilson, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke Initiative for Science & Society