$5 Million Gift from Fortin Foundation Will Support Bass Connections Program

January 27, 2020
Bass Connections faculty and students.

Emily Klein, professor of earth and ocean sciences, and Josiah Knight, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, work with students from the Bass Connections project team Energy and the Environment: Design and Innovation. (Photo: Jared Lazarus)

A $5 million gift from the Mary Alice Fortin Foundation will provide opportunities for Duke University students to work with faculty on complex societal problems, Duke President Vincent E. Price said Monday.

The gift is in support of Duke’s Bass Connections program, a university-wide initiative that enables undergraduate and graduate students to work alongside faculty on research teams addressing urgent issues ranging from reducing health inequities, to developing sustainable energy solutions, to ensuring fair elections and countering misinformation. Anne T. and Robert M. Bass established the program in 2013 with a $50 million commitment to Duke. The gift included a $25 million component to create the Bass Connections Challenge Fund.

The $5 million gift is matched by $2.5 million from the challenge fund – one dollar for every two dollars given – generating a total of $7.5 million of unrestricted support for Bass Connections. This gift completes the Bass Connections Challenge Fund, and is the largest single gift to Bass Connections since the program launched.

“Through Bass Connections, Duke is transforming teaching and discovery by fusing our educational and research missions,” said Price. “The Fortin Foundation’s gift will enable Duke to make new investments in the strategic expansion of this vibrant, university-wide program to the benefit of faculty and students in all of Duke’s schools.”

Funds from the gift will support the growth of Bass Connections to meet increasing student demand and to create new opportunities for intensive research experiences through project teams and courses. Since the program launched, 2,210 undergraduate students, 730 graduate students and 550 faculty and staff have participated in nearly 350 year-long project teams and 167 summer research teams.

“Over the past seven years, we have seen this program shape the trajectories of undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and our community partners,” said Ed Balleisen, vice provost for interdisciplinary studies. “We see this approach to collaborative research and learning as a powerful model for 21st-century higher education and we are enormously grateful to the Fortin Foundation for enabling us to expand its impact.”

In recognition of the gift, Duke’s Board of Trustees has named an annual event The Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Showcase, where teams share their research with the community and students present their team’s accomplishments.

“While attending the Bass Connections Showcase, what struck me most was the faculty engagement with students,” said Danielle Moore, president of the Mary Alice Fortin Foundation and a 1985 graduate of Duke. “Their reflections about how the program introduced both the faculty and students to new ways of addressing societal challenges reinforces the importance of investing in this significant program at Duke.”

The Fortin Foundation is a longtime supporter of Duke. A combined $1.5 million of commitments to Bass Connections in 2017 and 2018 enabled the program to expand to meet student and faculty demand, while also continuing innovative investment in strategic priorities.

And in 2014, the foundation gave $5 million to name the Fortin Foundation DukeEngage Academy. DukeEngage is the university’s signature immersive civic engagement program. The Fortin Foundation DukeEngage Academy is a mandatory pre-departure training conference for all DukeEngage participants.

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