Donor Support Spurs Interdisciplinary Research on Pressing Global Challenges

November 16, 2018

Three gifts raised through the Bass Connections Challenge Fund help support new research in biodiversity conservation, early childhood development and energy access

Highlights from the Bass Connections Annual Report

Named in honor of founding donors Anne T. and Robert M. Bass P’97, Bass Connections exemplifies Duke’s commitment to interdisciplinary investigation. The Basses’ $50 million gift sparked a new approach to integrating research, education and civic engagement within the university; by including a $25 million matching challenge, their donation has already inspired more than 60 donors to support this innovative program.

As of June 30, 2018, Bass Connections raised $93.6 million toward its goal of $100 million. Generous support from donors has created 83 funds to support educational programming, project teams, faculty positions and support funds, general program support, grand challenge scholars, DukeEngage-Bass Connections partnerships and advising.

Conservation and Environmental Education

Nicholas School Environment Hall.

Passionate about supporting biodiversity conservation, Jeff and Laurie Ubben made a $5 million gift to Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment and a companion gift of $20 million to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), in support of wildlife conservation programs at WWF and environmental research and education at Duke.

Forest elephant family group in a rainforest.$500,000 of the Nicholas School fund has been matched through Bass Connections to support year-long project teams led by Nicholas School faculty focused on biodiversity conservation.

In Fall 2017, 13 groups of faculty submitted proposals for this special funding opportunity in conjunction with partners at WWF. The first three funded projects deploy ocean evidence gap maps to target conservation efforts; use drones to monitor and evaluate the health of coastal ecosystems; and analyze the role that African forest elephants play in seed dispersal and forecasting ecological changes resulting from reduction of elephant populations.

Bass Connections provided a unique opportunity for us to a make a gift that would support several institutional priorities at once – experiential learning for students, faculty research and the application of research to help global communities. –Jeffrey T’83 and Laurie T’84 Ubben P’15, P’19

Jeff and Laurie Ubben are both alumni of Duke, and Jeff is a member of Duke’s Board of Trustees.

Innovations in Early Childhood Development

ABC Thrive.

A new initiative at Duke takes a holistic approach to helping babies and young children get the best possible start in life. All Babies and Children Thrive (ABC Thrive) was established by a $2 million gift from Duke alumna and trustee Laurene Meir Sperling and her husband, Scott M. Sperling, through the Sperling Family Charitable Foundation.

The Bass Connections Challenge will add $1 million in matching funds for a total of $3 million.

Bass Connections is a distinctive new model for education and research focused on exploring and solving major societal challenges through interdisciplinary research, teaching and community engagement. Supporting Bass Connections gave us the opportunity to leverage multiple parts of the university – Duke Health, undergraduate education, faculty in Duke’s professional schools – as well as community partners to create a learning agenda focused on optimal development in children from prenatal to age five. –Laurene Sperling T’78, P’13, P’14

Leveraging the innovative research, education, clinical care and outreach capabilities of Duke University and Duke Health, the initiative promotes optimal development in children from prenatal to age five.

Priority areas include prenatal and early childhood health and wellness; community outreach; and applied technology to achieve scale, with data analytics in each of these domains guiding the research.

In Spring 2018, ABC Thrive awarded seed grants to three interdisciplinary teams of faculty. Corresponding Bass Connections projects and interdisciplinary courses will provide opportunities for students to explore these issues.

Energy Needs of the World’s Poor

Members of the Energy Access Project at the project launch in DC in Spring 2018.

This year, Duke launched the Energy Access Project to develop new, collaborative ways to meet the energy needs of some of the world’s most disadvantaged communities, without exacerbating climate change.

Jim Rogers and his wife, M.A. Rogers, established the project with a $1.5 million gift. The Bass Connections Challenge will add $750,000 in matching funds for a total of $2.25 million to support the project’s goal of accelerating deployment of sustainable energy and empowering the world through expanded energy access.

Two Bass Connections project teams are tackling this challenge by using a “ground-up” approach to better understand the economic, political, geographic and cultural challenges to energy access in East Africa, and by using satellite imagery to create an energy infrastructure map of the world.

Based on my experiences at Duke, I am confident that our investment in the faculty and students of the university will generate scalable solutions bringing power to people around the world. –Jim Rogers, Former CEO and Chairman of the Board, Duke Energy

Rogers served as a Rubenstein Fellow at Duke and has led a Bass Connections project to explore renewable off-grid electricity solutions for rural populations.

Key Duke collaborators in the Energy Access Project include the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, the Duke University Energy Initiative, the Sanford School of Public Policy, Bass Connections and the Nicholas School of the Environment.

Learn More

Images: Environment Hall at the Nicholas School of the Environment; forest elephant family group in a rainforest clearing (Richard Ruggiero/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service); Leigh Ann Simmons collects data on preschoolers’ social interactions (Andrew Buchanan); affiliates of the Energy Access Project at the project's launch in Washington, D.C., on February 23, 2018 (Laurence Genon)