What We’re Learning About the Program’s Impact on Faculty and Students

October 19, 2020

Bass Connections team at IntraHealth.
Students from the Big Data for Reproductive Health project team visit community partner IntraHealth International in November 2019 with team leader Amy Finnegan (far right). (Photo: Courtesy of Kelly Hunter)

A robust annual evaluation helps Bass Connections leadership strengthen the program and better understand its impact. Two new evaluation efforts last year gave us fresh insights.


Through our first long-term faculty impact survey, administered to faculty who participated in the program during the first five years, we found that Bass Connections has had a lasting impact on faculty research, pedagogy and relationships.

  • Faculty reported that Bass Connections teams played an important role in securing 40 grants totaling $19.8 million.
  • Half of the respondents reported at least one publication resulting from their team, with many noting multiple publications.
  • 67% of respondents agreed that Bass Connections made them a better teacher.
  • 75% agreed that participating in Bass Connections improved their ability to organize and lead student teams.

Dalia Patino-Echeverri.
Dalia Patino-Echeverri led a two-year Bass Connections project team to develop open source tools for modeling the integration of renewable energy systems into the conventional electricity infrastructure. These projects seeded larger-scale research efforts. In 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded a $2.4 million grant to Patino-Echeverri and her colleagues to further this research.

  • 58% agreed that Bass Connections helped them connect their research to the external community.
  • Many projects led to the development of new devices, apps, tools, policies, and practices that are being implemented to improve communities here in the Triangle and around the world.
  • 82% indicated that they are still in contact with students who participated on their team.
  • 80% agreed that the structure of Bass Connections helps faculty and students develop deeper and more lasting relationships than those that typically develop in the classroom.

“The rich experience working with the graduate student program coordinator, my colleague, and the five undergraduate students – seeing that develop over time while working together on a shared and creative project – was the most meaningful. This is not an experience that I have had in a classroom environment or any other projects with colleagues.” –Team leader

Liping Feng, Chrissy Crute, Yan SunandJohn Jiin China(Photo: Courtesy of Chrissy Crute)
Team leader Liping Feng and graduate students Chrissy Crute and Yan Sun meet with Duke Kunshan faculty member John Ji to discuss fieldwork results and future projects in the summer of 2019. They were in China to conduct research on the impacts of e-waste exposure and recycling policy. (Photo: Courtesy of Chrissy Crute)

Graduate and Professional Students

In our 2019-2020 end-of-year survey, graduate and professional students reported that the program helped them develop a wide range of skills, particularly related to the ability to manage complex projects and work within teams – skills that equip students to make an impact across a variety of careers.


“My team had everything required for a team to be successful – members with diverse experiences, open culture and the right amount of guidance. I feel deeply connected to all my project members and team leaders, and this project became a critical part of my life in the past nine months. I look forward to having this experience one more time in my life!” –Graduate student team member

Undergraduate Students

Our assessment of undergraduate student growth included a self-reported survey taken before and after students participated in Bass Connections project teams. Results were benchmarked against a comparison group of nonparticipating Duke students. Bass Connections students reported improving on all 17 survey items, with statistically significant gains noted for 11 of 17 items. Students in the comparison group did not report statistically significant gains on any of the 17 survey items.


“It was probably the first time I’ve had to try and answer questions no one else had the answers to, which meant I was also asking if I was even pursuing the right questions. It was an experience that was initially overwhelming and that I did not feel skilled enough for, but in the end, I grew both as a person and as a researcher.” –Undergraduate student team member

Bass Connections team members.

Undergraduate students Sarabesh Natarajan, Kami Pullakhandam, Kennedy Sun and Rebecca Melaku meet with team leader Benjamin Wiley in the summer of 2019. Their project team investigated hydrogen stove technology to mitigate indoor air pollution. (Photo: Courtesy of Sarabesh Natarajan)

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