A Year of Creativity and Bold Thinking Through Bass Connections

October 3, 2022

Photos of team members in action.

The 2021-2022 school year marked a series of welcome returns for the 1,200 students, faculty, staff and community partners who participated in Bass Connections. Our 61 year-long project teams resumed their in-person work on campus, many teams participated in their first in-person fieldwork since 2019 and we were once again able gather together in Penn Pavilion to celebrate the year through our annual Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Showcase.

We have relished the opportunity to reunite our interdisciplinary community and also sought to build on the creativity that faculty, students and staff have displayed over the last two years. The following examples from our 2021-2022 Annual Report provide a glimpse into the exciting and innovative work of Bass Connections project teams, summer programs and courses over the past year.

Empowering the Boldest Thinkers

Tropical rainforests are being destroyed at a rapid rate. A team has been participating in the XPRIZE Rainforest competition to develop technologies to catalogue the astounding biodiversity in the near-impenetrable regions of the world’s rainforests. These “Blue Devil Forest Divers” designed and built heavy-lift drones that can fly deep into the rainforest to collect genetic samples of plant and insects.

The team confers over their design. (Photo: Jared Lazarus).
Team members confer over their design. (Photo: Jared Lazarus)

Over the summer, team members traveled to La Selva Biological Reserve and Research Station in Costa Rica to test their drones and collection techniques. The data will help refine the prototype to better navigate the forest and more quickly identify and catalogue a diverse range of species.

Duke students working on a drone.

Recently, this team was selected as one of 15 semifinalists for the XPRIZE, where they will compete for a $10 million award. Read more.

Transforming Teaching and Learning

What is the story of Latinx activism in the United States? Whose voices are heard? Hunt Family Assistant Professor of History Cecilia Márquez challenges students to consider these and many other important questions in her project-based course, Latinx Social Movements.

Exhibit photos: Duke University Archives

Márquez reimagined her course as part of the Collaborative Project Courses Faculty Fellows Program, which supports faculty seeking to infuse collaborative, applied projects into new or redesigned courses. The students’ work was featured as part of an exhibit in Duke Libraries that traces the history of Latinx students, faculty and staff from the early twentieth century to the present, drawing from archives and oral histories. Read more.

Renewing Our Campus Community

Team members shared their research highlights with 350 members of the Duke community at our annual Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Showcase, held in person for the first time since 2019. Provost Sally Kornbluth was the keynote speaker.

Photos: Milena Ozernova and John West

Sally Kornbluth.“Bass Connections is one of the jewels in the crown here at Duke. All corners of the campus are represented, and people bring their disciplinary expertise to bear on truly interdisciplinary, problem-directed projects. The faculty leaders starting these projects don’t actually have the answers. Students learn to embrace the uncertainty and excitement of research and learn to work in teams that are diverse – demographically, culturally and intellectually – while finding common languages to speak across disciplines. These are incredibly valuable skills no matter what you do in life.” –Provost Sally Kornbluth

Photos: Milena Ozernova and John West

In addition to lightning talks and posters, this year’s showcase also included interactive displays through which teams could creatively share their research outcomes and methods. The A City and Its River: Durham’s Ellerbe Creek Watershed team, whose display included interactive maps, water and insect samples to view under microscopes, and more won the inaugural Best Interactive Display prize. Read more.

Partnering With a Purpose

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the challenges and health inequities faced by vulnerable populations, including those in rural North Carolina. This summer, four undergraduates spent nine weeks in Pamlico County working with county officials and partner organizations to study gaps in services and come up with strategies to aid the most vulnerable.

Adey Harris, Advika Kumar, Nick Haddad and Rujia Tie stand outside the health department. (Photo: Alicia Banks)

Through the Global Health Student Research Training Program, these students built on the work of a Bass Connections team to conduct a risk and vulnerability assessment for the county’s Disaster Recovery Coalition. They also assisted the health department in identifying gaps in services and created a community outreach plan for a free health clinic to help residents access care. Read more.

Engaging Our Global Network

Bass Connections teams play crucial roles in shaping the academic and career pathways of students. This has been especially true of a team that has spent the last decade examining the environmental and health effects of small-scale gold mining operations in the Peruvian Amazon.

Over the past several years, a number of students who have engaged in this long-running project have sought careers in related fields, including Ph.D. graduates Axel Berky (Environment) who collects and measures materials found on contaminated sites for Geosyntec Consultants, Jackie Gerson (Ecology) who is continuing this work as a postdoctoral researcher, and Sarah Diringer (Civil & Environmental Engineering) who investigates water resource management for the Pisces Foundation.

These individuals make up a growing network of over 2,100 alumni who have participated in Bass Connections, many of whom have translated this high-impact experience into a meaningful career.

Browse the Bass Connections 2021-2022 Annual Report!

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