The Bass Connections Model

Bass Connections bridges the classroom and the real world, giving students from across the university a chance to roll up their sleeves and tackle complex societal problems alongside world-class faculty.

Named in honor of founding donors Anne T. and Robert M. Bass P’97, the program exemplifies Duke’s commitment to interdisciplinary research and teaching as a vital part of the university’s mission. For more than two decades, Duke has linked collaborative inquiry across disciplines to the imperative of seeking out knowledge in the service of society. The Basses’ $50 million gift sparked a new approach to the exploration of major societal challenges; by including a $25 million matching challenge, the donation has inspired dozens of others to support the undertaking.

Bass Connections equips students to become leaders, whether in the academy, government, business or the nonprofit world. It simultaneously seeds new research for faculty. Through this innovative program, Duke is further amplifying its culture of collaboration, its entrepreneurial spirit and its established record of structuring education around high-level research on pressing global problems.


To create a distinctive new model for education, predicated on collaborative and interdisciplinary inquiry, that actively engages students in the exploration of big, unanswered questions about major societal challenges


Bass Connections projects, courses and summmer programs are aligned with five thematic areas, each hosted by one of Duke’s interdisciplinary institutes and initiatives. An open channel provides additional opportunities.

Educational Pathways

Students can choose from a collection of educational pathways within the Bass Connections themes through project teams, courses, summer programs and co-curricular offerings.

Involvement of Faculty, Postdocs and Students at All Levels


Faculty across Duke’s schools engage in Bass Connections at every level, from providing vital program guidance on the Faculty Advisory Council, to developing and leading project teams, engaging as course instructors, and mentoring students as they take their research further. Many faculty members have also successfully leveraged initial findings from their Bass Connections teams to obtain external grants.

It has been a very enriching experience to work with my faculty colleagues on this project. They have stretched me and helped me to connect my clinical interests to fundamental neuroscience. And the undergraduate students are so amazing. —Heidi White, Associate Professor of Medicine; Music and Memory in the Aging Brain


Postdocs can partner with faculty to lead Bass Connections teams.

Working with Neuroplicity, I developed better communication, mentorship and project management skills. These are skills that all postdocs need as they move into the academic or corporate job market. It was a truly rewarding experience and a great learning opportunity. —Jill Wentzell, Postdoctoral Scholar in Biology; Neuroplicity: Leveraging New Media and Digital Storytelling to Connect Society to Neuroscience

Graduate Students

Graduate and professional school students play a crucial role in Bass Connections—on project teams, as mentors for Data+ and Story+ teams and as research or teaching assistants for faculty who design and deliver Bass Connections courses.

Bass Connections provide these students with opportunities to develop career-oriented skills, including mentoring, project management, team-based research and sustained engagement with external partners and clients.

My participation in this project was one of the most meaningful and rewarding Duke experiences I have had. It not only helped me land my first job, but also helped me find my true passion. —Jun Wang, Ph.D. in Pharmacology ’16; Evaluation of Scaling Innovative Healthcare Delivery in East Africa


Bass Connections helps undergraduates to build research skills in a small group setting, develop a deep understanding of an issue of interest, engage with communities and organizations outside of Duke, explore career paths, apply coursework to a complex societal challenge and enhance thesis research.

Duke is really an institution that pushes its undergraduates to make a difference. Through programs such as Bass Connections, I am not held down by the fact that I am an undergraduate. I get to work with medical students, professors and graduate students on a project that we are all passionate about. —Maaz Mulla ’18, Biology; Global Alliance on Disability and Health Innovation (GANDHI)

Community Partners

Most Bass Connections teams work with community partners outside Duke, including nonprofits, universities, school systems, hospitals, government agencies and private companies.