Donor Spotlights

Fueling Program Growth and Innovation

As Bass Connections has continued to grow, program leadership has committed to continuous improvement and innovation – introducing new summer programs, creating opportunities for student-driven research, and cultivating innovative courses that move the model further into the curriculum. In 2018-2019, this focus led to the creation of Bass Connections Open – a channel to support projects that fit the Bass Connections model and approach but that fall outside of the existing themes – and a new opportunity for students to propose collaborative, student-driven research projects.

General program support gifts, like a $1 million commitment from the Mary Alice Fortin Foundation, matched by $500,000 from the Bass Connections Challenge Fund, enable Bass Connections to expand to meet student and faculty demand while also continuing to innovate and invest in strategic priorities.

I had the opportunity to attend the Bass Connections Showcase and what struck me most was the faculty engagement with students. They talked about how the program introduced both of them to new ways of tackling complex societal challenges. –Danielle (Dani) Moore T’85, President, Mary Alice Fortin Foundation

Duke's Hub for Data and Quantitative Sciences

Duke’s landmark “big data” initiative has been named in honor of longtime supporters Michael and Maureen Rhodes. The Rhodes Information Initiative at Duke (iiD) was officially named by the Duke Board of Trustees in November 2018.

Matched by the Bass Connections Challenge Fund, the Rhodes gifts provide fundamental support for Data+, a Bass Connections summer program in the Information, Society & Culture theme, as well as graduate student and faculty engagement in that theme and more broadly at the Rhodes iiD.

Duke’s interdisciplinary strengths give it a strong position from which to take creative approaches to analyzing and applying data to tackle the world’s problems, whether it’s improving health care or developing more sustainable energy systems. –Michael Rhodes E’87

Conservation and Environmental Education

Passionate about supporting biodiversity conservation, Jeff and Laurie Ubben made a gift of $5 million 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.

$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.

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

Bass Connections provided a unique opportunity for us to 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

Innovations in Early Childhood Development

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.

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.

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

Energy Needs of the World’s Poor

In 2017-18, 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.

In 2018-19, 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 Zambia, and by using satellite imagery to create an energy infrastructure map of the world.

Rogers served as a Rubenstein Fellow at Duke and led a Bass Connections project to explore renewable off-grid electricity solutions for rural populations. Jim Rogers passed away on December 18, 2018, at the age of 71. We invite you to read more about the life and legacy of Jim.   

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.

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