The Quad: News from around campus

July 27, 2015

Trinity College gets a new leader

The void left by the departure of the Trinity dean has been filled. On July 1, Valerie Sheares Ashby, a professor and chair of the chemistry department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, took on the role, succeeding Laurie Patton, now serving as president of Middlebury College. A North Carolina native, Ashby joined the UNC-CH faculty in 2003 and became chair of the chemistry department in 2012, after serving as a faculty member at Iowa State University since 1995. At both schools, she earned a reputation as a first-rate teacher. Her research is in the area of synthetic polymer chemistry with a focus on designing and synthesizing material for biomedical applications. She holds eight patents. Ashby, who received both her Ph.D. and her bachelor of arts degree from UNC-CH, also has been an advocate for increasing diversity in higher education and helping underrepresented minority students get educational access. In that role, she’s mentored undergraduate and graduate students in various disciplines. She is also a consultant and adviser to the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health diversity programs. “Her commitment to a broad and diverse education for our students, and to identifying and nurturing an excellent faculty, is evident to all who have followed her career,” said provost Sally Kornbluth. “I look forward to her engagement across Duke.”

Big data, big check

Wrangling big data into usable form is arguably one of the top challenges facing researchers and educators. So, the $9.75 million in gifts and matching funds received this spring for the Information Initiative at Duke (iiD) was more than welcome. The amount includes two gifts totaling $6.67 million from an anonymous donor that was then matched by challenge funds from philanthropists Anne T. and Robert M. Bass. That’s because the iiD is a key part of the Information, Society, and Culture theme of Bass Connections, another Duke initiative, launched in 2013 with a $50 million gift from the Basses. Bass Connections encourages student and faculty collaboration across boundaries on global issues, a goal in line with the iiD’s aim of bringing together faculty members, graduate students, and undergraduates to make sense of big data so it may be used to tackle a wide range of issues. In the past two years, one iiD project included collaborations with Duke Medicine to deploy personalized health care. Another team is working to facilitate screening for autism and childhood mental disorders. The gifts will endow iiD professorships, graduate fellowships in engineering, and educational programs on data-driven problem-solving. They also will provide flexible funding for iiD to explore new teaching and research avenues.

Commencement moves downtown

Despite the change in venue to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Duke’s 163rd commencement still had the hallmarks of that great day: memorable speeches and proud parents. And of course, giddy graduates: More than 5,100 earned degrees, including thirty-two who were the first Duke Kunshan University students to receive Duke degrees. Paul Farmer ’82, the commencement speaker, encouraged graduates to be “open to serendipity and disappointments and to changing directions when circumstances call for it. Don’t hang on to narrow notions of success or to the anxieties that often accompany them.” Farmer is a founding director of the international nonprofit Partners In Health. Student speaker Andrew Kragie ’15 explored his notion of the “Blue Devil double vision,” an ability to “marry idealism and pragmatism. Duke has challenged us to see the world through two lenses at the same time, seeing the world as it is and as it might be.” Six honorary degrees were awarded as well. The recipients were France Cordova, director of the National Science Foundation; Renee Fleming, an opera singer and winner of the National Medal of Arts; Rakesh Jain, a pioneer in the fields of bioengineering and tumor biology; Harold Mooney, a plant ecologist; McCoy Tyner, a jazz pianist; and David Levin and Michael Feinberg, founders of the Knowledge Is Power Program.

Noose investigation resolved

It’s perhaps difficult to understand how so much turmoil could come from a moment of ignorance and bad judgment, and yet that sums up the explanation given by the Duke undergraduate who came forward and admitted he was responsible for the noose hung from a tree near the Bryan Center. In a letter to the Duke community, the student explained that the noose was “innocent fun,” a prop used in pictures he texted to friends inviting them to come and hang out, because it was a nice day. He forgot to discard the rope when he left the area. At the time, he was unaware of the historical meaning of a noose in the South, he wrote. Since then, he’s done some reading, picking up On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the Twenty- first Century by Sherrilyn Ifill, a book that explores the relationship between decades-old lynchings and today’s racial violence. He ended his letter with an apology and a pledge of further learning. The student has received a sanction through the university conduct process and is eligible to return to campus for the fall semester. Law-enforcement officials have closed their investigations and will be taking no further action.

Two students earn national awards

As they prepare for life after Duke, two rising seniors have earned notable scholarships aimed at helping them excel in their careers. Jay Ruckelshaus, an A.B. Duke Scholar from Indianapolis, was named a 2015 Truman Scholar, an honor given to those likely to become public- service leaders. A political science and philosophy major, Ruckelshaus is involved in a wide array of university activities. Left paralyzed in both arms and legs after a diving accident the summer before his freshman year, he has been a national and local advocate around disability issues. He plans to use his Truman funding— up to $30,000 for graduate school— to study a combination of political theory, law, and public policy. Lindsey Brown was named a scholar by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program for the 2015-16 academic year. She is a mathematics major and psychology and computer science minor from Midlothian, Virginia. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in applied mathematics; Goldwater Scholars are chosen for their promise in math, the sciences, and engineering. Her award, up to $7,500, will go toward the cost of undergraduate tuition, books, fees, room, and board.

Three earn Pulitzer recognition

When the winners of the Pulitzer Prizes were announced this past spring, there were three reasons to cheer: Elizabeth Fenn ’81 earned an honor in the history category, Kevin Sack ’81 won as part of a team from The New York Times honored for international reporting on the Ebola epidemic, and professor of music Thomas Brothers was a finalist in the biography or autobiography category. Brothers earned the spot for his acclaimed book Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism, which tells the jazz musician’s story during his creatively fertile years, the 1920s and ’30s. Brothers has taught at Duke since 1991. Sack, a two-time Pulitzer winner and a member of the Times’ investigative staff, interviewed many of the early responders from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the city where he’s based. He also wove together, from the team’s reporting, the story of Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who died of the disease at a Dallas hospital. Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People was a decade-long effort for Fenn. The book explores the history of the Plains Indian tribe that Lewis and Clark stayed with in the winter of 1804-05 in what is now North Dakota. It tells how the arrival of Europeans in the West proved disastrous for the Native Americans. Now an associate professor of history at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Fenn was a history professor at Duke for ten years. She is married to historian and Duke professor emeritus Peter Wood.

High praise and highly honored

Among other praise, the judges described Nathaniel Mackey’s work as “one of the most important poetic achievements of our time.” That’s among the reasons the Reynolds Price Professor of creative writing won the prestigious 2015 Bollingen Prize for American Poetry. The prize, established in 1948, is awarded biennially by Yale University Library to an American poet for the best book published during the previous two years or for lifetime achievement in poetry. Previous winners include writers who have shaped American letters, among them Ezra Pound, e.e. cummings, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, Adrienne Rich, and current U.S. poet laureate Charles Wright. This isn’t Mackey’s first honor. He has received the National Book Award, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, among others. The Bollingen Prize comes with a cash award of $150,000.

Sprucing up the place

Summertime and the construction continues. Besides the restoration of Duke Chapel, scheduled to last through April 2016, several other projects will be taking place around campus. Work begins on the new 72,000-squarefoot student health and wellness center at Union Drive and Towerview Road. When it’s done, the building will have offices, therapy rooms, exam rooms, educational spaces, a pharmacy, and gardens. The hoped-for completion date is November 2016. The East Union Marketplace’s renovations include the relocation of the Duke Stores to the old computer cluster area off the courtyard in Brown Residence Hall. Classrooms will be created for the first-year Focus Program. Duke Dining will expand storage and move a food kiosk from the lobby to the dining space. New skylights will allow for more natural light, and additional seating will be installed. Expected completion date: August. The 1C building on Edens Quad will gain a new glass entry. Gaming and study rooms will be added. The 2C building will get a new fitness area, with glass doors opening onto a patio. Other changes will open up spaces and enhance the walkway. There’s an expected completion date of October. The athletic campus upgrade continues (and is expected to continue through August 2016) with Wallace Wade Stadium getting new stadium seats, a lower field, and a state-of-the-art scoreboard. This summer, Cameron Indoor Stadium gets a new double-height south entry lobby and hospitality space, including a memorabilia display and ticket-operations space. The Scott Family Pavilion will be built south of Cameron, adjacent to the Murray Building. It will serve as a training site for Olympic sports and will provide additional space for staff and operations.