New Grants Advance Scholarly Communities at Duke and Beyond

For some time, Duke faculty interested in African humanities have wanted to engage colleagues from nearby schools in ongoing scholarly conversations. “The face-to-face connections of scholars from Greensboro, Wake Forest, NC State and UNC Chapel Hill are all incredibly valuable,” said Catherine Mathers.

There was one major problem, Mathers said: “It’s a scheduling nightmare!”

One solution for Mathers’ group, Building a Triangle African Humanities Seminar, has been to meet virtually. “We are now pivoting to seeking funding for a long-term, digital community to really make it possible for something to exist without being physically in the same place,” said Mathers. “We hope that an online clearinghouse can help deepen all those collaborative relationships.”

Janet Prvu Bettger has a different challenge. She and other faculty have begun collaborating on a Global Alliance on Disability and Healthcare Innovation. “We soon realized we didn’t have the expertise in medicine and nursing alone to ask all of the right questions,” she said.

Mathers and Bettger are both part of groups that received Intellectual Community Planning Grants earlier this year to develop collaborations around shared scholarly interests. Representatives of the groups met with Provost Sally Kornbluth over dinner in April to discuss their experiences and outcomes.

“We thought you might enjoy hearing from each other,” said Ed Balleisen, vice provost for interdisciplinary studies, “and perhaps learn from each other’s successes and challenges.” Together, the clusters of faculty represent a range of disciplines and scholarly approaches across campus, including basic and applied sciences, humanities and social sciences, theology, medicine and engineering. Group goals ranged from grant proposals, seminars and workshops to curricular development and the creation of online clearinghouses.

Many groups have now submitted applications for external funding. Some of these have already resulted in awards.

Other important outcomes have been less tangible.

“Just the recognition that there was value in our coming together was an amazing catalyst,” Bettger said. Her group asked students to mine faculty bios to find those with an interest in promoting improvements in health systems globally for people newly living with disability. This scoping project paid off. “A really interesting collection of people with diverse ideas came for an initial meeting. They brought different perspectives, from cultural anthropology to business to public policy.”

Sheila Patek’s group, Physical Biology of Organisms, is also focusing on community-building within and beyond Duke. “I could see that we had the capability in the area for an amazing cohesive community,” Patek said. “My group has focused on just getting people to know what others were doing. And instead of reaching first to far-flung colleagues, we started to think more locally.”

Patek’s group now has more than 65 members from local universities, many of whom gather in locations off-campus to learn from each other’s work.

Several efforts have directed their grant funds toward bringing scholars together in a conference format to work through complex questions. “This project will explore the significance of materiality for lived faith and the academic study of Christian theology, which has long focused too narrowly on the cognitive character of religious belief,” said Mary Fulkerson, a member of Theological Exploration of Materiality. “Such work will attend to bodies, material culture, power and other contextual elements.”

While the Intellectual Community Planning Grants don’t mandate that groups come from multiple disciplines or schools, many of the groups are finding strength in interdisciplinary connections. “Our great success was that we found people from four different schools,” said Phil Stern, “which required us all to stretch the definitions of what we were talking about.” He represented the group Hybrid Organizations: Institutions of Power between the Public and the Private.

The discussion also stressed how valuable graduate students can be in bridging disciplines, scoping for potential collaborators and making connections that can spur ideas for research projects and pedagogical initiatives.

The Intellectual Community Planning Grants opportunity will be offered again next year, with an RFP coming out in early fall.

“Putting resources into the hands of faculty so that they can engage with problems they care about is incredibly important,” Kornbluth said. “We want to continue to stimulate interesting intellectual exchange, to spark new groups and foster vibrant communities, both within and across disciplines, departments and schools.” 

Intellectual Community Planning Grant Recipients

Women in Quantitative Sciences

Computer Science: Susan Rodger; Mathematics: Emily Braley, Sarah Schott, Lillian Pierce; Statistical Science: Mine Cetinkarya-Rundel, Merlise Clyde, Katherine Heller

Building a Triangle African Humanities Seminar

Cultural Anthropology, Music: Louise Meintjes; Duke Global Health Institute: Kearsley (Karrie) Stewart; History: Janet Ewald, Bruce Hall; International Comparative Studies: Catherine Mathers 

Physical Biology of Organisms

Biology: Sheila Patek, Steven Vogel; Evolutionary Anthropology: Daniel Schmitt, Christine Wall; Mechanical Engineering: Adrian Bejan; Orthopaedic Surgery: Andrea Taylor. In collaboration with faculty from NCCU, NC State, UNC Chapel Hill and Virginia Tech

Religious Faith, Environmental Concern and Public Policy

Divinity: David Toole, Norman Wirzba; Law: Jedediah Purdy, Jonathan Wiener; Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions: Jonas Monast, Brian Murray, Tim Profeta

Environmental Justice

Economics: Chris Timmins; Kenan Institute for Ethics: Suzanne Katzenstein; Law: Matthew Adler; Nicholas School of the Environment: Elizabeth Albright, Dalia Patino-Echevarri, Deborah Gallagher, Megan Mullin, Elizabeth Shapiro-Garza, Erika Weinthal

Ultrasound Technologies

Biomedical Engineering: Kathy Nightingale, Mark Palmeri, Gregg Trahey. In collaboration with faculty from UNC Chapel Hill and NC State

The Lives of Religious Books

Asian and Middle Eastern Studies: Ellen McLarney; Classical Studies: Clare Woods; Divinity: Maria Doerfler, Jennie Grillo; Religious Studies: Marc Brettler, Laura Lieber; Romance Studies: Martin Eisner

Philanthropy in Comparative Contexts: Learning and Giving

Economics: Crauford Goodwin; History: Sumathi Ramaswamy; Kenan Institute for Ethics: Suzanne Katzenstein; Law: Guy Charles, Maggie Lemos; Sanford School of Public Policy: Kristin Goss

Hybrid Organizations: Institutions of Power between the Public and the Private

Fuqua School of Business: Aaron Chatterji; History: Phil Stern; Kenan Institute for Ethics: Suzanne Katzenstein; Law: Rachel Brewster, Barak Richman; Nicholas School of the Environment: Erika Weinthal; Political Science: Tim Büthe; Romance Studies: Elvira Vilches; Sanford School of Public Policy: Tana Johnson

Counting Justice: The Social Matter of Statistics

Cultural Anthropology: Diane Nelson; Mathematics: Paul Bendich; Statistical Science: Sayan Mukherjee; Women’s Studies: Gabriel Rosenberg, Ara Wilson

Human Rights Archive Acquisition

Cultural Anthropology: Robin Kirk, Rebecca Stein; Library: Danette Pachtner, Patrick Stawski; Nicholas School of the Environment: Erika Weinthal

Open-Source Platform for Advancing the Capabilities and Applications of 3D Printing at Duke

Chemistry: Benjamin Wiley; Electrical and Computer Engineering: Steven Cummer, Michael Gehm, Jeff Glass; Radiology: Joseph Lo

Cancer TECH

Biomedical Engineering, Duke Global Health Institute: Nimmi Ramanujam; Community and Family Medicine: Kathryn Pollak; Duke Global Health Institute: Gavin Yamey; Pharmacology and Cancer Biology: Timothy Haystead; Medicine/Cardiology, Biomedical Engineering: Geoffrey Ginsburg; Medicine/Infectious Disease, Duke Global Health Institute: John Bartlett; Medicine/Internal Medicine, Duke Global Health Institute: Krishna Udayakumar

Triangle Microbial Ecology Supergroup

Biology: Rytas Vilgalys; Civil and Environmental Engineering: Marc Deshusses; Nicholas School of the Environment: Dana Hunt, Jennifer Wernegreen; Molecular Genetics and Microbiology: Lawrence David. In collaboration with colleagues from UNC Chapel Hill and NC State

A Collaboration of Molecular Synthesis with Theory, Modeling and Simulation

Chemistry: David Beratan, Amanda Hargrove, Jiyong Hong, Qiu Wang, Weitao Yang

The Role of Academic Achievement and Social Inclusion in Broadening STEM Participation

Social Science Research Institute: Lindah Mhando. In collaboration with colleagues from UNC Chapel Hill and NC State

Theological Materiality

Art, Art History and Visual Studies: Annabel Wharton; Nicholas School of the Environment (Emeritus): Norm Christensen; Religious Studies: David Morgan; Systematic Theology and Black Church Studies: J Kameron Carter; Theology: Mary M. Fulkerson

Global Alliance on Disability and Healthcare Innovation (GANDHI)

Biostatistics and Bioinformatics: Liz Turner; Duke Global Health Institute: Kearsley Stewart, Gavin Yamey; Nursing: Bradi Granger; Orthopaedic Surgery: Janet Prvu Bettger, Adam Goode; Surgery: Catherine Staton