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Duke’s Nicholas School Of The Environment Receives $20 Million Gift

Nicholas School will change name of Environment Hall to Grainger Hall

Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment Receives $20 million Gift
The donation to Duke's School of the Environment will help increase financial aid, among other programs.

Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment has received a $20 million gift to fund increased financial aid and fellowships for graduate students, expanded research on critical environmental issues, and new academic programs and facilities, President Vincent E. Price announced Monday.

Environment Hall, the Nicholas School’s 70,000-square-foot main building, will be renamed Grainger Hall in recognition of the gift. The gift to Duke came from The Grainger Family Descendants Fund, a donor-advised fund at The Chicago Community Trust. A donor-advised fund is a charitable fund to which a donor makes contributions and retains the ability to recommend grants to other public charities.

This gift -- recommended by a 1979 alumna of Duke in her capacity as an adviser to the fund -- is believed to be one of the largest gifts ever received by a school of the environment.

“We are deeply grateful for this gift to the Nicholas School, which will advance Duke’s commitment to addressing the most pressing environmental challenges by educating future leaders and creating new opportunities for students and faculty,” Price said. “The forward-looking research and education that this gift supports will allow Duke to make vital contributions to a healthier future for the environment and the world.”

Toddi Steelman, Stanback Dean of the Nicholas School, said the gift will be vital to many of the school’s strategic priorities. “To receive a gift of this magnitude, made so selflessly and with such clear and far-sighted purpose, is transformative for us. It will have an enormous impact in helping our school chart a course to address today’s rapidly changing environmental landscape and prepare the next generation to manage this new complexity we all are increasingly experiencing in our world.

“This gift is also a remarkable legacy for my predecessor, Jeff Vincent, who was dean when the gift came in and worked tirelessly to fulfill the donor’s intent,” added Steelman, who began her tenure as dean on July 1.

The majority of the new gift supports the Nicholas School’s Forging Future Leaders Together campaign to provide increased financial aid for Master of Environmental Management (M.E.M.) and Master of Forestry (M.F.) students, and new fellowship opportunities for doctoral students. These funds will enable the school to expand its reach and recruit future environmental leaders from all talent pools, including first-generation students from diverse or underrepresented backgrounds.

Money from the gift also will support environmental research at the Nicholas School by providing funding to faculty members and Ph.D. students researching issues of critical importance.

The gift also provides funding for educational programs, such as the school’s new Natural Resources Finance Initiative, which was launched this fall to train M.E.M. and M.F. students in a broad array of financial skills crucial to natural resource management and conservation today. Joseph F. Bachman, former global head of asset management for a major international forest investment firm, has been hired as the initiative’s executive-in-residence. Bachman received his M.F. degree from Duke in 1995.

Capital improvements that enhance student support and networking opportunities will also receive funding. These include the creation of an Ocean Engineering Lab at the Duke University Marine Lab campus in Beaufort, North Carolina, and the redesign of Grainger Hall’s rooftop garden to include an outdoor classroom and meeting space.

In a statement, the anonymous Grainger Fund adviser said, “I am committed to helping the environment. I have known that since I was a freshman at Duke in 1975. I expect the Nicholas School to inspire other young, strong minds to fight for the purity of our air and water and the rights of all living things to thrive on this planet.”

Previous gifts by The Grainger Family Descendants Fund to the Nicholas School have funded the construction and operation of a new ocean-going research vessel for the Duke Marine Lab, endowed three new professorships and supported the work of faculty and students at the Juli Plant Grainger River Science Center in Durham and the Orrin Pilkey Research Laboratory in Beaufort. 

A dedication ceremony for the newly renamed Grainger Hall is scheduled for Nov. 8.