Weekly Update: Alums Represent, Team Matthew, DIGS and more....

November 9, 2016

Hi Everyone

Prejudice and divisiveness have no place in the environmental field, in our global community, or at the Nicholas School. To find solutions to the problems facing our planet today and forge a truly sustainable future, we all must work together – Democrats and Republicans, rural and urban communities, people of all races, ages, ethnicities, nationalities, religions, orientations, backgrounds and beliefs. We need to break down walls, not build them.

Which is why the ugly tenor of this year’s elections, particularly the anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-environment vitriol given voice during the campaign season, is so deeply concerning. It’s an insult to me, my family, my rainbow of friends around the world, and all of you.

Today, I’m heading to Atlanta to meet with prospective students from three historically black colleges and universities, and I expect they will be full of questions, concerns and fears about what this election means for their future. I’ve been fielding similar questions and concerns from my children and current students at the Nicholas School since early this morning. While on a day like this I might prefer to be in Beaufort or Durham with you, I am proud and energized to carry the message of our important mission and our inclusive community to the students at these HBCUs, as they consider a career in our field and the possibility of studying in North Carolina.

The best response to this election, it seems to me, is to openly and honestly discuss what it means, and to come together as a school and community and reaffirm our commitment to diversity and inclusion as core tenets of our educational and professional mission.  Dean Urban, Charlotte Nuñez-Wolff and I are working with our student group DICE and the staff-led Actionators group to identify and organize activities – both formal and informal – that will aim at doing this. Your suggestions are welcome.

Let’s redouble our efforts to fight for the values we cherish.



  1. National Geographic has selected 2015 CEM alum Shannon Switzer Swanson as one of its 10 Adventurers of the Year. Shannon, who is now a doctoral student at Stanford, was chosen for the honor from hundreds of young conservationists and explorers worldwide in recognition of her work as an ocean advocate, specifically her ongoing investigation of the environmental and economic impacts of the global aquarium fish trade. You can learn more about her investigation here. Now through Dec. 16, you can also go to the Nat Geo website and vote for Shannon to receive the annual People’s Choice Award for most inspiring adventurer of the year.
  2. I’m happy to report that the Nic School is well represented at COP22, the year’s biggest climate conference, now taking place in Marrakesh, Morocco. PhD student Emily Pechar and MEM Delfi Cuglievan are already on the ground there and blogging about the latest conference news as members of the annual “Duke to the UNFCCC” course.  MEM Adam Fisher is set to arrive at the conference and start blogging next week. And faculty member Drew Shindell and 2006 PhD alum Kyle Van Houtan are also slated to attend. Kyle, Delfi and Adam will be contributing to a Nic School Instagram takeover from the conference.
  3. study led by PhD student Natalia Ocampo-Peñuela finds that more than 200 bird species in six rapidly developing regions are at risk of extinction despite not being included on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of at-risk species. The study, published today in the journal Science Advances, used remote sensing data to map recent land-use changes that are reducing suitable habitat for more than 600 bird species in Brazil, Central America, Colombia, Sumatra, Madagascar and Southeast Asia. Stuart Pimm and PhD students Binbin Li and Varsha Vijayco-authored the study with Natalia. You can learn more here.
  4. We’ve launched a 10-day giving challenge to provide resources and support to Hurricane Matthew victims. The drive, which started Nov. 7, benefits the Boys and Girls Club of Lumberton (which was devastated in the post-hurricane flooding), the United Way of Robeson County, and the American Red Cross. You can donate cash, time or goods. Backpacks, children’s books and games, craft supplies, school supplies, cleaning supplies and work gloves or cleaning gloves are especially needed. A big thanks to Rebecca Smith and Nancy Kelly for helping to spearhead this effort. To learn more about the campaign and how you can help, go here. 
  5. This Friday, Veterans Day, we will gather as a community at 10:30 a.m. in Hug Commons to recognize and thank the veterans who are part of our school for their service to our country. I hope to see you all there. A university-wide Veterans Day ceremony will be held at 11 in the steps in front of Duke Chapel. 
  6. Eighteen Nic School students headed to Philadelphia this past weekend to attend Net Impact's annual conference where more than 300 leaders in the environmental and social impact space put on workshops, lecture series and motivational talks to more than 3,000 students and industry professionals. Three of our MEM students, Lina Khan, Nicole Miller, and Isshu Kikuma, made it to the Unilever Case Competition Semi-Finals and were one of only six teams to compete in the entire North American division. Additionally, the Nicholas Net Impact Chapter and our Office of Development and Alumni Relations hosted a student-alumni mixer to create an opportunity for past and present Nic School students to connect in person. Sounds like a great weekend!
  7. A new study by John Poulsen and former postdoc Sally Koerner finds that bushmeat hunting has dramatically reduced wildlife biodiversity in forests near rural villages in the Central African nation of Gabon. Large mammals have experienced the sharpest declines. By extrapolating their results from Gabon across forest landscapes in adjacent nations, John and his team estimate that degraded wildlife communities are likely now found near villages across 53 percent of Central Africa. MEM alum and current Nic School staff member Emily Blanchard co-authored the study. You can learn more here.
  8. Climate change, not escalating military conflict, was the cause of a severe dust storm that shrouded much of the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East in September, 2015, according to a newly published study by Gaby Katul and former Nic School postdoc Anthony Parolari. At the time of the storm, some media outlets blamed conflict-driven changes in land cover – including the widespread abandonment of farms in disputed areas and increased military vehicle traffic on unpaved roads – for the extreme dust. But Gaby and Anthony’s study shows the real culprit was prolonged and intense heat and drought, associated with climate change, that parched the region’s soil and made it easier for seasonal cyclonic winds to pick up large dust particles and transport them long distances through the atmosphere. It’s another vivid reminder – perfectly timed for the COP22 conference in Morocco this week – that the impacts of climate change are already being felt.
  9. The Duke Graduate & Professional School Council Diversity Committee and DIGS – the Diversity & Inclusion Among Graduate Students organization – are pooling resources to host OneDuke Day next spring on April 12. The event aims to celebrate the diversity of the Duke student community and help unify the Duke community behind a shared belief in the value of inclusion. If your group, lab or office would like to host a booth or activity at the event, you can let organizers know by filling out a brief online survey. 
  10. Kudos to Dana Hunt and all of the faculty, staff and student volunteers at the Marine Lab who helped organize an outstanding field trip last Friday for nearly 90 sixth graders from nearby Morehead City Middle School. The day’s events introduced the students to the cutting-edge marine science being done at DUML through hand-on activities designed to spark young imaginations, cultivate an appreciation of the marine environment, and, we hope, encourage at least some of the students to consider environmental careers. It’s a great example of education outreach. Thanks, Dana, for all your hard work to make it possible! 

I'd like to hear from you, so keep me up-to-date on what you are doing. Submit your items here.