Weekly Update: PhD Honored for Environmental Justice, MEMs Works Published and more....

January 11, 2018

Welcome back, everyone, from winter break.
I hope you had a wonderful holiday season.
Spring semester started yesterday, and one of the items that arrived in my inbox (via our new Director of Research Development Shila Nordone) was an article on the challenges facing interdisciplinary environmental and sustainability (IES) degree programs. The article, by authors from Brown University, Union College, and the National Council for Science and the Environment, was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences. It came out in 2015, but I hadn’t seen it before, so I’ll still count it as news.
After describing structural problems that weaken IES programs at many universities, the authors offer hope by writing, “Exceptional, well-supported IES programs do exist; examples include the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University.” Points made in the article underscore one of the Nicholas School’s key sources of strength: being located at a university, Duke, that values interdisciplinary educational and research programs and places a premium on putting knowledge in the service of society. The stories below provide this week’s examples of some of the reasons we deserve that “Exceptional” accolade, and many of them also illustrate how our faculty and students connect to (and are recognized by) the rest of Duke. Next week, there will be more.

  1. Danielle Purifoy, a student in our Environmental Policy PhD program (UPEP), has been selected to receive a 2018 Samuel DuBois Cook Society award in recognition of her research, teaching and outreach on environmental justice issues across the South. The society, which is named in honor of Duke’s first African-American faculty member, presents its awards annually to faculty, students and staff who have enriched the lives of people in the Duke community. Danielle will receive her honor at the society’s annual awards ceremony Feb. 20 at the Washington Duke Inn. Congratulations, Danielle! 
  2. Congrats to a team co-led by Erika Weinthal and Betsy Albright for being one of eight groups to receive an Intellectual Community Planning Grant for 2018 from the Office of the Provost. The team, which also includes Megan Mullin, Liz Shapiro-Garza, Norman Wirzba and Chris Timmins, will explore the creation of a program on environmental and economic justice in rural America that would formalize the ongoing collaboration between the Nicholas School, the Duke Human Rights Center and the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise
  3. Charlotte Clark and Duke Sustainability Director Tavey Capps got a nice shoutout in the latest newsletter from the Duke Service-Learning program. They were recognized for teaching a course on “Theory & Practice of Sustainability” last fall in which students learned sustainability theory while working in small teams to produce videos designed to raise awareness of and participation in sustainability initiatives across campus. 
  4. A new article co-authored by first-year MEM student Johanna Depenthal describes how coastal Peruvians use and value rare dry forests composed of algarrobo trees. Interviews showed that the trees are used primarily as fuelwood and livestock forage, but are also valued for their ecological roles in producing oxygen and more. Understanding how algarrobos are used can support the conservation of this unique and fast-disappearing forest ecosystem. Nice work, Johanna! 
  5. Recent alum Alex Aines MEM’17 has published a study based on her Master’s Project research on the feeding habits of tiger sharks. The paper, which was co-authored by Andre Boustany, is the first comprehensive study of tiger shark diet in the northwest Atlantic – from North Carolina to the Gulf of Mexico – and the first to examine the possible effects of environmental factors on their diet. 
  6. Two studies by Dave Johnston and members of the Marine Robotics and Remote Sensing Lab show that remote-controlled drones are just as effective as manned aircraft for conducting wildlife population assessments. The studies compared the performances of fixed-wing drones and multi-copter drones against those of traditional airplanes and helicopters for conducting population surveys of gray seals on remote islands off the coasts of eastern Canada and New England. Dave’s team’s findings confirm that the drones are just as accurate, but provide researchers with increased flexibility in the field and can help reduce survey costs. 
  7. An international team of conservation scientists, led by DKU faculty member and PhD alum Binbin Li, has found that footprints left by giant pandas in the wild can be used to identify the individual panda that made them and determine its sex. The new approach uses an interactive software tool called the Footprint Identification Technique (FIT) to analyze digital images of footprints. You can read more about the paper here.
  8. Avner Vengosh gave three talks – including a keynote address – at the seventh International Groundwater Conference: "Groundwater Vision 2030" in New Delhi, India, last month. During his trip, he also met with top officials from India’s Ministry of Water and the Indian Institute of Hydrology, and conducted research on groundwater in northwestern India with PhD student Rachel Coyte
  9. Bob Healy and Sanford’s Natalia Mirovitskaya have launched a new research project called “Development for the New Arctic: Visions, Strategies, Challenges at the Subnational and Local Level.” You can read more about their project on the Duke Center for International Development’s website.
  10. On behalf of the Nic School’s Alumni Council, our Office of Development and Alumni Relations will award three $5,000 fellowships to continuing professional-degree students (graduating May 2019 or later) who demonstrate exemplary leadership, career and professional development preparation, and character at the Nicholas School. You can get more information and apply here through Jan. 22. I’m grateful to our alums, whose generosity makes these fellowships possible.

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