Weekly Update: Fall Photo Contest Winner, Highlights of the Year, New MEM Grads and more....

December 8, 2017
Fall Photo Contest Grand Prize Winner 2017 Laura Turcotte
Fall Photo Contest Grand Prize Winner: Staff member Laura Turcotte took this photo of Johnnier Arango among the frailejon plants
in Los Nevados National Park in Colombia. Arrango is field assistant to PhD grad Natalia Ocampo-Penuela.

Hi Everyone,

We’ve all been so busy that this semester seems to have flown by. But before we disperse for a well-deserved holiday break, I’d like to reflect – briefly, I promise – on some of the great stuff that’s happened since the end of last year.

  • We finished the seven-year Duke Forward campaign with nearly $115 million in gifts or pledges – more than twice our initial goal. Thanks to an $11 million gift from the Grainger Family Descendants Fund, the Marine Lab will be getting a new research vessel.
  • We increased the budget for our PhD programs by 50%, sharply reversing a 4-year decline. This enabled us to matriculate 21 new and unusually experienced students into our six PhD programs this fall.
  • We selected 15 new exceptional undergrad Rachel Carson Scholars this fall, who joined the original nine in the inaugural cohort of the revamped program. At the Marine Lab, they carry out marine research with a faculty mentor, and on main campus they receive professional development training. Through the program, they receive funding for research, conference travel and Marine Lab travel courses.    
  • We welcomed our largest cohort of first-year MEMs and MFs ever. It was not only the biggest class in our school’s history, but also one of the most qualified and diverse.  
  • We successfully launched a new MEM concentration in Business & Environment.
  • We become the first school of the environment to join both the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research and the U.N. Initiative for Responsible Management Education – greatly expanding the research and teaching resources and opportunities available to our faculty and students.   
  • Last summer, 115 students funded by the Stanback Internship program helped nonprofit organizations across the state and the country fight back against the rollback of vital environmental protection programs.   
  • We completed our Strategic Plan, Working Together to Advance Environmental Education and Research. Implementation is well under way, and we are already making progress toward many of our goals.

Achieving these and other major milestones this year would not have been possible without the tireless contributions of faculty, staff, students, alums and board members alike—that is, all of you.

I leave this weekend for Asia and won’t be back on campus until January. I can’t wait to see what Spring Semester will bring.

Best wishes for the holidays,

  1. A reminder that the Nic School will host its annual faculty and staff holiday party and career recognition this afternoon at 3 p.m. in Environment Hall’s second-floor gallery and the Christensen Reading Room. You can RSVP here. There will also be a faculty and staff holiday potluck on Dec. 14.  Here’s the sign-up sheet.
  2. It was my honor to recognize our December MEM graduates Haseena Charania, Katrina Herrera and Nathan Miller after they presented their Master’s Projects on Tuesday. Join me in congratulating them for their great accomplishment and in wishing them the very best!
  3. Jim Zhang is an author of a new study in The Lancet that shows short-term exposure to vehicle exhaust on city streets is enough to counter the beneficial cardiovascular and pulmonary health effects of two hours of exercise in adults over 60. It’s the first study to document these negative effects on healthy people as well as those with pre-existing cardiorespiratory conditions such as COPD or coronary heart disease. You can learn more here.
  4. Transparent sources of information are essential for constructive debates about environmental issues. In this regard, I recently learned about an exemplary project led by MEM/MF ’14 alum (and NSOE Alumni Council member) Kim Cesafsky. Kim is manager of sustainability at Enviva Wood Pellets, where she has led the development of a website for Enviva’s Track & Trace program. The website enables the public to obtain detailed information on the forests where Enviva sources its wood. For example, if you’d like to know how much of Enviva’s wood comes from bottomland hardwood forests, you can look it up. To make the information credible, Enviva maintains chain-of-custody certification for five of its six plants from the Forest Stewardship Council and for all of its plants from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. It also enlists an independent, third-party global public health and safety certifier (NSF International) to audit the Track & Trace program annually. Thank you, Kim, for making it so easy to obtain details on Enviva’s wood procurement.
  5. Twelve MEM/MF students from the Class of 2019 – Raquel Bensadoun, Andrew Brown, Michael Fuerte, Isabel Hillman, Rebecca Marx, Laura Landes, Tasfia Nayem, Reed Perry, Alex O’Neill, Daniel Ramirez, Megan Williams and Taylor Minich – have been awarded Nicholas Scholarships this year. The highly competitive scholarships, which are supported by five endowments and the school’s Annual Fund, cover two-thirds of tuition. Check out this article to learn more about the Nicholas Scholars program and this year’s outstanding recipients.
  6. Congrats to Laura Turcotte for winning the grand prize in the I Am Duke Environment fall photo contest. The winning photo, titled “Among the Friars of the Paramo,” captures a high-altitude ecosystem she visited while taking advantage of Colombia’s emerging ecotourism. PhD student Candise Henry, undergrad Micaela Unda as well as MEM students Anna Windle and Alex Rudee were runners up while alumna Amy Whitt (MEM’04) won the “Outsiders on the Inside” special category. Check out all the winning photos here.
  7. Last month in Oaxaca, Mexico, Xavier Basurto served as a keynote speaker at the II Conference of the Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society, which is part of the global sustainability initiative Future Earth. Click here to watch Xavier’s keynote address and a webinar he led at the conference.
  8. Adjunct faculty member Jay Golden was one of six researchers from across the country appointed last week to serve on the EPA Board of Scientific Counselors. The federal committee provides advice and recommendation to the EPA’s Office of Research and Development on its research programs.

I’ll be sending out one more Update next week before we break for the holidays, so keep sending me your news so I can share it with our community. Submit your items here.