By Adam Tompkins

The gift comes from the Grainger Family Descendants Fund, a donor-advised fund at The Chicago Community Trust. It will provide money for increased financial aid and fellowships for graduate students, expanded research on critical environmental issues, and new academic programs and facilities.

This gift was recommended by a 1979 alumna of Duke’s Trinity College of Arts and Sciences in her capacity as an advisor to the fund.

In recognition of the gift, the school’s iconic, 70,000-square-foot LEED Platinum building on Duke’s West campus, was renamed this fall. “To receive a gift of this magnitude, made so selflessly and with such clear and far-sighted purpose, is transformative for us. Its impact will be enormous,” says Toddi Steelman, Stanback Dean of the Nicholas School. “It will help 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 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,” adds Steelman, who began her tenure as dean on July 1.


The majority of the gift will go towards the school’s Forging Future Leaders Together financial aid campaign, making it the largest financial aid contribution the school has received to date. The funds will allow the school to offer increased financial aid for Master of Environmental Management (MEM) and Master of Forestry (MF) students, as well as those completing PhD fellowships.

The new financial aid funds also present an opportunity for the school to recruit a new class of first-generation students from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds.

“The world needs future environmental leaders from all available talent pools,” says Steelman. “Making a Nicholas School education available for the most gifted students — from varied backgrounds and demographic characteristics is critical.”


Money from the gift will also support several student environmental programs including the school’s new Natural Resources Finance Initiative, which was launched this fall to train MEM and MF students in a broad array of financial skills critical to natural resource management and conservation today. Joseph F. Bachman MF’95 is the initiative’s executive-in-residence.


Gift funds will provide financial resources to faculty members and PhD students conducting cutting-edge research on issues of critical importance

Improved Facilities And Student Support In Beaufort & Durham

Finally, capital improvements that enhance student support and networking opportunities also will receive funding, including the creation of a new Ocean Engineering Lab at the Duke University Marine Lab campus in Beaufort, N.C., and the redesign of Grainger Hall’s rooftop garden to include an outdoor classroom and meeting space.

Ocean Engineering Lab — The Duke Marine Lab has begun planning for a two-floor lab that will be outfitted with state-of-the-art learning resources including computers, graphic displays, software, 3D printers, oscilloscopes and signal generators. The new facility — which will occupy current underutilized space on the Beaufort campus — will serve as a dedicated area for students and faculty to design, build and test prototypes that will address research and development in marine robotics, sensors, marine mammal acoustics and conservation technology.

Doug Nowacek, professor of conservation technology at the Nicholas School and Pratt School of Engineering, will lead the ocean engineering efforts at the new facility. “This new facility is going to provide a major boost to the existing synergies between the Marine Lab and the Pratt School. Not only is it going to allow students to gain more hands-on experience in ocean engineering, but it’s going to help propel Duke into the growing field of marine conservation technology,” says Nowacek.

Rooftop Garden — The Nicholas School will transform the underutilized Rooftop Garden into an outdoor classroom and area for communal activities. While the rooftop already is popular for its scenic views and garden, inadequate space for sitting and standing have made it a less-than-ideal location for social and learning engagements. Renovations will include a raised deck, “nooks” for study groups, an all-weather white board area and a social gathering space that could double as a tabling area for breakout groups and catering setup. Additionally, added lighting will use energy from the roof’s pre-existing solar panels to illuminate the area so students can use the rooftop for study groups or social gatherings at night. Renovations for the roof are scheduled to begin late fall.

In a statement, the anonymous trustee of the Grainger Family Descendants Fund says, “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.”

The Grainger Family Descendants Fund has previously made gifts to the Nicholas School to fund the construction and operation of a new ocean-going research vessel for the Duke Marine Lab; create three new endowed professorships; and support 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 was held on Nov. 8.


VIDEO: 2018 Grainger Hall Re-Dedication Ceremony [27:00]

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Adam Tompkins is a Communications Specialist with the Nicholas School’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations. Tim Lucas, Director of Marketing Communications, contributed to this story.