The Nicholas School received a $20 million gift earlier this year to strengthen faculty research and teaching aimed at finding solutions to climate change and other pressing environmental challenges confronting society.

The gift, which came from the Grainger Family Descendants Fund at the recommendation of an anonymous 1979 Duke graduate who serves as an advisor to the fund, has already supported the hiring of two new faculty members.

Toddi Steelman, Stanback Dean of the Nicholas School, announced in September that environmental toxicologist Nishad Jayasundara and ocean and climate scientist Shineng Hu will be joining the school’s faculty in 2021. 

Jayasundara’s research focuses on the ecological and human health impacts of chemical pollution and climate change. 

Hu’s work focuses on ocean-atmosphere interactions, with an emphasis on processes and interactions that occur in the tropics. 

“We are so very grateful to the Grainger Family Descendants Fund for this extraordinary gift, which will support Duke’s leadership in understanding and protecting our environment,” said Duke President Vincent E. Price. “These professorships will help transform environmental research and education at Duke and will advance our efforts to find adaptive and resilient responses to climate change — a vitally important priority for our university and the world.”

Steelman said the gift comes at a critical time for the school and the planet. 

“This far-sighted gift enables us to expand our existing strengths in environmental research and deepen our commitment to finding solutions to the preeminent threat of our time,” she said.

The Grainger Family Descendants Fund advisor said, “This gift will help ensure the Nicholas School remains in the forefront of environmental schools and will continue to inspire young, strong minds to fight for the purity of our air and water, and allow all living things to thrive on this planet at a time when species worldwide are being imperiled by climate change.”

Previous gifts by the Grainger Family Descendants Fund to the school have supported financial aid and fellowships; faculty research; three endowed professorships; the construction and operation of the Duke Marine Lab’s new research vessel, the R/V Shearwater; and capital improvements to school facilities, including repairs to the Marine Lab campus in Beaufort, N.C., following Hurricane Florence.

Gifts from the Grainger Fund have also been instrumental in supporting the work of faculty and students at the Juli Plant Grainger River Science Center in Durham and the Orrin Pilkey Research Laboratory in Beaufort.