The Mars $750,000 Challenge Match, issued last winter by Board of Visitors member Michael Mars, provides dollar-for-dollar matching funds, up to $750,000, for all new gifts and pledges made to the Dean’s Research Venture Initiative (DRVI) through June 30.

Toddi Steelman, Stanback Dean of the Nicholas School, launched DRVI last year with the goal of raising $1.5 million over the next five years to fund innovative, early-stage environmental research that demonstrates potential for advancing solutions to climate change, biodiversity loss and other global challenges and enhancing the sustainable management of Earth’s resources.

By providing seed money to support up to four promising research ventures a year, DRVI “gives our faculty incentive to take early-stage risks and blaze new approaches, knowing they will have sufficient funding to sustain them as they develop their initial concepts,” Steelman said.

Reducing the financial barriers to getting these solutions-oriented projects off the ground will speed the pace of innovation and help stimulate new partnerships and opportunities that could be leveraged further through federal, foundation and other support as the initial concepts are developed, she said.

Projects that won funding from DRVI in its first year are already yielding results, Steelman said, and several have received follow-on funding. One of these is High Seas@Duke, an initiative led by faculty member Patrick Halpin to advance ocean science, governance and policy research at a time when increasing industrialization and fragmented oversight pose growing risks to ecosystems in waters beyond national jurisdictions.

Through partnerships with 20 labs, institutions and organizations at Duke and around the world – including two United Nations agencies – Halpin’s initiative is harnessing the expertise of hundreds of scholars to spur the creation of new tools and knowledge in six critical areas: marine spatial ecology; migratory connectivity; deep-sea environmental management; seabed mining regulations; ocean governance; and ocean data. The initiative has helped position Duke as arguably the most visible and prominent academic institution worldwide to be partnering with the UN on these issues, Halpin said.

Another first-year DRVI success story is Duke Restore, a university-wide initiative helmed by Brian Silliman to pioneer better ways to restore coastal ecosystems, and boost the resilience of natural and human coastal communities in the face of intense global change.

“We’re bringing together teams of experts and students from diverse fields and sectors, and cross pollinating their expertise to find new solutions, starting with issues we’re facing right here in North Carolina,” Silliman said. For example, a Living Shorelines team is already working with the U.S. Marine Corps and the Pew Charitable Trusts to restore oyster reefs and eroding shorelines at the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, N.C.

“Increasingly, there’s a mandate to rebuild coastal ecosystems to benefit people and nature,” Silliman said. “Duke Restore fits right into that and will help position the Nicholas School at the forefront of those efforts. None of this would have been possible without the early funding we received through the Dean’s Research Venture Initiative.”

To take advantage of the remaining $245,000 in available match dollars, or to learn more about the Mars Challenge Match and other giving opportunities at the Nicholas School, contact Kevin McCarthy, associate dean of development and alumni relations.