DURHAM, N.C. – A new matching gift program at the Nicholas School of the Environment lets donors double the support they provide for cutting-edge faculty research on the most pressing environmental challenges of our time.

The Mars $750,000 Challenge Match, issued earlier this year 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, 2021.

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 great potential for advancing solutions to climate change, biodiversity loss and other global challenges and enhancing the sustainable management of ocean and terrestrial 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 at the school and help stimulate new partnerships and opportunities that could be leveraged further through federal, foundation and other support once the initial concepts are more fully 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 or 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 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. Their work is helping bring new solutions to the table and positioning Duke as arguably the most visible and prominent academic institution involved in UN deliberations vital to ocean health, Halpin said.

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

“The idea is to form many Duke Restore teams with experts and students from diverse fields and sectors, and crosspollinate our expertise to find new approaches to coastal conservation and restoration, starting with issues we’re facing right here in North Carolina,” Silliman said. For example, a Living Shorelines team has already been formed and is working with theU.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 global efforts. None of this would have been possible without the early funding we received through the Dean’s Research Venture Initiative.”

Kevin McCarthy, the Nicholas School’s associate dean for development and alumni relations, said up to $575,000 in matching funds remains available for new donors who make a minimum $25,000 gift or pledge to DRVI, payable over five years.

“This time of year, many Nicholas School friends are thinking about their giving to Duke,” he said. “Michael Mars’ far-sighted generosity will help make those gifts go a lot further.”