Paying It Forward
Sparking students’ curiosity about the natural world isn’t just Emily Klein’s job. It’s her passion.
During her 32-year career at Duke, Klein, University Distinguished Service Professor of Earth Sciences, has taught, advised and mentored thousands of students—often one-on-one or in small groups.
These students have included hundreds of undergraduates in Duke’s Energy and Environment Certificate program; hundreds of other undergrads studying geology and earth and climate sciences; and nearly 1,000 middle-school students in Duke’s Females and Allies Excelling More in Math, Engineering and Science (FEMMES+) program.
They’ve also included students in Duke’s Baldwin Scholars leadership program for female undergraduates, a program Klein helped launch, and graduate students she’s taken to sea on research expeditions to study the geochemistry of the ocean floor.
While she’s passionate about expanding the horizons of all students, Klein—an early barrier-breaker in the male-dominated field of physical oceanography—is especially committed to inspiring more women and students from underrepresented populations to pursue STEM careers. If you want new generations of pioneers to follow in your footsteps, she says, you need to light the path that guides them.
Nicholas School Professor Inspires a Deep Passion for the Ocean in her Students
Professor of Earth and Climate Sciences Emily Klein describes her high-seas research adventures and why she finds teaching Duke undergraduates so gratifying.
Lessons in Leadership
To say that Deb Gallagher helped write the book on environmental leadership isn’t a figure of speech. It’s a fact. Twice over.
Gallagher edited “Environmental Leadership: A Reference Handbook,” the groundbreaking, 1,032-page textbook that helped define the field in 2012.
She also edited “Innovation in Environmental Leadership,” a 2018 tome that updated scholarship in the field to reflect a variety of emerging perspectives, including post-heroic approaches and systems thinking.
In recent years, she’s worked closely with the United Nations Global Compact to identify leadership qualities—such as intentionality and accountability—that foster sustainable business development and planetary health. So, a third trailblazing book isn’t out of the question.
Gallagher, professor of the practice of resource and environmental policy, shares her expertise with students through courses on environmental leadership and sustainable business practices, and through a seminar series called Leading the Change, designed to help students hone the skills essential for bringing about environmental and social change.
She Set the Standard
If you polled Nicholas School alumni and asked them to name a faculty member whose teaching and advising had a profound impact on their studies and careers, chances are a lot of them would cite Lynn Maguire.
Maguire, an expert on environmental decision making and conflict resolution, was a founding member of the school’s faculty whose dedication to teaching and mentoring professional graduate students was legendary. She enthusiastically shared her insights on making decisions under uncertainty with students, both in the classroom and as a sounding board for their future academic and professional plans. Maquire retired in 2017.
In honor of her immeasurable contributions, in 2020 the Nicholas School created the Lynn Maguire Award to recognize faculty members who excel as teachers in and out of the classroom and go above and beyond in their commitment to mentoring and advising.
The World is Their Classroom
Field trips that enable students to explore the practices, policies and processes they study in the classroom in a real-world setting are a hallmark of a Nicholas School education.
This is particularly true in the school’s Division of Earth and Climate Sciences (ECS), where fieldwork is an integral and essential part of the curriculum, says Alex Glass, senior lecturer.
In recent years, ECS faculty have led their students on trips to Hawaii to study vulcanology; the Yellowstone region, the Mojave Desert and Ireland to study geology and natural history; the Florida Keys and Bahamas to study marine geology; and the Peruvian Amazon to study how geology and past climates shape tropical ecology and biodiversity, among other trips. (Trips were put on pause during the COVID pandemic but will resume later this academic year as safety allows.)
Glass himself has led more than 40 field trips or study-abroad programs over the last 14 years, in places as far flung as the Appalachians and Australia. More than 600 undergrads have explored the natural world and honed their fieldwork skills under his guidance.
In summer 2022, Glass will lead Duke’s first climate-focused study abroad program, taking Nicholas School students to Denmark to explore how human civilizations from the Ice Age to today have been affected by changes in Earth’s climate.
A Pathway to Success
Since 2012, the Nicholas School’s Environmental Science Summer Program (ESSP) has helped more than 270 talented high school students from underserved communities enhance their environmental literacy and explore careers in STEM fields.
“Our goal is to help students explore their interests and options and blaze their own path, even if they don’t end up coming to Duke or the Nicholas School,” says Nicolette Cagle, director of ESSP.
Feedback from students who have completed the program, which includes an intensive two-week session of hands-on lab, field and classroom learning on Duke’s campus in July, augmented by individual and group mentoring over the next school year, is overwhelmingly positive.
The outcomes have also been overwhelmingly affirmative. Seven program graduates are now attending Duke or are expected to attend, and dozens of others are pursuing or have completed degrees in STEM-related fields at other colleges and universities, Cagle notes proudly. Nearly all say their experience in ESSP was formative.
A Carbon Market in Oaxaca
Indigenous communities in the Mexican state of Oaxaca have sustainably managed biodiverse forests on their lands for centuries using traditional practices. A collaborative research and outreach initiative co-led by Liz Shapiro-Garza is now helping them reap modern benefits—revenues from carbon credits—from their stewardship.
With environmental management input from Shapiro-Garza and her students—who conducted forest carbon and biodiversity censuses and community surveys—12 indigenous communities in Oaxaca have joined forces with ICICO, and a small, local nonprofit, to create a voluntary carbon market where they sell verified carbon offsets from their forests.
Buyers, so far, have included Duke University; the Disney Corporation; Chinoin, one of Mexico’s largest pharmaceutical makers; and the office of the President of Mexico.
Revenues are invested back into the communities to create jobs and fund new tribal-led ventures in sustainable development.
It’s a promising model that other communities in the region could adapt, says Shapiro-Garza, associate professor of the practice of environmental policy and management. She’s now exploring those possibilities.
Giving Communities a Voice in Coastal Development
Twenty years ago, the Down East region of coastal North Carolina was dotted with modest homes, Mom and Pop stores, weathered fish houses, and long stretches of marsh-edged shoreline.
As high-end weekend homes and other new development began transforming the landscape by the mid-2000s, Lisa Campbell and her students launched an ambitious two-year project to document community attitudes about the pace of development, trends in land ownership, and which natural or cultural resources should be preserved.
Their findings, which were shared with community members, have helped guide discussions about sustainable economic development in the region and have given locals a greater say.
Numerous research and outreach projects conducted by Campbell and her team since then have deepened our understanding of how community participation and increased stakeholder engagement can boost the effectiveness of marine spatial planning and enhance sustainable economic development and resource management in coastal regions worldwide.
Policy & Industry Outreach
A Retreat from Denial
Orrin Pilkey has spent much of his 58-year career in geology working to inject science into the decisions we make about coastal development.
Pilkey’s message is simple but effective: Barrier islands and beach sands naturally move over time; homes, high-rises, and other human structures don’t. Taking these indisputable facts into consideration when we decide if and where to build will limit future losses and help protect human and natural coastal systems alike.
Pilkey’s tireless efforts to convey this message to policymakers and their constituents nationwide, especially in coastal states east of the Mississippi, are credited for limiting development at many sites.
Recently, his message has become even more urgent: Rising seas and stronger hurricanes linked to climate change are compounding the impacts of storm surge and wave-driven erosion. Limiting new development is no longer enough. To prevent future catastrophic loss of life, we need to retreat from the beach in an orderly manner while we still have time.
“Some people don’t like what I say, but science needs a voice,” says Pilkey, James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of Geology. “What a tragedy it would be if we didn’t speak up and share the truth.”
Optimizing Clean Energy Production
Dalia Patiño-Echeverri is working to speed the transformation of the U.S. electricity sector into a cleaner and more efficient system.
With $2.4 million in funding from the Department of Energy, she’s launched a three-year initiative called a Grid that’s Risk-Aware for Clean Electricity (GRACE).
Its mission is to design an energy system management framework – a high-tech user’s manual – that helps utilities and wholesale electricity markets better anticipate dips in the performance of renewable or conventional power generators in their systems, as well as other twists and turns that can undermine providers’ ability to deliver a reliable supply of energy at the lowest environmental and economic cost.
The framework will take the guesswork out of projecting things such as how and when weather conditions might affect solar or wind power generation, or when short-term spikes in consumer demand might require bringing new resources on line, says Patiño-Echeverri, Gendell Family Associate Professor of Energy Systems and Public Policy. Removing these uncertainties, she says, could go a long way toward relieving the operational and economic burdens electricity providers might face as they reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and transition to clean energy instead.
Jennifer Swenson + JIM CLARK
Where the Wild Things Are
Being able to predict where a species might head to find greener pastures if climate change renders its current range unsuitable and anticipating the impacts it could have on other wildlife as it competes for new habitats will be essential for protecting biodiversity in a warming world.
But it’s easier said than done because hundreds, maybe thousands, of variables can directly or indirectly sway the outcomes.
An open-access, interactive web portal being developed by a team led by Jennifer Swenson, associate professor of the practice of geospatial analysis, will help conservationists, landowners and other decision makers cut through the data jungle.
The Predicting Biodiversity with a Generalized Joint Attribution Model (PBGJAM) web portal synthesizes decades of data on species distributions, surface temperatures, precipitation patterns, vegetation indices, land-cover changes and other relevant factors into maps and models that chart how species’ ranges will shift—and possibly overlap—over time in response to rising temperatures, more frequent droughts and other environmental changes.
Swenson is working with Jim Clark, Nicholas Distinguished Professor of Environmental Science, to develop the tools, which include a powerful new statistical model that scientists can use to identify the direct and indirect effects of climate change on species across an entire food web or ecological community, even if there are gaps in the data.
“We need to consider who’s living with whom to understand the larger impacts,” Swenson says. “PBGJAM is part of a suite of new tools being developed at the Nicholas School that will make that a whole lot easier.”
Jennifer Swenson + Jim Clark
Future Species Coexistence Requires the Right Ingredients
As our planet heats up, whether or not species can co-exist as well as, say, peanut butter and jelly is one of the aims of a new web portal being developed that helps to predict species adaptability, migration and habitat competition.
Testing the Waters
In 2018, in response to growing concern about drinking water safety in North Carolina, Lee Ferguson spearheaded the creation of the N.C. PFAS Testing Network (PFAST), the nation’s largest water-quality monitoring network for emerging contaminants.
At the time, GenX and other per- and polyfluorinated (PFAS) compounds were showing up in waters around North Carolina, but officials couldn’t tell how widespread the contamination was or if the compounds were occurring at concentrations high enough to pose health risks. This, Ferguson explains, is because conventional “targeted” water tests only search for known contaminants, not new or emerging ones like PFAS.
Luckily, Duke had just purchased new mass spectrometers capable of doing nontargeted tests, which can detect the signatures of hundreds of compounds, both known and new.
With state funding of $5 million, Ferguson, associate professor of environmental engineering, helped launch PFAST and put the spectrometers to use.
To date, his team has tested water from 376 municipal or county systems and detected PFAS concentrations above EPA health advisory levels in 20 of them. Nine of the 10 highest concentrations are from the Cape Fear River basin. That finding, combined with other recent Nicholas School studies on PFAS contamination, may have helped spur the EPA’s decision this fall to begin regulating PFAS, Ferguson believes.
Read more stories featured in the Duke Environment Magazine Fall 2021: 30th Anniversary Issue.