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With D-SIGN Grants, Graduate Students Build Networks and Advance Research Interests

Five groups led by Duke graduate students received Duke Support for Interdisciplinary Graduate Networks (D-SIGN)grants for the 2016-17 academic year, becoming the first cohort of students to make use of this new program from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies. D-SIGN’s purpose is to enable graduate students to build or extend their networks and to integrate collaborative, cross-school experiences into their programs, thereby increasing the number of individuals whose graduate training reflects Duke’s commitment to interdisciplinarity and knowledge in the service of society.

The D-SIGN grantees included students from the School of Nursing, Sanford School of Public Policy, Arts & Sciences and the Nicholas School of the Environment who advanced a range of research projects and educational experiences that reach beyond disciplinary lines. Here are brief summaries of the groups’ activities.

Global Alliance on Disability and Health Innovation (GANDHI) – Children and Adolescents Health Group

Brittney Sullivan (Ph.D. in Nursing ’17, School of Nursing) and Anna Martin (Master of Public Policy student, Sanford School of Public Policy), established a graduate network affiliated with the Bass Connections project Global Alliance on Disability and Health Innovation (GANDHI) but focused on young people rather than adults. Their faculty sponsor was Janet Prvu Bettger (Nursing).

They aimed to establish the evidence for improving systems of care for children and adolescents living with disability after an acute hospitalization. Using a socioecological approach to identify the key needs for children newly living with disability, network members set out to examine and compare the social supports, health and community services and policies in three countries.

The group held weekly meetings with guest speakers throughout the year, supplemented by four group dinners. Three members traveled to Uganda in April to conduct interviews and observe some of the organizations that the group identified.

Anna Martin and Nelia Ekeji ’19 presented “GIS Study of Posthospital Services Supporting Children with Surgical Need in Uganda” at a Duke event, Strategies to Strengthen Health Systems Globally.

The group has a manuscript in preparation, “Spatial Distribution of Rehabilitation Services for Children Following Surgery in Uganda: Using the Data to Plan Interventions.” Members are transcribing and coding interviews, and Sarah Barton (Th.D. student, Divinity School) will lead the group in 2017-18.

Global Energy Access Network (GLEAN)

Three graduate students teamed up with faculty sponsors Subhrendu Pattanayak (Sanford School of Public Policy) and Brian Murray (Nicholas School of the Environment) to bring together students across Duke who are working on global energy transitions, energy access and energy poverty.

Rob Fetter and Faraz Usmani (University Ph.D. Program in Environmental Policy students, Nicholas School and Sanford School) and Hannah Girardeau (Master of Environmental Management student, Nicholas School) established GLEAN to ignite a research and policy dialogue around an understudied global issue.

GLEAN has grown into a network of 50 graduate and undergraduate students, representing at least seven schools and departments across Duke. Members met once or twice each month to update the broader community about relevant activities taking place at their respective schools and departments.

Through the Energy Access Speaker Series, GLEAN organized seven talks by experts on energy, environment and development. Five of these events were co-organized with other Duke programs, which helped the members to forge new partnerships.

In June, the group published an edited volume of energy access case studies, Energy & Development. The six chapters are coauthored by graduate or undergraduate students and focus on five countries (India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Nicaragua, Peru). With support from the Duke University Energy Initiative—GLEAN’s institutional home—the group will promote the publication widely this fall.

Several members worked with three paid research associates to compile a detailed annotated bibliography of energy, environment and development data sources available publicly that will be useful in creating an Energy Access Index. The group received a follow-on D-SIGN grant to conduct an energy access and air quality survey, engage two keynote speakers, produce case studies on energy and development and coordinate an “Imagine Energy” photo contest and exhibition.

Rethinking Regulation – Graduate Student Working Group

Based in the Rethinking Regulation Program at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, this group provides a forum for student-led interdisciplinary discussion, research and analysis of issues related to regulatory governance. Mercy DeMenno (Ph.D. in Public Policy student, Sanford School) sought a D-SIGN grant to support research workshops, writing group meetings, analyses of contemporary regulatory policy issues and other collaborative activities.

The group has grown to involve 25 students from 13 disciplines/programs and nine schools/departments as well as an active alumni group. Faculty sponsors are Lori Bennear (Nicholas School) and Jonathan Wiener (Law).

The group convened 12 research workshops in which members received feedback on their conference papers, articles, dissertation proposals, chapters and research plans. Presentations covered a range of topics, including regulatory impact assessment, regulatory disclosure regimes for fracking, regulating household energy technology, private accreditation in education, water and sanitation service provision in the Middle East and tort reform.

In addition, the group convened two writing groups that met twice per month. One group focused on dissertation prospectus and grant proposal development while the other focused on dissertation articles, chapters and extensions.

A key initiative was the development of a student-led regulatory governance blog. The Rethinking Regulation Blogpublishes short articles connecting scholarly work to contemporary regulatory policy issues, with an emphasis on interdisciplinary, collaborative and applied academic inquiry.

A STEM Researcher-Educator Network to Improve K-12 Science Literacy

Three doctoral students teamed up with faculty sponsors Kate Allman (Program in Education) and Brad Murray (Nicholas School) to create a network of STEM graduate students and Master of Arts in Teaching students who work together on lesson plans for local K-12 educators. Rebecca Lauzon (Ph.D. in Earth and Ocean Sciences student, Nicholas School), Eleanor Caves and Patrick Green (Ph.D. in Biology students, Arts & Sciences) utilized the structure of the Scientific Research and Education Network (SciREN), which develops relationships between researchers and educators to incorporate current research into K-12 classrooms.

They recruited two MAT students and 17 STEM researchers to develop K-12 lesson plans. The network produced 16 lesson plans, which were shared with 150 educators at SciREN’s annual networking event and added to SciREN’s portal.

“Polymers Matter” and “Modeling Cell Organelles” were selected for inclusion in SciREN’s lesson plan kit program. Educators were able to order these lessons and have all the necessary supplies mailed. These two lessons reached six schools and 400 students. “Exploring Marshes and Barrier Islands with a Scientific Model” and “Make It Rain: The Water Utility Management Game” were shared with an additional 50 educators at SciREN Coast, an educator-researcher networking event organized by the Duke and UNC marine labs.

The group organized two workshops for STEM researchers. Sixty people attended Demystifying STEM Outreach. Getting Down to Basics: Strategies for Communicating Complex Science was an interactive workshop for 25 students. From these events, the group produced a database of outreach/science communication opportunities.

Pre- and post-surveys revealed that after participating in the network, STEM graduate students felt more qualified to do outreach with K-12 students and educators and to create lesson plans. The MAT students felt they built a network of scientists and gained experience-planning lessons on complicated subjects.

Duke Conservation Society

With faculty sponsor Stuart Pimm (Nicholas School), Priya Ranganathan (Master of Environmental Management student, Nicholas School) sought a D-SIGN grant to expand the Duke Conservation Society beyond the Nicholas School to engage interdisciplinary approaches to conservation.

The group’s mission is to enhance students’ understanding of the various scientific, political, economic and managerial tools available to address conservation issues; facilitate collaborations among undergraduate, master’s and Ph.D. students on conservation projects and analyses; and provide opportunities for professional development such as networking with conservation professionals, seminars and guest speakers.

The Duke Conservation Society organized multiple symposia and events geared toward sharing international perspectives on conservation. Members worked with Conservation X Labs, a company that produces technology for wildlife conservation, and Duke Conservation Tech, a student organization affiliated with the Pratt School of Engineering, to produce Blueprint: People + Wildlife. This was a competition for teams of undergraduate and graduate students in the Triangle area to create blueprints for novel conservation technologies to assist in fighting the illegal wildlife trade. Approximately 50 students participated in teams.

The group also used the D-SIGN grant to for a dinner seminar to discuss a project on urban gardening that the Divinity School and the Nicholas School will undertake together. The dinner featured Saskia Cornes of the Duke Campus Farm and Norman Wirzba of the Divinity School. The speakers discussed the intersection of conservation, urban agriculture and Christianity, and students from both schools collaborated on designs for the proposed courtyard garden at the Divinity School.

Learn More

Read about the six groups that received D-SIGN grants for 2017-18 and what they plan to do. The next call for proposals will be released in early 2018. Any current Duke graduate student (including master’s, professional and Ph.D. students) may submit a proposal for interdisciplinary projects, trainings or experiences during the 2018-19 academic year.