$50M gift to fund Duke multi-disciplinary efforts

Jan. 22, 2013 @ 04:44 PM

Last winter, a dozen Duke University faculty members met weekly to discuss interdisciplinary study and collaboration.
They pondered three challenges:
How do you fully embed the concept of interdisciplinarity in the educational experience of students?
How do you expose students to a multi-faceted understanding of the modern world’s complex challenges?
How do you make such learning an integral aspect of attending Duke?
Now, thanks to a $50 million gift from Anne T. and Robert M. Bass of Fort Worth, Texas, they have the beginnings of an answer.
With funding from the gift, Duke is launching an initiative that will encourage students and faculty to collaborate across traditional academic boundaries to develop the broad expertise and perspective needed to tackle complex societal problems.
The newly named “Bass Connections” will provide a range of new educational pathways for Duke’s undergraduate, graduate and professional students and bring them together on project teams with faculty and others to address issues that require the expertise of educators and researchers with diverse backgrounds.
According to the new initiative’s website, Bass Connections will “provide students with greater exposure to inquiry across the disciplines, partnership with unlikely fellow thinkers, sustained mentorship in teams and the chance to experience the intersections of the academy and the real world.”
The initiative will focus initially on five broad areas: brain and society; education and human development; energy; global health; and information, society and culture.
The university will use half of the gift — one of the largest in Duke’s history — in a matching program to encourage donations from others.
“We believe that this gift will enable broad collaboration among scholars across multiple disciplines to develop truly innovative approaches to some of the most pressing societal problems,” said Anne and Robert Bass in a statement released by the university.
Anne Bass is one of three co-chairs of Duke Forward, the $3.25 billion university fundraising campaign that was publicly announced last fall. The donation from the Basses brings the total raised so far in the six-year campaign to $1.52 billion.
“Bass Connections will enrich the education of students in traditional programs and create new problem-focused educational pathways for interdisciplinary scholars,” said Provost Peter Lange, the university’s chief academic officer.
“We expect to create new joint master’s degree programs, concentrations within existing professional degree programs and special doctoral tracks. Project teams integrated across disciplines and educational stages will enable students to work with students, faculty, post-docs and practitioners beyond their ‘home’ major or school.”
The initiative will provide undergraduates with new classes and learning modules, internships and civic engagement experiences outside the classroom. They will also be part of project teams with graduate students, faculty and outside experts.
According to the plan, graduate and professional students will bring their specialized expertise to bear on complex problems and have new opportunities to mentor younger students.
Students at all levels, according to university leaders, will combine specialized knowledge with collaborative skills, enhancing their appeal to companies, government agencies, nonprofit organizations and other potential employers.
Bass Connections also is designed to help students gain experience with real-world problems and develop expertise in their major or profession from the moment they arrive on campus.