Taking Shape

Bass fellows mark first year of initiative to strengthen undergraduate education

When Anne and Robert Bass announced a $10 million challenge gift in 1996, Duke officials expected the program to provide an excellent opportunity to reward teachers for classroom excellence and to promote undergraduate education.

A year after the first Bass fellows have been named, academic officials state the program is on track. Nine fellows have been named to five-year appointments, and all have shown the kind of innovative work in the classroom that bridges research and teaching, which the program was meant to promote.

The Bass Program for Excellence in Undergraduate Education is unusual in higher education. It has two components. The challenge portion of the program provides a onetothree match incentive so that a full professorship, which at Duke requires a minimum endowment of $1.5 million, may be created and named with a gift of slightly more than $1.1 million. The Bass match would contribute $375,000 in that case. To date, 10 families have taken up the challenge and established chairs in the program. In addition, a start-up contribution from the Basses endowed two other chairs.

The program also established a Bass Society of fellows to allow the holders of Bass chairs to come together regularly to talk about issues related to undergraduate education.

Cathy Davidson, vice provost for interdisciplinary studies, said she believes the program could inspire new initiatives. One meeting of the Bass fellows already has been held, and others are planned. "In the future, before the Bass fellows dinner, one of the fellows will give a public lecture in order that we can honor the relationship between teaching and scholarship in a serious, intellectual way," Davidson said.

The program also is intended to strengthen the university's commitment to undergraduate education. "By honoring scholars who are also fine teachers, the program reinforces the special qualities of a research university that also considers excellent teaching one of its hallmarks," Davidson said. "It is not easy to be both a first-rate researcher and a first-rate teacher. This is the university's way of showing how much it values that special quality of excellence."

The first two Bass fellows were named in January 1998: John Board Jr. was named Anne T. and Robert M. Bass associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Eric Toone was named Anne T. and Robert M. Bass associate professor of chemistry.

The Bass fellows named in fall 1998 are: Richard Forward, Lee Hill Snowdon professor of zoology; Tod A. Laursen, Mary Milius Yoh and Harold L. Yoh Jr. associate professor of civil and environmental engineering; Stephen Nowicki, Anne T. and Robert M. Bass associate professor of zoology; Arlie O. Petters, William and Sue Gross associate professor of mathematics; Janice A. Radway, Frances Hill Fox professor in humanities; Teresa Maria Vilaros, E. Black Byrne associate professor of Romance studies; and Karen Esther Wigen, Jack H. Neely associate professor of history.


Richard Forward


Duke has spent a lot of energy in recent years attempting to figure how independent study and undergraduate research could become a more important part of undergraduate education.

But at the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort, undergraduate research has always been an essential part of the training. And, for the last 28 years, Richard Forward, Lee Hill Snowdon professor of zoology, has been an essential part of making the research experience worthwhile.

Forward, whose research expertise is the blue crab, is director of undergraduate studies at the Marine Lab. Nearly all of the students who come to Beaufort conduct research projects or independent study of some kind. Not only does Forward help students find a topic, he ends up supervising many of them himself, said Michael Orbach, the Marine Lab's director.

"He is the bulwark of the undergraduate program here," Orbach said of Forward, who is on sabbatical this semester. "His lab is made in a student-friendly way, so that they can come in and work with the equipment. He promotes a total immersion in research. He is one of the champions of undergraduate study."

The Marine Lab is well-equipped to handle student research, and most students come to Beaufort to conduct real-life studies that can only be done in the field. Forward has made the difference by providing the time needed to ensure that the students working under him get a project that's interesting to them and educationally valuable, Orbach said.

A native of Washington, D.C., Forward received a bachelor of arts degree in biology from Stanford University in 1965. He did his graduate work at San Diego State College and received his Ph.D. in biology from University of California, Santa Barbara. His expertise is in vertebrate zoology and he has become well-known for his studies of the baby blue crab, an important ecological and economic species along the East Coast.

Forward taught at Santa Barbara before coming to Duke in 1971. He has been at the Marine Lab since then.


Tod Laursen


Tod Laursen, the new Mary Milius Yoh and Harold L. Yoh Jr. associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, is a specialist in the modeling of physical processes that involve contact and friction.

Real-world applications include the crash-worthiness of automobiles, the automated machining of ship parts and geophysical descriptions of the slip in earthquake fault zones.

Much of his work involves finite element analysis, a numerical method for solving problems that involve complex sets of equations with the aid of computers. Since 1994, he has served as faculty coordinator for Duke's own Robert J. Melosh Competition, an annual international finite element analysis scholastic contest.

In 1997, Laursen won a National Science Foundation CAREER Award and an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award, both given competitively to aid the research and teaching efforts of academics at the beginning of their careers.

He used a portion of his NSF award to create computer simulations to help students visualize some of the difficult mathematical concepts he teaches. His courses range from engineering computing and engineering science for undergraduates to continuum mechanics, engineering analysis and finite element methods for graduate students.

In 1997, he was also named a Hunt Faculty Scholar in the Duke School of Engineering and also received the Earl I. Brown Outstanding Civil Engineering Faculty Award from the university's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

He received a bachelor's of science degree in mechanical engineering from Oregon State University in 1986 and went on to receive master's and Ph.D. degrees in mechanical engineering from Stanford, finishing in 1992, the year he joined Duke's faculty.

From 1986-92, during the years he attended Stanford, he was also an engineer for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, which he still serves as a consultant. He was also a summer research engineer for the Boeing Commercial Airplane Company in 1985.



Stephen Nowicki


Stephen Nowicki, the new Anne T. and Robert M. Bass associate professor of biology, has distinguished himself both as a premier teacher of undergraduates and as a prominent researcher on the function and evolution of animal communication.

Three years ago, he initiated a new effort to reorganize the teaching of the introductory undergraduate course in biology ­ an effort that resulted in the highly popular course "The Science of Life." The new course, launched in 1996, features small-group laboratory/seminar sessions to complement lectures; a sophisticated World Wide Web communications system and, above all, a coherent conceptual approach to biology.

Nowicki also has helped lead an effort to improve the teaching skills of graduate student assistants, seeking to turn them into "bridge mentors" who can play a vital role in helping students learn biological concepts, rather than memorize facts.

Nowicki's research has explored the development and function of birdsong as a biologically important trait. For example, he and his colleagues are developing a theory that the song quality of male songbirds might directly portray their fitness. The theory holds that female birds carefully analyze a male's song quality to judge how well he has overcome the stress of early life and how effective a mate he will be.

In pursuit of his research, Nowicki will spend next semester at the University of Lund in Sweden, collaborating with researchers there who have amassed a considerable trove of data on songbird behavior and mating success. Besides advancing his research, Nowicki hopes the collaboration will lead to new international student exchange opportunities for Duke students.

Nowicki received his bachelor's of science degree in biology and music from Tufts University, where he also completed a master's in behavioral biology. He did his Ph.D. work at Cornell University, and joined the Duke faculty from Rockefeller University in 1989. His awards include an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship and a Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust Fellowship. In 1998, Nowicki was elected a Fellow of the Animal Behavior Society, the leading professional organization in his field.


Arlie Petters


Arlie Petters, the new William and Sue Gross associate professor of mathematics, studies the mathematical geometries responsible for gravitational "lensing," a phenomenon that, among other things, can produce multiple mirror images of a single star.

Originally suggested by Einstein, this lensing is produced by intense gravitational fields surrounding objects like neutron stars, black holes or entire galaxies. These fields are powerful enough to warp the very fabric of space and time, thus distorting the light from objects located behind them.

A native of Belize who followed his mother to New York City in search of better opportunities, Petters turned an early fascination with the starry heavens into a promising career that began with an accelerated bachelor's and master's degree from Hunter College in 1986 (he was recently elected to Hunter College's Hall of Fame) and a Ph.D. in 1991 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Part of his time at MIT was actually spent at Princeton, where he served as an exchange scholar. From September 1993 to June 1998, he was an assistant professor at Princeton's mathematics department, spending part of his time there as director of graduate studies for the department.

He was then drawn to Duke last year by what he calls "Duke's excellence in interdisciplinary research," becoming the nucleus of what may become an astrophysics program here.

In 1998, Petters also won a National Science Foundation CAREER Award as well as an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship, the two highest awards for young mathematics and physics professors.

Proceeds from those awards are funding his work on a new book that will "attempt, for the first time, to put the whole field of gravitational lensing on a rigorous mathematical foundation," he said.

He hopes that book will become the framework for a new advanced course at Duke.

He would also like to begin an undergraduate course here like the one he began at Princeton, which used gravitational lensing to illustrate key principles of calculus.



Janice Radway


Having spent much of her life reading, Janice A. Radway, Duke professor of literature and English, knows about books.

But, as she can tell you, not all books are created equal. Some are considered high art; others, trash. Or so say the critics. Then there are those middlebrow books, what Radway describes as Book-of-the-Month Club selections.

The Duke professor has made a career of examining the intricacies of culture: its twists and turns. She has written about the romance novel, along with the women who buy these steamy paperbacks. She also has spent a year at the offices of the Book-of-the-Month Club, doing field work as she investigated how editors choose their alternate selections.

In her latest book, A Feeling for Books: The Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Taste and Middle-Class Desire (UNC Press, 1998), she details how capitalism in the 20th century has intersected with reading, writing, book publishing and selling. From this has emerged, Radway said, America's middlebrow culture.

In her teaching, Radway is known across campus for her "Introduction to Cultural Studies" class. In it, Duke undergraduates research how media production techniques, advertising, popular culture and speech patterns, among other topics, produce a culture that affects us all.

"It's one of the classes that gives students the tools to analyze culture in their everyday lives," she said. "I think they find this an exhilarating experience."

Radway arrived at Duke in 1988 from the University of Pennsylvania's American Civilization department. She earned her Ph.D. in English in 1977 from Michigan State University (where she also earned her bachelor of arts degree). Her master's is from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

She has received numerous awards, including Duke's Trinity College Distinguished Teaching Award in 1993-94.

Currently, she is working on a volume in an upcoming series on the history of the book, sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society. Her focus is on the years 1880 to 1945.

As for students today, Radway said while once they were involved in rock music, "now increasingly what they are engaged in is the Internet."



Teresa Vilaros


As the Department of Romance Studies seeks to support Duke in its efforts to train students not only in bilingual education but also in cross-cultural understanding, it increasingly relies on one of its leading visionaries, Teresa Vilaros.

Vilaros is the new E. Blake Byrne associate professor of romance studies, in recognition of her first-class scholarship and strong track record of teaching and otherwise inspiring undergraduates.

"Our department has a crucial role to play not only on the level of language requirement, but more importantly in introducing diversity into the curriculum," said Walter Mignolo, chair of the Romance Studies department. "Professor Vilaros is one of the faculty who has clear ideas and has offered proposals to make the necessary connections between the language requirement and diversity."

Vilaros was selected for the Bass Chair partly in acknowledgment of the service she has provided to the university as campus director for Duke in Madrid, a position to which she was appointed in the fall 1997. She has helped the department improve the study abroad program by imprinting on it a new perspective, reflecting Duke's increased focus on transnational critical perspective as a key element of foreign language education.

Vilaros teaches courses in contemporary Spanish literature, Spanish film and women writers of Spain. Among her current areas of research are the contemporary cultural production of the post-Franco years, and the Spanish sub-national regions of Catalonia, Galicia and the Basque Country.

In 1995, she was awarded an Andrew W. Mellon Assistant Professorship, and she served in that capacity for one year. Vilaros also has been both secretary and chair of the Association of the Hispanic Literary Theory Society for the Midwest Modern Language Association. In addition, she is director of undergraduate studies for the Romance Studies department.



Karen Wigen


Historian Karen Wigen discovered early in her career the depth of the co-dependent relationship between teaching and research ­ her connection to both strengthened by the research discoveries she made while teaching.

She also quickly acknowledges the additional enjoyment she receives from sharing research and teaching duties, especially with her husband, Martin Lewis, an associate research professor in Comparative Area Studies.

Lewis and Wigen taught a seminar last year to seniors and graduate students on "De-centering the Cultural Map," a course funded by the Ford Foundation. She said she finds that sharing teaching duties creates its own brand of decentralization.

"Co-teaching tends to de-center the teacher's authority," Wigen said. "It creates a more dynamic environment."

This more active classroom setting also provides more opportunities for the students to join in on any scholarly disagreements that might occur between professors.

"Your teaching infiltrates into your research," Wigen said. "You can't keep the two separate. My teaching is the reason I'm doing the research I'm doing now."

Wigen, the new Jack H. Neely associate professor of history, is also co-director of Comparative Area Studies. Her area of research is the environment and the development of early Japan and recently she has begun to focus on geographic identities in East Asia.

"I'm looking at how people mentally mapped their notions of their values ­ who they were and how they articulated that at a regional, national and transnational level," she said. Her findings so far illustrate a trend toward a form of "revisionist" geography throughout Asia during the pre-war period. She found a definite bias toward Asia in the geography books, with maps showing widely expanded Asian boundaries.

Wigen and Lewis have two children: Evan, 4, and one-month-old Eleanor.

Reporting from Noah Bartolucci, Monte Basgall, Linda Haac, Dennis Meredith, Geoffrey Mock and Kathy Pitman.