FALL 2015

Duke Celebrates 25 Years of Interdisciplinary Environmental Education with Special Events, Anniversary Campaign

by Laura Ertel

The 25 years since the creation of the interdisciplinary School of the Environment at Duke have been filled with momentum and milestones. As founding Dean Norman L. Christensen recounts on page 18, an enduring spirit of inquiry and innovation has led the seeds of this school, planted in the 1930s, to blossom into a multi-faceted program. It is now known globally for preparing graduates for successful careers in a wide range of fields and advancing research that has opened new doors to environmental understanding and stewardship.

This coming year, we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the visionary convergence of the Duke Marine Laboratory, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and Department of Geology that set the stage for Duke’s rising reputation as one of the world’s premier institutions for interdisciplinary environmental education, research and real-world impact. Yet we are not just looking back: We also are laying the groundwork to ensure continued leadership and excellence for the next quarter-century and beyond.


The 1991 merger of programs and faculty to create an interdisciplinary School of the Environment and Earth Sciences (renamed the Nicholas School of the Environment in 1992) has led to collaborations and achievements beyond those even dreamed of by school founders.

  • Educational programs, such as our Coastal Environmental Management and Energy and Environment concentrations for professional master’s students and the Marine Science concentration for undergraduates, draw on the collective wisdom and resources of our divisions of Marine Science and Conservation, Earth and Ocean Sciences, and Environmental Sciences and Policy and other programs throughout Duke.
  • Experiential learning opportunities, such as the Stanback Internships and eld trips to environmental hotspots, teach our students that tackling complex real-world environmental issues requires diverse perspectives and teamwork. As a result, our alumni are breaking new ground a wide range of environment-related fields.
  • Research initiatives in Water Resource Management and Environment and Human Health underscore the necessity of harnessing wide-ranging expertise across our campus to successfully address these pressing environmental issues.
  • Buildings such as Environment Hall on the Durham campus and the Pilkey Center at the Marine Lab, and Durham-based labs such as the Duke River Center, nurture that spirit of cross-disciplinary collaboration and demonstrate Duke’s commitment to inform and advance sustainable building and management practices.

These successes and many others, along with the philanthropic support of our many friends and alumni, have burnished Duke University’s international reputation and drawn top students and world-class faculty to join our community.


Over the next year, the Nicholas School will celebrate several milestones. (In October we marked the first milestone of 75 years of forestry education at Duke.) Save these dates and visit the Nicholas School website for additional details coming soon.


April 14, 2016 Features a day of speakers, networking and environmental fellowship. Hear from former Stanback interns who are now leading significant environment organizations in the United States and around the world.


Nov. 17, 2016 Join us to celebrate the school’s history and future as we recognize past and current leaders and philanthropists who have made the Nicholas School what it is today.


Philanthropy has always played an essential role in the growth and leadership of the school. As we revel in the school’s 25th anniversary, we also must set the stage for the continued excellence of Duke Environment for the next quarter-century and beyond, says Nicholas School Dean Alan Townsend.

In the final two years of the Duke Forward Campaign— having surpassed our first fund-raising milestone—the Nicholas School will launch a new multi-million initiative to raise additional resources for financial aid for the professional graduate and PhD level students to help recruit talented students and lower their debt obligations after graduation.