Love them or hate them, strategic plans are a must for any successful organization. The Duke Forest — one the University’s oldest and most dynamic resources — is no exception. While the origins of the Duke Forest date back to the 1920’s, it’s purpose and influence are still misunderstood by many Duke alumni and members of the community. To enhance appreciation for this incredible Duke resource, the Office of the Duke Forest has been using a new strategic plan to guide their efforts to educate the Duke community and the general public about what the Duke Forest is, what it isn’t, and how they can use the Forest as a resource. So far, the Office has taken several steps to improve engagement in their first year under the new strategic plan.
“An Evening With The Duke Forest”
Sara DiBacco Childs, Director of the Duke Forest, recently teamed up with the Office of Development and Alumni Relations (ODAR) and the Duke Alumni Association (DAA) to host a program in Atlanta where she was able to talk to local alums about the Duke Forest. The event, “An Evening with the Duke Forest,” (pictured above) was a tremendous opportunity for Childs to share with alums who — for over 90% of those who attended — came through schools at Duke other than the Nicholas School. The Duke Forest Director was pleased and inspired by the response from attendees. “They were very engaged and interested in what it looks like for Duke to be managing a natural resource of this scale. They asked insightful questions about the benefits the Duke Forest provides and the threats it may face in the future,” said Childs. A young high school student named Cole Walker, there with his father, Steven Walker E’88, was one of the most engaged of the night’s attendees. In fact, he was the reason the two decided to attend the event in the first place. “It was exciting to meet this young man who already possessed a great appreciation for natural resources and science. This sort of youthful enthusiasm is exactly what we’re aiming to achieve in audiences young and old moving forward,” said Childs. Cole, who visited Duke for a college visit this past week, shared his own thoughts on the evening, stating, “I really enjoyed learning about the types of studies conducted in the Duke Forest that help researchers solve environmental problems. I look forward to exploring the Forest the next time I visit Duke.”
Future installments of the event are currently in development for other regions around the country later this year.
Engaging The Community With ‘Citizen Science’
The Duke Forest offers many opportunities to the public, with the upcoming “Citizen Science” program slated to soon join the list. Some members of the public may be aware of their ability to use the Duke Forest as a destination for a social gathering or a leisurely stroll, but not nearly as many of them realize the opportunities available through the Forest to make a positive impact on the environment. The “Citizen Science” program currently in development aims to get local citizens directly involved with supporting the protection of wildlife and habitats in the Forest. Participants will provide the energy and capacity to collect data that would otherwise be unobtainable. This data will be critical for making decisions on how to better protect forest animals and their habitats. The logistics of the program are still being coordinated, but the ground sites for the first research effort, which will focus on amphibians and reptiles, have already been established. “The program will be a real win-win for protecting animals and engaging the community in science. It will also raise awareness about the many roles the Forest plays,” says the Duke Forest Director.
Bringing In New Talent
Next month, the Office of the Duke Forest will welcome a new staff member that will provide much-needed capacity for community engagement and stewardship. While the name of the new hire is still being kept under wraps, the Forest’s director says the position will play a crucial role in building up communications and engagement opportunities that will raise awareness of the value and benefits of the Duke Forest. It will also emphasize showcasing the Forest’s role in academia, including teaching and research opportunities for K-12 students in addition to those in higher education. The Director also expects the new team member to play a significant role in promoting fundraising and development opportunities. When asked to comment on the new addition, the Duke Forest Director stated, “I am very excited about our new hire and what the position will bring to the team. It will give us the opportunity for consistent communication and engagement with the wide variety of audiences that the Duke Forest serves.”
“My hope is that an even greater audience of people will understand and appreciate the resource that Duke Forest is for the University and the greater community. It offers so much to so many, and its land base provides a bastion of natural services that are rapidly disappearing in this fast-growing region. Our efforts to tell the Forest’s story and advance strategic initiatives over the next few years will help to sustain the strong support it receives from the University and enhance its appreciation by the community.
–Sara DiBacco Childs, Duke Forest Director