The latest news and resources from Duke Government Relations.

How Duke Supports Its Student Veteran Community

by Lizzie Devitt

As our nation commemorates Veterans Day this month, we want to give special recognition to Duke’s military-affiliated students and alumni.

Over the years, Duke’s student veteran community has continued to grow, becoming one of the fastest-growing student population on campus and prompting Student Affairs to create an office specifically for them. The Duke Student Affairs Office of Veterans works collaboratively with students, faculty and staff to provide resources, support and community to current and former student veterans.

Duke’s military-affiliated community now totals 444, which includes 259 veterans, and the remaining members are comprised of those on active duty, guard, reserves, as well as part-time duty. Vice Dean of Students Clay Adams, among other responsibilities, directs all student veteran initiatives.

“The office is still relatively new and so there has been a constant effort to focus on "rightsizing" our support of the community,” Adams explained. They have also aimed to provide better support “through resource allocation from a standing budget, to staffing, and space allocation.”

The student veteran community at Duke has representation in nearly all schools on campus, from the Divinity School to the Pratt School of Engineering and everything else in between. Postgraduate opportunities for members of the community are equally as wide-ranging. “You name it they've done it,” said Adams, “From business, to public service, continued leadership within the Department of Defense, faculty members, and more.”

Adapting to life and school is not without its difficulties for the military-affiliated community. “The transition-related adjustments associated with leaving a highly structured environment to higher education, which has a very distinct and different approach,” can be difficult for student veterans and the military-affiliated community as a whole.

In the midst of such new challenges, having a community of people for support and advice is critical. From admission to post-grad, Duke’s military-affiliated community maintains close-knit relationships. Three years ago, the Office of Student Veterans also partnered with the Duke Alumni Association to build a military-affiliated alumni network.

As an extension of the Duke Student Veterans and the Office of Student Veterans, the Duke Military Alumni Network creates community for military affiliated Duke alumni. As such, the Duke Military Alumni Network primarily serves to connect military affiliated Duke alumni and their families with peers around the globe to offer support, resources, and connection – no matter where our alumni are.

Adams also said that Duke’s “cross-institutional approach to supporting our graduate and professional school students, which serve as home to 98% of student military-affiliated community,” is one of several factors that sets Duke apart and helps foster a strong community for veterans. “Building a centralized support network and community to serve students collectively allows us to streamline and efficiently tailor our efforts.”

5 Questions With Sunshine Hillygus on Young Voters and the 2020 Election

By Lizzie Devitt

With a presidential election approaching, voting is top of mind and during COVID-19, voter turnout is more complicated and uncertain than ever before. Professor of Political Science at Duke University Sunshine Hillygus has been studying voter behavior for many years. In her newest book with co-author John Holbein, Making Young Voters, she brings insight to voter turnout dynamics and helps explain why young voter turnout is consistently so low.

With funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Hillygus and Holbein bridged research in political science, education and human development to determine the barriers for youth voter turnout and develop a solution to remove such obstacles that could be hindering young voters from showing up to the polls. Through large-scale student surveys exploring early-life civic attitudes and behaviors, education administrative records from secondary and post-secondary schools in Wake County, North Carolina, Hillygus and Holbein helped effectively trace students' formative experiences from early life to today. Our office has previously profiled Hillygus’ research on youth voting, which you can access here.

Using her expertise, Hillygus answered five questions for us about the upcoming presidential election, key drivers for youth voter turnout and more:

1. When the youth voter turnout increases in some elections, what are the main drivers?

Although there are some elections in which youth turnout is higher—driven by frustration with the direction of government (whether about racial injustice, mass shootings, or Vietnam)—the more consistent pattern is that the majority of young people don’t vote, even when they are politically interested and motivated.  Our book shows that persistent low levels of youth turnout in the United States is not because young people are apathetic or disinterested, it is because obstacles, barriers and distractions too often get in the way of young people following through on their civic attitudes and intentions. Some obstacles that keep them from following through on their voting intentions are personal—a reflection of stage in life—but others are institutional—the various rules about when, where, and how Americans can vote, which impact new voters more than experienced ones.

2. What can a college campus do to encourage participation amongst their students?

Voter registration or verification should happen as part of the orientation process and should be revisited every year. Colleges need to ensure that their student IDs can be used as a valid form of ID in states in which they are required for voting and should fight for a voting precinct to be located on campus. 

3. How has NSF funding helped your research?

This research would not have been possible without NSF funding and the support of Duke’s Social Science Research Institute (SSRI).  Two grants from the NSF political science program provided the necessary funding for data collection, research assistance, and the dissemination of results. The NSF grant also helped to catalyze a collaboration with Wake County Public School System and provided John and I with the time to focus on the project. At Duke, SSRI was critical in helping us to apply for the grant, to design and implement original data collection, and in supporting data storage, management, and analysis.

4. What is an assumption most people hold about the youth vote that is incorrect?

People have long assumed that young people have not voted because they are apathetic or disillusioned about politics.  Our research shows that political motivation and interest is already high among young people--so this isn’t the key to improving youth turnout. The problem for young people is not that they are disinterested in politics; rather, barriers and obstacles to registration and voting often prevent them from following through on their intentions.

5. What are you watching for in this 2020 election in terms of turnout for youth voters?

Unfortunately, most of what is needed to increase youth turnout has to happen between elections—by making the registration and voting process easier and by rethinking civic education in the country. I worry that the COVID-19 pandemic has created considerable uncertainty and confusion about the registration and voting process. The (sometimes sudden) shift to online teaching on college campuses has displaced college students around the country, creating significant disruptions to daily life and confusion about residency rules, registration requirements, and ballot access.

Here on campus Hilllygus has lent her expertise to Duke Votes, a student-led campaign that helps raise awareness about local resources available for registration and voting. Hillygus joined Duke Votes’ efforts to address the gaps in youth voter turnout and speak about the importance of voter participation. Duke continues to devote resources and time leading up to the 2020 election to encourage voter turnout. More information is available at

Posted on 10/22/20

Duke’s Federal Advocacy Updates Six Months Into a Pandemic

After a spring and summer unlike any other, where do Duke University’s federal priorities stand heading into the fall?

In a typical year, Congress would be buzzing over the summer as the upcoming fiscal year funding decisions are being formulated, hearings and legislative markups are taking place on a variety of topics and an influx of interns learn the ropes. This year, the halls of Congress were much quieter as much of the legislative work has gone virtual, but there have been bursts of productivity. Congress has successfully passed, and the President has signed, three coronavirus relief packages over the past several months, with a fourth currently wrapped up in partisan gridlock.  

This year is also an election year, which typically signals a quiet fall on Capitol Hill as members of Congress go home to campaign. Although there won’t be much in terms of legislative progress,  the recent passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the coming confirmation process for her replacement will at the very least keep the Senate from completely going into its campaign season repose.

Below is a brief overview of federal actions initiated by Congress or the administration that have impacted Duke since our spring update.

Budget & Appropriations and COVID Stimulus Packages

On March 25th, Congress successfully passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was the third bipartisan bill in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The CARES Act totaled over $2 trillion, making it the largest rescue package in American history. The package set aside at least $14.25 billion specifically for higher education emergency relief for institutions to prevent, prepare for and respond to coronavirus. Colleges and universities are allocated funds based on enrollment, heavily weighted towards those with large shares of Pell Grant recipients.

The higher education community has urged Congress to provide further relief for U.S. universities and students in the next Coronavirus relief bill. Additionally, over 100 members of Congress, including several members of the North Carolina congressional delegation, have signed on to the bipartisan Research Investment to Spark the Economy (RISE) Act, which aims to provide emergency supplemental funding for federal science agencies mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the nation’s research enterprise.

Congressional leadership and the Trump administration have struggled to find a compromise on the fourth COVID-19 relief bill.  Both the House and Senate have been working on their respective packages including the House Democrats’ Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, the Senate Republicans’ Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act and the later proposed, Senate “Skinny bill,” which is a pared down version of the HEALS Act. With the defeat of the Senate proposal this month, hopes are dimming for any action on a phase four relief package before the November election.

FY 21 Budget

In addition to working on COVID relief packages, the House of Representatives has made some progress on the FY 21 funding bills by passing ten of the twelve bills by the end of July. As the chart below illustrates, the House has proposed level funding or modest increases for most of the programs of interest to Duke. The Senate has yet to draft or pass any of its bills, assuring the need for a continuing resolution to keep the government funded beyond September 30th, the end of the fiscal year.

Science and Security and Foreign Influence

Science and security issues continue to be near the forefront of conversations in Washington. All agencies are working to  refine financial and disclosure policies, as well as address participation in foreign talent (students and scholars) recruitment programs. There is intense pressure from Congress and the Administration, to stem foreign influence and enact new proposals to tighten requirements on foreign students and researchers.

Congressional action:

As in past years, the bulk of the congressional activity related to science and security or foreign influence issues has aligned with the House and Senate consideration of the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The NDAA not only supports military personnel, equipment, and training, it also authorizes funding and policy for the Department of Defense (DOD) research initiatives. Both the House and Senate approved their own versions of the NDAA this summer and both versions contain multiple provisions related to science and security that will need to be negotiated to develop a final package to send the White House by the end of the year.

Positive provisions of interest include: creation of a new traineeship program to cultivate domestic STEM talent and new immigration pathway for non-citizens working to promote or protect national security, harmonization of foreign funding disclosures, and the creation of an academic liaison at DOD. The bills also contain a few provisions that need improvement, including an expansion of the collection of information on personnel working on research grants and awards.

This summer also saw the introduction of the Safeguarding American Innovation Act, a bipartisan Senate bill that would tighten the security of the U.S. research enterprise against competing governments.  The bill would provide the State Department more flexibility in rejecting visa applications, enhance criminal penalties for nondisclosure of ties to foreign governments, establish a new research security entity within the White House Office of Management and Budget, and amend the Higher Education Act’s Section 117 reporting requirements for foreign gifts.

Earlier this spring, the House Republicans announced the creation of the China Task Force, which seeks to counter current and emerging threats from China. The Task Force has been drafting a legislative package to achieve these goals, which could be released later this month.

Administration/agency actions:

In late May, the Trump administration issued an Executive Order that prohibits entry into the US by Chinese nationals with connections to institutions supporting China’s “civil-military fusion” who are seeking F or J visas to study or conduct research. Earlier this month, the State Department reported that nearly 1,000 Chinese nationals have had visas revoked under this proclamation.

In June, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos unveiled a new online portal that expanded the scope of information colleges and universities are required to report foreign gifts and contracts. Under Section 117 of the Higher Education Act (HEA), colleges and universities are required to report any foreign gift and contract they receive that is valued at more than $250,000. The American Council on Education and other higher education associations had urged the Department of Education to delay implementation of this new reporting requirement due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


In addition to the executive order revoking visas for certain Chinese nationals noted in the section above, President Trump also issued an executive order on June 22nd that suspended new applications for a number of foreign worker visas, including the he H-1B limited-term work visa, until the end of 2020 entitlted, “Proclamation Suspending Entry of Aliens Who Present a Risk to the U.S. Labor Market Following the Coronavirus Outbreak.”

In July, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that international students who plan to only enroll in online classes this fall would be barred from entering the country. Amid extreme criticism and several lawsuits filed by universities including Harvard, MIT and Johns Hopkins, ICE and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) decided to walk back the order. While the directive was rescinded, concerns remain that the Trump administration’s position will adversely impact immigration and the rate of international students attending U.S. institutions in future years.

This summer also included the Supreme Court’s consideration of the Trump administration’s efforts to overturn the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court effectively blocked the administration’s plans to dismantle DACA. While the court decided that the way President Trump went about cancelling DACA was illegal, it did not assert that the president couldn’t cancel the program. While the future of DACA is unclear, it is unlikely that President Trump could try again to abolish the program again before January of this year.

Higher Education and Institutional Support

At the beginning of this year, Congress was discussing in earnest the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). However, when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, conversations on the HEA paused. The HEA package was expected to include provisions to simplify the application for student aid and increase the size of Pell Grants, among other things.

In August, President Trump signed a memo ordering the Department of Education to extend student loan relief policies that were included in the CARES Act through the remainder of 2020.

In the coming weeks and months, Congress is expected to assist college students by passing additional coronavirus stimulus relief aid.

On August 14th, new Title IX regulations went into effect on college campuses despite the higher education community urging the Department of Education to delay its implementation until after the coronavirus pandemic subsided. The final rule modifies certain aspects of the university sexual misconduct process including requiring colleges to hold live hearings, allowing for cross-examination when adjudicating sexual misconduct complaints and narrowing the scope of complaints that colleges are required to investigate.


The CARES Act provided a variety of benefits that Duke was eligible to pursue in the tax arena including a deferral of employer’s portion of the social security tax and an employee retention credit. The CARES Act also allows individual taxpayers that use the standard deduction (rather than itemize) to also take up to a $300 charitable contribution deduction. 

Hopefully such tax law changes will encourage philanthropy for the remainder of 2020 and benefit Duke.

A Historic Moment to Be an Intern

By Lisa Zhao '23

As I sat in my childhood bedroom completing my “Washington, D.C.- based” internship with the Duke Office of Government Relations, it felt like I was watching the world fall apart around me. Each day, I saw the death toll rise, watched cities go up in flames, and heard stories of small businesses closing permanently—all while I couldn't even go to the grocery store.

This untraditional year created an interesting backdrop for Congress. It felt like every virtual hearing I attended, regardless of the topic, referenced the pandemic and growing movement against systemic racism. Everyone seemed to agree on one thing: we are at a critical point in history. We have a unique opportunity to build back better, and we must use it to protect vulnerable populations that were historically overlooked. Members of Congress repeatedly emphasized that the COVID-19 pandemic did not create more inequalities; it only exposed and exacerbated systematic conditions that have existed in the U.S. from the beginning.

Over the summer, I focused on how environmental justice and STEM education can be reformed to be more equitable. Completing this work parallel to the uproar of the Black Lives Matter movement and stark inequalities in COVID-19 outcomes gave me a more comprehensive and urgent perspective of my work. After studying issues related to equity in science policy, it became clear that most problems are related and build on one another. I’ve learned that while science can provide us with data about the effects of institutional racism on different communities, it requires informed policy to address the issue head-on.

I had this privilege to intern in policy during such a critical moment because of the Duke Engage program. In a typical year, Duke Engage sends cohorts of around 10 interns to different areas of the world for service projects, including the Washington D.C. cohort, which specializes in science policy. However, all projects were moved online in the wake of the pandemic.

Thomas Williams, the Duke Engage DC cohort leader, explained that the isolation and online format made it very challenging to develop group dynamics and other enrichment aspects of the program. He said, “This really limits the space in which students are thinking about the work they’re doing and how it connects to policy, history, and place.”

Although it sometimes felt isolating to complete my internship from my laptop, I knew that I wasn’t alone. The other 7 interns from the DC cohort of Duke Engage were also participating in internships virtually during this historical moment in our lives.

James Zheng, who interned with the Margolis Center for Health Policy, expressed his gratitude to have the opportunity to work in policy during the pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement. 

“It’s shown me just how interconnected many of these policy issues are – for example, there is a ton of work describing and analyzing race/ethnicity disparities in health outcomes,” said Zheng, “It’s mostly nonmedical factors (i.e. socioeconomic status, homelessness) that have been contributing to these differences.”

Megan Wang, who interned with the Global American Business Institute, felt there was not enough conversation about institutional racism in energy policy. She explained how that motivated her to “emphasize its importance in the work I do in the energy space”.

Additionally, while the pandemic restricted important face-to-face interactions, Wang was glad she had the ability to tune into workshops easily and re-watch recordings to gain a deeper understanding of the content.

It was a very unusual time to be interning in science policy, but we have all found our own silver linings. At the very least, it seems everyone is glad to have some work to keep them sane during the unexpected quarantine this summer.

Duke Plans For Implementation of New Title IX Regulations

Reposted from Duke Today

The start of the new academic year will bring some changes in the way that Duke and other colleges and universities address sexual assault and harassment as a result of a revision of Title IX, the law that prohibits sex discrimination at institutions that receive federal funding.

The coming changes are in response to recently released and long-awaited final regulations from the U.S. Department of Education, which took several years to write and will be implemented in August.

While the new regulations will lead to modifications in some aspects of Duke’s conduct process they will only apply to a subset of all sexual misconduct matters and “the university remains committed to being a place where every member of the Duke community can learn, teach, study and work free from sexual misconduct and sexual harassment,” said Kimberly D. Hewitt, Vice President for Institutional Equity.

A working group of students, staff and faculty have been meeting regularly since the federal regulations were released in order to develop the implementation plan.  The new university policies and procedures will be made available for review before the Aug. 14 deadline for implementation.

“We are most focused on ensuring that our continued commitment to addressing and preventing sexual misconduct on campus aligns with Duke’s values and the need to comply with the new regulations,” Hewitt said.  “While the timeline is challenging, we will be launching new efforts to educate and with our stakeholders about the ways in which the regulations will impact the response to sexual misconduct at Duke.”

The American Council on Education (ACE) has provided a detailed compilation of resources on the new Title IX regulations including the full text and recaps put out by the Department of Education, as well as a presentation on key insights and changes. Those full resources can be found here.

Health Care & the Humanities During the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Lizzie Devitt

The humanities and health care disciplines are not typically considered compliments, however, an emerging field of inquiry merges both health and humanities together to solve complex problems in health care.

On June 18, Duke in DC co-hosted a virtual congressional briefing with the Duke Franklin Humanities Institute (FHI) Health Humanities Lab about the important role the humanities are playing during COVID-19. The event’s speakers included co-directors of the FHI Health Humanities Lab, Deborah Jenson, professor of romance studies and global health at Duke University and Neil Prose, professor of dermatology, pediatrics and global health at Duke University. The panel also included Megha Gupta, a current student at Duke University Medical School, Marina Tsaplina, an interdisciplinary performing artist and Cuquis Robledo, lab manager at the FHI Health Humanities Lab.

The event’s speakers reflected on the numerous areas that health and the humanities can be linked to help reimagine the current health care system, specifically through narrative medicine. Medical student Megha Gupta explained that narrative medicine helps her “contextualize” disease by listening to a patient’s story rather than a list of symptoms in her textbooks.

As critical as the role doctors and nurses have in our nation’s COVID-19 response, the speakers also noted how vital hospital housekeepers, custodians and additional support staff, who have distanced themselves from their loved ones, are to the health care ecosystem. These housekeepers are often some of a patient’s only in-person emotional support, which is best captured in the FHI film, Keepers of the House.

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) gives federal support to universities, including Duke University, to study the humanities and supports important work at the Franklin Humanities Institute and around campus to promote, preserve and disseminate critical stories about our history and culture.

The panelists were also asked, “What can the federal government do to better encourage the use and study of the humanities in our health care system?” In response they said:

"We'll need the public institutions to come forward and help recognize that the kind of doctor that's going to take care of you or your mother or grandmother, is going to depend on our success in bringing humanism into medicine” - Neil Prose

"Title IV funding of foreign area studies, which is key to helping to promote language learning... all of which is crucial to working across the gaps of socioeconomic status, ethnic status, our society is really driven by structural inequalities” - Deborah Jenson

"There's not a substantive federal funding structure for arts and public health and funding for arts and medical education" - Marina Tsaplina

COVID-19's Lasting Impact on Child and Family Policy in North Carolina

By Lizzie Devitt

Duke in DC in partnership with Duke State Relations, the Sanford School of Public Policy and the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy hosted a virtual briefing, “COVID-19’s Lasting Impact on Child and Family Policy in North Carolina,” on June 11. The three panelists, professors Carolyn Barnes, Anna Gassman-Pines and Donald Taylor, all discussed how their ongoing research has been affected by and can help inform a policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many states, like North Carolina, have implemented temporary changes to federal and state assistance programs to help families who are struggling due to income loss and increased family burdens due to the global pandemic. Professor Carolyn Barnes, who researches childcare policy, family services, and support for young children explained that “the way social policy is carried out in the state requires revenue, which is why you see such variation in each county’s provisions.”

Barnes also noted that during COVID-19, nutrition assistance programs have made a huge impact for families. While it doesn’t account for job loss and housing costs, families are really experiencing the benefits of these programs.”

Another area of temporary policy change in North Carolina is the state placed a moratorium on evictions in response to COVID-19, which all three panelists supported as important to assist vulnerable families. “What we see is that children whose families face eviction are more financially disadvantaged, more likely to be children of color and more likely to have special education needs, and these challenges all intersect,” said Professor Anna Gassman-Pines.

Mental health is another concern for children and families during the pandemic. Gassman-Pines pointed out that in her ongoing survey work with service industry workers she has found extremely high rates of maternal mental health issues during COVID-19. She stated that mental health is another real challenge that we face right now and our “system is not set up to support the mental and behavioral health issues that we are now seeing in low-income groups.”

In order to fully recover from the pandemic, Professor Don Taylor stated that the U.S. will need to implement asymptomatic testing, especially in nursing home facilities. Skilled nursing homes are wells of infection that put tenants, nurses and other administrative staff at risk of contracting the virus. According to Taylor, “the federal government is the only entity that has the ability to [financially] support this.”

In response to a question about access to sick leave and paid time off, Taylor noted that many workers who we consider essential do not receive paid time off. He stated, “folks working in nursing homes are not to be blamed – they are to be honored and protected.”

The coronavirus crisis has illuminated many of the issues facing U.S. families. All of the event’s speakers shared the opinion that as our nation and the state of North Carolina move forward, we will need to reflect on the fact that the crisis has heightened economic vulnerability for already vulnerable families. In order to address and ameliorate such disparity in overall wellbeing, all levels of government should consider creating more forward-looking family-centered policies.

“This pandemic has helped raise the salience of government for a lot of people,” said Barnes, “many of us have taken for granted the ability of the state to protect families. We need to figure out how to have more conversations about how we can build on our existing program strengths and build new government programs to help families.”

David Hansen Testifies to Congress on the DMCA

By Lizzie Devitt

On June 2, 2020, Duke Libraries’ David Hansen testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property during a hearing on Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) on a panel that also featured music legend Don Henley. Hansen opened his testimony stating, “Our mission as a university and research libraries is almost identical to that of the Copyright Act. Ultimately, our goal is to help our nation better understand each other and the world around us.”

He explained that Duke is a service provider that operates a large network, which serves as the technological backbone to education and research materials as well as provides vital health care information. “At Duke, we straddle all sides of Section 512,” Hansen said, in being both a service provider and content producer and stated that, in general, the current framework is balanced.

Hansen went on to note that higher education has been essential to copyright law over the years and expressed hope that research and teaching will not be an afterthought in Congress’ decision related to Section 512 of the DMCA. “We aim to get people to engage with those works, usually with no financial return. Given our interest in widespread dissemination of ideas, our strong preference is a system that keeps content up online unless there is significant evidence that infringement has occurred.”

Especially during the coronavirus pandemic where instruction has moved online, Hansen pointed out that “denying a student access to the network can be debilitating... Given how dependent we all are on internet access, I encourage the committee to consider whether termination of internet access continues to be an accurate remedy.”

“I realize that some stakeholders believe that Section 512 needs significant change, I hope that the subcommittee will understand the unintended consequences that it will have on research and teaching.”

NSF’s 70th Anniversary: Celebrating Decades of Research and Discovery

By Lizzie Devitt

On May 10, 1950, President Truman signed the National Science Foundation Act, creating the only federal agency charged with funding fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering.

Today, we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the outstanding impact it has had on university research and society over that past seven decades. The NSF is currently the third largest federal sponsor of research at Duke, providing over $45 million in total funding in FY 2019. Vice President for Research Larry Carin noted, “The reach and impact of the National Science Foundation at Duke cannot be overstated. It has provided critical support for my research career and has touched a large swath of the Duke community. It has supported graduate students who are at the beginning of their careers, large centers investigating complex issues facing society, and hundreds of projects underway by researchers in biological and social sciences, engineering and physical sciences, and multiple disciplines in between.”

 It’s important to not only recognize NSF’s past achievements, but also the great things the agency has in the pipeline for the future and the ways it is impacting our U.S. universities now. This is the first of a series of posts during the remainder of the year that will highlight the impact of NSF at Duke and beyond. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended many aspects of our lives, but also provides a good illustration of the role NSF plays in preparing our country to meet and overcome complex societal challenges.

RAPID Response

NSF provides a mechanism for providing funding for research projects that are urgently exploring outcomes after natural disasters or other unanticipated events. Duke researchers have benefitted from these RAPID awards over the years to learn more about how flash floods develop in the Great Smoky Mountains, the potential of telenursing robots to remotely treat Ebola patients, and the how to improve the design of base-isolated buildings during rebuild following earthquakes, to name a few examples. In March 2020, NSF put out a call for fast-track ideas related to COVID-19 and to date, Duke has received four RAPID awards, two of which are supported through funding made available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Duke biomedical engineers recently received a Rapid Response Research grant from NSF to adapt the fast, simple and low-cost diagnostic tool to detect the COVID-19 virus. The team has been working on adapting a rapid testing platform originally designed to detect Ebola to see whether it could be of use in detecting COVID-19 antigens. Inkjet-printed on a small glass slide, the D4 assay is a self-contained diagnostic test that detects low levels of antigens from a single drop of blood, throat or nose swab sample.

Another key challenge with the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is developing protective countermeasures that can slow the spread of the disease. With funding from the Macromolecular, Supramolecular and Nanochemistry Program of the Chemistry Division, Professors Stephen L. Craig and Michael Rubinstein of Duke University received an NSF Rapid grant for their research to develop macromolecules for use as inhaled countermeasures to reduce the rate of infection with SARS-CoV-2. The research team is developing an inhaled polymeric countermeasure that will reinforce mucosal layers, enabling individuals to demonstrate a substantially decreased rate of infection from SARS-CoV-2 after exposure or to tolerate a larger dose without developing severe symptoms.

Two other RAPID awards will investigate ways in which we can track and model COVID-19 infection rates.  One awards is for Poirot, a privacy-preserving system that uses smartphones to detect contact with potentially infectious individuals and provide recommendations for infection control. Jason Xu, associate professor of statistical science, will use a RAPID award to develop rigorous statistical models to better understand how COVID-19 spreads and which interventions are most successful.


In 2018, the NSF funded a proposal by John Board, associate chief information officer and associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Tracy Futhey, Duke’s vice president for information technology and chief information officer, to create a threat detection and intelligence sharing network among universities to fight cyberintrusions. The Shared Threat Intelligent for Network Gatekeeping and Automated Response (STINGAR) is essentially a crowd-sourced threat intelligence system that uses “honeypots”, which are devices deliberately created to be compromised, in order to gather information to identify malicious actors, and block them in near-real time.

Board and Richard Biever, chief information security officer and director of identity management, gave some insights to how STINGAR has brought immense value to Duke. Board noted that now over two dozen schools participate in STINGAR, which is helping universities collectively protect each other from billions of cyber-attacks per day. Board said the “system is easy to operate and low cost, so many colleges and universities including HBCU’s and MSI’s are able to run these tools effectively and economically.”

Under COVID-19 circumstances, STINGAR has proven even more critical to Duke’s cyber security. As offices, labs and classes shut down to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Duke and partner universities did not have to worry about having hands on-site to prevent impending malicious system hackers. Biever explained that because of STINGAR, “our systems at Duke didn’t shut down when people left, our data centers are still running and Duke is still connected to the Internet. Meanwhile, hackers haven’t taken time off. Having this system in place to protect Duke, is a huge deal.”

Biever and Board underlined that STINGAR is helpful to anyone doing any type of research. “STINGAR has definitely contributed to our ability to protect systems involved in research related to COVID-19 from malicious hacks,” Board concluded.

Microscopes for Take Out

The Research Triangle Nanotechnology Network (RTNN) is a partnership between Duke, UNC and NCSU part of the NSF’s National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure network. As labs closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, key equipment continued to play a starring role.  The cryo-electron microscope (cryo-EM) located in Duke’s Shared Materials Instrumentation Facility (SMIF) is one of a few instruments still running during the shutdown and is proving to be a critical resource for Duke researchers studies the coronavirus protein spike structure, which can aid in the development of an effective vaccine. Holly Leddy is a cryo-EM specialist for SMIF and has been coordinating with Mark Walters, director of SMIF, to keep it operational.

Leddy’s work doesn’t stop there, though, as she also launched an online K-12 educational program called, “Take Out Science.” The program uses a scanning electron microscope that is currently housed in her guest bedroom.

Every Tuesday at noon (ET) the team streams a live 30-minute show focused on a different theme.  All shows are designed with K-12 audiences in mind—although adults have found them fascinating too. “We’re aiming for a broad audience and introducing the mechanics slowly over time,” said Leddy’s colleague, RTNN associate director at NC State’s Analytical Instrumentation Facility, Maude Cuchiara.

COVID-19’s Impact on Civil-Military Relations

By Lizzie Devitt

Recent years have presented unique challenges to civil-military (civ-mil) relations in the United States.  And then the global pandemic hit. 

On April 23, Duke in DC and Duke’s Program in American Grand Strategy (AGS) co-hosted a virtual congressional briefing with General Martin Dempsey G’84. Peter Feaver, a professor of political science and director of AGS, participated in a Q&A with General Dempsey about the current state of U.S. civil-military relations from his perspective as former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Feaver first asked Gen. Dempsey how he interpreted the conditions of civ-mil relations prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. General Dempsey named three key priorities in civ-mil relations:

  • Defining priorities – In civ-mil relations, there is a gulf between our expectations of each other
  • Defining progress – Measuring readiness and campaign progress comes from so many sources, it can be challenging to truly define progress
  • Oversight – Each administration and/or congress applies their own level of oversight to military activities

“We are in a crisis now and it will exacerbate certain issues while muting other things,”

Gen. Martin Dempsey

To follow up on his first question, Feaver asked Gen. Dempsey about new developments in civ-mil relations due to COVID-19. “We are in a crisis now,” Dempsey stated, “It will exacerbate certain issues while muting other things.” He also said that he anticipates increased military budget constraints, shifts in defense spending, changes in federal oversight and opinions about America’s role within the global landscape to be challenged.

General Dempsey stated, “We are headed towards significant disagreements from all levels of government on how we want to return to normal. The military is going to be faced with issues related to federal government versus state government compliance, for instance, where soldiers are deployed.”

Feaver stressed that state governors can’t force the military to change their policy. He added that there have always been concerns over the chain of command, but that these issues have been especially prevalent in recent years under the current administration.

“We are headed towards significant disagreements from all levels of government on how we want to return to normal.”

Gen. Martin Dempsey

General Dempsey explained that pandemics are issues of national security and that COVID-19 needs to be prioritized. He said that we should look to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as a leader of technology to counter the pandemic.

Feaver placed the issue in perspective by stating, “Pandemic is priority number one, but it is not our only threat as a country…The rest of the military to-do list remains as important as ever.” He underlined this message by saying congressional staff can help, “make sure those aspects of the force focused on those issues, remain focused on those issues.”

“Pandemic is priority number one, but it is not our only threat as a country…The rest of the military to-do list remains as important as ever.”

Peter Feaver

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