A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

President Quillen introduces Minor Mickel Shaw, chair of The Duke Endowment Board of Trustees.

President Quillen introduces Minor Mickel Shaw, chair of the The Duke Endowment Board of Trustees.

The Duke Endowment awards $45-million gift to support the visionary transformation of the academic heart of the campus.
By Bill Giduz
Excited curiosity coursed through a standing room-only contingent of the college family that gathered on October 11 in response to a short, promising message sent that morning by President Carol Quillen.
It read, “Please join me today at 11:05 a.m. in the Duke Family Performance Hall for an exciting announcement, which you will not want to miss.”
A short time later, President Quillen introduced Minor Mickel Shaw, chair of The Duke Endowment Board of Trustees. Shaw stepped to the podium and announced the largest gift in Davidson’s history—a $45 million grant from The Duke Endowment. The audience responded with a collective gasp at the size of the figure, followed by sustained, appreciative applause.
As the crowd quieted, Shaw explained, “James B. Duke was a visionary in business matters and in philanthropy, and I believe he would have taken delight in this historic grant. The Trustees of The Duke Endowment wanted to support Davidson’s plan as a testament to our strong belief in the college, its leadership, faculty and staff, and student body.”
Less than a month before, President Quillen had stood on the same stage with Director of Facilities Management David Holthouser to present to faculty and staff a visionary transformation of the academic heart of the campus. Now, just a short while later, The Duke Endowment gift put that plan on the fast track.
The decade-long project will involve construction and/or renovation of six academic buildings to provide new opportunities for curricular expansion, faculty-student collaboration, and interdisciplinary cooperation. The construction will help remake the model of liberal arts education by creating a “neighborhood” of buildings with flexible spaces and common areas that encourage the exchange and generation of ideas across conventional academic boundaries.
President Quillen said, “The Davidson experience is characterized by three opportunities— students doing original work, exploring connections between how they learn and how they live, and investigating connections across the arts and sciences. Through the visionary leadership of The Duke Endowment we can begin to create the physical campus environment that will enable Davidson to create this distinctive type of education long into the future.”
The new neighborhood configuration will also foster increased opportunities for collaboration with outside businesses, organizations, and
universities, significantly enhancing Davidson’s already considerable program of undergraduate research.
Faculty and staff will be grouped in the neighborhood by the resources they need and their potential interactions with others.Community and flexible spaces such as a café, artist studios, learning labs, shared equipment, and computational facilities will be situated to promote interactions among
all members of the campus community.
The new neighborhood configuration will also foster increased opportunities for collaboration with outside businesses, organizations, and universities, significantly enhancing Davidson’s already considerable program of undergraduate research.
“Davidson graduates lead and serve in an increasingly interconnected, rapidly changing world,” explained President Quillen. “To stay ahead of these changes, we need to continue shifting how we work, both physically and intellectually. Davidson has always been regarded for its excellent faculty—amazing teachers who share their love of learning and their quest for understanding with students. Our faculty are passionate researchers who also go ‘above and beyond’ for their students, getting to know them as individuals as well as scholars. They are intentional about understanding their students’ motivations to learn. Reconfiguring this part of our campus as an academic neighborhood will offer stimulating and challenging interdisciplinary coursework on a larger scale and create physical spaces and additional opportunities for students to produce original work—to work more closely alongside faculty and other students designing projects that they create in response to their own questions.”
The announcement also featured two Davidson faculty members and a student whose remarks reinforced how the college’s existing interdisciplinary collaborations will be furthered by the project. Professor of Biology Malcolm Campbell cited his work with Associate Professor of Mathematics Laurie Heyer and students on building a bacterial computer, and on using the principle of evolution to optimize drug production by microbes.
Professor of English Ann Fox reviewed how the college encouraged her to pursue her interests in disability studies—a move that led her to help mount an art exhibit and team-teach with a biology colleague a course in “Representations of HIV/AIDS .” She recalled, “Student scientists wrote poetry and choreographed modern dance, and English majors designed public health campaigns and analyzed the rhetorics of scientific writing.”
Student Demetrios Pagonis ’13 talked about his summer fellowship in the chemistry department—part of the Davidson Research Initiative, also supported by The Duke Endowment. Because he was able to create and conduct his own original research, Pagonis said it was more valuable than his previous summer work in a government laboratory, where he simply carried out projects organized by the project director.
Boston-based architecture firm Shepley Bulfinch is already working on designs for the first construction project—a science building that will be connected to Martin Chemical Laboratory, which will also be renovated. The entire complex will total 140,000 to 150,000 square feet. The finished complex will house the traditional “wet sciences” of chemistry and biology, as well as space for subjects emerging between those disciplines such as biochemistry, genomics, neuroscience, and environmental science.
Once the “wet science” complex is complete, renovations will begin on the Baker- Watt Science Complex, which will house the “dry sciences” of math and physics. Additional renovations will take place within Chambers Building, Preyer Building, the Sloan Music Center, and E.H. Little Library. The entire project is expected to cost about $100 to $120 million.
Fox said, “Now we will have space designed for faculty from across radically diverse disciplines to congregate, converse, and imagine. Leaving our safe houses of intellectual identity, we are literally building something new. This ‘Integrated Academic Neighborhood’ will be the physical embodiment of that imagined space of intellectual inquiry, creating places to spark, imagine, and collaborate among faculty who cross boundaries as they cross paths.”
President Quillen said, “This gift will help us demonstrate the inestimable value of what highly selective liberal arts colleges do— graduate talented individuals from across the socio-economic spectrum who exert a disproportionate impact for good in the world.”
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty Clark Ross commented, “With this creative interdisciplinary project, Davidson should be an academic beacon among the liberal arts colleges. The Duke Endowment gift helps demonstrate the exciting potential before us.”
The latest gift raises The Duke Endowment’s total contributions to Davidson to $167 million over the past 88 years. Other recent gifts included $15 million to launch The Davidson Trust, as well as significant funds to renovate the James B. Duke Residence Hall, establish endowed professorships, and support the Davidson Research Initiative.

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