Bass Connections links the classroom and the real world through interdisciplinary teams that tackle complex societal problems based a number of key themes. DIBS administers its Brain & Society theme, which engages undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty from different programs and majors in an immersive curriculum that combines research and coursework into a common program of scholarship in multidisciplinary project teams. 

Bass Connection Team studying opiate use
Bass Brain & Society team who researched opiate abuse.

Curricular and project elements build connections between basic research in neuroscience (and related biological sciences) and socially challenging questions in medicine, the humanities, public policy, economics, ethics and law, to understand issues such as physical and social responses to transformative events; the workings of the brain in rhetoric and the arts; memory in legal testimony; and the role of decision processes in shaping our institutions and public policies. Each Brain & Society team tackles a current issue relating to the brain and its link to society as a whole.

Brain & Society Project Teams

Bass Connections teams generally work together over nine to 12 months. Students receive academic credit for participating. A full list of current Brain & Society project teams is available on the Bass Connections theme page.

One of the recent teams, “Stemming the Opiate Epidemic through Education and Outreach,” sought to address the deadly opioid epidemic, now the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. and claiming 60,000 lives a year. Activities included partnering with a local mental health service provider to host three Mental Health First Aid workshops for Duke students, and working with the Duke Emergency Department to expand life-saving naloxone access to at-risk patients.

Nicole Schramm-Sapyta, DIBS Associate Director and co-lead for the team, connected the team with Durham’s Crisis Intervention Team, which led to another research project, this time focused on data research. The Data+ team project, “Mental Health Interventions by Durham Police,” analyzed 9-1-1 call data from the CIT, providing valuable information regarding frequency of requests for CIT help.

For their outstanding work, Schramm-Sapyta was named the agency’s Volunteer of the Year, and the Brain & Society and Data+ teams were recognized as “Community Partner Agency” of the year (see news story).

I’ve always been interested in mental health, and through this project I was able to learn a lot about substance use, addiction, and how policy affects treatment options. This project for me is also a lot to do with social justice. Addiction is a disease and we have the resources to do something about it.

Erica Onuoha, T '18, Biology, radio interview with WNCU