After seven years at the helm of the Nicholas School of the Environment, Dean Bill Chameides will leave the school in a new place—literally.
Chameides plans to step down as dean on June 30, 2014, shortly after the scheduled March opening of the Duke Environmental Hall. The new building—currently under construction—will house the Nicholas School once completed. Chameides said he feels comfortable stepping down now given that he has accomplished many of his initial goals.
“The school’s in really good shape and we’re moving in a really wonderful direction,” Chameides said. “This is a better time to have a change in leadership than to wait until closer to the end of my term when things...start treading water with the recognition that a change is coming up.”
Prasad Kasibhatla, associate professor of environmental chemistry and senior associate dean for academics at the Nicholas School, noted that Chameides’ major contribution as dean has been the addition of the new building.
“Getting the new building is critical for bringing our faculty together in one place,” Kasibhatla said. “That’s really been his legacy—creating a signature building that emphasizes Duke’s commitment to sustainability.”
Upon his arrival in 2007, Chameides sought to strengthen the school across several different disciplines. In addition to the new building, Chameides made it his goal to unify the three divisions of the Nicholas School—Marine Science and Conservation, Earth and Ocean Sciences and Environmental Sciences and Policy. As dean, Chameides encouraged meetings across departments and helped set up interdisciplinary research groups around common themes such as water and energy.
Within the school, Chameides is known for his attention to faculty development. A total of 28 new hires were made during his term, introducing a younger generation of faculty to the Nicholas School.
“He has been really supportive of new faculty and young faculty,” said Jim Heffernan, assistant professor of ecosystem ecology and ecohydrology. “He’s in touch with us. We have regular meetings with him as a group where the young faculty sit down and talk about issues that come up in research and teaching.”
But Chameides has been instrumental in guiding not just faculty members but also graduate students. After instituting new certificates with a focus on environmentalism and entrepeneurship, Chameides noted the Nicholas School saw an increase in number of graduates entering corporate and private sector jobs—from 7 percent to nearly 40 percent.
Chameides said that the most challenging aspect of deanship was having to react to a sometimes overwhelming array of issues on a daily basis. He credits the University, however, for allowing him the autonomy to take risks and try new ideas to improve the school.
Along with the Duke Environmental Hall, Chameides also worked with the Marine Lab to secure support for a new research building in Beaufort. The Orrin Pilkey Marine Science and Conservation Genetics Center is scheduled to open Jan. 2014.
“There’s been much more interaction and engagement among the faculty, especially from the marine lab across to the main campus,” said Cindy Van Dover, director of Duke University Marine Laboratory. “We’ve worked on trying to engage undergraduates and bring them to the marine lab.”
One highlight Chameides noted was the 2009 institution of the annual LEAF Award for Lifetime Environmental Achievement in the Fine Arts. Notable recipients of the honor include Robert Redford, Barbara Kingsolver and, most recently, Alexander McCall Smith.
“That is his passion,” Kasibhatla said. “It’s a transformative thing that has happened in our school. The creation of the LEAF Award, the more central place of the arts—we have an environmental art gallery in our new building. In a liberal arts university, I think that has been an amazing thing.”
Prior to assuming the role of dean, Chameides worked as chief scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, an environmental advocacy group based in New York.
“While I was there, I ran into a lot of young people who were doing incredible work and really making a difference,” Chameides said. “I asked them where they got their education, and almost [every] person said the Nicholas School of the Environment. Ultimately, I decided that the biggest impact I could have is working in this program and helping those students find their way out into the world.”
One major issue the next dean will face is the growing importance of digital and online technologies, Chameides said. He added that the school already offers an online master’s program, and for that to be successful, the Nicholas School must integrate online education without allowing it to become disruptive.
As for his own future, Chameides plans on spending a year away from Durham to work on various writing projects. He intends to then return to the Nicholas School as a faculty member.
“This has been without question the most challenging, most intense and most enjoyable job I’ve ever had,” Chameides said. “Wonderful experience, wonderful people. I really treasure the relationships I’ve made, both with the faculty and our board members and with our students.”