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Dean of Students Office Names Inaugural Innovation Grant Recipients

Home Blog Dean of Students Office Names Inaugural Innovation Grant Recipients

When Jill Solomon learned that up to 35% of U.S. college students have experienced food insecurity — more than double the national food insecurity rate — she knew she wanted to help.

The Blue Devils Farmers Market, created by Jill Solomon with a Heaton-Blackshear Innovation Grant

As Keohane Quad’s Residence Coordinator, Solomon had heard students voice a desire for increased access to fresh fruits and vegetables beyond the produce available at campus dining facilities. An on-campus farmers market, she thought, could work with local farmers and vendors to expand student access to fresh produce while educating students on how to maintain a healthy diet.

Now, Solomon is making her idea a reality thanks to the Heaton-Blackshear Innovation Grant, a new grant created by Dean of Students John Blackshear and Time Away Office Director Kimberly Blackshear. The grant, made possible by a generous gift from the Heaton family, empowers Duke staff to develop innovative programs that serve the campus community. It also provides opportunities for staff professional development, as the cohort of grant recipients meets monthly for project implementation support. 

Ping-Tzu Lee stands next to a horse
Ping-Tzu Lee is using her Innovation Grant to develop an Equine-Assisted Therapy Group

The projects in the grant’s inaugural cohort span a wide range of disciplines. Fellow recipient Ping-Tzu Lee, Group Services Coordinator and Social Worker for Duke’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), is using her Innovation Grant to develop an Equine-Assisted Therapy Group for Duke students. Interventions like equine-assisted therapy, which is practiced in more than 50 countries, have been shown to lower the stigma of seeking mental health support.

Proposals like Lee’s and Solomon’s were evaluated for their ability to center students, reach underrepresented constituencies, and develop staff’s professional talents. Not only will Lee’s innovation provide group therapy in a natural environment for students who might not otherwise seek help, but the data she collects will also contribute to further scholarship in the fields of student mental health and equine-assisted therapy.

Elsewhere on campus, the Innovation Grant is supporting Genille Anderson as she pilots a program to fund opportunities graduate and professional students to connect with faculty members. The idea is simple — students can reserve funds to cover a meal with their professors — but the impact will be significant. After all, strong connections with faculty increase students’ sense of belonging, increase completion rates, and decrease stress.

Genille Anderson meets with graduate and professional students for the pilot faculty lunch program
Genille Anderson pilots a faculty lunch program for graduate and professional students

Building on an existing program for undergraduates, Anderson hopes her program will create more informal interactions between students and faculty. As Duke’s international graduate and professional student population continues to rise, this program will be a vital point of connection that helps many students feel at home in Durham.

Complementing the three new staff grants is an additional grant designated for Duke students: the Heaton-Blackshear Student Award for Creative STEAM Inquiry and Discovery. This grant’s inaugural recipient is Bradley Bowen, a rising Trinity sophomore and prospective statistics major who has applied the funds to preserving a piece of Duke’s history.

Duke student Bradley Bowen stands next to an organ in the Duke Chapel
Bradley Bowen (T ’26) is the inaugural recipient of the Heaton-Blackshear Student Award for Creative STEAM Inquiry and Discovery

Bowen’s audio project on the Duke Chapel organs, developed under the direction of university organist Dr. Robert Parkins and produced through the Center for Documentary Studies, interviews musicians and scholars about the unique features of these iconic fixtures. Thanks to this grant, for the first time a catalog of research and stories of these instruments can be passed on to the next generation of Blue Devils.

As the program continues, the Heaton-Blackshear Innovation Grants will enable even more staff and students to develop inspiring solutions to enrich our campus community. Together, these projects demonstrate the power of innovative thinking in shaping a vibrant and inclusive culture at Duke.

As for Jill Solomon’s Blue Devils Farmers Market? The pilot program debuted at Keohane earlier this year, and it was attended by more than 60 students — all of whom gave it rave reviews.