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The Rhodes Family Professor: Interdisciplinary Learning for the Information Age

Big data—a collection of massive amounts of widely varied and rapidly changing information—offers great potential for learning. And plenty of potential problems, too.

Understanding how this flood of information will affect our lives poses an increasingly pressing challenge. Duke’s latest campus-wide initiative, Bass Connections, encourages multidisciplinary approaches to education and problem solving in information, society and culture—as well as brain and society, global health, energy, and education and human development.

Michael and Maureen RhodesMichael Rhodes, B.S.E.’87, witnesses the impact of big data every day at financial services company TD Bank Group.

“Working in financial services, I can see how information will transform our culture. I think the emergence of information and big data will be as transformational for our economy as the Industrial Revolution was during its time,” Rhodes said.

With that vision, and in the spirit of interdisciplinary collaboration and problem-solving, Rhodes and his wife, Maureen, offered a generous $1.667 million gift to Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering to create the Rhodes Family Professorship Endowment with a focus on information, society and culture. Thanks to a matching opportunity provided by Anne T. and Robert M. Bass to fund the professorship through Bass Connections, the endowment will total $2.5 million.

A Leader for the Information Age

Duke Engineering will look to the Rhodes Family Professor to lead in tackling complex issues arising from the information age, grappling with topics like machine learning and control systems, and image and signal processing.

“Access to unprecedented amounts of information is creating new opportunities for Duke students and faculty, working together in multidisciplinary teams, to actively engage the world around them,” said Vinik Dean of Engineering Tom Katsouleas.

“We envision the Rhodes Professor to be a luminary in engineering who will help coordinate much of the activity within the Bass Connections theme of information, society and culture, as well as provide technical leadership and expertise as a member of Duke’s Information Initiative (iiD),” Katsouleas said.

A Perfect Match

Maureen and Michael said they were looking for an opportunity to support Duke, and that Bass Connections provided a perfect match for their desire to support a multidisciplinary initiative that was a priority for the university. Their gift will contribute to the success of Duke Forward, the $3.25 billion university-wide fundraising campaign and will count toward Pratt’s goal of $161.5 million.

“Bass Connections is a great opportunity, and I would encourage other alums to take a look at it as a way to support the university,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes maintains close ties to Duke as a member of Duke Engineering’s Board of Visitors and as an avid supporter of Duke Basketball.

And he thinks Duke Engineering is in good hands under the leadership of Dean Katsouleas. That’s another reason he chose to give to Duke Engineering.

“When you make investments, whether it’s for philanthropy or business, you invest in people. I have a lot of confidence in Tom and what he is doing with the university and Pratt,” Rhodes said.