Engaging Students

April 1, 2007
At home in the world: DukeEngage will encourage real-world immersion experiences, such as the popular Hart Fellows program. Hart Fellow Yazan Kopty ’06, above, conducting field-based research with a community organization in Battambang, Cambodia

At home in the world: DukeEngage will encourage real-world immersion experiences, such as the popular Hart Fellows program. Hart Fellow Yazan Kopty ’06, above, conducting field-based research with a community organization in Battambang, Cambodia. Photo courtesy Hart Leadership Program

As part of Duke’s decades-long focus on applying knowledge to address social problems, a new $30 million initiative called DukeEngage will make civic engagement an integral part of the undergraduate experience.

DukeEngage will provide full funding and faculty and administrative support to all undergraduates who want to stretch beyond the classroom by tackling social issues at home and abroad, and, in turn, learn from those beyond-the-classroom experiences. Projects could range from learning about education challenges in Africa while volunteering in a rural school to gaining insights into natural disasters while working with Gulf Coast flood victims.

“The lasting products of a university education are the qualities of mind and character that students carry forth into their adult lives,” said President Richard H. Brodhead when the initiative was announced in February. “We give our students superb academic training, but we also want them to become active citizens and creative problem-solvers, using their education to make a real-world difference. Duke has always placed a special emphasis on using knowledge for the greater social good. Today we’re committing ourselves to making this opportunity a part of every Duke undergraduate’s experience.”

Beginning in the summer of 2008, any Duke undergraduate who has completed at least two semesters of classes will be eligible to participate in an immersive summer or semester-long service project with Duke support. Duke funding will include travel expenses and a cost-of-living stipend to cover the full experience. To ensure that students receiving financial aid are able to participate, Duke will assume responsibility for their “summer earnings” requirements and cover the costs of their service experience. Forty percent of Duke undergraduates receive financial aid. The university also will provide stipends to faculty and staff members who serve as mentors to the students.

Currently, more than 80 percent of Duke students volunteer with organizations such as Engineers Without Borders and the Ronald McDonald House. Each year, about 500 undergraduates participate in some form of service-learning, combining classroom work with public service, and nearly 100 devise their own summer service projects.

DukeEngage will encompass three types of learning opportunities:

  • Projects that Duke sponsors or organizes, either through a class or an existing service-learning program;
  • Projects that Duke coordinates with outside providers or community partners;
  • Projects that students themselves initiate (in collaboration with faculty or staff members) through individual grant proposals.

Students who participate in DukeEngage will work on projects that encompass a full spectrum of public-service issues, in local, national, and international communities. University officials estimate that over the next five years, at least 25 percent of Duke’s 6,250 undergraduates will participate in DukeEngage, in addition to existing community-service activities.

“Duke is already strong at producing a special kind of graduate, a person of trained intelligence who is highly knowledgeable about the world and has a strong desire to take on its most challenging concerns,” Brodhead said. “Going forward, we want to make this a signature of Duke undergraduate education.”

The Duke Endowment of Charlotte and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation of Seattle are providing $15 million each to endow DukeEngage. The program’s national advisory committee will be chaired by David Gergen Hon. ’93, a Duke trustee and former White House adviser who is professor of public service at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and director of its Center for Public Leadership. James Joseph, former U.S. Ambassador to South Africa and director of the U.S.-Southern Africa Center for Leadership and Public Values at Duke, will lead the faculty advisory board. The board’s vice chair is biologist Sherryl Broverman, who has helped lead a service-learning project in Kenya in which Duke students are working to build a boarding school for girls in Muhuru Bay.

Eric Mlyn, director of the Robertson Scholars Program since its inception, chaired the provost’s committee that recommended DukeEngage and will be the founding director of the program. The initiative also includes the creation of a Duke Center for Civic Engagement that will serve as a university-wide clearinghouse for civic-engagement and service-learning projects. The center will be housed in the provost’s office and will serve as the administrative umbrella organization for all current and future undergraduate civic-engagement activities at the university.