August Mao M.P.P. ’16 talks about the power of Duke’s regional alumni networks.
When I graduated with a master’s of public policy degree from the Sanford School this past May, I knew I wanted to move to Washington, D.C. It was the place to pursue my passion for technology policy and management consulting, and I was excited for what was ahead.
I also knew I would face a huge transition: I was still trying to figure out which companies I wanted to work at, and I was leaving behind the strong network of support I had found among my classmates at Duke.
But I knew that if the Duke alumni network were anything like the community I had found on campus, I could find my place. And so as soon as I moved, I got involved with the Duke DC alumni group.
I began by setting up fifty informational interviews with alumni in the area—and I was overwhelmed by the response. Almost everyone I contacted was willing to meet with me. I was impressed with how genuine and laser-focused the alumni I met were in helping me navigate toward my goals. They had an undeniable sense of obligation to support me—solely on the basis of being a fellow alum.
Out of those interviews, I connected with Kyle White ’07. He invited me to interview at Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm to commercial and governmental entities and the company that was at the top of my list of potential employers.
Just a few months ago, Booz Allen Hamilton offered me a job, and I accepted—something that may not have come about as quickly or at all without the help of the Duke alumni network. Kyle and I remain close friends.
As a recent graduate, I’ve experienced unexpected difficulties in moving to a new city: mental exhaustion, feeling like a stranger in an unfamiliar place, and a recurring lack of motivation caused by the difficulties of searching for a job. But, in the midst of that, I’ve come to learn that the Duke alumni community provides the foundation for a support system that extends far beyond career mobility. Not only did my interactions with D.C. alumni lead to a job, but they also led to a new friendship. At the end of the day, I know I have the opportunity to engage with a family I never knew I had.
Freshman visit alumni homes as part of the DAA's Blue Devil Suppers
During his first Duke semester this past fall, freshman Dustin Zhu, from outside Rochester, New York, experienced a common first-year malady: homesickness.
Zhu Skyped with his parents every other week, but there still was something missing as he settled into East Campus. When Zhu received an e-mail from the Duke Alumni Association inviting him to the first-ever Blue Devil Supper at the home of an alumna in Durham, he immediately RSVPed.
It was a chance, Zhu says, to “mimic a travel back home.”
DAA designed Blue Devil Suppers to do just that. By providing an opportunity for more than 200 Duke freshmen to visit forty alumni homes throughout the Triangle, the program encouraged freshmen and alumni to form new friendships via one of the staples of family life—the shared home meal.
This past October, while Zhu and his classmates piled into an Uber car to make the journey to their assigned alumni home, Emily Bragg ’78 was setting out appetizers in the living room and nametags on the foyer table in her Durham home. The mother of both a Duke alumna and a current Duke student, she was interested in mothering the freshmen as much as getting to know them.
Using a tip sheet for hosting a successful Blue Devil Supper provided by the DAA, Bragg led the group in an icebreaker called “Two Truths and a Lie,” in which students tried to trick each other with a trio of facts. Because the freshmen were randomly assigned to dining groups, many of them didn’t know one another—making it difficult to separate the true from the dubious.
As the laughter filled Bragg’s living room, about five miles away, Marcy and Vance Tucker, both Class of 1984, were preparing to welcome another group of freshmen to their home. Marcy, an assistant professor of anesthesiology at Duke, had made a pork tenderloin, kale salad, and brownies. Her husband, Vance, was spotted thawing frozen pies in the kitchen.
Later in the evening, the group of Duke students sat in the Tuckers’ formal dining room—Marcy and Gordon like a mom and dad at opposite ends of the table— and talked about their interests at Duke.
Marcy said she had been looking forward to the evening for some time, “answering their questions, discussing their interests, and just giving them some time away from the dorms and the Marketplace to experience a meal in an ordinary, off-campus home.”
At the end of the night, the students departed and dozens of alumni homes across the Triangle like the Tuckers’ and Bragg’s with handshakes and hugs. And with a memory of home not soon forgotten.
“I would go back this week if I could,” Zhu says.
Know a Great Volunteer?
Every year DAA honors Blue Devils from across our undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools for their volunteer service to the Duke community and the larger world. Learn more about the award categories and nominate a fellow alum by Feb. 1, 2017.
Basel Is Back
Miami’s hottest art week, Art Basel, has become one of DAA’s largest regional events with more than 600 alumni and friends attending this past December. Alumni went behind the scenes via dozens of VIP art show tours, enjoyed an exclusive DAA brunch, and met up at special affinity-group gatherings at the art fairs.
Recreate Your #MyDukeMoment
Are you attending Reunions Weekend April 7-9, 2017? If you are, you have the chance to bring your favorite Duke memory back to life with a professional recreation of an old photograph. Submit a photo of you and your friends from your Duke days by using #MyDukeMoment on Twitter or Instagram for the chance to win a professional photo shoot while you and your classmates are back on campus.