For Aisha Taylor ’05, Duke provided a clear life-changing experience: a “Women as Leaders” course. The course was taught by Betsy Alden ’64, who spearheaded service-learning at Duke and is now an adjunct lecturing fellow in the Program in Education. Alden also helped start Duke Alums Engage, which plans service experiences for alumni in dozens of cities each year.
One aspect of “Women as Leaders” had Taylor and the other students mentoring girls, especially those at risk of dropping out, every week at Durham’s Chewning Middle School. They designed the curriculum on a variety of topics, chosen in consultation with the students at Chewning—topics that included wrestling with self-image issues, managing academic challenges, responding to family violence, increasing personal confidence, and supporting other students. Alden saw in Taylor someone with a “passion for contributing to her own and others’ growth.”
Since graduating, Taylor has heeded the lessons—and the inspiration—from that undergraduate experience. She’s been the organizing force for the Detroit alumni club’s version of Duke Alums Engage. Under Taylor’s leadership, the Duke Alums Engage project has focused on the Detroitbased Children’s Center, one of the area’s largest and most comprehensive child- and family-service agencies. On a weekend last spring, alumni volunteers recruited by Taylor worked with children in the center’s foster-care system; the volunteers provided life-skills workshops on saving and budgeting, how to conduct oneself professionally, and the meaning of entrepreneurship. The overall idea, as she puts it, was to “teach young adults self-sufficiency”—an echo of her time working with the Chewning students.
"I always know when I've neglected the urge to give back, because I start to feel off balance, like I'm missing something in life."
Shortly after that inaugural project with the Children’s Center, Taylor wrote a “Duke Alums Engage Reflection.” She looked back to the shaping influence of the “Women as Leaders” class, noting that “I always know when I’ve neglected the urge to give back, because I start to feel off balance, like I’m missing something in life.”
After she became project coordinator for Detroit, she “jumped headfirst into planning and trying to identify a partner that would allow the team to do a one-day volunteering blitz with children,” she wrote. “It was important for me to work with kids,” she added, “because I noticed that many kids were looking for someone to listen to them and to serve as a role model. Unfortunately, many kids look to television and celebrities, and I always talk to friends about the need for kids to see ‘regular people’ who are successful. This Duke Alums Engage event was the perfect opportunity for me to not just talk about it, but also to be about it.”
Taylor says she’s come to recognize that “I have been blessed enough to have amazing people in my life and that it is important to be a blessing to other people. This is how I keep my balance and feed my passion.”
The dates for this year’s Duke Alums Engage are April 19-28; information about the program can be found at dukealumsengage.com.