Summer of Service Connects Students, Alumni, and Internships

January 31, 2006
Sugg's mock trial team for Lawyers for ChildrenKatie Cox with National Women's Health Project
Philip Sugg with host family Andy Scheman '85, Ann Chanler, and daughters

Top: Sugg's mock trial team for Lawyers for Children; Middle: Katie Cox with National Women's Health Project; Bottom: Philip Sugg with host family Andy Scheman '85, Ann Chanler, and daughters . Photos: Duke University Archives

While ordinary internships provide students the opportunity to discover qualities about themselves and to explore potential careers, Duke's newest internship program, "Summer of Service" (SOS), goes even further. Sponsored by the Office of Alumni Affairs and the Career Center, the year-old program allows students to participate in a meaningful, service-oriented internship designed to teach them how they can contribute to their communities and strengthen ties between undergraduates and alumni.

SOS, which began last year as a social-venture project for professor Tony Brown's "Enterprising Leadership Class," was spearheaded by Elle Pishny, Elliot Miller, and Jessica Palacios, now juniors. The project took root in response to the burdensome living and housing expenses in most cities that inhibit some students from taking advantage of unpaid summer internships. Under the program, a student selects a six- to eight-week internship at a nonprofit organization in a major city. SOS then arranges for the student to live with a Duke "alumni host family" and, through the support of individuals and alumni clubs across the nation, provides him or her a $1,000 stipend for living expenses.

Accounts shared by last summer's nine interns show that the program's impact extends far beyond providing students with interesting summer jobs. These reports, among others, can be found on the SOS website, below.

Sarah Gordon, a sophomore who interned at the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago in the Women's Service division, shares her work on an informational letter-writing campaign targeted at Chicago's elected officials. She notes that she had "never felt the assignment [she] was working on mattered as much to anyone in the real world as this project did." She adds, "I learned a lot about the world of nonprofits and also about myself as an individual."

Another pilot intern, junior Philip Sugg, whose work with Legal Outreach in New York consisted of teaching SAT-prep classes, tutoring, coaching a mock trial team, and writing a curriculum for a basic math class, says he appreciated the alumni-student relationship aspect of the program. He says of his host family, "Their lively household was exactly the kind of welcoming environment you'd want after spending all day in the public spaces of New York." He also recalls frequent family outings into the cultural regions of the city, as well as the quiet times when they "reminisced about Duke, talked about their careers, their family, culture, and sports."

Megan O'Flynn, a junior who interned with the Children's Defense Fund in Washington, sat in on meetings with congressional offices, analyzed the impact of preschool on poor children, and attended conferences on world hunger and progressive student activism. She describes the program's financial assistance component as "vital" to its success. "I had the incredible opportunity to live and work in Washington, D.C., at a great internship, and it truly would not have been possible ... without the help and support of the SOS team," she says.

While the nine interns, as SOS co-founder Elle Pishny notes, "are incredibly diverse in their range of interests, their areas of study, and their personalities," they all display a common desire to spend their summers contributing to the lives of others. Because of the positive and enthusiastic feedback from students and their hosts, SOS is already seeking more student and alumni participants who share this attitude, as well as organizations that will offer internships for the coming summer.

In Pishny's estimation, the first Summer of Service achieved its aim of engendering the support and dedication of Duke alumni and the eager participation of students. "I feel lucky," she says, "to attend a university that creates alumni who are passionate about making a difference in the world and whose ties to Duke only strengthen after graduation."