School Profile: Duke’s Engage Program

Duke University, in Durham, N.C., offers one of the best private educations that the South has to offer, but academics are not the only attractive element of this “Southern Ivy.” Prospective students will learn at an information session at the university that DukeEngage, a service internship program founded in 2007, is in fact the number one listed program that draws prospective students to Duke. Since 2007, the program has placed more than 1,400 Duke undergraduate students in service internships.

When DukeEngage launched in 2007, its purpose was to enrich the undergraduate experience at the university. “It was funded by a $15 million grant from The Duke Endowment and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,” explains Eric Van Danen, the Director of Communications at Duke University.

The program’s website describes its mission as follows: “DukeEngage empowers students to address critical human needs through immersive service, in the process transforming students, advancing the University’s educational mission, and providing meaningful assistance to communities in the U.S. and abroad.”

Any student who has completed at least two semesters at Duke, will return for at least one more semester, and is in good standing may participate in the DukeEngage program. Students of all majors are welcomed and highly encouraged to apply.

Roughly 35 programs are offered each year, spanning across six continents and more than 50 nations. According to Van Danen, two-thirds of DukeEngage programs take place in international locations.

DukeEngage students choose between participating in a group program or an independent project. Group programs include five to 25 students and are either led by a Duke faculty or staff member or coordinated through a volunteer organization. Independent projects are completed under the supervision of a faculty mentor.

“DukeEngage seeks students who bring both humility and curiosity to their engagement of new cultures and communities,” Van Danen says.

Kristen Lee, a junior majoring in sociology at Duke University, chose to participate in a group program in Ecuador during the summer of 2011. She worked as an intern for Acción Ecológica, an environmental activist organization that supports community building on the border between Colombia and Ecuador.

Lee became involved with the DukeEngage program because she saw it as an opportunity to commit to sustainability and civic engagement. She felt confident going into the program as a friend of a local trusted organization.

Lee’s responsibilities included leading community discussions on family and gender violence relating to Plan Colombia. She helped community leaders provide local support by painting schools and giving lessons on Quechua history.

As Lee reflects on her service internship, she particularly remembers one community-building workshop: “I will always remember Clínica Ambiental,” she says. It was a chance for leaders of different Amazon communities to come and learn and share experiences about oil companies, agriculture, and living in the countryside, she explained. And it taught Lee that one person can make a difference.

Lee believes the DukeEngage experience opened her eyes and allowed her to grow. “Without a doubt it has changed the way I think about my connections to the environment and consumption of natural resources,” she says. She recommends the program to her classmates.

And Lee is bound to share this first-hand knowledge with other students at Duke University. “Last year, we received the highest number of applications to date, topping 1,000 for just over 400 service placements,” Van Danen says.

— Daniel Byrnes and Kat Tilby contributed to this article

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