This program is organized by Duke faculty/staff and alumni in collaboration with DukeEngage.

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Program Dates

June 20 - August 14

Service Focus

Partnering with nonprofit organizations to address diverse sustainability challenges facing the Pacific Northwest in collaboration with Duke alumni.

Service themes:

  • Environment/conservation
  • Community development and outreach
  • Human rights
  • Disability services

Program Leaders

  • Charlotte Clark, Assistant Professor of the Practice in Sustainability Education and Director of Undergraduate Programs, Nicholas School of the Environment
  • Tom Schultz, Assistant Professor of the Practice, Nicholas School of the Environment and and Director, Marine Conservation Molecular Facility, Duke Marine Lab
  • Saskia Cornes, Program Manager, Duke Campus Farm


In partnership with the DukeEngage Seattle Alumni Committee, DukeEngage students will volunteer in the nonprofit sector with a variety of organizations focused on sustainability. We define sustainability as systems of issues facing the environment, society, and the economy. Seattle community partners often work at the intersection of at least two of the aforementioned themes.

Students will serve at their volunteer placement 40 hours a week while contributing to the mission and needs of the organizations. There will be opportunities to be placed with organizations that promote and support projects related to: social justice, the environment, youth empowerment, food security and hunger, financial empowerment, workforce development, minority and immigrant advocacy, urban planning, disability rights and awareness, adoption and the foster care system, urban agriculture and community gardens, and civic engagement. Students will have an opportunity throughout the program to meet and interact with Duke alumni living in Seattle. Through service placements as well as immersive educational and cultural opportunities, students will gain an understanding of the host of unique issues related to the region.

The largest city in the Pacific Northwest region, Seattle is also the fastest-growing major city in the United States according to the last census. Located between the Puget Sound and Lake Washington and about 100 miles south of the Canadian border, Seattle occupies a unique place geographically and culturally in the United States. A major gateway for trade with Asia, Seattle’s 98118 zip code (in the Columbia City neighborhood) is one of the most diverse ZIP Codes in the United States.

While home to many recognizable international companies (Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, Boeing, Nordstrom, etc.), like most major urban centers, Seattle faces challenges with how to approach sustainable urban planning, encourage workforce development and employment, provide greater access to health and wellness care, address a lack of affordable housing, acknowledge and reconcile racial injustices, ensure all have access to healthy and nutritious food, break down barriers to educational opportunities for youth and more. Students will be serving with community partners working to address these challenges in the Seattle community and greater Northwest region.

Student Learning Objectives/Outcomes

What do you hope students will know, and be able to do, at the end of the program?

  • Recognize the complex nature of sustainability and society and how the environment, opportunity, and justice are all inter-related.
  • Learn about the nonprofit sector and the dedicated professionals working on sustainability issues
  • Develop an appreciation for the importance of both direct service and policy level work in addressing community issues
  • Service Opportunities

Former participants have worked with the following nonprofits:

  • OneAmerica
  • Solid Ground (Lettuce Links, Financial Fitness Bootcamp)
  • Washington Environmental Council
  • Northwest Harvest
  • Seattle Works
  • Amara
  • Year Up Puget Sound
  • Disability Rights Washington
  • Seattle Tilth
  • Futurewise
  • Washington Bus

Students will serve at their community partner sites Monday-Friday 8:30 am to 5 pm (although the exact time varies depending on the placement site). Some placements will occasionally require evening and weekend commitments. Students will serve individually or in pairs at their community partner site. While some placement sites will require mostly office-based work, other sites will require students to often work in the field on outreach, voter registration, canvassing, community education and workshops, or community gardening. Even with office-based placements, it is common to occasionally leave the office to complete tasks or run errands for the placement. If this is the case, students will typically take the bus or walk, depending on the distance.

Students will learn more about the community partner placement opportunities during the interview process for the program. The placement matching process and final decisions are made after students are selected and committed to the DukeEngage Seattle program. Once selected, students can expect to complete a skills inventory, submit a resume, and to meet individually with the Program Director to discuss their interests, experiences, skills, and academic goals. At the Program Director’s discretion, community partners will review student resumes and conduct phone interviews. This process will shape final matching outcomes.

Examples of Prior Service

Below are examples of the types of contributions made by students during past DukeEngage programs:

  • Two students assisted an organization through outreach and event planning focused on increasing civic participation and community investing among 20- and 30- somethings. The students coordinated logistical tasks and media promotion, which culminated with an event highlighting political candidates and political issues in Seattle. The students also assisted with a number of service events in Seattle and promoted these events through social media and other promotional channels.
  • Two students focused on environmental education and outreach to benefit an environmental organization. They helped coordinate and organize a series of trainings for the citizen stewardship committees located at five aquatic reserves in Puget Sound area. The trainings educated residents on how to make their voices heard by legislature and policy makers. Specific tasks include designing pre-post training surveys, requesting donations and reaching out to potential local partners and media for publicity.
  • Two students served at an organization supporting new immigrants and refugees and ‘new’ Americans aiding in the organization of these immigrant communities to build power and increasing civic engagement to ensure their concerns are brought to the attention of national and state representatives. The students assisted the Organizing Team in hosting various events and community meetings throughout the program. They helped prepare for a community event with a state senator. The students went to 4 different libraries in King County to represent the organization and to make the immigrant and refugee populations aware of the services the organization offered. The students worked on a youth curriculum to be used later in the fall. Finally, they attended various meetings and press conferences surrounding issues of immigration.
  • Two students worked with an organization dedicated to providing nutritious food to hungry people statewide in a manner that respects their dignity, while fighting to eliminate hunger. One student researched the organization’s history and sorted through the organization’s archives to create a timeline and living history document of the organization. The document covered 40+ years of history. The other student performed a “Return on Investment” study of 50 special events hosted by the organization to see which events brought the best return (i.e. food donations/meals served). In addition, the student created more efficient processes for special events by streamlining forms and eliminating redundancies. 
  • Two students worked with an organization that seeks to engage tomorrow's leaders on their own terms, and empowers them through education, civic and cultural engagement, and hands-on democracy. The two students worked on the organization’s voting outreach efforts. Through attending community events, the two students helped spread the voting outreach program to more than 5,000 young people in Washington. One student worked on a video presentation that describes young voter participation and demographics. The other student worked on fact sheets about upcoming initiatives that will be on the Washington state ballot.
  • One student worked with an organization that cultivates Seattle's urban land in order to feed hungry residents in a healthful manner and to teach and empower low-income community members to grow their own healthy food. The student co-taught a Children's Gardening for Good nutrition class as well as tracked its impact and outcomes. The student also helped with the Veggie Labeling Project, designing and implementing a signage system that was displayed at the food bank next to produce grown through the organization's programs.
  • One student worked with an advocacy organization that aims to ensure equal and just treatment of individuals with disabilities. Much of their work is conducted through legal pathways, but there is also a focus on community education and outreach. The student redesigned a curriculum for the SAM club, a statewide network of school clubs that aims to educate and empower youth with disabilities. These clubs are led by individuals known as self-advocates, who are individuals who advocate for the disability issues they face themselves on a daily basis. The student led meetings with the self-advocates to obtain their input on the curriculum revisions.

Program Requirements

Language/Other Prerequisites: While there is no language requirement, students who are bilingual or multi-lingual may find their language skills to be useful at their community partner sites depending on the population they are working with. 

Course Requirements: Specific prior coursework is not required, however, preference may be given to students who have taken service-learning courses or taken coursework that relates to one of the program scope areas listed above

Personal Qualities: Students who have had the most “success” in this program with regard to contributions to community partners’ work are students who are flexible, can take initiative, ask thoughtful questions, and bring energy to what they do. Experience with event planning and implementation, social media, marketing, documentary work, research, data analysis, volunteer management, community gardening, and teaching youth have been useful skills for students to have depending on the community partner where they are placed. Strong writing skills are welcomed by community partner placements. In past years, many students have written substantially for their organizations’ blogs and websites. Some placement sites will require a background check and TB test. 

Program Logistics

Description of Community: Students will live at the University of Washington (more details under Housing and Accommodations below). The University of Washington is located in one of Seattle’s many neighborhoods, known as the “U District.” The U District is a major bus route hub, and there are many nearby inexpensive restaurants, shops, and parks. 

Most of the students will work in downtown Seattle. Downtown is the commercial center of the city, the home of Pike Place Market, as well as the nearby water front and ferry terminal for commuters coming in to Seattle from the surrounding area. Downtown Seattle is quite hilly and students can expect to do a fair amount of walking throughout the program.

Seattle is known for its many neighborhoods throughout the city. Queen Anne, Magnolia, Capitol Hill, Belltown, Ballard, Mount Baker, and Green Lake are all examples of distinct neighbors in which you will likely explore during the summer. The neighborhoods are primarily residential, but most have a small commercial area with unique restaurants and shops. Seattle is also surrounded by the ocean and the mountains making it picturesque and geographically diverse.

Housing and Meals: Students will live in Stevens Court at the University of Washington. Stevens Court is an apartment-style dormitory with suites – each student will have his/her own bedroom but will share a common area, kitchen, and bathrooms. The facility has a common laundry room to which students have access. There is a fitness center at the University of Washington, which students can use for a visitor fee. A gym membership is not included as a programmatic expense. In previous summers, students have also exercised outside on the nearby Burke-Gilman Trail or at Green Lake Park.

Students will be given a stipend to cover the costs of meals during the summer but will be expected to manage their own food budget. Most students cook in their suite kitchens or use their stipend to eat at local restaurants. There are several grocery stores (Safeway, QFC, Whole Foods and Traders Joes) within easy walking or busing distance. The District Market, a small grocery store on campus, is located in the same block where students will be staying. Buying from farmers’ markets, which are held on weekday evenings and Saturday mornings in the local area, is a great way to eat locally and in-season while living in Seattle.

If you do not eat certain types of food for cultural, religious or personal reasons, please contact the DukeEngage office, , to discuss whether or not your dietary needs can be reasonably accommodated at this program site.

Transportation: Given the location of the University of Washington vis-à-vis the service placements, most students will be within a 30-minute urban bus ride from their work site. A few students may be able to walk to their placement sites. Within the city of Seattle there is ample public transportation. Students will catch a city bus in the morning and ride the bus to downtown Seattle (or to other areas of the city, depending on the location of the service placement). Sometimes students will need to travel around the city during the day for service placement responsibilities. If this is the case, students will also take the bus to desired locations. For more information on the bus system please visit the transportation link above. Students have also found apps such as Google maps, One Bus Away and the King County Metro Trip planner to be useful in learning to navigate the city. All students will be provided with an Orca bus pass.

During program enrichment activities, students will be driven in rental vans by program staff or the entire group will take public transportation. Students may explore the city using their bus pass (unlimited use in the month of July) or if desired can use services such as Uber and Lyft. Uber/Lyft will only be needed for recreational use if desired and, therefore, are not a programmatic expense. Most program events will take place in the city where public transportation can be used. If an event is taking place outside of Seattle, group transportation will be arranged by the site leaders.

Seattle is also home to an extensive ferry system. If students desire to explore the surrounding Seattle area they may take a ferry from downtown Seattle to several nearby islands: Bainbridge Island, Bremerton, Edmonds, Kingston, Lopez Island, and Vashon.

Communication: Stevens Court has Ethernet internet access in the rooms, but students should bring an Ethernet cord. Stevens Court common areas, locations around campus, and nearby cafes and restaurants all have wireless Internet. It is recommended that students bring a laptop to Seattle. Some students may be asked to bring their laptops to their service placement. Students are required to provide their own cell phone.

Opportunities for Reflection: The program director and site coordinator(s) will work with students to lead weekly reflection sessions in which students will be expected to take a leadership role and participate. More details will be shared with students once they arrive on site. Students will also be expected to actively contribute to the group’s blogging efforts as well as create a thank you for community partners and alumni at the end of the program. Past examples have included a group-produced video documenting the summer and student designed posters focusing on community partner themes and impact. Site coordinators will meet with students individually throughout the program for one-on-one mentoring and reflection opportunities.

Other Opportunities

The Seattle program has the benefit of being shaped by Duke Alumni living in Seattle. The Seattle alumni have been instrumental in connecting DukeEngage with nonprofits in the Seattle community. Students will have the opportunity throughout the program to meet with Seattle alumni through organized activities such as welcome and farewell events, conversations with alumni who are leaders in the public service or other relevant interest areas, and at joint student-alumni volunteer activities on the weekends. The DukeEngage Alumni Committee also works to organize an Alumni Partner Program that pairs DukeEngage students with local Duke alumni. Students are matched with their Alumni Partner based on shared interests and have the opportunity to be in touch with their partner before the program begins.

By visiting places such as the Blodell Reserve on Bainbridge Island to learn about environmental preservation and the area’s biodiversity to taking a walking tour of the historic International District and learning about the effects of the Japanese Internment during WWII on the Seattle community to cheering on the hometown favorite Seattle Sounders at a soccer game to touring the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and meeting Duke alumni working at the Foundation, students will learn more about the area’s history, culture, and commitment to civic engagement and philanthropy throughout their eight weeks in Seattle.

More Information: Students will be at their service placements until about 5:30pm on weekdays (depending on their schedule). While there will be some downtime, students should not anticipate a great deal of free time throughout the program. Students can expect to have program commitments from about 6-8 pm two nights per week. These commitments may take place at the residence hall or at a location in Seattle and could include: reflection sessions with the group and program staff, speakers, tours of local museums, enrichment activities, events with alumni, or group meals. Occasionally students will have evening and weekend commitments with their service placements. Approximately one day per weekend will involve a half or full day group enrichment or volunteer activity. Group reflection will typically take place on Sunday evenings. In the past, the group has participated in one overnight weekend trip to Pack Forest (a working forest and conference center owned by UW located near Mount Rainer) about mid-way through the program and a day trip to Olympia, the capitol of Washington State.

More Information

Neighbor power: Building Community the Seattle Way, Jim Diers Seattle Geographies, edited by Michael Brown and Richard Morrill

Curricular Connections

There are a wide range of other relevant course in multiple disciplines such as global health, public policy, political science, education, environmental science, psychology, and sociology. Courses that have a service learning designation and/or address poverty, food systems, child and family programs and policy, and race and inequality are likely to be particularly useful for this program.

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