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Duke House Courses connect to, deepen DukeEngage experiences

  • 04.02.14
  • Posted By: Eric Van Danen
    • Bobby Sands, Belfast, Northern Ireland
DukeEngage’s Strategic Plan for 2017—“A Blueprint for Deeper and Broader Engagement”—aims, among other key initiatives, to more seamlessly integrate DukeEngage with elements of the Duke curriculum.  
One of the most successful efforts thus far has been the development, support, and promotion of house courses that have some relationship with students’ summer of service through DukeEngage.  Numerous house courses are offered at Duke each semester and are led by students who have a significant interest or background in the subject matter.  All house courses have a faculty advisor who works with the students and attends some of their classes.
Each fall, “Beyond DukeEngage: A Student's Perspective of Civic Engagement, Social Justice, & Activism” is led by recent DukeEngage participants. This past fall, the course was led by seniors Prichiti and Pranali Dalvi, both DukeEngage independent project students.  The sisters served in Thane, India, where they developed a project focused on deepening a science curriculum for youth in collaboration with their community partner, Udaan Welfare Foundation.  In the fall of 2014, another independent project student, sophomore Phillip Reinhart, will co-lead the DukeEngage house course with fellow sophomore Jay Sullivan who is taking part in DukeEngage in Uganda this summer.  Reinhart served in Shirati, Tanzania, assisting with the Village Life Outreach Project, focused on educating community members about an intestinal parasite, schistosomiasis, prominent in the region.  This summer, Reinhart is returning to the Shirati funded by RIPP-Engage and Hart Leadership fellowships. The DukeEngage house course is advised by Eric Mlyn, executive director of DukeEngage and an adjunct professor of public policy at Duke.
Other DukeEngage related house courses in the past years have included a “Women in International Development” course developed by Sherryl Broverman, Duke Department of Biology, who also leads the DukeEngage in Muhuru Bay, Kenya program; and “Social Inequality in China,” overseen by Ralph Litzinger, Department of Cultural Anthropology, who leads the DukeEngage in Beijing, China program.
One of the longest-running house courses with a tie to DukeEngage has been “Troubles in Northern Ireland,” which explores many of the contextual issues student encounter during their DukeEngage experience in Belfast.  Designed by Robin Kirk, director of Duke’s Center for Human Rights and program leader of DukeEngage in Northern Ireland, the course endeavors to explore human rights issues through the lens of the longstanding conflict between Northern Irish Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, referred to as “The Troubles.” (For a full description of current and past house courses, visit
Says Kirk, “The course grew out of an in-country discussion of what we could bring back from Northern Ireland to Duke.  We realized that very few people know about ‘The Troubles’, the Good Friday agreement and the contemporary challenges facing this still-divides society. In important ways, the way people in Northern Ireland deal with division gives us an important perspective on continuing racial and economic divisions in the United States, including Durham.”
This spring, the house course is being led by Duke juniors Michael Zhang and Aarti Thakkar, participants in the 2013 DukeEngage in Northern Ireland program.  Both students had enrolled in the course prior to their summer of service and expressed to Kirk a significant interest in leading the house course while in Belfast.  Their house course currently includes both students who will be participating in the DukeEngage program in Belfast this summer as well as students more generally interested in human rights or post-conflict issues in this region.
“I know I found it very beneficial to have at least some background knowledge of Northern Ireland culture and history before participating in an immersion experience,” says Thakkar.  “I hope to prepare those students who are traveling to Northern Ireland this upcoming summer with enough information so they can feel comfortable entering a new environment and help them be more culturally competent in general.”
Zhang adds, “Of all the ways I, as a DukeEngage participant, have had to reflect on my experience, co-leading this course has definitely been the most important. I get to apply the critical intellectual lens to my assumptions about my experience while at the same time communicating in a personal way to students ready to listen.”
Both students say that leading the course has been both personally fulfilling and a meaningful extension of their DukeEngage experience in Belfast.  They also encourage participants in other programs to consider developing a house course that explores some element of their immersive service in a classroom setting.
“Having a DukeEngage related house course helps make the experience last beyond the summer because sometimes when people come back to school they just fall right back into their Duke lives,” says Thakkar. 
Zhang adds that through the process of leading the course and exploring the content in greater depth, he has been as much of a learner as he has been a teacher—so much so that he hopes to lead another course in the coming year.

“The biggest draw of the house course instructor role is the degree of freedom one has in creating the course.  I realize now that this course is a significant act of performance and creativity on our ends and that exercising those attributes has been enormously enjoyable.” 

Read all of this summer's student-written blogs. 

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