For five days in late-November 2017, the tables were turned on DukeEngage. Instead of sending program participants out in the world to work with community partners, the program’s leadership and staff hosted community partners here, on Duke’s West Campus in Durham, North Carolina.
A total of 34 community partners attended the two-day DukeEngage Community Partner Conference on November 29-30, representing organizations in the U.S., India, Lebanon, South Africa, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Thailand, Kenya, Uganda, Togo, China, United Kingdom, Tanzania and Ireland. DukeEngage faculty and staff, advisory board members, and program alumni also participated.
Eric Mlyn, Peter Lange Executive Director of DukeEngage and Assistant Vice Provost for Civic Engagement, is proud of Duke’s commitment to this opportunity for international dialogue. “Our community partners usually generously host us,” he said. “Our ability to host them here facilitates closer and more reciprocal relationships and deepens our work together.”
The conference was the second of its kind planned by DukeEngage, following a similar two-day event in March 2015. The original conference was DukeEngage’s first large-scale effort to engage the people and organizations that work with our students in a face-to-face conversation about effective immersive service practices. The agenda for the 2017 conference built on action items emerging from that conversation.
“I wanted to meet and see the other organizations working with DukeEngage. What are they doing? Is there something I can learn from them, something I can share with them? I also wanted to understand the totality of it. And I see this an opportunity for us to understand better, for DukeEngage to understand better.”
Nicole Eid Abuhaydar is the Executive Director of Unite Lebanon Youth Project (ULYP) in Beirut, the organization with whom DukeEngage-Lebanon students work. She attended the 2015 and the 2017 conferences. “It’s important that I am here, representing ULYP with my colleague,” she said. “I wanted to meet and see the other organizations working with DukeEngage. What are they doing? Is there something I can learn from them, something I can share with them? I also wanted to understand the totality of it. And I see this an opportunity for us to understand better, for DukeEngage to understand better.”
The inclusion of community partner voices is noticeably rare in the world of higher education service learning — a lop-sided reality for which the field has drawn much criticism. Defying that norm, DukeEngage is committed to building and maintaining thoughtful and reciprocal relationships with our community partners whose experiences and expertise we value greatly. Their work with Duke undergraduates during DukeEngage programs and projects positions them as our co-educators in their field.
Allen Davis, a community partner with Freedom Schools in Charlotte, NC, was also glad to be part of the conversation. “This conference allows partners to provide input on what the [educational] framework looks like for the DukeEngage students,” he explained. “To be a part of a global community, to be able to see some of the work that the DukeEngage students get to do all other different regions around the world. It really allows us to be honored that we’re a part of it, and to know that how we continue to do the work is a piece of the larger puzzle as we think about world change and systemic change.”
The agenda for the November 2017 meeting, planned and executed by DukeEngage’s program team, prioritized sharing and small-group work over lecture-style presentations to give ample time for community partners to talk with one another as well as opportunities to contribute to the group conversation. Mlyn kicked off the meeting with a short welcome, saying: “There is no way we can do the next 10 years of DukeEngage better without getting to know YOU better.”
Through interactive sessions and hands-on activities, the group defined a set of Principles of Partnership to guide the work of DukeEngage staff and partners in the future. Community partners shared effective practices and challenges and committed to new levels of engagement in student pre-departure training, local orientation, and sustained connections when students return to Duke.
Kathy Sikes, Senior Assistant Director for Student Programs and Outreach at DukeEngage, works closely with the program’s community partners and is committed to nurturing an active, two-way dialogue. “The DukeEngage Community Partner Conference holds us to our deeply held beliefs about the value of partnership,” she said. “Our time together on campus allows our staff and program directors to learn from their collective voice and elevates their role as a co-educator of our students.”
“There are some things that we can learn from each other that allow us to create best practices to really maximize the experiences that DukeEngage students have, as well as the experiences that we have with our DukeEngage students.”
Time for informal networking allowed conference attendees to share ideas and experiences in a less structured format, building on common challenges and success stories. According to Davis: “There are some things that we can learn from each other that allow us to create best practices to really maximize the experiences that DukeEngage students have, as well as the experiences that we have with our DukeEngage students.”
Following the conference, community partners were invited to attend a dinner at the Nasher Museum of Art in celebration of DukeEngage’s 10th year. The dates of the dinner and conference overlapped intentionally to allow community partners to attend — to be part of the event that recognized a decade of DukeEngage working alongside their communities.
“I think it’s very honorable for DukeEngage to invite us,” said Eid Abuhaydar. “To say ‘Come, be part of the discussion, be part of the decision.’ Because that’s how good partnership are made.”
Many conference attendees took advantage of the opportunity to remain on campus for additional days to speak to classes, attend DukeEngage info sessions, reunite with former DukeEngage participants, and meet with faculty or organizations of interest.
- Lisa Nuszkowski, with MoGo Bike Share in Detroit, attended a class at Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship with DukeEngage-Detroit program director, Matt Nash
- Bongoni Mthembu, from the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance in Durban, South Africa, spoke at a global health class at UNC-CH
- Pelle Shaibu and Musa Luambano attended a reunion dinner with students and faculty who participated in DukeEngage-Tanzania (Literacy through Photography)
- Kruti Doshi and Shikha Jain had dinner with students and faculty who participated in DukeEngage-Ahmedabad
- Allen Davis spoke to BN Duke Scholars
- Michael Omenazu (Boston), Sari Pastore (Kauai), Jess McDonald (Durham), Jennifer Bourgoin (Boston), Lisa Nuszkowski (Detroit), Angie Miot-Nudel (San Francisco) and Stacie Siebrecht (Seattle) spoke at a breakfast for prospective U.S.-based program participants
Community partners also toured campus and enjoyed a concert in the Duke Chapel, cheered on the Blue Devils at a Duke Women’s Basketball game, and visited the Duke Lemur Center.
Snapshots from the 2017 DukeEngage Community Partner Conference
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