Like plenty of native North Carolinians, I didn’t always hold the highest opinion of Durham. Though I’d seen plenty of local news stories in recent years covering the revitalization and development of a city that had long been best known for its remarkably high crime rate, I found it difficult to shake the preconceptions I’d formed during a childhood spent just minutes away. Coming to Duke brought me an appreciation for a level of depth and character in Durham that I’d avoided until college; still, though, students hear a lot about the “bubble” that Duke exists in, and that bubble undoubtedly had some impact on my view of the city. I chose to stay here this summer in part because of how much I enjoyed my experience in Durham as a freshman, but also because I realize that there remains work to be done to lessen the problems that plagued this place for so long.
Those of us working at the Office of Economic and Workforce Development have a short commute straight down Main St. on the Bull City Connector. The speed with which East Campus becomes downtown underscores the ties between Duke and Durham – the role that the school has played in the city’s development is something we’ve learned a lot about in the past few weeks. At OEWD’s offices in a restored textile mill, we’ve been helping organize a summer internship program for local kids; there’s a lot of administrative work to do – organizing files, making phone calls, and working with spreadsheets to ensure that the program runs smoothly. These tasks can definitely seem tedious at times, but after a few frantic searches for misplaced paperwork, we’ve quickly come to realize the necessity of solid organization. We also helped Mr. Dickens, the program coordinator, run two orientation sessions at City Hall last week. Each session lasted for less than an hour, but it was encouraging to see some of the work that we’d done yield positive results so early in the process.
The internship program isn’t the only work that OEWD does; in the past two weeks, we’ve learned about plenty of projects that this department has had a hand in. For instance, despite all the time that I’ve spent at Southpoint Mall over the years, I’d never realized the effort or strategy involved in its opening until I heard about the role that OEWD played in attracting the mall to Durham. Revelations like the luring of Southpoint show the inner workings of the city’s development – a side of Durham’s economic growth that I hadn’t considered until recently.
Project goals and deadlines shift quickly in the office – last week, we researched aspects of Durham’s recent growth as part of a federal grant application; however, it quickly became apparent that the proposal wouldn’t be finished by the required deadline, so our responsibilities shifted fully to the internship program. Though this particular grant fell through, our research will hopefully still be applicable to future applications. Researching Durham not only helped with the grant proposal but also helped expose us, the interns, to aspects of the community that we hadn’t previously thought about.
I’m glad that the work we’ve done thus far has been helpful to OEWD; I hope that we continue to set and accomplish new goals as the summer progresses. A guy I sat next to on the bus also recommended that I see Wonder Woman – even though I generally prefer Marvel movies to DC ones, in the interest of broadening horizons, I may have to check it out.