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We are more than halfway done with our Duke Engage Durham North Carolina experience. I have been working at the Office of Economic and Workforce Development and my project is supervised by James Dickens, who works on the Durham Youth Work program.

I have learned some important things from spending four weeks here. First, diversity is key to approaching and solving problems. My team is made up of two other Duke Engage students, Karoline and Maria. Our very different backgrounds gives us a wide range of ideas and interests that we can draw upon to problem solve. So for example, I grew up in Detroit, where we are famous for our Ford cars. Henry Ford (the creator of ford motor company) was successful in the past because of his revolutionary idea of assembly lines. Since Michigan education emphasizes the efficiency of assembly lines, I thought of implementing that at our worksite. Karoline, Maria, and I have used this strategy to reduce tasks into smaller individual jobs to help us move faster. Karoline has drawn on her knowledge of computer science and proficiency in Microsoft Excel to help us organize and sort large amounts of data. Finally, Maria’s profound ability to cultivate deep relationships with other staff has allowed us to feel more comfortable as a group to ask questions to other staff members and feel more welcomed at our workplace.

This is a picture of my team. Karoline is in the front left corner, Maria is in the bottom right corner, and I’m in the blue shirt in the back next to Libby, another Duke Engage student. (Libby also works at the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, although she has her own independent project.)

Another valuable thing I learned about while working in the Durham Youth Program is that getting a job when you are 14 and 15 is extremely difficult. Despite the fact that I got my first job working as a tutor when I was 15, I have discovered that many employers do not want to hire young people. It has been frustrating not being able to give some eager teenagers an opportunity to work this summer, just because they were just too young.

At my workplace, we often have conversations about how important a summer paycheck can be to the families of the student that earns it. I distinctly remember discovering a student that perfectly matched a job description, but the employer did not want to have anyone under the age of 16. This is disheartening and it is a symptom of a greater systemic dynamic–employers want people who have more work experience. But if we can’t give our youth the opportunity to work at an early age, then they may not gain the necessary work experience and miss out on better opportunities.