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A Q&A with Linda Hoffman Sterling (’82), Chair, DukeEngage National Advisory Board (DENAB)

“I believe in Tikkun Olam, the desire to ‘repair the world.’  We all can do our part to make the world a better place.”

When and how did I learn about DukeEngage?

I learned about DukeEngage several years ago from Barbara Janulis, a current DENAB board member and my sorority little sister. (Shout out to all the Kappa Alpha Thetas out there!) Barbara had a dinner in New York City to introduce DukeEngage to alums who were interested in learning more. She had shared with me her passion for DukeEngage and how it was a transformative experience for Duke students, as they were able to participate in civic engagement for eight weeks in the U.S. or around the world. After getting to meet Eric Mlyn, the program’s executive director, and understanding in greater depth the work that he and his staff did, I knew this was a place that I wanted to get more involved with. And my own children were heading off to college, so I knew I had time to devote to DukeEngage.

How does DukeEngage connect with your own life and experiences?

I have three favorite things in life: Duke, travel, and civic engagement. I’ve been involved with Duke ever since I graduated with both an AB in 1982 and an MBA in 1983. (I participated in the 3/2 program, which no longer exists.) Having been on the Alumni Admissions Advisory Committee, as well as chair of Duke alumni interviewing in Essex and Hudson counties in NJ, I had the opportunity to interact with many Duke alums, as well as the incoming students, and this kept me involved with Duke since my graduation in 1983.

My passion for travel was kindled at a young age. When I was 16, I spent time in Brazil as a Rotary Exchange student. During that year, I lived with several wonderful Brazilian families. I also had the opportunity to speak at several Rotary meetings that year. When I returned to my hometown for my senior year of high school, I was a changed person. Rotary is all about service to others, and that year in Brazil sparked a desire to get involved, to meet people in their own communities, and to understand their needs and dreams. Today, that passion for civic engagement keeps me motivated and involved in my own community, too. I’ve served on many local boards, in addition to my work on regional and international levels.  Board work, as well as hands-on community work, together improve the lives of so many people.

What one thing do you want people to know about DukeEngage?

I would love for people to understand how transformative the DukeEngage experience is. It’s not tourism. It’s getting involved on a grassroots level and using your creativity and intelligence to find solutions to real-world problems. And with so much of civic engagement, as we go out to help others, we find that we are the ones who are changed the most. The motto of DukeEngage — “Challenge Yourself. Change Your World” — is so true! Students aren’t necessarily changing THE world, but they are almost always changing THEIR world. In fact, one of my favorite parts of DukeEngage is when the students come back to campus and find that they view their education and experience in a whole new way.

How does your financial support will make an impact on Duke undergraduates? And on Duke?

I hope that my financial support of DukeEngage will help more students have the opportunity to experience the program, and with that, the chance to live in a community somewhere in the world where they might never have had the opportunity otherwise. This year, I’m helping to underwrite the DukeEngage Community Partner Conference, which will take place in November 2017. The conference brings our community partners from all over the world to Durham to share their experiences and create even stronger ties. Many of our partners have never been outside of their own community or country. Perhaps they’ve never been on a plane before. But they have so much to contribute to the conversation about our work — and we can learn so much with them. After meeting other community partners, and more of DukeEngage’s staff and students, attendees come away with more ideas, more creativity, and more energy. It’s a truly collaborative and reciprocal situation.

This will be the first Community Partner Conference that I will have the chance to attend, and I’m very excited about it!

When you talk with program alumni, are there any questions that you always ask?

When I meet students who have participated in DukeEngage, I always ask: “What was the thing that surprised you the most?” And then I ask if they’ve gotten more involved with Duke in a leadership position since their return. One of the program directors I talked to last summer at the DukeEngage Academy training conference shared with me how the students who go on DukeEngage come back and are more passionate about becoming leaders on the Duke campus. For many students, the program builds a desire to contribute and lead on a deeper level, and after DukeEngage students have greater confidence in their abilities to make a difference.

I also love hearing how DukeEngage alumni stay committed to civic engagement even after they graduate. Their passion for being involved in their communities and wanting to make a difference inspires me. I love hearing these stories!

What conversations with program alumni stand out as your all-time favorites?

My favorite stories from program alums are usually about how DukeEngage has completely changed the student’s life trajectory. From what they are studying, to the kind of career they hope to follow, the work they do on the project often uncovers a passion that they did not know existed. They come back to Duke and take courses they would never have experimented with before. They look into careers that might never have considered. Emily Lang (Kenya), Anders Campbell (Durham), and Hailey Diaz (Miami) were three of the program alums who impressed me the most.

This summer I am hoping to visit the DukeEngage program in Detroit, as well as the New York City program near where I live. I can’t wait to meet the students while they are participating in the program and hear more about the projects they’re working on while they’re immersed in their summer communities.

Please consider making a gift to help DukeEngage increase its impact.

Continued support from individuals and foundations will allow DukeEngage to maintain programmatic quality and grow participant numbers in coming years. Please consider making a financial gift to support DukeEngage’s ongoing efforts. Your generosity will help future DukeEngagers experience the life-changing and transformative power of an immersive summer placement.

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