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Independent Projects: Frequently Asked Questions

A DukeEngage independent project is an immersive civic engagement experience designed by a Duke student in conjunction with a partner organization they select. Independent projects allow students who wish to engage in community service outside the scope or locations of DukeEngage group programs, or who prefer to serve independently, the opportunity to create their own projects that address existing community needs in the U.S. or internationally. Up to three students (applying individually) may be funded by DukeEngage to collaborate on any independent project.

The eligibility criteria for DukeEngage independent projects and group programs are the same, however merit scholars may not apply to conduct independent projects. During any given application cycle, students may apply to participate in a group program or an independent project, not both. Students are eligible for DukeEngage funding only one time, regardless of whether they participate in a group program or independent project.

Eligibility: Any student who has completed at least two semesters at Duke, who will be on active status at Duke during the summer of participation, and who will spend at least one semester back on campus after the DukeEngage experience is eligible to participate. This includes students enrolled in study abroad before or after DukeEngage.

Because post-program engagement and sharing with others is a central tenet of DukeEngage, the program is restricted to applications from current first-year students, sophomores, and juniors who plan to return to campus following their DukeEngage experience. Seniors are not eligible to participate.

To conduct an independent project, students must identify a nonprofit organization whose work they wish to support. With that partner, students will collaborate to design a project around existing needs (within the organization or the community it serves). Projects must last eight weeks (56 days) exclusive of travel, with students working at least 35-40 hours per week. Candidates are required to discuss their project plan with a DukeEngage advisor during the fall semester and must have a Duke faculty or staff mentor oversee their project. Candidates must submit a verification letter from their community partner confirming their project. All DukeEngage participants are also required to attend training events during the spring semester, including the two-day Academy in May. Upon project completion, independent participants are required to submit a Capstone.

Students may work with organizations located in the U.S. or abroad. Refer to the Restricted Regions List for locations that may be restricted and require University approval to visit.

Community partner organizations must be not-for-profit. You can work with both NGOs (non-governmental organizations), as well as government-affiliated organizations that do not have a partisan agenda, such as schools, community centers, programs managed by local governments, etc. Hospitals and clinics may be suitable community partners, however, students may not participate in patient care and medical observation may not constitute a DukeEngage project.

Discuss your goals with your DukeEngage advisor and mentor. Numerous organizations that hosted independent participants in the past are interested in continued collaborations. Also consider Volunteer Sending Organizations (VSOs) that facilitate global civic engagement opportunities for individuals or groups. VSOs maintain staff in the field and coordinate with local organizations to set up a wide range of projects. They often manage all logistics for participants and provide support throughout the duration of the project.

Look for a Duke faculty or staff member with expertise relevant to the focus and location of your project. This searchable database of Duke Faculty may be helpful. If you have difficulty identifying a mentor for your project, contact a DukeEngage advisor.

All independent project participants are required to complete a Capstone project following their summer. The Capstone may take the form of a video or digital presentation, a live presentation on campus, a reflective paper, credit-bearing independent study or continued service. Students may also propose a different Capstone relevant to their project. Candidates are required to consider these alternatives with their mentor before submitting an independent project application. See the Capstone section for more information.

Students are not required to submit a budget with their independent project application. DukeEngage calculates stipends for accepted participants, to include transportation costs, living expenses, Volunteer Sending Organization (VSO) program fees if applicable, etc.

Planning an independent project requires initiative, a good amount of time and research, and the ability to evaluate one’s own abilities and goals. Students who function well independently, who are good communicators and who adapt easily to new and often challenging environments are most likely to be successful in implementing independent projects. You should also consider specific skills relevant to your project focus. Cross-cultural sensitivity and language skills play a significant role when conducting work in a foreign country.

Review independent project information on this site. Attend independent project-specific information sessions and alumni presentations in September-October. Meet with a DukeEngage advisor and reach out to DukeEngage GuiDEs who completed independent projects to learn more.

For the 2020 program, all independent project applicants must meet with a DukeEngage advisor by January 1, 2020. The final independent project application deadline will January 14, 2020 at noon (12pm EST). See the Timeline section for a suggested project planning schedule.

In the past, students have conducted independent projects focused on education (for example, teaching English or sports); health and health education (designing and conducting health education outreach, supporting ongoing research projects, etc.); working with disadvantaged populations (mentoring minority children); skill and capacity building (teaching computer literacy or social entrepreneurship); women’s empowerment and advocacy, etc.