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Steps to Success

We’ve outlined a basic structure to help you develop a meaningful DukeEngage independent project. You may find it useful to complete steps in a different order. That’s totally OK. Please reach out to us if you are unsure about participating in an independent project or have other questions. One of our advisors would be happy to talk about the process with you.

Select Your Project Theme

Consider your academic and personal interests, skills and experience to identify your service theme. Determine your preferred project location based on regional interests and language skills.

What types of issues are you interested in? What are you studying at Duke or wish to explore during your project? Women’s empowerment? Health education and outreach? Micro-enterprise?

DukeEngage participants have developed independent projects related to a wide variety of themes including health, education, youth, literacy, homelessness, the environment, economic development, LGBT issues, and more.

Once you’ve identified a focus area for your project, consider specific skills and types of projects you could contribute to. Remember that civic engagement includes both direct service (i.e. teaching or building a library) and capacity building activities (grant writing, designing educational workshops, etc.).

Don’t assume what potential partners may need — ask! One of the core philosophies of DukeEngage is that our service is community-driven, which means that the community members know better than we do what they need and how we can contribute.

Group Independent Project Applications

Up to three students can apply to collaborate on an Independent Project, but they must all apply separately. There is no guarantee all will be accepted. If you’re applying along with other students, you may choose to collaborate on a project, or ask your community partner to set individual goals for each of you based on your strengths.

Identify Your Project Location

Identify possible locations for your project based on your interests, regional knowledge, language skills, and safety considerations. Note that undergraduate travel is governed by Duke’s International Travel Policy. Refer to the Duke Restricted Regions List to ensure the location you are considering is approved for undergraduate travel.

It may be possible to obtain approval to conduct your project in a restricted location. According to the International Travel Policy, “Duke undergraduates wishing to travel to a location on the Duke Restricted Regions List must formally, and individually, petition for a waiver of the Duke University restriction on travel.”

If you have questions about specific locations, ask your DukeEngage advisor or contact Christy Parrish Michels, Senior Manager, Global Admin. Policies and Procedures, Duke University.

Find Your Community Partner

Finding a suitable community partner is crucial to ensuring a successful project. You are planning to spend eight weeks (56 days max) volunteering with your organization, so take time with the research to find the right one.

Search for nonprofit organizations related to your service theme. Research the organizations you might want to partner with; learn about their mission, their current projects, assets and needs, and their experience hosting volunteers or interns.

Once you’ve identified several potential organizations, contact them to discuss volunteering during the summer. Describe the DukeEngage program and requirements, your skills and interests, and ask if there are projects you could contribute to as a full-time volunteer for eight weeks.

If you are unable to directly identify an organization to work with or prefer to participate in a more structured program, you could choose to partner with a volunteer sending organization (VSO) that will facilitate an individual placement or group project for you. In addition to arranging projects, most VSOs provide logistical support (such as arranging housing and airport pick up) on your behalf. There are many factors to consider in working with a VSO. The International Volunteer Resource Center (IVRC) has identified many resources.

Whether you partner directly with an organization or choose to work through a VSO, you should carefully research the organization or program. Ask to speak with former volunteers and program staff based at the site you are considering.

Meet with a DukeEngage Advisor

Indy projects take time and commitment to design. Ask an advisor for feedback on your prospective project to make sure you’re on the right track. All candidates MUST meet with an advisor before submitting an independent project application.

You can discuss service themes, locations, or specific projects you are considering with your advisor. You can also seek advice on identifying community partners, mentors, and building a project plan, or you can simply explore whether an independent project is the best way for you to participate in DukeEngage.

All candidates should meet with an advisor at least once prior to January 1, 2020. You are welcome to meet with your advisor as often as needed.

Email to schedule a meeting with an independent project advisor. Please schedule your meeting well in advance of the January 1 deadline.

If you are studying away from campus, your advising meeting will take place via Skype or by phone in the absence of internet access.

Tips from Alumni & Mentors

“Identify clear goals for your project with your community partner.”

“A strong candidate should have a good sense of what s/he will do at the project site on a typical day of work.”

“The more connected your project is with your studies, the easier it will be to find a professor to mentor you.”

“A workplan is not required when you apply, but it’s highly recommended that you build one ahead of your interview.”

“Don’t overlook logistics and safety. Be sure to explore housing and transportation options early on.”

Find Your Duke Mentor

Identify a Duke mentor by searching Departments and Centers related to your service theme and location. When you approach a potential mentor, discuss feasibility, resources, potential challenges and cultural context associated with your project work and location.

Your mentor can work with you to enhance your application, prepare for challenges you will encounter during your project and suggest ways to link your DukeEngage experience to your studies at Duke and plans beyond.

The earlier you find a mentor for your project, the more time you will have to work together to improve your application.

You can reach out to potential mentors as soon as you commit to a project theme or location — even if you have not identified a community partner. Your mentor may be able to suggest specific locations or organizations with whom you could partner.

Once you’ve identified specific project goals with your partner, prepare to discuss a workplan and timeline with your mentor, review your online application together, and gather feedback before you apply to DukeEngage. You will also agree with your mentor on a capstone activity to be completed upon your return to Duke.

Your mentor should be able to provide guidance and resources relevant to your project. For instance, if you are planning to work in South America, you may seek a mentor at the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies or a faculty member who conducts research there. Your mentor should also have experience with the type of work you are proposing to conduct. For example, a mentor at the Duke Global Health Institute could provide guidance on health-related projects or a mentor from the Nicholas School could provide direction if you’re designing a conservation project.

If you are having difficulty identifying a mentor, your DukeEngage advisor can provide suggestions based on your intended project.

If you’ve identified a potential mentor who has questions about what’s involved, please direct them to our page for Independent Project Mentors.

Note: The online application for Independent Projects includes a place to enter the NetID of your mentor as well as a link to a form that you will send to your mentor. Be sure to allow time for your mentor to review a draft of your application and submit the required mentor form well ahead of the deadline. You will receive an email confirmation when the form is received by DukeEngage.

Plan Your Project with Your Community Partner

Collaborate with your identified community partner and your Duke mentor to design your project.

  • Discuss the mission, long-term objectives, and current and upcoming initiatives of your host organization.
  • Collaborate to set specific goals for your project, based on existing needs and priorities identified by your partner as well as your skills and learning objectives.
  • Consider what is feasible to accomplish given your time frame, knowledge, and available resources.
  • It’s never too early to design a workflow and set a benchmark to measure accomplishments during your project. Discuss what challenges you may encounter and how you might address them.
  • Find out who your supervisor and collaborators will be and establish a communication strategy leading up to the application deadline and the start date of your project. Don’t overlook language and cultural differences that may play a role in implementing your work.
  • If you’re working with a VSO, ensure that you are matched with a host organization early so you can communicate directly and design your project before submitting your DukeEngage application.

Once you review your project and objectives with your Duke mentor, be sure to integrate their feedback into your plans.

Reminder about Logistics

You are responsible for planning the logistics of your project, including housing, meals, and daily transportation to your work site and free time activities. Discuss options with your community partner and think through what your daily life will be like.