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The communities we partner with deserve the highest standards of ethical engagement, which requires thoughtful preparation. The more students know about their host communities and specific projects ahead of time, the better they can support the work of their partner organizations. The more aware they are of common critiques of service, the better able they are to avoid common pitfalls. Understanding elements of effective community partnerships, frameworks for social change, and cultural differences can make a big difference in the impact of the experience on students and communities. Of course, health and safety are also important preparations.

In the spring, students selected for DukeEngage participate in a robust pre-departure program called the Fortin Foundation DukeEngage Academy, designed to address these topics. The Academy reflects our commitment to preparing students to be successful and ethical global citizens during DukeEngage and beyond.

Fortin Foundation DukeEngage Academy

The Academy consists of the following components:

Students participate in two or more orientation meetings led by their DukeEngage program leader(s). These meetings provide the group an opportunity to learn more about one another, their host communities, and their specific summer projects. Community partners and program alumni sometimes join these meetings.

Students participate in a series of seminars that explore topics like the implications of short-term service, identity & social change, cultural context, and health & safety during DukeEngage. Led by former DukeEngage participants with a curriculum developed by DukeEngage, this series provides the groundwork and tools for effective civic engagement, safety, and self-care. The seminar series also encourages DukeEngage participants to cultivate an ethos of critical reflection about the world and their place in it.

Participants will have the option of attending this year’s day-long series of required seminars on Saturday, April 6, or Saturday April 13, 2024.

Sample material from the pre-departure seminars:

  • A closer look at DukeEngage – our work is complicated and nuanced, demanding a great deal of thought and intentionality from participants. Before setting foot in their communities, we want students to begin to critically examine their experience. How is DukeEngage different from volunteering, or from an internship? How do group reflection, discussions about the big picture in a social issue, and cultural immersion change the focus? Can Duke students be seen as anything other than “privileged outsiders”?
  • Context and adaptation: What new cultural contexts might students encounter–even in the US? How can we build communication skills and be prepared to value differences? How might immersion in a new environment affect relationships, communication, work, and well-being?
  • Identity and social change – How is social change accomplished? How do we discover our social change identities? How might they come up in the summer?

Student preceptors

The pre-departure seminar series is led by students! DukeEngage preceptors are former participants selected for their leadership capabilities and nuanced understanding of community engagement. Preceptors are trained to facilitate meaningful discussion and belong to a teaching and learning community, meeting multiple times to prepare, practice, debrief, and reflect.

This student-led model allows new participants to learn from those who have been in their shoes, and provides leadership and growth opportunities for former students. A couple of testimonials from the inaugural cohort of preceptors:

After having eye-opening experiences during my DukeEngage Vietnam program, I wanted to help others make the best of their DukeEngage summer. Being a preceptor has been a wonderful teaching and learning experience. I love that the [sessions] are so much more than just a classroom, but a place for active discussion about how to be more aware and responsive to different cultures and people. Learning to be more thoughtful and critical of how your actions and words affect others, as well as how you let other people impact you, extends beyond DukeEngage and will continue to be useful as we encounter different people in our lives. I think it allows us to become better people.” –Thien Hoang, DukeEngage Vietnam 2017

“Working as a preceptor for DukeEngage was originally my idea of “paying it forward,” after I had grown and learned so much from my own DukeEngage experience in Rwanda…What I didn’t realize was that, although I was teaching and facilitating these courses, I also was learning so much, whether from the students I was working with, or the material that we were processing together.” –Maddie Braksick, DukeEngage Rwanda 2018

In addition to group learning experiences, students may be asked to independently complete select virtual learning modules, e.g.:

  • Understanding the DukeEngage Stipend: Students learn how their DukeEngage stipend is calculated, and how to live within it
  • Travel – Tips and advice on traveling internationally (if applicable)

Spring preparations include the DukeEngage Convocation, a time to come together as a newly formed community to be inspired, share stories, and collectively acknowledge our practical and ethical commitments.

In 2024, the DukeEngage Convocation will be Friday, April 19th from 5:00-8:00pm.

In September, participants reconvene for both cohort-specific group reunions/reflections, and a DukeEngage-wide symposium.

In 2024, the DukeEngage Fall Reunion is tentatively scheduled for the evening of Friday, September 20th.

Student Academy Leaders

Though the seminar curriculum is developed by DukeEngage, most sessions are facilitated by former DukeEngage participants working as DukeEngage Academy Preceptors. Preceptors are also encouraged to become storytellers at the Spring Convocation.

DukeEngage Preceptors are selected for their nuanced understanding of community engagement, their enthusiasm about student preparation, and their facilitation skills. Preceptors are trained to facilitate meaningful discussion and belong to a teaching and learning community, meeting multiple times to prepare, practice, debrief, and reflect.

Interested in becoming an Academy Preceptor? Check out the job description.

Apply here. Applications accepted on a rolling basis through January 24th, 2024.

Program Cancellation, Withdrawal, and Termination

DukeEngage cannot provide any assurance that the program will occur as described. Changes may be required as deemed necessary or advisable by Duke in light of health, safety, or security considerations or the programmatic interests of the programs.

Students who voluntarily withdraw or are withdrawn from DukeEngage will not receive the DukeEngage designation on their transcripts, and may be required to reimburse Duke for any expenses incurred on their behalf.

Duke may terminate its agreement to allow a student to participate in DukeEngage at any time, if a student is found to be in breach of the Participation Agreement.

Diversity, Identity and Global Travel

The experiences of each DukeEngage participant will be as different as the students themselves. Some students will be placed in locations where they may be considered a minority and possibly encounter challenges or discrimination based on religion, race, sexual/gender identity, ability or other aspects of their identity. We strive to prepare all participants for this possibility, and to support them during their experience.

If you have any questions or concerns related to safety or well-being during your travels, please reach out directly to the Program Director, or to our staff:

Below are some resources that may be helpful.

Some DukeEngage students may be the first person of their perceived ethnicity or race to work in their host community; others may find themselves among the majority for the first time. While some students have reported minimal differences between their home and host communities, others have faced complicated cultural assumptions and norms. To discuss any potential concerns, we encourage you to contact the Program Director early on in your decision-making process.

LGBTQIA+ students have reported a variety of experiences in DukeEngage. Some have worked in cosmopolitan cities where they’ve never felt more welcome to be themselves, while other students have chosen not to share their identities with host country nationals due to perceived cultural norms. To discuss any potential concerns, we encourage you to contact the Program Director early on in your decision-making process.

Students interested in applying to DukeEngage are advised to consider their health status, need for ongoing care, and need for accommodation to carry out the activities involved in a specific DukeEngage experience.

If you have concerns or questions about the work and everyday life activities typical at a specific DukeEngage site, we encourage you to contact that site’s Program Director early on in your decision-making process for information and advice, as well as noting your concerns with us at

The team at DukeReach also has many years of experience supporting DukeEngage students who want or need advice about traveling with physical or mental health concerns; please connect with them if you’d like to talk with someone about your unique needs. If you have a disability, we also encourage you to contact the Duke Student Disability Access Office for advice specific to your needs and to understand the process for requesting accommodations.

Prescribed gender roles vary across societies, and the host communities of our DukeEngage programs are no exception. While some female-identifying participants have reported little to no difference in how their perceived gender shapes their experience, others have encountered strict and/or troubling cultural norms that have impacted them more than they expected. To discuss any potential concerns, we encourage you to contact the Program Director early on in your decision-making process.

DukeEngage students come from a wide variety of religious backgrounds, and many don’t share the religion of their host community. While this normally doesn’t pose problems, students may want to consider how they would react to a lack of access to religious services or how they may need to modify their behavior in order to comply with host-community norms and expectations. To discuss any potential concerns, we encourage you to contact the relevant site’s Program Director early on in your decision-making process.

Identity-related DukeEngage blog posts

We understand that it can be helpful for future participants to gain perspective from their peers, and offer the following blog posts and video from DukeEngage students reflecting on their experiences dealing with diversity issues abroad.

In this deeply moving account of his struggle to be true to his identity while prioritizing his safety, Indy Rajan describes the careful but difficult choices he made and what he learned along the way. WISER school and program leaders provided a supportive environment.