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Why We Do DukeEngage

Duke program directors share what inspired them to launch or run a DukeEngage program, what they hope students and partners take from the experience, and how DukeEngage has impacted their work.

The DukeEngage Communications team interviewed Purnima Shah, Associate Professor of the Practice of Dance and Director of DukeEngage-Ahmedabad.

Students and children holding drawings

What sparked your idea for a DukeEngage program?

I have been interested in community service since my undergraduate years, when I used to participate actively in youth programs led by the local Lions Club. Now, with each passing year of leading the DukeEngage-Ahmedabad program, I often wish I too had a similar opportunity during my undergraduate years. During the past few decades, a booming corporate industry and the availability of microcredit programs for small scale ‘informal’ entrepreneurial opportunities in urban India have attracted millions of displaced and impoverished rural residents to urban regions seeking employment in hourly/daily jobs. But at the same time, they are neither able to afford basic education, health care and nutrition for their children, nor pursue vocations for their youth or women. I thought it would be a great service experience for DukeEngage students to work with our partner nonprofit organization Saath, on their community projects that strive to provide better opportunities to these migrant communities, especially women and children. One cannot deny that the learning experiences involved with the DukeEngage program during a student’s formative years could motivate a deeper maturity, sharper receptivity and an empathetic perspective of the social and political issues that some of the not-so-visible under-served communities are subjected to grapple with.

What do you hope students will take from the DukeEngage experience?

This international DukeEngage program motivates students to interact with rural communities from diverse cultures in western India. They learn to develop social responsibility; through their interactions, they acquire deeper awareness of their cultural identity and learn to respect differences as much as to respect human beings less privileged than themselves; and they gain new global perspectives. Our weekly guest talks educate them in the arts, culture, history and civilizational value systems. The language training and reflection sessions encourage students to improve writing, communication and analytical skills. They participate in discussions with interns from other schools. Their local project mentors guide them with local research methods in the context of their project work, they also learn non-verbal interactive communication skills with different communities they serve, and on the whole, acquire a better understanding of the functioning of the non-profit social sector. Towards the end of the summer program, I have observed year after year that majority of students gain a certain sense of self-discovery through the service-learning experience.

What benefit does your DukeEngage program offer the community/partners?

Our NGO partner offers an elaborate educational program for training interns, that DukeEngage students partake in, with an aim to help develop leadership skills and instill a keen interest in community service at a younger age. Each student group is meticulously mentored by their project leaders all through the summer program. In return, the DukeEngage students work on project deliverables that the NGO could use, for instance, working on a STEM curriculum for the NGO’s school, 5th through 9th grades; preparing worksheets and manuals for teacher training; crafting product proposals for microcredit programs; creating home manager profiles for livelihood programs; creating a catalog for RWeaves, a project in aid of re-establishing traditional weavers who have lost their marketability; among several other project submissions.

What is your advice on how to stay civically engaged while physically apart?

Due to the safety concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19, DukeEngage cancelled all onsite programs this year. As an alternative suggested by the DukeEngage administrators, I worked together with the NGO project mentors and we came up with a set of online projects that the student participants would be able to do. The mentors, students and I meet over Zoom every alternate week and reflect on their work in progress. The mentors meet regularly with the students, guide them and lead their online projects. Hopefully, the students will come up with interesting deliverables that will benefit the NGO this year too.

The DukeEngage Communications team interviewed David Malone Ph.D.’84, Professor of the Practice of Education and Faculty Director of Duke Service-Learning. He has led the DukeEngage-Boston program since 2015.

students eating pizza

What sparked your idea for a DukeEngage program?

In the summer of 2013, my good friend and colleague, Public Policy Professor Tony Brown, approached Eric Mlyn (then Director of DukeEngage) about creating a new program in Boston focused on social innovation, social entrepreneurship, and civic engagement.

Tony chose Boston for several reasons: the high level of social innovation and entrepreneurship in the city, an active and engaged cohort of Duke alums, and New England is Tony’s home. The DukeEngage-Boston program began in summer 2014 with 10 undergraduates and 6 community partners. That fall, Tony and Eric asked me if I would be interested in directing the program in 2015. I was excited about the opportunity for because I love working with Duke undergraduates, I was very familiar with Boston having gone to college in the area, my wife grew up in Boston, and I knew Tony had created a strong foundation for the program.

Being an education professor whose work focuses on children, youth, schooling, and human development, I modified the focus of the Boston program by adding new and different kinds of community organizations as partners. While DukeEngage-Boston is still centered on social innovation and civic engagement, we now have a sharper focus on innovation as it relates to the holistic development of children and youth.

What do you believe students have taken away from the experience over the years?

This is my 36th year at Duke as a faculty member. I would rank DukeEngage as one of the most meaningful ways I have been involved with Duke students during my career.

I believe that DukeEngage—when designed and implemented in thoughtful ways—can truly be a transformative experience for our students. Transformative is a much-overused word these days in higher education. I don’t use the word “transformative” without careful consideration of what it means in the context of student development. By transformative I mean that many of our Duke students return from DukeEngage with significantly different perspectives than the perspectives they had prior to their experience. How do I know this? Evidence for this claim can be found in the ways students write about and discuss the issues we are grabbling with. They see themselves, their peers, and their relationship and responsibilities to communities in new ways. They grow in their capacity for careful observation, reflective analysis, and sitting still with ambiguous problems long enough to truly understand them. Social inequities that may have been invisible to them become more visible. They allow themselves to be uncomfortable as they examine power, privilege, and positionality.

In Boston, to help us articulate the ways we are growing, we use the metaphor “seeing the water” because we read an essay by David Foster Wallace “This is Water–About Living a Compassionate Life.” It is not difficult to perceive when students begin to “see the water” and to embrace the process of transformation; the stages of emerging adult development are well documented in the research literature and easily recognized. Duke students grow in significant ways as a result of their Boston experiences—increasing their capacity for perspective taking, empathy, self-awareness, new skillsets, and a greater sense of “we are all in this together.”

What benefit does your DukeEngage program offer the community/partners?

The Boston program provides meaningful benefits to our community partners. I know this because each year the partners register their “vote” when I ask if they want a DukeEngage student next year. Invariably the nonprofit organizations re-up enthusiastically. Their endorsement is typically accompanied by glowing reviews of our students. The thing I hear most often from our Boston partners is that Duke students just get things done; they are willing to take on any type of task or project and they persist and follow through until completion.

I recognize it is a lot of work for these nonprofit organizations to take on an untrained intern. It requires supervision, planning, and integration into the existing team. Taking on a Duke intern isn’t a simple task for a community organization, yet they embrace our students because they add value to their work and have an impact on the neighborhoods and communities we work with.

I know that our partners also enjoy their role as co-educators. They enthusiastically participate in the process of developing our students ethically, intellectually, and civically. Many of them often comment on the need to attract talented young people into careers in non-profit work and the public sector. It is truly is a win-win situation for our students and our partners.

What will you miss most about not running a program this summer?

What I miss most about not being with 12 Duke students in Boston this summer is the experience of learning alongside them. Even though I am almost 70, I am still learning and growing—and young people see the world in different ways than I do.

I remember one summer when I taped 10 signs on the walls of our dorm common room, each naming a social issue: wealth/income inequality, educational inequities, racism, globalization, environment, and so on. I asked the students to stand under the sign that represented the world’s greatest challenge. But one courageous student refused to move. As the other students moved around the room, I waited a minute before inviting the non-mover to share her thoughts. Then she said one word: intersectionality. At that point, all of us were drawn into something none of us expected—a deeply engaging conversation about interdependence and the ways social systems and structures interact and intersect. More importantly, we uncovered ways each of us may be complicit with these systems and the actions we were going to take to change them. I learned a lot that day, and became much more hopeful about our future and our capacity to address our challenges. This summer I will miss those kinds of intense growing experiences that happen within communities of purpose.

What’s your advice on how to stay engaged while socially apart?

To me the phrase “staying engaged while socially apart” is a bit misleading. At this moment I may be feeling physically apart from others, but socially I feel very connected. In fact, instead of calling it “social distancing,” we should call it “physical distancing while socially connected.” I don’t think I’ve ever felt more socially connected and as engaged as I do now, even after two months of being quarantined in my home. There is so much at stake—and so much to do. So many opportunities exist for rethinking how we have traditionally done things—from schooling, to voting, to healthcare—to what Rousseau called the social contract. Our moral, civic, political obligations and rights as individuals while being members of a collective community.

It’s time for reimagining and re-envisioning how we see ourselves as individuals and our relationship to the collective and re-thinking how we organize ourselves as a society. I appreciate the work of Bryan Stevenson who outlines four principles to guide our actions: get proximate, change the narrative, being willing to be uncomfortable, and stay hopeful.

I would encourage our students to use this time to do the difficult introspective work of sitting still with oneself and figuring out who you are and how you want to be in the world. Look in before you reach out. We live in difficult times—disproportionally and significantly more difficult for many—if we look within ourselves while staying deeply engaged and socially connected perhaps we can dream socially of more inclusive, just, and equitable ways of being in the world—and then take actions to make these dreams actualities.

The DukeEngage Communications team sat down with Christine Folch, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology, one of the faculty directors leading DukeEngage- Brazil and Paraguay, along with colleague Luana Lima, Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Sciences and Policy.

photo of students at Spillway

What sparked your idea for a DukeEngage program?

The research that I’ve been doing in Paraguay around Itaipu dam, which is the world’s largest hydroelectric dam, allows me to be a member of the Energy Initiative as faculty. The Duke Energy Initiative wants to think about how to engage undergraduates in research experiences that center on energy. I’ve brought smaller teams of students to South America to do energy research because of that.

Luana Lima, who is also inside the Energy Initiative, approached me to brainstorm our project together around Itaipu dam. Luana is Brazilian and she’s an energy expert. So, the idea was to think about a project that centered on questions about the hydroelectric dam as a way to think about how to help students not just engage with DukeEngage, but engage with the Duke Energy Initiative. So that’s one way into that question.

The second answer to that question: I’ve been working with undergraduates for 20 years in development, so I have a lot of experience. I did this as an undergrad and then after I graduated, I began walking alongside undergraduates as they did a combination of service and learning and crossing cultural boundaries. Those cultural boundaries could be in the United States. Those cultural boundaries could be in their city or those cultural boundaries could be anywhere in the world.

So, I have always had a love for and a commitment to the kinds of projects and the kinds of questions that DukeEngage centers. From the very beginning of my time at Duke- this is my fifth year here- I wrote for some funding support to be able to bring undergraduates with me onto my research site. So, in many ways DukeEngage is just a natural evolution of the work that I’d already been doing.

What do you hope students will take from the experience? 

In the past, I’ve brought smaller teams of students, so two students: one undergrad, one grad. We were there for anywhere between a week to two weeks. That’s a much shorter and more intensive kind of trip than DukeEngage, not that DukeEngage is not intensive; but, it just meant that we did a lot of research work beforehand and those students were coming in on my research project. So, here at Duke, I launched a research project called Itaipu Post 2023. I’ve got a scholarly project on the dam, which has to do with the anthropology of infrastructure and the anthropology of energy, but because it’s the world’s largest hydroelectric dam and because it really matters so much, especially to Paraguay, I launched a more public policy oriented research project asking the question, “How can Paraguay think about this resource?”

So, I brought students into something that was happening. The DukeEngage program takes it to another level. Students are going to be there longer, so they’re going to have a chance to develop more independent personal relationships with people in the country. I think that, of all the things that DukeEngage gives students- amazing opportunities, learning, et cetera- the thing that’s probably most important and most life-transforming is the chance to form real relationships. An eight-week program can give the space for that. I’m talking with the person who’s site coordinating with me, who is a Paraguayan and has worked in the dam and in the government. We’re doing a lot of the planning together, and what we really want is for students to form relationships. We think that it’s in those relationships that substantive change can happen in Paraguay and for the students themselves.

With some of the structures that we’re designing, we want students to get to know and work alongside Paraguayan undergraduate students and to do research together. We’re putting together a workshop, an energy workshop, where we want to invite key leaders in the country to come and speak to the students. We want the output of that to be research, research that they develop alongside each other. They’re tackling the question of how to use energy for social development, but it’s not necessarily stuff that I’ve worked on. They’re going to be connected with different organizations and different individuals. So, we’ll see what comes up.

What benefit does your DukeEngage program offer the community/partners?

I think this DukeEngage Itaipu Paraguay has a real potential to be a game changer on the ground in Paraguay. The reason is that this is not a small issue for Paraguayans. They care a lot about it, and there’s a lot of potential in the dam to transform their country. So, it’s not like just our local partners care about it. Everyone in the country cares about it.

What Duke students can do, not just for community partners, not just with the students that they’re going to be meeting with and the peers and peer relationships that are going to be forming, not just with the organizations who are doing interesting development work that they’re going to get to know, but what they can do is get hands-on experience trying to show what the benefit of research is to questions of poverty, inequality, and development need. We have dreams of publishing the student research.

Paraguay is like many underdeveloped countries, it’s got a lot of inequality. It’s got a lot of resources that are not stewarded well, and the resources tend to float to the top of the pyramid. When there’s business development, often it can be unsustainable financially, ecologically, socially because it’s focused on the bottom line in a really narrow sense for people outside the country. We want to actually ask the question, “How can you do development that is sustainable and socially and ecologically responsible?” We think that that matters. We think that if we show what research brings to the table, it’s not just going to benefit community partners that we work with. We think it has an ability to make an impact on the debate in Paraguay in general. We’re going to share our research in Paraguay. It’s not just like we’re going to have an amazing experience and come back to the US with photos for our Facebook feeds or Instagram. Our goal is to leave things there.

What benefits do you see for students and faculty in the type of experiential learning offered by programs like DukeEngage?

I think there’s so much here. There’s the pedagogical side of it. We learn better when we’ve got more senses involved, when we’re not just in the classroom, but when we’re actually having to gather data, analyze it in real time and thinking about how to communicate it. I think that students involved in projects like this get a real sense for what we do as scholars. It’s not just reading a book, but it’s seeing how this is put together and getting a vision for why it matters and why I could do it.

I think it’s really important to learn to cross cultural boundaries. Not just for a day, but to work across cultural boundaries. The only way to learn how to do that is through time. For students, I think something else that DukeEngage offers, not just outside of the US but inside the US, is the chance to cross boundaries and to have to learn how to work with them. Not only how to work in those contexts, but how to follow rather than lead. I think that’s super important. We’re so used to being leaders or to having the answers. I think you could just really look at global political economy and see that doesn’t work. It’s not just culturally insensitive. It’s actually just mathematically wrong. You can’t impose solutions. Those are structurally guaranteed to fail. The way to actually address these kinds of issues is through learning how to work in difference. I think that’s one major thing that DukeEngage offers students.

I think it’s also really important for students to learn multiple languages. So, one of the requirements for the Paraguay side of the trip was for students to speak Spanish. We conducted interviews in Spanish. There’s a Brazil side to this trip as well, which we’re really excited about, but the language requirement wasn’t as strong there because students will be working in a university context with researchers who will be speaking English. In Paraguay, people don’t speak English, so if you want to speak to anybody in Paraguay, and I think they’ll speak to many people, they need to speak Spanish. They’ll have an opportunity better that.

I can talk about what it offers me. I’ve been working on this field site for more than a decade and I really care. I think that it in any society, the most important and the most precious thing is its young people. The idea that a number of students applied and sought to work on this team is big; they wanted to go to Paraguay. Duke is sort of yielding its most precious resource, which is its young people and their families are yielding their most valuable thing, right? I think that there’s nothing more valuable than that.

To be able to have something so important as their time, hope, spirit, and intention is incredible. It’s six young people who are eager to get in on this. I just think I’m so thrilled for what that can mean for the work I’ve been doing in the past and the things I would love to learn about more and see grow and change on my field site.

What are you most excited about for this summer?

I am excited for at least two things. The relationships that are going to be built in the team. I don’t know what those are going to be like, right? They’re totally dependent on the chemistry of the individuals. I’m really excited about those relationships, and I’m really excited for six Duke undergraduates to see Paraguay in the blank slate that they are. I’m excited about relationships and I’m excited to see Paraguay through the eyes of creative, dedicated, committed young people.

Our program has a sort of a partner program in Brazil because the dam that centers and anchors our project is an international dam. We’re really excited about developing a pretty strong partnership with another group of DukeEngage students. They’ll be asking questions that are related but different because the context is different. Brazil is different from Paraguay. We’re thinking a lot more about policy and public policy. They’re thinking a lot more about energy and engineering. It’ll be really cool to see how this happens, how it’s not just like programs in neighboring countries, but programs that have at the center an object that is international. I’m excited for what that also means.

The DukeEngage Communications team sat down with Kisha Daniels, Instructor of Education, one of the co-directors of DukeEngage-Chicago, along with colleague Mark Anthony Neal, James B. Duke Distinguished Professor of African and African American Studies.

Chicago program directors, students, and community partners

What sparked your idea for a DukeEngage program?

My research has always been supported by service learning. When I first started as a professor, I was introduced to the terminology of service learning through a grant that I was asked to be a part of as a faculty member. But when I started digging into service learning and what it was about, I realized that that’s just how I had always been teaching. I didn’t know that it actually had that name. Community engagement was just always something that I was passionate about and that I felt should be any component of every education classes.

I started learning more about service learning and how it was different from community engagement, but it really helped me hone in on different ideas and connections that could be made to content and service. When I came to Duke and realized that Duke had this amazing program- Duke Engage- I thought, “Well, wow. This solves all my problems.” One, being I never felt like 16 weeks was enough in any semester to actually extend a student’s understanding and knowledge, a foundational kind of a knowledge or skillset, even, around course concepts.  So, I thought, “Wow, DukeEngage could be that answer if there were a way to connect what we were doing in the classroom and then have an extension where students were really immersed in programming that was connected.” I started just thinking about Duke Engage in that capacity, then, of course, learned more about it.

I always knew that the program I envisioned had to be connected in some way to urban education, and I know urban education can sometimes be that buzzword for a lot of things. But in my mind, because I was born and raised in the Bronx, I just knew it to be more of a method and an ideology as opposed to a buzzword. Whatever the Duke Engage was that we came up with, I wanted it to be in an urban area. I started thinking about what cities are urban in nature and have rich cultural histories, and Chicago just came to mind.

Then I had to start thinking about, “Well, what is it that we want to connect?” My research focuses mostly on marginalized populations and innovative and creative strategies that support marginalized populations in education and in the classroom specifically. It really revolves a lot around culturally relevant pedagogy. One of the newest iterations of culturally relevant pedagogy from a different perspective is using Hip-Hop as a genre to really help kids understand the advocacy behind it and also how it connects to learning. I knew those had to go together and then I knew Chicago was a great vessel community to have this all happen in. Then I started talking to Dr. Mark Anthony Neal and I kind of just said, “I’ve got these ideas but I need some help fleshing them out. You have Hip-Hop as a historian and I’ve got the education aspect, what can we do? How can we come up with something great?”

And it just worked. He and I met a few times and we just discussed what we really wanted students to be able to walk away with, and then it all kind of just morphed together into this great program. And so that’s pretty much the genesis of where it came from. It got me thinking about it just being a connection to a course, and then it evolved more into how can students really understand all of these nuances and facets of city living and the different factors and impacts of living in a city and layer that with Hip-Hop as a critical pedagogy and how it looks in real communities. Especially in the summer. That’s really the long story of how it kind of came to be.

What do you hope students will take from the experience? 

I really feel strongly- this is sort of the way I approach everything in education- that we have to shift our paradigm from a deficit thinking model to a non-deficit thinking model. What that would look like is students approaching work in the community and realizing what are all the great things that this community has to offer me, and what am I taking away from this, as opposed to, this community needs so much help and I’m here to help it. That would be the deficit model. Cities have all these struggles and challenges, and while that may be true, if you start with that lens, sometimes it is very much clouded by all of the great things that are already there. Start with the great things and let the communities tell you what their needs are. Because if you come with a deficit model or a deficit lens, chances are you’re going to either overlook that or it’s going to be hard for you to really be an integral part of that community.

For many of our students, they may not have ever been or been to and/or lived in a large city before, so that’s definitely a shock. Even if they have, each city has a very, very different history and very different pulse. They’re just different. So, it doesn’t really matter that they’re both cities. They have their own unique perspectives. We have to be able to appreciate each for what they are. Each community has its own separate needs.

What benefit does your DukeEngage program offer the community/partners?

All of our programs are so diverse, our community partner programs are very diverse, and they work to solve and support different constituents in Chicago. So, I think that each partner comes to this from a different perspective. I know that’s one of the things we work on setting up in advance and having a lot of really thoughtful conversations around: “What are your needs and how can we help?” I think that, at the root of it, all of our partners look to us to enrich what they’re already doing and to bring different perspectives. I really do believe that our partners all are so invested in telling their stories, that having students come and spend two months with them is another unique way to tell their story and to get the information out to larger communities about who they are and what they do and the value that they have in the community. It’s very noble of them to allow us to come into their communities for two months to really learn about and support them, but also then to say, “Go back. Tell people about how great we are.” I think, in regards to Chicago, when the story gets back to larger populations, it is often riddled with violence and there’s a lot of misinformation that gets played out. Chicago gets a bad rap a lot of times, particularly the South Side of Chicago where they’re majority African American and Latinx communities. I would imagine that a lot of our community partners are excited by the fact that students are coming to the South Side to be able to go back and share, “It is not what you hear on the news.” It’s a community full of people who love Chicago, who want the best for their neighbors and their children, they are fighting for good schools, and they’re no different from anybody else. But you have to understand that there have been a lot of systemic issues that might play into this. So, I think we help to tell the story of Chicago for Chicago.

How does/has this program align with/impact your research or teaching?

I would say that most professors will tell you there’s never enough time to do everything, and I feel exactly the same way. I think last summer when we were gearing up for DukeEngage, I had all of these big ideas about, “Oh, we can research this and we can think differently about how we come about this, and this would be a great opportunity to pull a lot of thesis work out for students.” That’s some of what students are asked on their application, but I think as a researcher and as an academic, I was thinking that I’d be able to do so much more, but there’s not enough time, right? I don’t have enough time to figure out how to synthesize everything that happened last summer into just one research project or one article or one book or anything like that. What I had to realize really soon after I got back was, for right now, I have to be able to take that experience and help it impart new knowledge and new teaching strategies for my current classes.

Last semester and this semester I’m teaching Education 240/ Psych 240. It’s Education Psychology. This semester I’m also teaching a Special Topics class: The Critical Pedagogy of Hip-Hop. That’s where I wound up talking a lot more about the DukeEngage experience really. In 240 especially, we have a lot of conversations around what is the nature of service learning and community engagement, and looking reflectively at whether or not we help communities or hurt them with service learning. How do we know this? How does that play out? I was really fortunate to be a part of a Bass Connections project (Community and University Assisted Schools) that is looking at this as well. While I haven’t been able to do a lot of independent research, it has completely impacted my participation in my Bass Connections project group. I’m also working with a student who didn’t come to Chicago- she actually went to Boston with Dr. Malone- but I’m her research advisor, and she’s looking at that idea too: What is service learning and what’s its place? And how it can be better, how universities can think about it differently?

I do believe that the experience has impacted my conversations that I have with students, how I have now embedded that as part of my Ed Psych class and my work with students who want to complete independent research. It’s most definitely grounded in my Special Topics class, which has two students who were in DukeEngage-Chicago enrolled. I’m really happy about that. Then last semester, one student who was in the class also participated in the DukeEngage. So, I feel like there’s a great overlap for students who were able to get into the class being able to see the connection.

What benefits do you see for students and faculty in the type of experiential learning offered by programs like DukeEngage?

Well, I think at the top is this idea that students would be getting very, very practical experience and knowledge around servant leadership. I do feel like, as an educator, that’s what servant leadership is. If you’re a teacher, if you want to do anything in the public sector, it is all about being a servant of the people in some way. I do think that that’s one of the themes that we stress in our DukeEngage program. Beyond you just liking to help people, you have to really understand the frameworks and tenants of leadership, servant leadership being one, and how that comes about and where it fits in your life.

I always pushed back on this notion that we have a lot of students who do the DukeEngage programs because it’s a box they need to check. I know I need to do something for my future employers. Fine, if you come to it from that perspective and you come to Chicago, I’m going to make you think about whether or not you really, really, really want to be a servant leader. Some people are not meant for the jobs that have that as a current, right? Along with that, I think it gives students very practical skills and information around leadership, but also empathy and communication skills. It may be the first time some students have actually ever had a real job. You’re having to talk to people that you never probably thought you’d talk to. You have to understand how the organization works. You have to do your research and understand systems. You have to be in meetings where you have to be really attentive to what’s going on because more than likely you’re going to be asked to do something about it. Along with that, you also are now a part of a community that is counting on you. There are some jobs you can do and it doesn’t matter if you’re a part of the community, right? Internships and placements through DukeEngage mean that you are a part of that community. For instance, I’m thinking about the Arab American Action Network, which is one of our community partners. In order to be a participant and to really get more out of the experience of being a part of that organization for two months, you need to understand what Arab Americans in Chicago go through. It’s not okay for you not to know because it impacts everything that you do within that organization. The organization is there to teach you, but for some of it you have to do research on your own. All of our partners are like that. They are steeped in the community.

You have to be a part of that community and know what that community needs in order to be effective. I hope that students walk away learning that being part of a community is a really important aspect of their adult lives, outside of the job skills and the leadership skills they gain. Surprisingly, there are many students who don’t have that coming to Duke or DukeEngage. They’re trying to find their place on this campus, find their community, maybe still struggling, and wound up going on a DukeEngage, and that might be your first experience with being connected to a community. That’s powerful for a lot of students. If they come to DukeEngage-Chicago, that’s one of the elements that we stress: this is your community. We work really hard to help them with that.

What are you most excited about for this summer?

What I’m most interested is really just seeing how we can take the lessons that we learned from this past summer and improve on it and make it, if that’s possible, an even better, stronger program than before. I think I’m just excited to see how it rolls out again and see if it works the same or if the tweaks that we made here or there make a difference. I’m definitely excited about another cohort. I think that you just don’t know. You don’t know, and it’s kind of the anticipation of not knowing. I’m really excited to kind of meet them and see how they work and gel together. I think it’ll be great.

The DukeEngage Communications team interviewed Katherine Black, Program Director for Experiential Programs & Social Innovation at Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative. Katherine works with Matt Nash, Managing Director for Social Entrepreneurship, to run DukeEngage-Detroit.

2019 DukeEngage-Detroit participants.

What sparked your idea for a DukeEngage program?

I cannot take credit for the idea of DukeEngage-Detroit. Eric Mlyn [the former Peter Lange Executive Director of DukeEngage] was talking to Matt Nash about how they were hoping for new domestic DukeEngage programs. He asked Matt, “What do you think about Detroit?” and Matt said, “What do I think about it!? Eric! I’m FROM Detroit!”. It was serendipitous, because I was looking for a new job. Matt knew that I had worked in the social impact space at the Sanford School of Public Policy and that I had worked with Tony Brown [Professor of the Practice and co-director of the Hart Leadership Program] to start the DukeEngage-Boston program, so he brought me on board!

What do you believe students have taken away from the experience over the years?

It’s so hard to put into words all of the things I have heard over the past six summers. Overall, I believe that students leave knowing much more about what the what the social sector space really looks like. They are partnered with nonprofits on the frontlines of social change in the Detroit community, and tasked with truly instrumental strategic projects for those organizations. We use some of our enrichment activities and workshops to also showcase what companies and corporations outside of the nonprofit space are doing or have done to contribute to Detroit’s economic development and social impact space.

I think students often leave with a better understanding of where they might want to head in their careers. They learn that there are a variety of paths that one can take outside of the more traditional fields, and that they can implement positive change wherever they go. It’s wonderful to see students leave better prepared and inspired to become “changemakers.”

What benefit does your DukeEngage program offer the community/partners?

Our hope is to always add value and progress on strategic projects leading to improved effectiveness and increased impact in the community. We also always want to exploring opportunities to deepen Duke’s engagement in Detroit through social innovation and entrepreneurship.

What will you miss most about not running a program this summer?

I will miss the cohort dynamic and showing students one of my favorite cities. It is always wonderful to see students (who may not have ever met otherwise) become close friends and light up when they realize their potential, and when passions are ignited. I love seeing the program and summer in Detroit open student’s eyes to the side of Detroit that people don’t talk about—it’s heart, resilience, grit, and community.

What’s your advice on how to stay engaged while socially apart?

  • Ask for help and utilize FaceTime as much as possible! I have been talking to some friends and family MORE than I do during the busier times in life, so that is life-giving.
  • Do “virtual study hall” with friends via Zoom! Pick a time and hop on Zoom to study together. Even if you aren’t speaking, it’s a great way to feel less alone while working.
  • Cook or bake with friends via zoom or FaceTime. You can try out recipes together.
  • Write down your feelings during and about this time in history. It will certainly be interesting to look back on one day.
  • Try a new creative hobby (instrument, watercolor, painting, drawing, poetry, etc.).
  • Make photo books of all the memories on your phone.
  • Send snail mail to friends and family.

The DukeEngage Communications team interviewed Jenni Owen, Director of Policy Engagement and Senior Lecturer, Sanford School of Public Policy (on leave as of January 2017 to serve first as Policy Director, now as Director of Strategic Partnerships for NC Governor Roy Cooper). Jenni has directed DukeEngage-Durban since 2010.

people playing soccer in a field in front of the Drakensberg mountains
DukeEngage students and members of the rural Mnweni village, located north of Durban in the Drakensberg mountains, connect over a shared love of soccer. The group typically brings soccer kit (uniforms) for the local youth team.

What sparked your idea for a DukeEngage program?

In 2007, I received an Eisenhower Fellowship to travel to South Africa to look at poverty alleviation from multiple perspectives: nonprofit, government, business, and philanthropy. I spent six weeks engaging with leaders from those sectors. I was in Durban at an “official” lunch with the deputy mayor of the municipality, and commented that while I appreciated these opportunities I would like to take a deeper dive into the “real” community. The man next to me stood up and made a call. I hear him say, “Hey, Tish; it’s Eric. Are you available this afternoon? I want to bring somebody to you.” He was calling his sister in Wentworth—which is the location for DukeEngage-Durban.

I went with him for what was supposed to be 30 minutes, and stayed for 6 hours. In that short time, not only was I exposed to some amazing community members but I also went to a church where there was a planning meeting for the 2010 World Cup. They were training community members to serve as homestay hosts for soccer fans and tourists. Sadly, they never got the opportunity to serve as hosts but it was a coincidence that worked out for many of those hosts because of DukeEngage. They were planning for homestays in 2010, which turned out to be the first year of DukeEngage-Durban. Homestays are the only viable accommodation option in Wentworth so we benefited from their training and they benefited from our need for welcoming places to stay.

2007 was also DukeEngage’s pilot year. I knew a little bit about it but had no intention of doing a program. But during and after that afternoon in Wentworth, I kept thinking, “This is exactly what they must have in mind for a DukeEngage program.” I did an exploratory visit in 2008 with funding from DukeEngage and the program launched in 2010.

Wentworth is optimal because—and this is still true—when Americans, especially North Americans, think about Africa and South Africa in particular, we tend to think of it as mostly black and a little white. That’s not entirely wrong but it’s so much more nuanced than that. Durban reflects that nuance more than any other part of South Africa. It is a city of about 3 million and has more people of Indian heritage than anywhere outside of India. Deciding to do a DukeEngage program in Durban was a combination of the specific people I met during my Fellowship and the incredible educational opportunity for students and, I hoped, the community we’d be engaging with. It was an opportunity to live briefly but completely in a place that is simultaneously so similar and so different than the U.S.

What do you want students to take away from the experience?

One: be prepared to do almost anything. If that’s changing diapers or sweeping or grocery shopping, that’s okay. That should not be your full-time project at your placement, but it’s not beneath you and doing the “regular” work can be among the most important ways to learn about an organization or a culture. I would call those the ‘not lasting’ outcomes – meaning diapers will be changed, floors will be swept, and grocery shopping will happen whether there’s a DukeEngage student there or not. But again, that doesn’t diminish the value of being engaged in those ways.

Two: making sure, to the extent possible, that you do something that will last. Meaning, had you not been there, it would not have happened. That can be skills training, it can be creating a PowerPoint and showing your worksite partners how to use it and develop their own, tutoring students, teaching them, learning from them, and much more. These are the ‘lasting’ outcomes. For example, one of our partners is a children’s home, or what we would probably call an orphanage. Many of the children are a different race than the adopting parents. But there was no resource for the parents for when the kids started asking, “Why do we look different?”. A DukeEngage student majoring in psychology took a half day each week to compile resource material about parents and their adopted children being of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. It was something she left behind that the leaders of the home could give to adopting parents to help prepare them. That’s the kind of thing that lasts well beyond the students’ eight weeks.

Three: the homestay. I’ve always emphasized to DukeEngage students that it’s important to do something meaningful, make a difference, and have an impact. If a student says the homestay was more meaningful than the worksite, that can be just as important, just as much of a programmatic and personal impact for the community and for the student.

What’s the benefit to the community/partners?

It’s very similar to what I hope the students take away from the experience: make the most of the opportunity. Think about what you can’t do right now. Think about what external expertise would help you do your job better or have a greater impact.

It’s also about cultural understanding and awareness, and relationship building. I’ll never forget when I brought the very first group of students to Durban, one of the homestay parents said, “Wait! You’re not all white!” That made for some interesting discussions. And, of course, the local students asking the DukeEngagers, “Do you know Beyonce? Do you know Lebron?” That provides a window into what is not only humorous but also an opportunity to connect with people in different and lasting ways. Just two weeks ago, a homestay mom messaged me on WhatsApp to say she was worried because she couldn’t reach Akhil, a DukeEngage student who had stayed with her seven years ago. There are so many stories like that. That’s what I hope for on the homestay side.

On the worksite side, the partners don’t get paid. So, if partners are saying—year after year—that they would like a DukeEngage student again, that’s all we need to know. To me, that answers the question about whether or not this has been valuable for them.

Why do you do this work?

It combines a lot of things I care about and that are important for young people in particular but for all people. My primary work isn’t research so supporting my research agenda isn’t the motivation.

The primary reason is that DukeEngage can have a real impact and DukeEngage-Durban is evidence of that. It has an impact for the students; it has an impact for the community. At one point I realized I had two wishes for the program that might never happen but if they did it would be significant: first is for a student to return to Wentworth and Durban. That happened in 2013 when a student returned for a year to work with colleagues of mine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The second was for a former student to serve as site coordinator. That was supposed to happen this summer, 2020. I’m confident it will still happen.

It’s also a lot of fun. A ton of work, but fun. I inadvertently may have created the most complicated program possible, with each student having a different homestay, most having different worksites, different people providing transportation—probably 20 different partners to manage but completely worth it.

What will you miss most about not running a program this summer?

I’ll miss the community connection and the student connection—especially watching students’ development over time. That’s what changes the most. The worksites and the homestays are generally the same, which is wonderful. I know how things will go with Ms. Basssier or the Millers. I have no idea how things will go with each new group of students. You never know who’s going to make the most of it, grow the most, change the most. It’s always a surprise. And that’s amazing and telling. I am very glad that DukeEngage-Durban will have one, and possibly more than one, remote project this year.

What’s your advice on how to stay engaged while physically apart?

Make plans, even if they’re “remote” plans. Do something to “help” and contribute. There are truly limitless options for that, which can have positive ripple effects for others. But also ask for help if you need it. Create a routine, even if it’s only on some days or parts of days. Listen and watch music and other artistic performances. And if you can, get outside every single day, even if only briefly.

The DukeEngage Communications team sat down with David Schaad, Professor of the Practice of Civil and Environmental Engineering, to discuss his years-long involvement with DukeEngage and his new program in Indonesia. Professor Schaad has led multiple DukeEngage programs, including a pilot-year program in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans and a watershed management project in Durham and Beaufort, North Carolina. He has also led international programs in Bolivia, Honduras, Peru, and Uganda.

David Schaad and 3 DukeEngage Students out in the field

What sparked your idea for a DukeEngage program?

I’ve been doing DukeEngage since the pilot year in 2007. We did a project in New Orleans that year, and every year I look for ways to partner with DukeEngage because it gives students such great opportunities for engagement and experiential learning.

I’m also the faculty advisor for Duke Engineers for International Development (DEID), a student group that works with local partners to address identified community needs. We’ve partnered with DukeEngage at different locations. We finished up our project in Uganda last year, and started transitioning to a new program this year. It’s with a community partner that we’ve connected with previously in Indonesia, and I thought it would be a great transition from a structural project to a global health/water and sanitation project. We’re really excited to do that with DukeEngage. The logistical support they provide, as well as the institutional backing and the training, is all just so fantastic.

What benefit does your DukeEngage program offer the community and the community partners?

We’re doing these projects with the community, not for the community. The goal is to leave a tangible product behind. In the past we’ve built vehicular bridges and school buildings in Uganda, a water system in Peru, a clinic in Honduras, and pedestrian and vehicular bridges in Bolivia. This year we [planned to do] a sanitation system in Indonesia, which [would] hopefully be used by the community to improve the water quality in and around the river and the adjacent locale.

What do you hope students will take away from this experience?

Something Duke President Richard Brodhead said a couple years ago was that, as students progress in their careers academically and just as people, they tend to get into smaller and smaller bubbles where they don’t see very much different than themselves.

The goal of DukeEngage-Indonesia is for students to understand the way that water sanitation is done globally. Most people don’t have the same benefits as we do. To understand that, students partner and work alongside these wastewater engineers and community members who, on a daily basis, have to deal with these issues that we just take for granted.

How does this program align with and impact your research or teaching?

I’m a professor of the practice, so I don’t necessarily do research. But I do have a focus on sustainability and how we connect with and think about the people who live in the majority of the world that is different than us.

I am also the director of the Thomas C. Katsouleas National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenge Scholars Program at Duke and the Global Development Engineering Certificate Program. These are kind of overarching programs that understand that it’s not just a technological fix to a water/sanitation problem. There are issues of structural inequalities when it comes to gender, socioeconomic status, race, and class. Engineers can’t just come at the problem from a technological approach. They have to look at it more holistically. DukeEngage becomes part of the experiential component for the certificate in Global Development Engineering and is part of projects for many of our Grand Challenge Scholars.

I’m also teaching Engineering Sustainable Design in the Global Community. It’s a service-learning class that’s cross-listed in the Sanford School of Public Policy and the Nicholas School of the Environment, as well as the Pratt School of Engineering. The students in it are designing the DukeEngage project that we [were] going to do this summer [in Indonesia]. They’re getting the academic content and theoretical components in the class, and then they’re going to be implementing the experiential parts in the field. They get to see as it moves from thought to thing, and that’s a really rich educational experience. As well as understanding the social, ethical, and contextual issues associated with working on site with community partners.

Any favorite DukeEngage memories or unexpected outcomes from previous programs?

Back in 2011, we were looking to launch a new DukeEngage program. We had just finished up the clinic in Honduras, and we were looking for a new site. I went to Uganda on a site assessment funded by DukeEngage to explore different community partners in Kampala and Western Uganda. I met the person from Bringing Hope to the Family, a community partner we worked with for a number of years in Uganda. Then I came home.

They had an orphanage in Uganda. My wife and I were foster parents in North Carolina, and we had never really considered international adoption. But after going there, we were like, “Well, why wouldn’t we adopt these kids? They need homes.” We ended up adopting two children from that orphanage. My two sons are from a connection that I never would have had without DukeEngage. So, that’s very personal story for me.

As far as student-focused stories, there was Greer Mackabee ’12 in Honduras. He designed—I think he was a sophomore—a water/sanitation system for a clinic we worked on with Dr. Dennis Clements from the Duke Global Health Institute. This was a rural clinic up in the mountains of Honduras, near La Esperanza. And Greer put together its design, and then he graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Duke. He went on to get his Master’s degree in Environmental Engineering and his law degree at Stanford. Now, he’s putting together huge renewable energy projects in Washington, DC. He started small and then—of course I’m not saying that it was just the DukeEngage experience—but DukeEngage fosters this kind of understanding, this trajectory and sustainable thinking with a personal connection.

Who else? Caroline Horrow ’16 was in Uganda. She basically had her whole four-year trajectory mapped out. Then she went on DukeEngage-Uganda between her freshman and sophomore year. And [her plan] basically kind of switched. She’s in bioethics now, the whole intersection of how we think about things from an ethical perspective within the context of medicinal delivery. She actually went back to Uganda another summer* and she was a DukeEngage Academy Leader (DEAL). So, again, here was a really amazing student who kind of shifted directions because of their DukeEngage experience.

[* In 2014, Caroline used a Kenan Summer Research Fellow to return to Uganda. Her project followed service groups and explored how effectively they are trained and how well that training translates into awareness and implementation.]

Eunice Leung ’16 took the class that I teach, Engineering Sustainable Design in the Global Community, and was a Grand Challenge Scholar. She designed a school in Uganda through DukeEngage and DEID. After leading the team which built the school with DukeEngage over the summer, she came back to Durham and did research on the way we mixed the concrete and its strength. Since Uganda is a seismically active region, she wanted to make sure that everything that we were doing [was safe], because we were mixing by hand. It was very different from learning about concrete in class. And now she’s designing skyscrapers in New York.

I could just keep going. The students are amazing and their participation on DukeEngage teams is really self-selected; students have elected to come on this particular program and do this particular thing. Which is hard. Usually it’s really hard. They’re living in the country and it’s challenging both emotionally and physically. And they rise to it and exceed all my wildest expectations.

So, it’s very exciting. And then, of course, hearing from them 5 or 10 years down the road is really neat. I know students that have been out of DukeEngage for 13 years now. Some of them have come back to work with me as site coordinators for DukeEngage programs. And then to watch their careers progress, see them having kids, and see the way they’ve chosen their vocation and avocational interests. Again, I’m not saying this was strictly because of DukeEngage, I recognize it’s because of the student; the people they are. But they selected to do this kind of an experience, and [then] integrate it very holistically into their lives.

And what are you most excited about for this summer in particular given all of the previous years?

Each year is a new year and a totally different experience. I haven’t been to Indonesia since the tsunami devasted the region over a decade and a half ago. I mean, I went immediately after the tsunami and was doing livelihood restoration work. But I haven’t been back to Indonesia since then. And so, I’m really excited to be back there doing a water project. We’ve done a lot of structural projects recently, but am looking forward to a water and global health project and I think it’s going to be a really good group of students. So, I’m excited to work with them.

Has DukeEngage changed you? And if so, how?

Yeah, I think DukeEngage has [changed me]. You really up your game for sure.

What are you going to miss most about not running DukeEngage-Indonesia this summer?

I am going to miss being with the students and the community, and watching that symbiotic flow of knowledge, empathy, and connection. I became an engineer to help people and to make the world a better place. I will miss the opportunity to do that this summer, and will miss leveraging a tangible project that will benefit the people of South Kalimantan.

The DukeEngage Communications team interviewed Sherryl Broverman, Professor of the Practice in the Biology Department and the Duke Global Health Institute. Sherryl is the founder and president of WISER International, and has run the DukeEngage-Kenya-WISER program for more than a decade.

Three students speaking in front of their peers.

What sparked your idea for a DukeEngage program?

I have been working in Kenya doing research service-learning with students since 2003 and my programmatic development with the WISER NGO served as one possible model for DukeEngage. I was actually part of the pilot program as DukeEngage ramped up to full strength and also served as Vice-Chair of the inaugural faculty advisory board. I am delighted to have had the opportunity to be part of DukeEngage from the beginning as it was congruent with my pedagogical and mentoring practices.

What do you believe students have taken away from the experience over the years?

Students learn so much and often not what they think they will learn. Most of academia provides clean, tight problems for students to solve rather than the messy, complex, ambiguous ones in real life. Learning how to deal with ambiguity is a real challenge. Students also learn about the scope of problems, how hard they can be to solve, and the historical antecedents that caused them, which contextualizes their eight-week experience and reduces any ‘world saving’ ideas. In my program, students also learn about the gendered impact of educational and health inequity, as well as how national policy plays out differently in different local contexts. Students also develop a new lens and a community that initially felt foreign becomes home. When we first drive up, I point out a little tin roofed shack on the side of the road and say ‘that’s where you can walk to get a cold soda’ and some students’ shoulders hunch up to their ears. But in a few days, they are running down there in the evening and know the shopkeeper by name. Finally, they learn to socialize without technology. We have limited access to power and most down time is spent reading, chatting, or going for walks.

What benefit does your DukeEngage program offer the community/partners?

Our community partners are always so eager for us to come back and sometimes ask for more than we can do. For the last few years, my students have been working with the local Ministry of Health clinic to do data analyses on their files, particularly of their HIV/AIDS treatment program, and prepare health records to be digitized. Duke students helped establish the first engineering club, which now runs year-round and whose participants are now competitive in national science fairs. Some students from Pratt came one year and introduced robotics and coding, which now is done routinely in our computer lab. DukeEngage students have been pivotal in helping us expand our sexual and reproductive health outreach programs. Perhaps most significantly, Duke students did an analysis of the impact of the WISER clean water distribution system that led to a new $250,000 grant from USAID to expand the water system to a much larger population.

What benefits do you see for students and faculty in the type of experiential learning offered by programs like DukeEngage?

Most education in the US treats problem solving as students trying to find the answer the teacher already knows. In community-based work there often isn’t one correct answer and it can be messy trying to develop any solution. This is phenomenal preparation for students for many jobs, careers, and approaches to life. For myself, one of the most gratifying parts of my career has been the opportunity to live and work closely with students while in Kenya. From debating research strategies to stargazing at the constellations of the southern hemisphere to strategizing how to cook tacos for 14 people on a one burner stove for a taste of home, it has been a wonderful experience. I often become mentors, official or unofficial, to the students in the program and have developed decades long friendships.

How does/has this program align with/impact your research or teaching?

All of my teaching is about infectious disease and social injustice so the DukeEngage-WISER program connects to all my courses. I do undergraduate research with many students while they are in Kenya and many return to the site to continue research for honors theses. Students from DukeEngage have been authors on many of my published papers, so they are critical parts of my research endeavors.

What will you miss most about not running a program this summer?

My students! After all the orientation, build up, and getting to know the students’ passions, it was hard to tell them we wouldn’t be working together this year. On a personal note, this is the first time I haven’t been in Kenya in almost 20 years, so I miss all my Kenyan colleagues and friends. We also had some very important projects to do this year, such as another clean water distribution analysis whose data I hoped would bring in funding to expand clean water access to the poorest and most isolated part of the community.

What is your advice on how to stay civically engaged while physically apart?

We certainly have lots of civic issues in the US and many organizations are switching to online training and action. We are fortunate in the US that so many people have internet access and can engage in conversations, debates, forums, and outreach. For my past DukeEngage students, I know they are on What’sApp and Facebook, talking to the friends they made in Kenya. I will hear from one of them, ‘hey did WISER just close for a school break? I started getting text messages from Debra again at 3 am.” The time zone differences are always problematic.

The DukeEngage Communications team interviewed Jacques Pierre, lecturer in Haitian Creole & Creole Studies, co-director, Haiti Lab, and the faculty director of DukeEngage-Miami.

2019 DukeEngage-Miami participants
2019 DukeEngage-Miami participants. Photo provided by Shaiv Kittur.

What sparked your idea for a DukeEngage program?

JP: I was invited by my colleague, Joan Clifford, Assistant Professor of the Practice of Romance Studies, to co-direct the program (with her) three years ago. Throughout my adult life I have been interested in working with organizations whose mission is to defend the rights of the vulnerable ones. When Joan asked me to completely take over this program last year, that was a dream come true. First, Miami is a place I know pretty well, and am aware of a lot of challenges many communities face living there. To me, this was an opportunity to come into contact with several non-profit organizations to see how I could work together with them on many issues that I hold dear to my heart. Second, I see this as an opportunity to recruit a cohort of motivated, passionate, and energetic Duke students every summer to help the non-profit organizations to serve more people. Third, I truly believe the non-profit organizations will instill in our DukeEngage students passion, love, and compassion for underserved communities while serving them with dignity and humility. Overall, my idea for DukeEngage this year and the years to come is to give more and more students the opportunity to develop a sense of serving others while learning from others’ experiences that might not in the academic books they are reading for their degree.

What do you believe students have taken away from the experience over the years?

JP: Each student gets a set of various skills depending on the organization they were matched with. However, there’s an overlap between the skills they all get. First, they have the pleasure of serving others, especially the ones who are constantly left behind. Second, this experience helps the students to develop a keen sense of receptivity and attention to the plight of people who are dealing with many issues such as immigration issues, domestic violence and so on. Finally, it helps students figure out how to quickly develop teamwork skills to make their eight-week pleasant and enjoyable.

What benefit does your DukeEngage program offer the community/partners?

JP: It’s a win-win situation. Our students are a huge help to these understaffed non-profit organizations that are serving a great deal of people from diverse linguistics communities and various social backgrounds. DukeEngage students are always a good fit because they bring their skills to these organizations to help them fulfill the need of their clients. Also, DukeEngage students learn a great deal from these organizations through hands-on experience and through the narratives of many clients they were lucky to serve during their eight-week internship.

What will you miss most about not running a program this summer?

JP: I will miss seeing our students make a difference in the lives of many peoples via the partners of DukeEngage-Miami. Also, I will miss seeing our students sharing their experiences with each other during our weekly meeting. Through these meetings, students usually talk about how unaware they were of the struggles of a lot of minorities living in the United States before taking part in DukeEngage. Most importantly, from these meetings I noticed students are compelled by the desire to serve rather than to make a profit. Overall, every summer is an opportunity for me and DukeEngage students to learn from people who have been advocating for years for the rights of prisoners, immigrants, and others, how difficult it is for underserved communities to navigate through the justice system.

What’s your advice on how to stay engaged while socially apart?

JP: Check on your family and friends who are far away from you. Reach out to elders who may need your help while protecting yourself. The more you protect yourself, the more your immediate environment will be safe and the quicker we will beat Covid-19 together. While taking all these measures, make sure you find something pleasant to do at home such as reading, watching movies, and writing. Finally, think of a project where you could work remotely with a community partner of DukeEngage or a with an organization you have worked with in the past. If you need advice on how to come up with a viable project, do not hesitate to contact your program director or DukeEngage staff to help you.

The DukeEngage Communications team sat down with Marlee Krieger, Research Project Manager of Biomedical Engineering and Executive Director for the Center for Global Women’s Health Technologies, to discuss her extensive involvement with DukeEngage-Orange County.

Students working on a computer

What sparked your interest in a DukeEngage program?

Two of my life-long passions are education and science. The DukeEngage-Orange County program allows me to pursue those two passions while having a positive community impact in California. Since the start of the program, we have partnered with Girls Inc., a non-profit organization which aims to empower young women by giving them the tools to navigate social, economic, and gender barriers. More recently, we have added another partner, Global Girls, a non-profit creating innovative programs to mentor young women through art and story-telling. As members of the DukeEngage-Orange County program, we provide additional mentors to each of these partner organizations as well as develop, test, and implement relevant curricula related to STEM, health, art, and storytelling.

What do you believe students have taken away from the experience over the years?

DukeEngage students each have their own unique set of benefits and experiences as a result of participating in the program. Through the years, some of the most significant impacts the program has had on Duke students are 1) increased ability to work in new environments, 2) increased knowledge of the challenges faced by various socioeconomic classes, and 3) increased self-confidence in learned skills through teaching.

What benefit does your DukeEngage program offer the community/partners?

The DukeEngage-Orange County program offers a number of direct benefits to partners but the most significant benefit is providing our partners with a talented and motivated team of Duke undergraduates who can seamlessly assist them with achieving their summer goals through rigorous service-based immersion. The program also directly benefits young women in the Orange County area by exposing them to accessible and positive college role models.

What will you miss most about not running a program this summer?

I will sincerely miss working with the Duke students every day and getting to know each student in a different capacity than offered in a traditional classroom setting. I will regret being unable to form new relationships with community partner team members and community members themselves. Additionally, the Duke alumni in Orange County play a significant role in the success of the program each year. I will miss engaging with them and giving the Duke students the opportunity to work directly with them in California.

What’s your advice on how to stay engaged while socially apart?

While social distancing, it is important to remember to connect with not only your partners, but also your friends and loved ones. Remember to take a break from work and connect with important people in your life. Keeping communication consistent is beneficial both professionally and personally.

The DukeEngage Communications team interviewed Rebecca Bach, Associate Professor of the Practice Emerita of Sociology and Director of DukeEngage-San Francisco.

DukeEngage students in front of Larkin Street Youth Services.

What sparked your idea for a DukeEngage program?

Actually, the original idea for DukeEngage-San Francisco came from Dr. Janie Long, who co-directed with me for the first five years of the program. Dr. Long and I had worked together on some community-based research projects, so she was familiar with me and my interests in social issues associated with sexuality and general social inequality. When she asked me if I was interested, I joined enthusiastically. We were fortunate to receive a site visit grant from DukeEngage and were able to spend a few days in San Francisco to investigate potential community partners for the program. San Francisco is an ideal city for our program since there is a relatively large homeless population, a significant portion of whom identify as LGBTQ+.

What do you believe students have taken away from the experience over the years?

When some students have their first few days of working with Larkin Street Youth they appear a bit shell-shocked. The experience of riding a city bus into the Tenderloin [district] and walking past large numbers of people who are homeless is many students’ first exposure to a concentrated and very visible population of homeless people. And the fact that they are working with young people their own age allows them the opportunity to think critically about the lived experience of homelessness—the vulnerability, fear, hunger, desperation and the longing to feel like a “normal” 16-22-year-old. They also gain a better sense of the structural causes of homelessness in a wealthy city like San Francisco and the complexities of trying to “solve” the problems of homelessness.

2019 DukeEngage-San Francisco participants at longtime community partner Larkin Street Youth Services.

What benefit does your DukeEngage program offer the community/partners?

We have worked primarily with two community partners, Larkin Street Youth and At The Crossroads. Larkin is a huge organization with numerous services for homeless youth including academic courses, GED tutoring, job application assistance, temporary housing, health services, arts programming and more. Our students generally assist with several day-to-day operations and develop an individual or small group project. We have been fortunate to have a wide variety of students in the program who have developed classes in their areas of interest and expertise, such as computer classes, guitar lessons, creative writing, sexual health information, and even hip-hop dance classes! The staff at Larkin are very enthusiastic about our interns, indicating that their energy and commitment provide a boost for the clients and the staff. Sometimes our students are able to witness the fruits of their labor when a client passes the GED, gets a job, obtains housing, or enrolls in college courses.

At The Crossroads (ATC) is a much smaller organization that focuses on reaching youth who tend to fall through cracks of other programs, often because they have significant mental illness or substance abuse issues. Because their clients require professional counseling, our students cannot provide direct service to them. Rather, they provide support to the organization by taking leadership roles in organizing one ATC’s major fundraising and outreach campaigns. Our student interns have been significantly involved in earning the organization an average of $100,000 for that one major event!

What will you miss most about not running a program this summer?

There are many aspects of running DukeEngage-San Francisco that I will miss this summer. The biggest loss for me is not being able to come to know the students on a deeper, more meaningful level. I find it very rewarding to watch them grow and develop over the course of the summer. The experience of working in a shelter for young people who are homeless can be a significant eye-opening experience for students. As they begin to become acquainted with people their own age who are living on the street, they realize that they have much in common with them except for the fact that most of our DukeEngage-San Francisco students have a home to go to when their DukeEngage summer ends. Reflections with the students at the end of their experience demonstrates their personal growth and their development of a deeper understanding of homelessness in the United States. I will miss that a great deal.

What’s your advice on how to stay engaged while socially apart?

This is a real challenge given the programs have been cancelled. Some students have reached out to me to find ways they can engage in these issues when they return to Duke. Obviously, poverty, discrimination, and homelessness exist in Durham and there are a number of organizations that would welcome student service. We are currently exploring the possibility for some students to become involved with Larkin programs at a distance, but there are some logistics to work out. While the students are home over the summer they can reach out to similar organizations in their home communities, as well.

The DukeEngage Communications team sat down with Charlie Piot, the Peter Lange Faculty Director of DukeEngage and Professor of Cultural Anthropology & African and African American Studies, the faculty director leading DukeEngage-Togo.

Charlie Piot (viewed from behind) walking across fields in Togo.

What sparked your idea for a DukeEngage program?

There’s a history to my involvement with DukeEngage. I’m a cultural anthropologist and have worked in Togo, a Francophone country on Africa’s west coast, for 30 years. I did my dissertation research in small villages located in the north of the country. I have gone back every year since, for up to six months at a time.

About 13 or 14 years ago, a colleague at the Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI) asked if I would take a few students to Togo with me, because their students were required to do a summer internship. I was hesitant, but said, “Let’s try it.” She sent me six students. I interviewed them all and ended up taking three. Two worked in health clinics and the third did general community development.

They were fabulous! They were hardworking and the locals really liked them. When we left at the end of the summer, [community members] said, “Please bring more students back next year. This is the best thing you’ve ever done for us.” So that was the start. It continued for about five years, but it was all ad hoc. The students would come back and tell friends or DGHI would send students my way.

Then Eric Mlyn, the previous director of DukeEngage, asked if I would rather take my students under the umbrella of DukeEngage. I jumped at the idea. DukeEngage is a big organization with a lot of resources and administration. All of a sudden, I had help in advertising the program and recruiting the students. It saved me a lot of time and opened up new possibilities.

What do you hope students will take from the experience?

DukeEngage-Togo is deeply immersive. Students live with local families so they get to see a way of life that they will never get a chance in their life to see again, unless they go back. This immersive cultural experience—seeing up close how families get through the everyday and part of the year, following them to markets to see how they buy and sell, attending ceremonies to see how they bury their dead—is priceless.

I also think the students have to have initiative to make the projects happen. These are shoestring projects that get reinvented every year. So students have to work really hard to succeed at their projects. And they all leave feeling pretty good about that. In the end, most have a sense of satisfaction about the projects they’ve been involved in.

DukeEngage-Togo students feel that they’ve made a small difference. They feel that they’ve been welcomed into the community. They feel that they’ve had an immersive experience in an area of the world that they knew nothing about and that they might have even had fears about because of the stereotypes about Africa and its problems and issues.

It’s a society that lives pretty close to the margin, and yet they have an amazingly rich cultural life. And that’s stunning to our students. Usually we think of precarity and depression as going together or people that are not terribly happy with life. And yet the opposite is true [in Togo].

What benefit does your DukeEngage program offer the community/partners?

For me, that’s always been the first question. I wouldn’t take students if I didn’t think that we were able to make a small difference locally. I’m in general a cynic. I think that people in these communities are very attentive and empowered in their own way, and there’s not a lot that we can help them with. They’ve been living in these very difficult environments for a long time. There’s not a lot that a small group of US university students who’ve never been to West Africa before and who know very little when they arrive can really do. That’s why I do an independent study with them before they go, to make sure that they develop a realistic attitude going in.

But having said that, all of the DukeEngage-Togo projects are projects that the locals like. Who’s not going to like getting a little money for your everyday commerce, through the microfinance system we’ve established? Who’s not going to like learning how to manipulate a laptop? None of the schools have computers so this gives [local] kids a unique opportunity, and they love it.

How does/has this program align with/impact your research or teaching?

When I first took students (before it was DukeEngage) I worried that it would encroach on my time. I teach all year and so summers are my chance to do my own work. And, of course, running a DukeEngage program is time consuming [because] I spend the whole summer with the students. In most [DukeEngage programs], the director just goes for a couple of weeks and it’s a site coordinator, the program director’s assistant, who actually runs the program day-to-day.

I stay there the whole time because it’s a place I love being. These are villages that I know really well and I speak the local language and I can continue to do research along the way. Every day I am able to hang out with the work groups, attend ceremonies, or go to the markets. If you’re an anthropologist, all of that is data. Whatever anyone says. The rumors you hear at the work group are data.

What was most surprising to me and has really actually made a difference in my research career is that these smart, dedicated, Duke students—because they are there for two months—they see things and they ask questions that I’ve never even thought about in 30 years. They just have a different take on things. They’re in touch with a lot of different people and sometimes those [conversations] turn into really interesting research ideas.

In fact, the seed idea for the DukeEngage projects—once they started eight years ago—came out of a student’s research project one summer. Maria Romano ’14 was really interested in child labor violations and the trafficking of children into neighboring countries. In the [Togolese] villages where I work, many teenagers leave every year to go work in Nigeria. They disappear for nine months and then they come back with a motorcycle. Everyone—their parents, the local chiefs, the school teachers—is against their going and the NGOs in the area have organized against it, but they sneak off because they want to go on their own. They’re self-exploiting in a way. They work all year, they get fed. But other than that, they get nothing but a motorcycle. In the trafficking literature and among those who work for NGOs, they blame the middlemen who take children or encourage them to go. [But in this case] it’s the kids actually who have agency and want to go.

Maria did a research project on those migrations which has become the basis of our work in Togo. Our [DukeEngage] projects—the cyber cafe, the microfinance project, the health insurance system to some extent, and the writers’ group—are attempts to make life a little more interesting and better for children and teens in the villages. Her research also fed into my own research on migration. I had previously published a bit about children from the village going to Nigeria and was beginning another migration-related project on the US diversity visa lottery—about which I’ve recently finished a book (The Fixer: Visa Lottery Chronicles).  But it was thanks to Maria that I began to explore the migration of local children to nearby countries in greater detail and to see an uncanny resemblance between people in the capital city who apply for the visa lottery to come to the US and children in the villages wanting to go to Nigeria.

So, you can see how here a question brought up by a Duke student about teen trafficking/migration fed into my own research agenda and that has continued. That’s just one example, but it’s questions that students ask that have turned into research questions for me.

What are you going to miss most about not running DukeEngage-Togo this summer?

Our projects in Togo—which we’ve built up and staffed each summer for the last 12 years—will suffer because our students won’t be there. I will try to direct some of them from a distance—the microfinance and health insurance projects are possibilities—but it won’t be the same without students on the ground working with and learning from local families and teenagers. Moreover, this year’s hiatus means that a whole generation of youth will miss out on taking computer, writing, and English classes, all of which help them when they pass their entrance exams and get into university.

I will also miss the opportunity to work with this year’s DukeEngage-Togo students, who I’ve gotten to know through an Independent Study class that’s been running all semester. They had all the right attitudes and dispositions and bore the promise of being a fabulous group. Sadly, that promise won’t be realized this summer.

The DukeEngage Communications team interviewed Hsiao-Mei Ku, Professor of the Practice of Music and violinist with the Ciompi Quartet,the faculty director leading DukeEngage-Zhuhai.

DukeEngage student dancing on stage in front of No 9 students

What sparked your idea for a DukeEngage program?

My personal journey has shaped my values and goals for DukeEngage-Zhuhai. It became apparent to me that I can no longer teach my students the way our generation was taught. In this digital age, I have realized that teaching fine arts has become more important than ever. The younger generation is constantly surrounded by an array of digital gadgets and information at their finger-tip. The speed is perhaps attractive—a “winner,” some may say. But, art, on the contrary, encourages the opposite. It takes much more patience to study the invisible, to hear from inside, to digest, to visualize, to develop the ability to open the mind to welcome the challenges and unknowns, to give up the thought of perfection and embrace the criticism, and to create something human. To go beyond what students learned in a classroom setting and create stories that can touch people’s heart. What can be more magical than studying art?

China has played a prominent role in global affairs—making it all the more important for future global leaders to understand China and its people. While Duke University offers a first-rate education, DukeEngage-Zhuhai takes our students to learn and to build relationships with people who do not share the same culture background, lifestyle, and language. It takes our students to a setting and environment that is real and far from what they have comfortably lived back on Duke’s campus. My program hinges on the development of an art-based educational program partnered with Zhuhai No.9 Middle School in China. Through these activities, students are encouraged to open their eyes to see school as a place to gather tools for a life-long journey, a place where they can expand their boundaries, confront their fears, and have the opportunity to engage novelties.

What do you believe students have taken away from the experience over the years?

The DukeEngage motto is “Challenge Yourself. Change Your World.”

Once I attended a conference centered on leadership. The keynote speaker shared his definition of leadership as “to be able to improvise.” This has resonated with me since then. DukeEngage-Zhuhai students come back to Duke with different perspectives and flexibility that are crucial in dealing with many moments of uncertainties and unexpected changes on site—all which call for leadership, positivity, and creative spontaneity. DukeEngage serves as a laboratory where Duke students can explore possibilities and extend their limits and build multidimensional problem-solving skills on human levels that can’t be replaced by textbooks. They realize the plans that were detailed, sculpted, and viewed as a “strength” beforehand might have turned into a point of weakness. Instead, a willingness to embrace humility and the ability to improvise have become significant qualities to navigate real life. Discovery of the importance of the human connection has carried a much deeper meaning: through this experience, students experiment with ideas and knowledge they have learned and created new insights to reevaluate their own lives and career paths.

One recent morning—at 6:30 am—I received a text message from a past DukeEngage-Zhuhai participant: “Just wanted to say thank you again for providing this incredible experience for all the past Duke engagers. I am currently interviewing for a urology residency and still talk about my experience in Zhuhai and how much it impacted my career and passion for service!!” This student had no Chinese language nor any cultural background. Yet the fact that he was able to build an incredible bond with his students and host family and still reflects on his experience several years out truly amazed me. That explains why many Duke students email me and claim: “DukeEngage was the best experience of their four years at Duke!”

What benefit does your DukeEngage program offer the community/partners?

Kally Zhao, now a senior at New York University who was a student from Zhuhai No.9 Middle School, has summarized her experience in the following words: “DukeEngage has influenced my life in many unexpected ways. There are countless different ways to describe the experience…I want to focus on one word that I believe summarizes my experience: possibility. It is through interacting and learning from all those individuals from Duke: all the amazing undergraduate students…that I realized what the possibility could be for my own future.”

The word “success” has different meaning to young students with whom Duke students interact. These students have realized there are different paths to success and opportunities can be created then pursued and the test scores alone do not determine one’s future.

What will you miss most about not running a program this summer?

I miss the excitement of being a part of team on the ground with Duke students from morning into early evenings each day and the satisfaction of seeing how our students grow and surface little by little into someone they could have not imagined before. But what I miss the most is the bond I create with each team each summer that has been always special and dear to my heart.

What your advice on how to stay engaged while socially apart?

Art is the solution to lift and heal the human spirit—broken in the hustle of modern life. Art can crack open a window to shed a bit of light on a willing mind. Art can help a person express the inexpressible and connect people in the human level. Art is perhaps more contagious than the coronavirus. So keep doing art and keep art alive!