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Addressing challenges in sustainable urban development

Seattle, WA
Dates June 17 - August 12
Program Focus

Partnering with nonprofit organizations and Duke alumni to address the sustainability challenges facing Seattle, a city rapidly expanding into a unique environment it seeks to preserve.

Curricular Connections: While all students are welcome to apply, this program may be of particular interest to students studying urban planning, food studies, environmental management, immigration and sustainable development. This program meets all criteria to serve as the 300-hour experience for Duke’s Certificate in Sustainability Engagement. (See below for additional details about connecting this program to your academic work.)

Program Leaders
Service Themes
  • Community Development & Outreach
  • Environment & Conservation
  • Human Rights & Civil Liberties
  • Public Policy
  • No Foreign Language Requirement

DukeEngage-Seattle Overview

In partnership with the DukeEngage-Seattle Alumni Committee, DukeEngage students will volunteer in the nonprofit sector with a variety of organizations focused on environmental, economic, and social sustainability. Seattle community partners often work at the intersection of at least two of the aforementioned themes, and many of these community-based organizations take an equity-based approach to their work.

Students will serve at their volunteer placement about 40 hours a week, contributing to the mission and needs of the organization. There will be opportunities with organizations that promote and support social justice, the environment, youth empowerment, food security and hunger, financial empowerment, workforce development, minority and immigrant advocacy, urban planning, disability rights and awareness, urban agriculture and community gardens, and civic engagement. Students will have an opportunity throughout the program to meet and interact with Duke alumni living in Seattle. Through service placements as well as immersive educational and cultural opportunities, students will gain an understanding of the host of unique issues related to the region.

The largest city in the Pacific Northwest region, with vibrant indigenous roots, Seattle is also the fastest-growing major city in the United States according to the last census. Located between the Puget Sound and Lake Washington and about 100 miles south of the Canadian border, Seattle occupies a unique place geographically and culturally in the United States. A major gateway for trade with Asia, Seattle’s 98118 zip code (in the Columbia City neighborhood) is one of the most diverse ZIP Codes in the United States.

While home to many recognizable international companies (Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, Boeing, Nordstrom, etc.), like most major urban centers, Seattle faces challenges with how to approach sustainable urban planning, encourage workforce development and employment, provide greater access to health and wellness care, address a lack of affordable housing, acknowledge and reconcile racial injustices, ensure all have access to healthy and nutritious food, and break down barriers to educational opportunities for youth – all while preserving some of America’s most important salmon runs, honoring the history and rights of its Native American communities and the stunning natural setting that the city is rightfully known for. Students will be serving with community partners working to address these challenges in the Seattle community and greater Northwest region.

Student Learning Objectives/Outcomes

Throughout the program, students will:

  • Recognize the complex nature of sustainability and society and how the environment, opportunity, and justice are all interrelated
  • Learn about the nonprofit sector and the dedicated professionals working on sustainability issues
  • Develop an appreciation for the importance of both direct service and policy level work in addressing community issues

Partnership Opportunities

Former participants have worked with the following nonprofits:

  • OneAmerica
  • Solid Ground (Lettuce Links, Financial Fitness Bootcamp)
  • Washington Environmental Council
  • Year Up Puget Sound
  • Disability Rights Washington
  • Seattle Tilth
  • Washington Bus
  • Asian Resource Council
  • Amara

Below are examples of the types of contributions made by students during past DukeEngage programs:

  • Two students assisted an organization through outreach and event planning focused on increasing civic participation and community investing among 20- and 30-somethings. The students coordinated logistical tasks and media promotion, which culminated with an event highlighting political candidates and political issues in Seattle. The students also assisted with a number of service events in Seattle and promoted these events through social media and other promotional channels.
  • Two students focused on environmental education and outreach to benefit an environmental organization. They helped coordinate and organize a series of trainings for the citizen stewardship committees located at five aquatic reserves in Puget Sound area. The trainings educated residents on how to make their voices heard by legislature and policy makers. Specific tasks include designing pre- & post-training surveys, requesting donations and reaching out to potential local partners and media for publicity.
  • Two students served at an organization supporting new immigrants and refugees and ‘new’ Americans aiding in the organization of these immigrant communities to build power and increasing civic engagement to ensure their concerns are brought to the attention of national and state representatives. The students assisted the Organizing Team in hosting various events and community meetings throughout the program. They helped prepare for a community event with a state senator. The students went to 4 different libraries in King County to represent the organization and to make the immigrant and refugee populations aware of the services the organization offered. The students worked on a youth curriculum to be used later in the fall. Finally, they attended various meetings and press conferences surrounding issues of immigration.
  • Two students worked with an organization dedicated to providing nutritious food to hungry people statewide in a manner that respects their dignity, while fighting to eliminate hunger. One student researched the organization’s history and sorted through the organization’s archives to create a timeline and living history document of the organization. The document covered 40+ years of history. The other student performed a “Return on Investment” study of 50 special events hosted by the organization to see which events brought the best return (i.e. food donations/meals served). In addition, the student created more efficient processes for special events by streamlining forms and eliminating redundancies.
  • Two students worked with an organization that seeks to engage tomorrow’s leaders on their own terms, and empowers them through education, civic and cultural engagement, and hands-on democracy. The two students worked on the organization’s voting outreach efforts. Through attending community events, the two students helped spread the voting outreach program to more than 5,000 young people in Washington. One student worked on a video presentation that describes young voter participation and demographics. The other student worked on fact sheets about upcoming initiatives that will be on the Washington state ballot.
  • One student worked with an organization that cultivates Seattle’s urban land in order to feed hungry residents in a healthful manner and to teach and empower low-income community members to grow their own healthy food. The student co-taught a Children’s Gardening for Good nutrition class as well as tracked its impact and outcomes. The student also helped with the Veggie Labeling Project, designing and implementing a signage system that was displayed at the food bank next to produce grown through the organization’s programs.
  • One student worked with an advocacy organization that aims to ensure equal and just treatment of individuals with disabilities. Much of their work is conducted through legal pathways, but there is also a focus on community education and outreach. The student redesigned a curriculum for the SAM club, a statewide network of school clubs that aims to educate and empower youth with disabilities. These clubs are led by individuals known as self-advocates, who are individuals who advocate for the disability issues they face themselves on a daily basis. The student led meetings with the self-advocates to obtain their input on the curriculum revisions.

Students will serve individually or in pairs at their community partner sites Monday-Friday from approximately 8:30 am to 5:00 pm. Some placements will occasionally require evening and weekend commitments. While some placement sites consist of mostly office-based work, other sites will require students to work in the field on outreach, voter registration, canvassing, community education and workshops, or community gardening.

Students will learn more about the community partner placement opportunities during the interview process for the program. The placement matching process and final decisions are made after students are selected and committed. Once selected, students can expect to complete a skills inventory, submit a resume, and to meet individually with the Program Director to discuss their interests, experiences, skills, and academic goals. At the Program Director’s discretion, community partners will review student resumes and conduct phone interviews. This process will shape final matching outcomes.

Curricular Connections

There are a wide range of relevant courses in multiple disciplines such as global health, public policy, political science, education, environmental science, psychology, and sociology that students might explore before or after this program. Courses that have a service-learning designation and/or address poverty, food systems, child and family programs and policy, and race and inequality are likely to be of particular interest. This program meets all criteria to serve as the 300-hour experience for Duke’s Certificate in Sustainability Engagement.

Program Requirements

Language/Other Prerequisites: While there is no language requirement, students who are bilingual or multi-lingual may find their language skills to be useful at their community partner sites depending on the population they are working with.

Course Requirements: Specific prior coursework is not required; however, preference may be given to students who have taken service-learning courses or taken coursework that relates to one of the program scope areas listed above.

Other Skills: Experience with event planning and implementation, social media, marketing, documentary work, research, data analysis, volunteer management, urban farming/community gardening, and teaching youth have been useful skills for students to have depending on the community partner where they are placed. Students with strong self-awareness, exposure to equity approaches to community-based work, or with anti-racism or anti-oppression training will be strong candidates at most partner organizations. Strong writing skills are also highly desirable. In past years, many students have written substantially for their organizations’ blogs and websites. Some placement sites will require a background check and TB test.

Personal Qualities: Students best thrive and contribute to community partners’ work when they are flexible, internally-motivated, can take initiative, ask thoughtful questions, and bring energy to what they do.

Program Details

Description of Community: Students will live at the University of Washington (more details under Housing and Accommodations below). The University of Washington is located in the “U District” neighborhood of Seattle. The U District is a major bus route hub, and there are many nearby inexpensive restaurants, shops, and parks.

Most of the students will work in downtown Seattle. Downtown is the commercial center of the city, the home of Pike Place Market, as well as the nearby water front and ferry terminal for commuters coming in to Seattle from the surrounding area. Downtown Seattle is quite hilly and students can expect to do a fair amount of walking throughout the program.

Seattle is known for its many neighborhoods throughout the city. Queen Anne, Magnolia, Capitol Hill, Belltown, Ballard, Mount Baker, and Green Lake are all examples of distinct neighbors in which you will likely explore during the summer. The neighborhoods are primarily residential, but most have a small commercial area with unique restaurants and shops. Seattle is also surrounded by the ocean and the mountains making it both beautiful and geographically diverse.

Housing and Meals: Students will live at the University of Washington, in an apartment-style dormitory with suites – each student will have his/her own bedroom but will share a common area, kitchen, and bathrooms. The facility has a common laundry room to which students have access. There is a fitness center at the University of Washington, which students can use for a visitor fee. In previous summers, students have also exercised outside on the nearby Burke-Gilman Trail or at Green Lake Park.

Students will be given a stipend to cover the costs of preparing meals during the summer and will be expected to manage their own food budget. There are several grocery stores (Safeway, QFC, Whole Foods and Traders Joes) within easy walking or busing distance. The District Market, a small grocery store on campus, is located in the same block where students will be staying. Buying from farmers’ markets, which are held on weekday evenings and Saturday mornings in the local area, is a great way to eat locally and in-season while living in Seattle.

If you do not eat certain types of food for cultural, religious or personal reasons, please contact the DukeEngage office,, to discuss whether or not your dietary needs can be reasonably accommodated at this program site.

Transportation: DukeEngage provides or arranges transportation to and from service placements and all scheduled program activities, utilizing public transportation whenever feasible. There is ample public transportation in Seattle, and all students will be provided with an Orca bus pass. Most students will be within a 30-minute public bus ride from their work site. A few students may be able to walk to their placement sites. Students have found apps such as Google maps, One Bus Away and the King County Metro Trip planner to be useful in learning to navigate the city.

For program enrichment activities where public transportation is not an option, students will be driven in rental vehicles by program staff. Seattle is also home to an extensive ferry system. If students desire to explore the surrounding Seattle area they may take a ferry from downtown Seattle to several nearby islands: Bainbridge Island, Bremerton, Edmonds, Kingston, Lopez Island, and Vashon.

Communication: We assume all students will have a personal cell phone for program-related and emergency communication. Wifi is available in the dorm.

Local Safety and Security; Cultural Norms, Mores and Practices: DukeEngage strongly advises all applicants to familiarize themselves with the challenges travelers commonly encounter at this program site in order to make an informed application decision. We recommend starting with the Diversity, Identity and Global Travel section of the DukeEngage website.

Opportunities for Reflection: The program director and site coordinator(s) will work with students to lead weekly reflection sessions on the challenges, synergies and intersections in environmental, economic and social sustainability in their lived experience in Seattle and in their work for community partners. Students will be expected to take a leadership role in building a learning community around these issues. Students will also be expected to actively contribute to the group’s blogging efforts as well as create a thank you for community partners and alumni at the end of the program. Past examples have included a group-produced video documenting the summer and student designed posters focusing on community partner themes and impact. Site coordinators will meet with students individually throughout the program for one-on-one mentoring and reflection opportunities.

Other Opportunities: The Seattle program has the benefit of being shaped by Duke Alumni living in Seattle. The Seattle alumni have been instrumental in connecting DukeEngage with nonprofits in the Seattle community. Students will have the opportunity throughout the program to meet with Seattle alumni through organized activities such as welcome and farewell events, conversations with alumni who are leaders in the public service field or other relevant interest areas, and at joint student-alumni volunteer activities on the weekends. The DukeEngage Alumni Committee also works to organize an Alumni Partner Program that pairs DukeEngage students with local Duke alumni. Students are matched with their Alumni Partner based on shared interests and have the opportunity to be in touch with their partner before the program begins.

By visiting places such as the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island to learn about environmental preservation and the area’s biodiversity, to taking a walking tour of the historic International District and learning about the effects of the Japanese Internment during WWII on the Seattle community, to cheering on the hometown favorite Seattle Sounders at a soccer game, to touring the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and meeting Duke alumni working at the Foundation, students will learn more about the area’s history, culture, and commitment to civic engagement and philanthropy throughout their eight weeks in Seattle.

Students will be at their service placements until about 5:30pm on weekdays (depending on their schedule). While there will be some downtime, students should not anticipate a great deal of free time throughout the program. Students can expect to have program commitments from about 6-8 pm two nights per week. These commitments may take place at the residence hall or at a location in Seattle and could include: reflection sessions with the group and program staff, speakers, tours of local museums, enrichment activities, events with alumni, or group meals. Occasionally students will have evening and weekend commitments with their service placements. Approximately one day per weekend will involve a half or full day group enrichment or volunteer activity. Group reflection will typically take place on Sunday evenings. In the past, the group has participated in one overnight weekend trip to Pack Forest (a working forest and conference center owned by UW located near Mount Rainer). Open water swimming is not a sponsored activity in any DukeEngage program.

More Information

  • Neighbor power: Building Community the Seattle Way, Jim Diers Seattle Geographies, edited by Michael Brown and Richard Morrill

Learn more about DukeEngage Seattle from past participant & guiDE, Tina

The guiDE program provides DukeEngage alumni a pathway to continue their commitment to service and civic engagement by providing leadership, mentorship and service opportunities that support wider DukeEngage efforts on campus and beyond.

Click here to contact Tina