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Duke University Launches Initiative to Make Civic Engagement an Integral Part of Undergraduate Education


Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
John F. Burness
Duke University
Phone: 919.681.3788
Charity L. Perkins
The Duke Endowment
Phone: 704.969.2100

DURHAM, N.C. -- In one of the most ambitious efforts of its kind in U.S. higher education, Duke University will make civic engagement an integral part of its undergraduate experience beginning in 2008, university president Richard H. Brodhead announced Monday.

Duke’s new program, DukeEngage, will provide full funding and faculty and administrative support to all undergraduates who want to stretch beyond the classroom by tackling societal issues at home and abroad, and, in turn, learning from those real-world experiences. Projects could range from learning about African education challenges while helping a rural school to gaining insights into natural disasters while working with Gulf Coast flood victims. The program will provide Duke students with opportunities to collaborate with nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations that address poverty, housing, education, AIDS or other social issues; with a financial institution to explore how investment affects life in third-world countries; or an art museum to increase outreach to low-income children, among other things.

The Duke Endowment of Charlotte and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation of Seattle are providing $15 million each to endow DukeEngage. The program’s national advisory committee will be chaired by David Gergen, a Duke trustee and former White House adviser who is professor of public service at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government and director of its Center for Public Leadership. James Joseph, former U.S. Ambassador to South Africa and director of the U.S.-Southern African Center for Leadership and Public Values at Duke, will lead the faculty advisory board. The board’s vice chair is biologist Sherryl Broverman, who has helped lead a student-learning project in Kenya in which Duke students are helping to build a boarding school for girls in Muhuru Bay.

The initiative also includes the creation of a Duke Center for Civic Engagement, which will serve as a university-wide clearinghouse for civic-engagement and service-learning projects.

“The lasting products of a university education are the qualities of mind and character that students carry forth into their adult lives,” Brodhead said. “We give our students superb academic training, but we also want them to become active citizens and creative problem-solvers, using their education to make a real-world difference. Duke has always placed a special emphasis on using knowledge for the greater social good. Today we’re committing ourselves to making this opportunity a part of every Duke undergraduate’s experience.”

Beginning in the summer of 2008, any Duke undergraduate who has completed at least two semesters of classes will be eligible to participate in an immersive summer- or semester-long service project with Duke support. Duke funding will include travel expenses and a cost-of-living stipend to cover the full experience. To ensure that students receiving financial aid are able to participate, Duke will assume responsibility for their “summer earnings” requirements, as well as cover the costs of their service experience. Forty percent of Duke undergraduates receive financial aid. The university also will provide stipends to faculty and staff who serve as mentors to the students.

The initial funding, which Duke will augment, comes from two sources: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the endowment of James Buchanan Duke.

“DukeEngage reflects the reason James B. Duke directed so much of his giving to Duke University,” said Russell M. Robinson, chairman of The Duke Endowment. “He valued education with a higher purpose … education that produced people of character and integrity, who would use their learning to serve their families, their communities and the world at large. He believed education was not just a means for personal growth and advancement, but a solution to society’s problems as well … a visionary concept at the time that is now fortified and advanced by programs like DukeEngage.”

Melinda French Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said, “President Brodhead and Duke University have a clear vision and plan for making social and public service part of an undergraduate education. DukeEngage will deepen and broaden the college experience by providing the funding and support students need to pursue meaningful service opportunities. We believe this program and others like it can truly enrich students’ lives—enhancing their college years, informing career choices and inspiring public service in the future.” Ms. Gates is a graduate of Duke and of Duke’s Fuqua School of Business and is a former university trustee.

Broadly, DukeEngage will encompass three types of learning opportunities:

  • Projects that Duke sponsors or organizes, either through a class or an existing service learning program;

  • Projects that Duke coordinates with outside providers or community partners;

  • Projects that students themselves initiate (in collaboration with faculty or staff) through individual grant proposals.

Students who participate in DukeEngage will work on projects that encompass a full spectrum of public-service issues, in local, national and international communities. Some may participate in a global health initiative or other programs supported through the university’s new long-term strategic plan, Making a Difference. Others may join in addressing K-12 education challenges in Durham or other communities, or get involved in projects that apply their interest in science, business, the arts or other fields.

University officials estimate that over the next five years, at least 25 percent of Duke’s 6,250 undergraduates will participate in DukeEngage, in addition to existing community service activities.

DukeEngage has been in development for several years as part of Duke’s decades-long focus on applying knowledge to address societal problems. Duke’s past three strategic plans have called increasingly for education that combines research, service and learning. The most recent, Making a Difference, puts still greater emphasis on “the learning that arises when theoretical intelligence is tested in the arena of real human needs.” It also calls for nurturing in students a life-long passion for making a difference in the world—by deepening the undergraduate experience to increase opportunities for experiential learning. The ultimate recommendation came from a committee of faculty and staff appointed by Provost Peter Lange, the university’s chief academic officer.

Currently, more than 80 percent of Duke students volunteer in everything from Engineers Without Borders to the Ronald McDonald House. Each year, about 500 undergraduates participate in some form of service learning, combining classroom work with public service, and nearly 100 devise their own summer service projects. One Duke-sponsored summer internship with a labor union in New York City, for instance, so changed the life of a student from Wisconsin that he returned to Duke to help start Students Against Sweatshops. Together, he and his friends helped lead Duke to become the country’s first university to adopt a code of conduct that requires a process for monitoring the manufacturers of university-licensed products.

For the past two decades, Duke’s Community Service Center and other programs have provided opportunities to tens of thousands of Duke students to serve in Durham. Similarly, the Hart Leadership program and its Enterprising Leadership Incubator has helped thousands of Duke students become engaged citizens through critical reflection and action and empowered many of them to pursue innovative solutions to community and global problems. In 1996, Duke expanded opportunities to participate in community-based projects by founding the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership. Duke also has developed service-learning initiatives through the Kenan Institute of Ethics, the Center for Documentary Studies, the Nicholas School of the Environment and the Program in Education. Duke created an Office of Service Learning in 2006.

“Our goal is to empower students to emerge from Duke as creative thinkers, problem solvers and innovators,” Brodhead said. Duke is already strong at producing a special kind of graduate, a person of trained intelligence who is highly knowledgeable about the world and has a strong desire to take on its most challenging concerns. Going forward, we want to make this a signature of Duke undergraduate education.”

Eric Mlyn, director of the Robertson Scholars Program since its inception at Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, chaired the provost’s committee that recommended DukeEngage and will be the founding director of the program. The new Duke Center for Civic Engagement, which will be housed in the provost’s office, will serve as the administrative umbrella organization for all current and future undergraduate civic engagement activities at the university.

Note to editors: A special Web site about the new Duke program contains additional facts, profiles of students, comments from U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, and more. The Web address is

Named for the family of industrialist and philanthropist James Buchanan Duke in 1924, Duke University has received more than $970 million from The Duke Endowment since that time. Headquartered in Charlotte, The Duke Endowment seeks to fulfill the legacy of James B. Duke by improving lives and communities in the Carolinas through higher education, health care, children’s services and rural churches. With assets of $2.8 billion, it is one of the nation’s largest private foundations and has awarded $2.2 billion in grants since its inception. The Duke Endowment, whose founder directed support for Duke University and other educational institutions that “conduct study along sane and practical lines” and harness the power of higher education for larger societal good, also supports Davidson College and Johnson C. Smith University in North Carolina and Furman University in South Carolina.

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