New Outreach and Access Coordinator at Duke

Justin Clapp will lead programs targeting first-generation and low-income students

Duke students can be resourceful, but those whose parents did not graduate from college or who have limited financial means often find themselves struggling to adjust to their new surroundings. 

The university has created a new position to help such students better acclimate and take advantage of all that Duke has to offer.

Justin Clapp, an assistant director in the Office of Financial Aid and a first-generation college graduate himself, has been named director of outreach and access. His office will be on the second floor of the Campus Drive building where financial aid is located, across the street from admissions. There will be a conference room for workshops as well as an open common area where students can study and hang out. 

''In the transition to Duke, these students are often getting used to a rigorous academic environment in which they may not have the support they're used to,'' Clapp said. ''The first trip home can be hard when the've been exposed to a new world outside their home life. Sometimes they struggle with explaining that to family members and friends. We can help in preparing them for the stress that can come with such a big change in their lives.''

Clapp will start July 1 and report to Alison Rabil, the assistant vice provost and director of financial aid, and to Steve Nowicki, dean and vice provost for undergraduate education.

''We have increased the socio-economic diversity of our student body in the past decade,'' said Nowicki, who commissioned a task force in 2011 to better understand academic and social roadblocks affecting students on financial aid.  ''We need to raise awareness of that, however, across the board, including with faculty. Students have told us they wanted more institutional support and a greater sense of community. Having Justin in this new position should help a lot.''

More than 40 percent of Duke’s undergraduate population receives need-based financial aid and more than 50 percent of all students at Duke receive some kind of aid. In addition, about 10 percent of Duke undergraduates come from families without a parent who graduated from college.

Duke has made numerous efforts to address adjustment issues, including launching a pilot pre-orientation program for first-generation students, a personal finance education site, as well as ''boot camp''financial aid workshops. In addition to workshops to make the financial aid process more manageable, financial aid has also publicized which costs financial aid covers, including study abroad, course fees, marine lab, Duke Immerse courses and participation in Bass Connections, and often additional healthcare.

Administrators in other campus offices, such as the academic resource center, the career center, academic advising and the counseling services, have also taken it upon themselves to help this cohort achieve academic, social and professional success. ''Now we will have someone who can tie these threads together,''Nowicki said.

Duke isn't the only school recognizing the need to better assist students in finding and accessing university resources, said Rabil, who visited UNC-Chapel Hill and Georgetown with Clapp and others to learn about their first-gen programs. 

''Students who get here have learned to navigate all kinds of systems – high school, government, applications -- but they often don't know yet how to make the most of college,'' Rabil said. ''Justin won't be limited to serving only high need, first-gen students, but they may have the most to gain. We wanted someone who could do this on a full-time basis so we could give some institutional backing to sustain some of the existing programs.''

Clapp grew up in Roxboro, NC, attended the NC School of Science and Mathematics, and holds a B.S. in medical anthropology and gender studies from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and a Med from NC  State University. He has worked in both housing and financial aid at both NC State and Duke.

"He's big picture, emotionally invested, smart," Rabil said. "Plus, he's very honest, open and warm. Students feel they can trust him."

Kristen Wade, a junior from Greensboro, agrees.

''Justin's more than a financial aid counselor,'' said Wade, who has worked with Clapp on the first-gen, pre-orientation program.  ''He's personally invested in students and very quick to respond to anyone who needs help.''

Wade, who said Duke can be intimidating to a first-generation or low-income student, also praised the creation of the position. 

''There's not a lot of discussion about finances or socio-economic status among students at Duke, and it's hard when you can’t do things like go off campus to dinner or go to see movies with friends without thinking about it,'' she said. ''This is a good step toward creating a more cohesive community and continuing on this path of helping students who traditionally have had trouble finding and accessing these resources.''