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Student-Athletes Go Abroad for Study, Engagement

Joint program with Stanford allows Duke athletes new global opportunities

Duke and Stanford universities have teamed up to give their student-athletes an enriching academic engagement experience abroad.

Duke and Stanford will offer student-athletes fully funded three-week-long service trips in under-resourced communities around the world through the Rubenstein-Bing Student-Athlete Civic Engagement Program, or “ACE.” Beginning in the summer of 2016, 40 student-athletes will volunteer in South Africa, Vietnam, China and India.

“Partnering with another great university will allow our students to learn from those other students,” said Eric Mlyn, Duke’s assistant vice provost for civic engagement. “It will take, in effect, their relationship off the competitive playing field and to bring it to cooperatively solve global problems. Our goal is to fund 40 students each summer; 20 from Stanford and 20 from Duke. Each of the four teams will have five students from Duke and five students from Stanford.”

In the past, most student-athletes have not been able to take part in eight-week-long civic engagement trips because of their rigorous athletic and academic schedules. Duke’s Head Swimming and Diving Coach Dan Colella believes the shorter trip will help student-athletes to stay on top of their training while partaking in a more traditional student experience.

“There are so many opportunities available to the students,” Colella said. “And because of the commitments our student athletes have, they aren’t always able to take full advantage of that experience. So this (ACE Program) is a way to make that happen. And we’re thrilled to have this kind of support and to have this kind of program available to us.”

ACE logo

On most service trips, student-athletes will educate young people about sports.

“While sports are different in different parts of the world, in a way they’re sort of universal,” said Duke senior wrestler Brian Dorsey, who participated in an eight-week-long service-learning trip with Duke Engage in South Africa. “Wherever you are, there’s some sport that everybody loves, some sport that everybody follows. So doing athletics with kids really gets them excited.”

Through the ACE Program, student-athletes can also learn about health outreach, education, environmental conservation and social enterprise.

“The opportunity to give back to other cultures and really be immersed in that experience, there’s no better way to learn,” said Amy Bokker, head coach of the Stanford Women’s Lacrosse Team.

The ACE Program is funded by Duke alumnus David Rubenstein and Stanford alumus Peter Bing and his wife Helen. To sustain the program, Duke’s athletic department will donate $1 from every ticket sold to regular-season home sporting events. 

“And that dollar will go into a fund that will fund this program in perpetuity. So we plan on being here for a very long time and involving Duke and Stanford athletes in this program for a very long time,” Mlyn said.

The ACE application will be available in mid-December and consist of short- answer questions and a coach’s recommendation. Applications are due on Feb. 3, 2016.

For more information about the ACE Program and further details about eligibility, visit