In his final meeting with DukeEngage students as university president, Richard Brodhead wanted to tell them about the beginnings of the program.
In a talk Tuesday at the two-day DukeEngage Academy, Brodhead recalled pitching the idea of the program to Melinda Gates in a Seattle coffee shop in the early winter of 2007. She immediately liked his vision.
“The idea was to give students an opportunity to leave the Duke bubble and live somewhere where they can experience the difficulties and joys of other people around the world,” Brodhead said.
From that start and support from the Gates Foundation, the initiative grew into a signature program of the Duke educational experience, with strong support from Brodhead at every step of expansion. Each summer during the 10 years of the program, Brodhead traveled to visit DukeEngage participants from Durham to Charlotte to Tanzania, Northern Ireland and other locations.
This summer, DukeEngage will send 425 students to work both domestically and internationally with community partners to tackle issues focusing on poverty, inequality, HIV/AIDS prevention, economic development, teaching, environmental restoration, migration or other pressing issues.
To prepare DukeEngage students for their experience this summer, they met with faculty, past student participants and some partner sponsors this week at the academy, which focuses on the ethics of civic engagement and health and safety.
Brodhead encouraged students to take what they’ve learned in the classroom with them on their DukeEngage experience: “Now that you know how to solve the problem in the problem set form, what if we took you out somewhere where you’re going to encounter a problem in a real-world form?” he said. “Now you can see if you can use your intelligence in a repurposed way to get some leverage on that problem together with the people who live there and are its primary citizens.”
Brodhead added that students will carry lessons from DukeEngage with them through life: "We hope you’ll be the kind of person who uses your gifts truly for the gifts of others and that this program will encourage that.”
DukeEngage focuses students on the people they are working with, he said. “You are about to do possibly the first thing that has ever been part of your program in your entire life at which it will not be possible to excel, in which excelling isn’t the goal. The goal isn’t your individual high accomplishment. It’s plugging in your intelligence, your good nature and your community spirit and seeing what together with others you can help make happen."
Eric Mlyn, Peter Lange Executive Director of DukeEngage, said by the end of this summer, Duke students will have done more than 1.25 million hours of volunteer work in 37 U.S. cities and 79 nations on six continents across the decade of the program.