Duke Expands Mentoring Program for Students Interested in Creative Careers

In its second year, StudioDuke will connect students closely with professional mentors

Aspiring writer Cara O'Malley, right, is mentored by novelist Christina Baker Kline through StudioDuke
Aspiring writer Cara O'Malley, right, is mentored by novelist Christina Baker Kline through StudioDuke

A Duke initiative pairing students interested in arts and other creative careers with mentors in those fields is expanding in its second year.

StudioDuke connects entrepreneurial undergraduates with Duke alumni and other professionals working in media, technology and other creative industries. The idea is for a professional in an arts field to give a boost to a student with ambition and an enterprising arts project. The program began as a pilot in the spring pairing 21 students with mentors – like an aspiring writer who connected with a professional novelist.

The initiative is a joint effort of Duke Arts, Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative, Duke Entertainment, Media & Arts Network (DEMAN) and Duke Alumni Association. 

StudioDuke works in tandem with DEMAN, which holds events throughout the year in the region and on-campus including DEMAN Weekend, a two-day gathering each November in which alumni in creative industries return to campus to talk shop with students interested in careers in those industries. This year, StudioDuke kicks off during DEMAN Weekend, Nov. 2-3.

The initiative’s successful first semester has laid the groundwork for its second, more formal iteration. The program has expanded to a full academic year with new mentor dinners, more connections between students and mentors, and an end-of-the-year final presentation in which each student pitches a project.

StudioDuke’s expansion reflects a growing interest at Duke in careers in the arts as well as an increase in opportunities for students to meet professional artists and to become involved in the nearly 100 arts-focused student groups on campus, said Amy Unell, Duke’s director of arts engagement and partnerships.

“There’s a need to elevate students’ creative projects and help them navigate creative industries,” Unell said. “It’s key to have one-on-one mentorship.”

That mentorship has helped Cara O’Malley, an aspiring science fiction writer who, in the spring, was paired with Christina Baker Kline, the author of seven novels including “A Piece of the World,” a New York Times best-seller released in 2017. 

“I emailed Christina a few times since spring, and she sent me encouraging and helpful feedback on my edits. She and I still communicate when I have updates to give, and she's offered to help me find beta readers and talk with me about getting an agent once I feel ready,” said O’Malley, who graduated in May. “I feel like I know a lot more about writing a book than I did this time last year, and I'm still learning a lot about the publishing industry.”

The initiative also encourages students to take on independent studies and other academic pursuits with related themes and interest areas.

“We want to better align students on-campus training with their StudioDuke projects,” said Scott Lindroth, Duke’s vice provost for the arts. “We will do this by linking their projects to classes and independent studies that teach new skills. This embeds StudioDuke in our students’ daily workflow.”

Duke is accepting student applications for StudioDuke through Oct. 12.