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Duke Alumnus Gift Endows Duke in Silicon Valley Program

Students in the Duke in Silicon Valley program.
Students from the Duke in Silicon Valley program visit PayPal headquarters in San Jose, Calif. Photo by Pilar Timpane/Duke I&E

In fall of 2013, Ron Ludwig, '65, and his wife Carrie began exploring how they could significantly increase their support of Duke. Despite having been Blue Devils fans for six decades, they decided to look beyond Duke basketball. "They have plenty of support," Ludwig quipped, “and we wanted to do something special.”

Ron found himself drawn to the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative and its Duke in Silicon Valley program. Launched in 2013, the program was designed to give undergraduate students an intensive experience in the creation of new ventures, both commercial and social. Over the course of a month, students gain an understanding of the resources, skills, and planning required to launch a new product or service, as well as immersing themselves in the Silicon Valley culture and building a network of support.

At a program reception, the Ludwigs were inspired when they heard past participants speak about their experiences. "The program is of great practical use in students' future careers, but it also makes them learn to think and work collaboratively,” Ludwig said. “It provides exposure to the world that's ahead for them.” He and Carrie also liked the program's location in the San Francisco Bay area, where they've lived for 45 years.

Student Camaren Dayton highlighted the impact of the program’s location, saying, “Silicon Valley is home to more than just ‘innovation.’  It is a global hub where people who want to change and improve human life can join their thoughts and collaborate to spark something incredible.”

Ludwig’s joined the I&E advisory board as part of the couple’s initial support for the program. Now, they’ve made a gift to Duke I&E and the Duke Global Education Office endowing and naming the Ronald and Carrie Ludwig Duke in Silicon Valley Program. Their gift was set up strategically to provide immediate and ongoing support for the program, and an estate gift is planned to provide significant additional funding.
“This gift represents the first endowment of an undergraduate study-away program in the history of Duke’s Global Education Office and introduces a new model for sustaining experiential academic programming in Duke’s partner sites around the world,” said Amanda Kelso, executive director of the Duke Global Education Office.

Ludwig says he and Carrie wish to make the program accessible to all students, regardless of their financial situations. "I think my favorite part about the program from a personal standpoint is getting to meet these students, who are just so exceptional," he said. "Seeing them in class and talking with them, you can see how smart, driven, and inquisitive they are."

By supporting the program, Ludwig also hopes to help students take charge of their academic experiences in ways he says he never did.

"When I came to Duke, I thought I was very smart and didn't take my studies seriously enough," he said. "There was a lot available I didn't take advantage of."

Today, however, the Ludwigs both demonstrate the same desire to learn as the students they're supporting. Having retired in ’99 from his career in law, Ludwig and his wife both take courses at the University of San Francisco’s Fromm Institute for Lifelong Learning, where they study everything from political science and math to history and art. "Our favorite courses are in '50s, '60s, and '70s rock music," he said.

And of course, they continue going to Duke basketball games—though perhaps not as many as he would prefer. "I proposed moving to Durham for basketball season, November through March," Ludwig said. "Carrie told me, 'Have a good time!'"