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Blue Devil of the Week: A Civic Engagement Leader

Duke Service-Learning’s Kathy Sikes was recently honored as North Carolina Campus Compact 2022 Civic Engagement Professional of the Year

Kathy Sikes, senior fellow for Duke Service-Learning, is passionate about civic engagement. Photo by Jack Frederick.
Kathy Sikes, senior fellow for Duke Service-Learning, is passionate about civic engagement. Photo by Jack Frederick.

Name: Kathy Sikes

Position: Senior Fellow for Civic Engagement at Duke Service-Learning

Years at Duke: 13

What she does at Duke: In her capacity as Senior Fellow for Duke Service-Learning, which connects classroom learning with community engagement, Kathy Sikes documents effective practices for community-based research, coordinates service-learning program activities and participates in a Bass Connections team focused on community-engaged research.

“I feel really fortunate that my work life reflects my values,” said Sikes, who has spent her career working in civic engagement, including at the Durham Literacy Center, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and DukeEngage. “Having the chance to create and sustain programs that result in learning and impact is a privilege. I believe that we must all engage in our communities in collaborative ways that reflect a collective vision for a better world.”Kathy Sikes, right, stands with the winners of the Betsy Alden Outstanding Service-Learning Award at the Duke In the Spotlight Awards. Photo courtesy of  Brenda Whiteman.

Sikes is also the director for the North Carolina LiteracyCorps, a statewide consortium funded by the North Carolina Commission on Volunteerism, and housed at Duke, of AmeriCorps members who support community agencies and organizations in Craven, Durham, Orange, Wake, Buncombe and Mecklenburg counties through service service teaching and tutoring. Next year, LiteracyCorps, in its second year, will expand to Chatham County.

Sikes revived the program during the pandemic, writing a grant application and establishing partnerships with community organizations. In recognition for her commitment to community engagement, she recently received the 2022 Civic Engagement Professional of the Year Award from the North Carolina Campus Compact, a network of 38 colleges and universities committed to civic and community engagement.

“I was truly appreciate and humbled to receive the recognition,” she said. “However, effective community engagement isn’t accomplished by one person. I hope my award also raises the profile of the deeply collaborative, community-engaged programs here at Duke. 

The best advice received: Over her career in community-engaged scholarship, Sikes has learned lessons on how to adjust when things don’t go according to plan.

“Have a plan, but also be open to letting that plan become obsolete,” she said. “Sometimes really good things happen in the classroom, in a training, in a project that you don’t anticipate, and the willingness to be open to that is the best advice I’ve ever received.”

What she loves about Duke: Sikes enjoys that she interacts with students, faculty, staff and community members outside the university around social change work.Kathy Sikes, right, takes a photo of an AmeriCorps trust fall training session during the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Kathy Sikes.

“I have the good fortune to collaborate across campus with a range of initiatives, people, and disciplines,” Sikes said. “Duke’s Service-Learning program engages faculty and students across campus in transformative learning and action. I have excellent colleagues here at Duke who value collaboration and impact.”

Lesson learned during the pandemic: Sikes was inspired by how work continued during the pandemic, which illustrated the importance of resilience.

Sikes, a prolific fundraiser who has raised over $5 million over her career to support community-engaged projects, programs and networks. She submitted the grant for the NCLiteracy Corps the same week Duke sent staff and faculty home because of COVID-19. When that happened, she worried community agencies she hoped to partner with would not have the capacity to engage with a new program, but they did.

“They all found really innovative ways to do the work that was aligned with their mission. I was so impressed, but not surprised,” Sikes said. “The resilience of the community organizations during this time has been amazing.”

When she’s not at work, she likes to: Sikes is an avid gardener who grows native plants and vegetables year-round. She also serves on the board of the Durham Literacy Center she also works as a vote protector in Durham for a non-partisan group called Democracy North Carolina, which canvasses election sites to ensure conditions do not encumber voters during election years.Kathy Sikes recently harvested lettuce from her garden, in the backyard of her house in Durham. Photo courtesy of Kathy Sikes.

“I love engaging with people in my local community around something important to all of us,” Sikes said.

Something unique in her workspace: Through her current work with AmeriCorps, Sikes has collected apparel and gear that she stores at her house in Durham and her office in the West Duke Building that she wears or gives away to others.   

“AmeriCorps members are required to wear gear during their service work,” she said. “I have hundreds of sweatshirts, t-shirts and lanyards and all kinds of signs everywhere. Duke is recognized as a school of national service, so it seems appropriate.”

Is there a colleague at Duke who has an intriguing job or goes above and beyond to make a difference? Nominate that person for Blue Devil of the Week.