Forward Together: Laughter and Ugly Sweaters Build Bonds at Pratt

With fun events, the Pratt School of Engineering creates connections among staff, faculty and students

A collage of fun Pratt events

Forward Together

As the post-pandemic work landscape evolves, Working@Duke will share stories of how individuals, schools, departments, and units build positive culture.

“We had people from all over Pratt come out,” said Rabalais, Program Coordinator with the Office of Undergraduate Education who came up with the idea for the run. “We got a little sweaty, but everybody had a good time.”

Vinik Dean of Engineering Jerry Lynch took part in the post-race celebration while wearing a bright green sweater that read, “Yeti to Party.” When Lynch became Dean of the Pratt School of Engineering in January of 2022, moments like this were part of his vision.

Lynch arrived during a post-pandemic period when students had returned to in-person learning, but the pre-pandemic rhythm of campus life was largely missing.

Grace Beason, far right, hands out info for a campus scavenger hunt in October of 2022. Photo courtesy of the Pratt School of Engineering.

Knowing that Pratt’s roughly 3,200 students, faculty and staff enjoy a collaborative and connected culture, Lynch made it a priority to rebuild those bonds.

“As you come out of an event like the pandemic, you have to be very deliberate about trying to invite community back to campus,” Lynch said. “You have to provide that welcoming environment that gets people motivated and excited, and wanting to partake and socialize with other members of the community. So we’ve been intentional about trying to do more social events and signal to the community that we welcome everybody back.”

At Duke, 39% of Duke University and Duke University Health System employees work remotely one-to-four days each week, according to a Working@Duke survey in late 2022.

With hybrid work arrangements a new norm since the end of the pandemic, Working@Duke is sharing stories through its “Forward Together” series to feature how individuals, schools, departments and units are building community.

The challenge of creating opportunities for the Pratt community to come together is one that Grace Beason happily embraced since joining Pratt as the Coordinator for Special Events in May 2022.

Beason has used her quarter-century of experience in event planning to come up with fun events.

In October 2022, Beason organized a thrilling scavenger hunt for Pratt staff and faculty, while in April 2023, an R.E.M. cover band played on Harrington Quad.

Throughout the year, Pratt community members seized opportunities to connect at wreath-making workshops, Innovation Co-Lab tours, and gatherings with free coffee, donuts, and Italian ice.

Vinik Dean of Engineering Jerry Lynch chats with colleagues during a recent event featuring free coffee and donuts for Pratt School of Engineering community members. Photo courtesy of the Pratt School of Engineering.

Beason said she often hears from Pratt colleagues who have ideas for future events – such as Rabalais’ idea for the Ugly Sweater Fun Run – and who relish the opportunity to create fun moments for colleagues.

“I think this is what we hoped for and it’s actually happening,” Beason said. “People are meeting each other, making new acquaintances and mingling between departments. Staff are getting to know students, and that’s great to see. It feels like our efforts to cultivate community within Pratt are really paying off.”

And with each event, the connections which help make Pratt a welcoming and collaborative community grow a little bit stronger.

“In general, when you look at academia as a professional space, what makes it’s really special? It’s the people,” Lynch said. “Yes, we deliver a best in class education program. Yes, we do pioneering research. Yes, we’re out there translating our work with community and industry. But at the end of the day, it’s the community that creates the university. The university is that community. That’s by design.”

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