Duke embraces civic engagement

Duke University is launching a major program to move its undergraduate students beyond the classroom and engage them in giving back to the community by taking on social issues at home and abroad and learning from those real-life experiences.

Starting in the summer of 2008, with $15 million each from the Duke Endowment and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, any Duke undergrad who has finished at least two semesters will be eligible to undertake a service project for a summer or semester.

Known as DukeEngage, the initiative will receive additional funding from the school and provide full funding and faculty and administrative support to all undergrads who participate.

Duke will cover students’ travel costs and a cost-of-living stipend and, for those receiving financial aid, the school will cover summer earnings for which the students otherwise would be responsible.

Duke also will provide stipends to faculty and staff who serve as mentors to students.

School officials expect at least one in four of Duke’s 6,250 undergrads will take part in the program over the next five years.

Over 80 percent of Duke students currently volunteer, roughly 500 undergrads are involved each year in service-learning that combines classroom work with public service, and nearly 100 design their own service projects in the summer, the school says.

To be overseen by a new Duke Center for Civic Engagement, the new initiative will support projects that Duke sponsors or organizes through a class or existing service-learning program; projects that Duke coordinates with outside providers or community partners; and projects that students design in collaboration with faculty or staff.

Eric Mlyn, director of the Robertson Scholars program since it was launched at Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will serve as founding director of the new program.

Chairing the program’s national advisory committee will be David Gergen, a Duke trustee and former White House advisor who is professor of public service at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and director of its Center for Public Leadership.

James Joseph, former U.S. Ambassador to South Africa and director of the U.S.-Southern African Center for Leadership and Public Values at Duke, will head the faculty advisory board for the new program.

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