Opening the Door to Service

When Grace Mok applied to DukeEngage as a sophomore at Duke University, she chose a program that would help her learn about the town beyond campus.

Now a junior majoring in economics, she describes those summer weeks as transformative.

I can’t even begin to measure the impact DukeEngage has had on me,” she says. DukeEngage expanded my idea of what responsible student power looks like, what nonprofit activism looks like, what institutional support looks like — and how that can all be used to enact meaningful change.”

At Duke University, DukeEngage gives students like Grace a chance to participate in immersive service opportunities in the United States and abroad. The program was launched in 2007 with the combined gifts of $15 million each from The Duke Endowment and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Since then, some 4,000 undergraduates have contributed more than 1.25 million hours, working in youth services, public policy, community development, education, the arts and conservation.

Students address urban challenges in Seattle, for example, or serve migrant communities in Dublin. Through independent projects, they’ve worked with nonprofits in Madagascar, Tanzania and Japan. DukeEngage-Durham, the program Grace chose, exposes students to community-based economic development efforts in Durham, N.C., and its sister city of Durham, England.

In England, Grace focused on helping men transition from homelessness. In North Carolina, she volunteered with the Community Empowerment Fund, a local nonprofit that offers financial education and support to people seeking employment, housing and economic stability. Among her other duties, she helped organize the 2017 Mayor’s Landlord Roundtable to encourage a conversation about affordable housing.

She created all the communications and planned every last detail of the event,” says Janet Xiao, the Community Empowerment Fund’s co-director. She’s the kind of person who will clean our fish tank just to leverage every minute of her time.”

Grace continues volunteering there, riding over on her bike twice a week. After she graduates, she thinks she might work at a nonprofit before earning an advanced degree in sociology or public policy.

DukeEngage really opens the door to service for students who might not otherwise consider it,” Grace says. It provides an infrastructure to embark on meaningful change, but also to think about how you ethically do service for the rest of your life.”

DukeEngage really opens the door to service for students who might not otherwise consider it.

Grace Mok

Measuring Impact

DukeEngage leaders use annual assessment to test and improve the program. They have found that:

  • More than 70% of participants considered DukeEngage to be a personal growth experience
  • Students report that they are better leaders after DukeEngage: 60% were more confident, 55% felt more able to lead in challenging conditions and 50% were more outspoken
  • Teamwork skills were enhanced: 70% of participants found they could be more collaborative and were better able to work with diverse teams; 60% were more adaptable to other work paces and styles
  • The experience encouraged ongoing service: on average, participants increased civic involvement by an hour a week in the semesters following DukeEngage
  • Nearly 80% reported that DukeEngage had influenced their career plans.

Program leaders are also working to understand longer-term results. In 2013, they contacted 1,000 alumni to learn that:

  • DukeEngage alums are more likely than their Duke peers to pursue careers in three fields: 22% work in business, finance or economics, with anecdotal evidence suggesting participants are drawn to innovative or entrepreneurial careers; 12% work in health care, with a significant share working in public health; and 10% work in K‑12 education, including teaching, consulting and policy work
  • 35% feel DukeEngage had a great influence on their career choice, with 32% reporting strong connections between the work they do now and their DukeEngage program
  • 90% report gaining insights about themselves
  • 83% gained a more-informed world perspective
  • More than 80% report that DukeEngage had at least some impact on their current volunteer work, philanthropy or civic engagement. Of the 282 who considered themselves active volunteers, 85% reported that this work was connected to their DukeEngage service.