‘How did you even find out about that class?’

1952 Duke students
Marine Invertebrate Zoology class with Professor C.G. Bookhout, 1952. Source: Duke University Archives via Flickr Duke Yearlook (UAPC-066-012-003)

One of the best kept secrets at Duke is how interactive, hands on and engaging many course offerings are. Midway through a semester, I will hear my friends talking about travelling to Greece, South Africa, Jordan, Oregon, or… (the list goes on) with one of their courses. I also hear about students putting on plays for the community, working with refugee families, making documentaries on nonprofits and doing all kinds of fascinating and compelling community based work. A common sentiment among students is: “Wow, how did you even find out about that class?” Sometimes you hear through the grapevine, but often it’s just luck. At the Duke Office of Civic Engagement, we have attempted to compile a database of courses focused on civic engagement and community participation. Service learning courses and civic engagement based coursework have led me to many amazing opportunities to build relationships with faculty, extend myself beyond my comfort zone and develop relationships with community partners.

There are some courses I absolutely have to suggest. One course would be Bruce Orenstein’s Video for Social Change (DOCST 271S). Each semester, Orenstein chooses a local nonprofit organization to collaborate with to create a short documentary–no prior documentary experience is necessary. In the upcoming fall semester, the course will work with a group fighting for fair wages for fast-food workers. Many Documentary Studies courses, including Intro to Audio Documentary (DOCST 135S/735S), Documentary Publishing (DOCST 352S/752S) and Multimedia Documentary require students to to find community groups with which to partner.

I participated in Duke Immerse’s Freedom Struggles and Human Rights program, where I travelled to South Africa and met key leaders in the anti-apartheid struggle and people currently leading the fight for representation of refugee groups in the country. I was able to have a once in a lifetime educational opportunity that was incredibly unconventional- while still fulfilling my major’s requirements! As a History major, I found that many core classes include opportunities for engagement. A crowd favorite is Political Analysis for Public Policy (PPS 301), co-taught by Nick Carnes and Ken Rogerson, where students have the opportunity to work with political nonprofits in the triangle. Policy Choice as Value Conflict (PPS 302), a core requirement for the Public Policy major, requires students to confront some of the ethical dilemmas of civic engagement with fellow classmates and community members.

Incoming first years can participate in FOCUS clusters, such as Knowledge in the Service of Society or Ethics, Leadership and Global Citizenship. These classes focus heavily on engagement within Duke and Durham and are a great resource for building relationships with faculty. If you’re an incoming first year and you’re not registered for a focus program, no need to worry! Many of the courses featured on civic.duke.edu are classes intended for students of all levels.

Once you’ve decided to specialize, advanced courses -particularly in the sciences- provide opportunities to apply your technical training in fields like Environmental Engineering and Biomedical Engineering to community projects.

If you’re like me, academics feel empty without community engagement and participation. These courses are a great way to connect interests, service, and leadership to your academics- plus you might make some great community contacts and friends in the process. Check out the course offerings on civic.duke.edu!

Adrienne Harreveld is a 2014 Duke graduate. She is now Research Director at the Duke|UNC Initiative on Poverty and Inquality. This post was originally published on June 30, 2014.