Global or local engagement? DukeEngage-Durham does both

Every summer, fifteen Duke undergraduates choose to spend their summer engaging in Durham through the DukeEngage sister-cities program. While DukeEngage sends 400+ students to serve and learn at the far reaches of the globe and all across the U.S., these students choose to immerse themselves for six weeks into the very city where they live and study all school-year long: Durham, NC. But that’s not all. In 2013, under the leadership of Program Directors Domonique Redmond and Sam Miglarese DukeEngage-Durham expanded across the pond to include the city of Durham located in North East England. “Durham squared,” as program director Domonique Redmond proudly refers to it, offers students an exponentially richer summer immersion experience by giving students an opportunity to work not only in two different geographical locations, but with two different community partner organizations. There are striking similarities as well as differences between the two cities of Durham. Domonique and Sam have sought out community partners with similar missions in both cities for the students to engage with, giving them the unique opportunity to compare and contrast community-based economic development efforts in both cities.

The value of gaining intercultural competency to effectively engage on a local and well as global level is perhaps made nowhere near as vivid for students as it is in this Duke program. For many of our students, the demographics and post-industrial landscape of Durham, NC seem just as foreign as they do in Durham, England. Many Duke students have little interaction with the local Durham community during the years they are enrolled at the university. DukeEngage-Durham opens their eyes to a world outside of the campus with a depth and intensity that can be difficult to achieve without such immersion.

For Katie Saveliff (Trinity ’15), DukeEngage Durham connected her with a future employer. A double-major in math and psychology with a minor in education, Saveliff spent the stateside portion of her summer program working with the Durham YouthWork Internship Program, to help place high school students from Durham Public Schools in local summer internships. As part of her service through DukeEngage, Katie interviewed students, ran training programs at Durham High Schools, and supervised students in their placements.   She worked closely with the program’s director, Ms. Winston, who also works at Jordan High School. By the time Katie arrived at Jordan for her student teaching placement the next spring, she already had a sense of the population and a connection with one of the teachers there. The opportunity to have a sustained relationship with a community partner resulted in Katie eventually being hired into a full-time position as a high school math teacher.

Engaging through Duke, Katie gained invaluable insight into secondary education in general, and into the climate of public education in her local community in particular. “I think that DukeEngage definitely made me more confident in my decision to stay in Durham [post graduation],” Katie told me in a recent interview, “because during our summer here I truly felt like I got to know the local community. Being immersed in a community and getting to know the high schoolers at Jordan in particular was something unique to this DukeEngage program and I’m very grateful things worked out the way they did!”

After spending six weeks immersed in Durham, NC, relocating to a new city across the Atlantic Ocean allows participants to see not only a new place – but to see the complexities of Durham, NC with fresh eyes. There are some obvious similarities. Both cities developed around a specific industry; tobacco in NC and coal-mining in England. When both these industries declined, both cities transitioned to a modern knowledge-based economy. Questions of historical memory, politics, class and race are pertinent for both Durhams. Students also learn about their distinct qualities, such as local geography and culture, by participating in neighborhood tours, readings, special events, and weekly group meals with community members.

For Abby Snyder (Trinity ’16), DukeEngage-Durham offered her the ideal complement to her academic double major in International Comparative Studies and Economics. Abby spent her summer serving people living with mental illness by teaching classes on economic literacy and building friendships in two “clubhouse” centers connecting both cities of Durham. Abby was able to apply her classroom knowledge to enrich her understanding of differences in the two cities in work cultures, political systems, and stigmas around mental health.

Personally, professionally, and intellectually, DukeEngage-Durham gives its participants manifold opportunities to grow. So, too, does this model afford all of us – participants or not – excellent opportunities to reflect upon the relevance and importance of university engagement both globally and locally.