In this post, students share their final thoughts on their DurkEngage experience.
During the Duke Engage Boston program I have had the opportunity to really submerge myself into the City of Boston by visiting different historical sites and partaking in various cultural experiences such as a Harbor Island excursion and a citywide trolley tour. I also fostered relationships with 10 other participants through formal weekly reflective discussions and non-formal excursions to city hot spots, such as Revere Beach and Fenway Park. Another large aspect of my time here in Boston has been service. By interning at a local non-profit I have had the opportunity to experience a new workplace environment and also complete various projects including developing a teacher oriented 7-module online course outlining the key elements of Quality Performance Assessments and helping facilitate a summer institute which taught over 40 teachers and school administrators the methods of QPA and specific procedures for its incorporation. This time here in Boston has been really influential on decisions I am making in regards to my future after Duke. In addition to the program broadening types of living and work environments I have encountered, it also afforded me the opportunity to have multiple discussions with work professionals. Although many of them came from different professional backgrounds, a consensus they shared is that finding ones career footing is essential to choosing and making the most out of any graduate program. I feel that I definitely have not found my calling yet and would like to get some more experience in different positions and environments before I lock myself into a continued education path. These remarks are just some examples of the many ways I have grown professionally, socially, and personally while here in Boston.
- Alexis Monroe
My dukeengage program has been an incredible yet taxing experience. I have loved spending the past 8 weeks in Boston and having the opportunity to explore the city with other Duke students, almost all of them strangers to me before the program started. I have cherished the deep and intellectual reflection sessions we have had discussing the larger implications and unintended consequences of our work. But right now, I feel somewhat exacerbated by how to confront the multitude of issues we have explored. With the events that have happened all over the world during our time here, I feel that it is even more important that we find a way to come together as people rather than to pull ourselves away. And yet, I feel more and more lost in how to do so. I am incredibly thankful for the space DukeEngage created for me to approach these issues and I am hoping that being back on campus and having some time to process my experience will give me some idea or feeling of agency in addressing these issues, either now or in the future.
- Laura Baker
Living in downtown Boston this summer was an incredible experience. Our proximity to all of the T stops as well as the Common and the Harbor allowed us to see and experience many different parts of the city. My job with Union Capital Boston (UCB) gave me a lot of freedom to explore and experience the city during the day as well. The non-traditional office of UCB allowed me to work at six different public libraries, upper levels of buildings with great views of the city, and outdoors in parks and along the river and the harbor. This was my first experience living “alone” in a big city and I think I grew a lot as an individual. Through interacting with the group and with members and workers at UCB I have had discussions and experiences that have opened my mind to a new way of thinking about poverty, privilege, the world and more. In addition to this new way of thinking, I was able to gain real world experience working with UCB. Union Capital Boston is a mobile rewards program for community engagement for lower-income Boston residents. I researched and entered over 150 events per week to advertise to members, researched and communicated with 17 community partners to further develop the relationships, and updated guidelines to optimize application efficiency. I was able to advance my skills in communication, research, and excel use.
- Luke Berndt
Looking back on the eight or so weeks that I’ve spent on this DukeEngage Boston program, it is hard to appreciate the diversity of experiences that have accumulated. The city of Boston has begun to feel like home as I can now navigate my way around without looking like I’m lost. My service placement has turned he realm of non-profits from being just a hypothetical to something with vivid features and dimensions. And the issues of educational reform are no longer just words on a paper. They’re now topics which I can associate hands-on work and experience with which has provided both a wealth of knowledge and a picture of the complex problems that the world is working towards a solution for. Though it will surely take many more weeks of contemplation to fully absorb everything, I know that I am anxious to hear the experience of others while sharing my own experience with them as the dialogue around community service and engagement continues to grow in energy and complexity.
- Justin Paley
I applied to DukeEngage to understand whether or not the non-profit sector was a good fit for me. I have mainly spent my time working at the Family Independence Initiative, a non-profit whose whole goal is to increase economic mobility and close the gap in the safety net in order to effectively end the cyclical nature of poverty by providing capital to low-income families that have shown initiative to get out of poverty. Often times, once families cross over the poverty line, they get cut off completely and suddenly from the resources (like food stamps) that helped them get there so they fall back into poverty, perpetuating this cycle. I was able to do a lot of qualitative and quantitative research in order to recommended different resources for the organization to offer. I also worked on an action plan to establish contact with disengaged clients and retain more clients in the future. I was really happy with the work I had the opportunity to do but the program was a lot more than that. One image I will never forget from this summer was the night my roommates stayed up until 3AM trying to fix Greek life at Duke. We would have a lot of mandatory reflection sessions to talk about issues in the world but they were never as good as the spontaneous conversations that we would have at midnight simply because this was what we cared about and what we wanted to talk about. I really appreciated how honest, compassionate and inclusive my group was throughout our entire time together. We went on so many adventures, walked over 10 miles a day at least 10x over the course of 2 months and had so much fun just sitting around talking to one another. I definitely did learn more about the non-profit sector. I do not think that I will ever want to do work that does not feel meaningful. I am very thankful for DukeEngage for providing me with the opportunity to try working in a “non-traditional” sector. Perhaps, it is true that you will never really know whether or not you like something until you actually do it. Thanks for letting me actually do it.
- Ekim Buyuk
When I was a kid growing up in India, I thought the United States was perfect. I had perceptions of unlimited ice cream, pizzas of all flavors, games, fun, and huge buildings that touched the sky. I was so fazed by the glitz and glamor of a developed nation that I did not consider the many nuanced disparities that transcend all areas of life (economic, racial, health, social). My goal going into this experience is to critically analyze social determinants within our country’s very borders. By working with a nonprofit, Raising a Reader Massachusetts, I focused heavily on early childhood literacy disparities among children of low income families in Boston and throughout MA. With the day to day work, I am amazed at the complexity of managing a nonprofit such as working towards the dual goals of receiving funding from foundations and serving the specific population you intend to serve). I even worked in storytime reading events in parks throughout Greater Boston to make a direct impact on these children’s lives and to highlight the importance of the dialogue that results having a parent or mentor read to you regularly. Of particular importance for me is the immense brain development that happens during early childhood and the significance of events, such as reading with someone, on the physical circuitry of the brain. This was a strong connection between health, experiences, and social issues. In my daily experience out of work, the poverty I see is ubiquitous and so multifaceted that results from the interaction of multiple systematic issues. It may be hard to work effectively in a way that aims to tackle the root cause and not the symptoms of these social issues. But the nonprofit I work with and the conversations I had with other people in my cohort gives me strong encouragement that we can have a good shot at it in the impending future.
- Saikiran Gudla
I lived in Boston for two months working at MENTOR, which is a youth serving non-profit with a mission to close the mentoring gap, or the number of kids growing up without a mentor. I worked with many of the different teams within the office including Marketing & Communications and Development to help continue to satisfy and also to grow their support base by creating an email marketing survey and developing donor prospect profiles. Aside from working, we reflected on issues that Boston faces like poverty and homelessness and discussed the service we were doing and how it can help but also how service can have negative impacts in some cases. Overall, my experience has involved personal growth and a lot of learning about issues facing major cities, what it is like to work in an office and about my role in the group of DukeEngage students. My biggest takeaways from this program are things I have learned about working at a nonprofit and how to live a more thoughtful life. I have learned that communication and collaboration between people are essential in getting things done, but also for creating a positive work environment. Everyone at MENTOR was passionate and working toward the mission, which made it an incredibly motivating place to work. I will continue to think about the issues we reflected on and discussed at our work places in the future.
- Caroline Murphy
After two months in a city, how well do you really know it? After two months here in Boston, I know where I can head if I want to grab a bite to eat, or what path to take for a quick run that avoids the most stoplights and traffic. I know what time to go to the gym if I want to avoid the afternoon crowd. But what don’t I know? I don’t know how long the store I grab dinner from has been in business. I don’t know the story of the owner and how the store came to be. I don’t know the political battles that took place in order for my running route to remain green space instead of being swallowed by urban development. I don’t know the demographic breakdown of what the city’s workforce looks like. How many commute to Boston from a neighboring town? How many moved to Boston because of job opportunities? How many have been here their whole life? As I get ready to leave this city, I can’t help but think about how much more there is to learn. Yet, I then realize, how much do I really know about my hometown? Cary’s known for having a highly educated population and great schools within the Wake County Public School System. I’ve seen different shopping plazas and residential communities spring up, each time evaluating for myself whether or not its presence is welcome. But even for my hometown, there is still a lot I do not know. All of this just serves as a reminder that a lot of attention and effort must be made towards being aware. One of the most impactful reflections of Duke Engage Boston was reading David Foster Wallace’s speech “This is Water”. The amount that an experience can be changed just from the way we choose to view and interpret things is staggering. If I stayed in Boston for another two months, but lived in a way that gave no attention to the nuances and intricacies of the city, I doubt whether my understanding of the city would grow any. It isn’t the amount of time you spend in a place that determines your impact, but it’s how you choose to integrate and immerse yourself. Through my time here, I’ve learned a great deal from the people at Root Cause as well as from the work they do. And from that, I’m satisfied in saying that I’ll leave Boston with meaningful memories and insights. As such, even though there is still much to learn about the city, I leave with little regrets, but perhaps that I should’ve bought some cannoli’s to bring back home.
- Mike Chaing
Due to my passion for understanding socioeconomic inequality and its determinants, I thought that Duke Engage Boston would be a good fit. I applied because of this alignment and with hopes to learn more about the nonprofit sector and what it means to do good even through employment. My time here has definitely shed light on these areas. I worked with the Family Independence Initiative (FII) which looks to increase class mobility by providing low-income families with capital. Though I stayed in America, working here was definitely a bit of a culture shock at first. At Duke we are used to being told that things are about us and all of the amazing things we will inevitably go on to do. However, working with a mission based organization and doing at times (admittedly) tedious work, constantly humbled me. Hearing the poignant and yet inspirational stories of our family partners, opened my mind and broadened my perspective. I am extremely thankful for my community partner taking me in. The conversations I have had with my Duke Engage team have been extremely insightful and huge factors in the growth I have experienced these past 8 weeks. I have had amazing experiences and formed quality friendships that I will take back with me to Duke’s campus.
- Anu Basavaraju
From the start, the staff at MENTOR welcomed me— it was clear they were intentional about planning an environment where Caroline and I would have the chance to grow and ask questions. This meant a lot to me, I’ve gained lots of takeaways about the importance of establishing a culture of following through and supporting one another through being intentional about group dynamics. Over the course of the summer I communicated with leaders of mentoring projects about how to use MENTOR’s mentoring connector, a volunteer recruitment tool. One of my other main projects included researching members of congress and mayors who have ties to mentoring to help strengthen the government relations’ team strategy. These experiences have really showed me that relationship building is key to creating and maintaining a national network of resources to offer local mentoring programs.
- Sarah Kerman
Sai and I spent our summer with Raising A Reader MA, a literacy nonprofit with the mission of helping families develop practices of reading together at home. While Sai assisted the program team with their data analysis, I worked in Marketing & Communications to develop strategic communications plans for government officials, reorganize the organization’s website on an updated platform, and design educational graphics and content for the website and social media. Together, Sai and I planned and facilitated weekly storytime events for over 30 families at a time across the Greater Boston community. Outside of our placement, in group reflection sessions, we problematized the nonprofit sector and analyzed systems of social injustice. While many nonprofits act as bandaid solutions to large social problems, these reflection sessions led me to believe that the best model for social good is one that facilitates bonds of love and respect from person to person. I was initially attracted to Raising A Reader MA because their approach to literacy is grounded in the loving relationship between parent and child, and my experience in the office and out in the communities has reinforced my belief that this is the most valuable method of social change.
- Sarah Atkinson