Jul 22

Closing Remarks

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

Jul 20

Photographic Reflection of Boston

Boston: A Photographic Reflection Fish in Water Waves of Grain Town in a Town (3 of 3) Town in a Town (2 of 3) Town in a Town (1 of 3) Two Friends Red, White, & Blue Ships at Night The Parade (5 of 5) The Parade (4 of 5) The Parade (3 of 5) The Parade (2 of 5) The Parade (1 of 5) Common Spaces A City of History

Jul 13

A Day in the Life

July 13th DukeEngage Boston Blog Post

By: Justin Paley and Alexis Monroe


Each weekday starts off with an alarm nice and early to wake me up for work at the Center for Collaborative Education in downtown Boston. My daily routine usually involves me stopping at the nearby coffee shop, Boston Common Coffee, for a large hot drink and some food to get me started. My workday is usually filled with variety each day. Sometimes I worked in the office location on material organization or putting together some instruction material for upcoming workshops. Other days I got to go into the field and work with students in different schools and see some of the assessment training that the Center for Collaborative Education works to put in place. A usual work day ends around 5, when I then pack up and head back to the apartments at Suffolk University where the DukeEngage group is staying. Most of the other group members end their work day around the same time, so I often see and interact with them as soon as I get back. We are all often tired from work, so an hour or two of relaxation is usually in order. After that, the group tires to arrange dinner plans to either go out somewhere (taco Tuesdays was a very popular weekly activity) or buy some groceries and do some bonding and cooking in the dorms. After dinner, depending on the mood and energy level, I would continue to sit around and casually talk or go back to my dorm to continue winding down for the ensuing day.


“Ding Ding Ding…” My alarm clock goes off sharply at 8:15. I roll over to shut it off and glance over to see if my roommate is gone. Due to our work locations she usually leaves out earlier than me so she can catch brunch. I got pretty lucky in terms of my partner organization. I work with the Center for Collaborative Education (CCE). Over the summer myself and 4 other interns at the location have each been assigned 1-2 major projects to continuously work on and present at the end of our 8 weeks. My project is a self-paced course. The opportunity to take CCE’s resources and fuse them together to make an easy to use yet effective certification course is exciting. It took me a while to get used to the flow of CCE, which is very relaxed, but once I did everything was fine. “Ahhh, finally in bed…” this is the thought that runs through my head as I throw myself into my bed. It’s 5:00 and time for me to take my post work nap. As I go to sleep I hear the rustling of my roommates returning home as well. I usually rise from my slumber at around 6:00. What happens next really depends on the day. As a group we get together to eat dinner and hang out on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. On the rest of the weeknights we all make our dinners independently but meet a little later to check in with each other. Our conversations usually consist of how our workdays went, what other interesting things may have happened through out the day, and then past personal stories. The mood is generally light and full of laughter; we’re all happy to be off of work. After about 2 hours of socializing sleepiness begins to seep back into my mind. We wrap up our conversations and I retire to bed, ready to take on another workday in the morning. (Unless of coarse its Friday, in which case we all prepare for the excursions and fun times the weekends always hold!)

Jul 12

Problematization and Service-Learning

To problematize is to view what is deemed a concrete or immutable element or structure as a challenge (or problem) that can be transformed. It is to look at a situation from not only a different perspective but also (in my opinion) a braver one; to stop hiding behind the “status quo” and shine a new light on the situation.

For our time in Boston, this means to dive more deeply to the roots of systems, be-it homelessness, cycles of poverty or “altourism.” From these discussions, we have learned one big lesson and that is that there are some serious gray areas in life that no one knows whether to darken to black or fade to white. In other words, it is hard to fix problems when you do not know what to fix and whether or not it really can be fixed.

The story of problematization is a little more optimistic in my work at FII. FII’s work revolves around ending the cyclical nature of poverty. While the media focuses on the “bad,” FII believes they should instead focus on all of the good that is happening in communities: in other words, all of the people who are trying their best to get out of poverty and stay out. The cyclical nature of poverty exists due to the unevenness of the economic safety net. The safety net only exists for those below the poverty line and for those miles away from it. Thus, families who try and succeed in getting out of poverty find themselves falling right back in after being cut off from the critical resources that helped them get this far. So what’s the point of even getting out?

Problematization helps us see that families can get out of poverty but they need capital and resources in order to stay out (that is where FII comes in). If we use problematization to look at other structures in our society instead of viewing them as unchangeable, we can come up with a lot of ways to change the “status quo.”

For our two months in Boston with Duke Engage, we have been discussing issues through problematization and attempting to figure out where the social issues we address fit in during our experience as whole, including outside of the workplace. For the summer, we are engaging in a type of service-learning.

Although the term service is up to discussion itself, most people would think of doing service as volunteering or helping another person out. While we are in a sense volunteering, the service we are doing in Boston is somewhat different. Working at our nonprofits this summer, we are doing unpaid work, and that work is whatever our organizations tell us to do or need help with. Aside from the service component, the learning aspect of this service-learning trip comes from many directions.

We are learning about Boston, our host community, about our nonprofits, and about ourselves while we are here this summer. In order to do the best possible service, it is important to learn about the community we are living in. We have been able to explore Boston and its history, but also learn about the challenges Boston has faced in the past like fires, a struggling public school system and many other issues that arise in any large city. On the other end, we are learning about our organizations and also from them while we work there each day. At the half way point, I realize I have learned so much about what a nonprofit is and the many ways in which they can be organized. I have also learned about office culture and how communication between employees can create a positive and efficient work environment. Most importantly, we all have learned that Boston is facing many complex and multi-faceted issues that do need to be addressed and hopefully with our second month here, our group can continue to dive into the issues and provide service, while learning as much as possible.

By: Ekim Buyuk and Caroline Murphy

Jul 01

Midpoint Blog


Our years of study at Duke have nurtured us with literature, science, math, economics, and academic endeavors such as research. Our liberal arts based education has informed us to be tolerant, receptive, culturally competent, and critical of the systems and institutions we live in. Yet many of us are privy to argue about social problems within the comfort of our dorms and within the concealed bubble of Duke. The world outside, even in some of the oldest and most established cities in the United States, are victim to the unfortunate ills of social stratification, health disparities, and inequalities.

I have lived in very safe neighborhoods in Charlotte, Los Angeles, and Chicago during my time in the States. However, the city of Boston, though filled to the brim with bustling character and vibrant culture, has open signs of poverty and homelessness that I have not seen before in the US. Though, initially, with excursions and restaurants, I have been a bit oblivious to these problems, with each week, I am beginning to rationalize and realize the complex net of social factors that inhibit the well being of many people at Boston. I have begun to see networks of homeless people occupying the same places and imploring for morsels of food or spare change. Altercations are not uncommon. With my work at the nonprofit Raising a Reader MA, I have realized the significance of low literacy and how it is exponentially lower in households of low income and of minorities. To compound the issue, most brain development happens to kids in their first three years, so when families neglect them, they have already fallen in word cognition and comprehension when compared to people of higher economic quintiles. The families should not be blamed for their neglect as they usually have long hours of work in order to bring a livable wage to the family. Yet the one on one interaction with kids starting at early ages are critical for improvements in health, academic performance, and behavior that may be needed in order to get a better job and try to raise a family in an improved lifestyle for their own kids.

As a kid living in southeast India, I have seen many of these social issues impact families. I also realize how herculean the efforts might be to create structural and sustainable impacts that deal with all the variables that result in income inequality and disparities. However, the work done by the nonprofits here in Boston and the members’ consistent passion to achieve these goals have really opened my eyes to the world outside of business and the number of social services they function. I envision partnerships like social enterprises between businesses and nonprofits to try to impact the root causes as much as they can. It all starts with involvement, a vision, and a relentless drive to improve the lives of those around you by each individual. That will test us and really use the knowledge we have gained in programs like DukeEngage and courses at Duke to, quite literally, change the world.



Last week, while scrolling through my organization’s Twitter feed like I usually do when work is slow, something caught my eye. “In Boston?” the tweet read. “@CCIBoston is doing communal reading of Frederick Douglass’ “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” I was intrigued—three weeks of DukeEngage reflection sessions discussing the brokenness of our national systems had me already questioning American patriotism. What could the Fourth of July possibly mean to someone who has been systematically oppressed, someone who has been explicitly denied the freedoms the holiday purports to celebrate?

Luckily for me the communal reading took place on a corner of the Boston Common just across the street from my office, so I dipped out on my lunch break to hear the speech. Although I had skimmed the speech the day before, I was overwhelmed when I heard it read out by a hundred different voices. I had no idea that a speech written on July 5, 1852, could seem so eerily relevant in 2016.

“What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence…” Douglass’ list goes on.

These words stung. Douglass’ condemnations weren’t directed just at Southerners, or slave-owners, or people like Donald Trump today—he was accusing the whole of America and American values. He was accusing the entire nation of hypocrisy, of remaining complacent to systematic injustice everywhere. And he minced no words about it, saying: “O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.”

Duke Engage isn’t the kind of national revolution Douglass seems to be calling for. But it has inspired in me a smaller, internal revolution: my conscience has been roused, my propriety startled, and the hypocrisy of my actions exposed. CCI Boston, who organized the event in the Common, is a nonprofit just like our DukeEngage partners. But while I generally think of nonprofits as directed toward less privileged communities, CCI Boston’s mission is directed toward people just like me. Their website says: “CCI has done what few organizations are willing to do: shine a spotlight on the roots of racism in white culture with the intention of dealing with racism at its source, as well as with its impact on communities of color.”

What I most loved about hearing Douglass’ speech in the Common was the communal aspect of the reading—people of all ages and backgrounds took turns reading the text, and in their voices I could hear different tones of sadness, guilt, and anger. People had come together to own a national legacy that is much more complicated than parades and fireworks and hot dogs by the pool.

Jun 28

Getting to know some of our community partners!

As we’re contemplating how we will incorporate service in our future endeavors, it is interesting and grounding to see what methods have resonated with the people who work in the nonprofits we have partnered with. The following is an interview with current employees at our partner nonprofit organizations, MENTOR and Family Independence Initiative (FII).  Jennifer Bourgoin of MENTOR and Crystal Murphy were able to shed light on how their personal pathways brought them to these organizations and why this work in particular resonates with them.  

We first interviewed Crystal, a family liaison at FII. FII is an organization which aims to increase class mobility by targeting families who are on the brink of making it out of poverty. Once families make it out of poverty, they are cut off from resources that were critical for their progress. FII believes this contributes to the cycle of poverty. Thus, FII provides financial resources to families on the brink. However, it is hands off and gives responsibility to the families; clearly, to work to this point they know what they have to do to be successful. All they are lacking is capital. Crystal shed more light on the philosophy of the organization and her own connection to it in her interview (some answers were modified for clarity):

Anu:  How did you become interested in working with FII?

Crystal: My work with FII stemmed from my prior history with the organization. I was a family partner that grew very interested in the non-profit sector, specifically the work of FII and the opportunities presented to families. Through my partnership with FII, I gained many skills through family partner leadership roles. I became a liaison with the goal of wanting to be a part of FII’s growth while providing insight from my experience as a family partner.

Did you think you would be doing this type of work when you were in college?

I thought I would graduate and be a social worker or case worker telling families what do at a state agency which would provide supplemental benefits for low income families.

What are you proud of that FII has accomplished?

I am proud that FII took a chance to hire a family partner to become a staff member. I am also proud that FII  has been recognized by influentials such as the president and Michelle Obama

What impact would you most like to make with FII?

I would like to continue to provide dual perspectives that embody the interests of families, staff and FII as a whole.

What advice would you give a college student interested in working in non-profits?

You must have a passion for whatever you do and your interest must be genuine. The biggest reward comes through seeing how the work you do impact others’ lives.

What is the hardest part of working with FII?

Adapting to the hands off philosophy: Not being able to share resources was hard for me in the beginning, as I am a naturally caring and giving person. However, I know that people know how best to steer their lives.

What do outsiders often not realize about Boston?

Outsiders often don’t realize that Boston is rich in culture and that there is a strong sense of pride and community. Most people should know that through the phrase “Boston strong.” Boston’s a great place for education, healthcare and has a beautiful skyline that is visible from towns near and far.

How has Boston changed throughout your time living here?

One thing I have noticed is that there is more real estate  in places that were factories when I was growing up. The arts and technology has had a major impact here as well. There are so many food trucks and community parades and more people have a voice- a voice that is being heard.

What are your hopes for my experience over the summer at FII and in Boston?

I hope that you asks lots of questions, stay proactive, stay focused and motivated and make suggestions. I hope you visit the Boston Commons and the North End. I’d like to challenge you to take the orange and red line train from the first to last stops and get an up close look at the people who call Boston home.


Through the Duke Engage program, we have also gotten to know Jennifer Bourgoin, program associate at MENTOR: the National Mentoring Partnership.  MENTOR is a nonprofit organization with the goal of increasing the quantity and quality of mentoring relationships in the US.  In the Q&A Jen discusses how her path led her to MENTOR and nonprofit work.

Sarah: How did you become interested in this work? Did you think you would be doing this type of work when you were in college?

Jen: I’ve always been attracted to organizations that empower individuals to overcome obstacles, so nonprofits are a natural fit for me. When I graduated college, I entered into a terrible job market; many of my classmates went on dozens of interviews before getting offered a less-than-ideal position. I knew it would be difficult to get a nonprofit job, so I decided to do AmeriCorps as a way to take a first step and make connections in my field of interest. I can’t say enough about my AmeriCorps experience; not only did I feel fulfilled and rewarded by the work I was doing, but I also learned so much about my city, my interests and my career path. My AmeriCorps experience truly enflamed my passion for nonprofits, and I’m grateful that nonprofits have made my days feel productive and meaningful for the past five years.


Sarah: What advice would you give a college student interested in working in non-profits?

Jen:I think it’s difficult to leave a college environment, where students hopefully feel valued and like they’re participating in meaningful work, and enter the workforce at entry-level jobs. The great thing about nonprofits, however, is they’re often smaller organizations where individuals must wear many hats. You may go into an entry-level programming position and find that you’re doing work in marketing, research, development, etc., because the organization doesn’t have huge teams to carry out each of these functions. Nonprofits are often able to give entry-level staff more opportunities to grow because they don’t have as many resources as corporations. My piece of advice for college students is to not be discouraged by entry-level positions; with the right mindset and some ambition, nonprofits will likely give you plenty of opportunities to explore your interests.

Jun 19

Week 1 Thoughts

Although in many ways we are experiencing Boston as a group, through our different interests and different work sites we are all experiencing the city in a different way. Here are a couple initial thoughts from the group:

“Getting to know my Duke engage cohort has aided my adjustment to Boston.  This community is not comprised of a group of people I had much interaction with on campus prior to this experience. It has been wonderful to have this newfound support system— a group that is eager to have dialogues about our experiences working with our community partners and adjusting to Boston in general.  I am interested in how non-profits form coalitions to focus on specific social issues so hearing anecdotes about my peers’ experiences has been helpful.  I am hopeful that I will continue to have discussions with my cohort and my community partner that challenge me to consider how I can incorporate these takeaways into the path I create.”

  • Sarah Kerman

“I’m pretty sure the Boston I’m experiencing this summer is nothing like the Boston of most locals.  Because of DukeEngage, every museum, monument, social interaction, park, and parade is an investigation into systems of deep-rooted issues in American culture.   It’s a beautiful city, a really fun city, but I’m seeing the city as an outsider looking through an ultra-critical lens.  I find myself wondering what it would be like to observe my hometown and home culture in this way.”

  • Sarah Atkinson

“Coming to Boston after spending a semester in New York City, there was sure to be a number of comparisons made in my mind between the two cities. NYC—arts, people, money—was my home during a semester focused around financial institutions. In many ways, it was a semester spent delving into career opportunities that I would soon be vying for in the following semester. Here in Boston, a city of immense history, my summer is seemingly dedicated, not to the advancement of my own career, but to the improvement of life outcomes for others. Whether or not either of those goals are actually achieved is a discussion meant for another time. However, within my first few moments walking around Boston, I realized a stark contrast between NYC and Boston. Tourism in NYC was centered around consumerism and commercialization: Times Square, shopping, and eating. But here in Boston, many tours are focused on the historical past of the city. And unlike the rigid grid structure of Manhattan streets, the roads in Boston meander and curve just like the history of the city through times of great happiness and grief. One consistent feature I noticed in both cities was that there was always a constant wave of change washing over both cities.”

  • Mike Chiang

“Interning at the Family Independence Initiative at Boston has so far been interesting at most and felt trivial in the least. I have immense respect for FII’s cause, which in the most briefest of ways, I would describe as aiming to end the cyclical nature of poverty by rewarding people’s initiative with resources. Their bottom-up approach recognizes that there are people who are striving to get out and stay out of poverty but lack the capital to do so once they cross the poverty line because they are cut off from the vital resources that supported their initiative. I have done lots of small, relevant projects – fundraising letters, research on local newspapers, turning applications into electronic form. I truly hope all of these projects will be used– but they have not yet been, which is at least a little disappointing. I have, however, along with my co-intern Anu, been assigned an extremely interesting project that revolves around analyzing group notes and trying to understand what resources families are most lacking and when. I hope to be able to use my background in statistics to see if there are any sorts of correlations between gender, month, and topics most discussed by families. If there are such correlations, I can go a step further in looking at income or age as well. I hope that in the end the organization will be able to use this information to determine the best resources to offer for their families.” 

  • Ekim Buyuk

“Continuing on here in Boston I am looking forward to developing better relationships with the people that I am here with. The group has already become close and I am excited to continue to strengthen the bonds we have already made. I am also looking forward to continuing to build connections in my office. My project supervisor and all the staff in the office have made me feel so welcome and supported and I cannot wait to learn more from them and give them support in return by completing the work I am assigned. The relationships that have developed so far are meaningful and strong and I hope they will become even stronger in the future.”

  • Caroline Murphy

“Going forward in the program, my hope is to continue to learn both from my fellow program participants and the people that I get to interact with in Boston and in the workplace. Being exposed in person to issues and problems that I had ever really been able to read about on paper has allowed me to understand both educational issues and the workings of a non-profit organization in a deeper and more sophisticated manner. I hope this hands on learning experience will continue to be fruitful not only to me, but also to my group members and everyone whom our work is geared towards making a positive difference.”

  • Justin Paley

“My experiences so far In Boston have validated the fact that Boston is a culturally rich, diverse, and a character-filled city. Every stone, street, house, and alley offers a story about the past and reflects something about the present and where Boston is headed in the future. Skyscrapers, entertainment venues, lucrative hotels, and bountiful restaurants are ubiquitous in the city, yet I notice people who are devoid of homes living I decrepit, dilapidated parts of the city, begging for money every day. The rich city lifestyle overshadows the social and health disparities present around Boston and everyday I notice more and more instances of people struggling to live a life or support a family. As I work with my nonprofit, I am reminded of this everyday.”

  • Sai Gudla

  “My job not only gives me flexibility in choosing where to work on a day to day basis, but I also have a lot of freedom in what I will be working on. In addition to helping with day-to-day operations, I am currently working on a research project of all of Union Capital Boston (UCB)’s community partners. This research will then hopefully be used to create a rubric or guideline for the type of partners that UCB will have in the future. I hope that the information I provide through my research will be useful for the company in determining a baseline for the type of partners that they have currently and will have in the future.”

  • Luke Berndt

“I am extremely thankful for my time with Duke Engage Boston, though it has only been two weeks. I’ve come to see Boston as a sort of introvert’s New York City. While there are always people out and around, it does not feel overwhelming. I am surprised by how in just two weeks of being here, I can find my way around the downtown area quite easily. Moreover, the dynamic of the group is great. It feels very cohesive, and we all get along very well. We are passionate about the cause of our program and have meaningful conversations on our own time and have formed strong bonds.”

  • Anu Basavaraju


Jul 30

Of tedium, work, and play

I have much to accomplish in the coming week to prepare myself for departure from Boston.  There are clothes to pack, work to complete, and sites still to see.  Tedium, work, and play: each of equal importance.

Naturally, I would love to focus my energy on my own entertainment.  I am yet to visit the U.S.S. Constitution, the Museum of Fine Arts, or Trinity Church and plan on continuing my exploration of Boston to the very last day; however, there is also work.  My commitment to the Center for Collaborative Education extends to less than 24 hours before my flight from Boston Logan International Airport.  Do not get me wrong, I am more than happy to complete my exceptionally varied and interesting projects.  They have kept my engaged since I began the work in June and continue to do so in late July.

Unexpectedly, it is the packing that strikes me as the most daunting task.  In and of itself, packing is simple.  You just shove some clothes in a suitcase.  But packing represents leaving.  After what has seemed a mere pit stop, the thought of leaving Boston is an unpleasant one.  My friends, my work, and my surroundings have all been kind to me, and I will fondly look back at my tenure here.  But onwards and upwards.  The time has come to aggregate my discoveries, compile the lessons I have learned, and continue on with my career and with my life.  Move forwards from Boston, yes.  Leave Boston behind, no.

Jul 27

Endings: another 4-part thought

How do you prepare to leave a place you’ve only just come to love? After 19 years of constantly changing locations as a consequence of my parents’ military occupations, I can say I’m an expert at the words goodbye, and I’m more than familiar with the subsequent actions, expectations, and realities.


  1. Doing and seeing. As in any city with an 800,000+ population count, it changes. There’s so much to see and do still. The final checkmarks are tallying on my must-see list as the days go on—the Collier Memorial at MIT, the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum—but there are some things I simply can’t envision never returning to: Fenway, the Charles, the Cookie Monstah food truck—these places (and cookies) have become parts of me that I couldn’t remove if I tried.
  1. Silver & gold. I’ve yet to broach the topic of goodbyes and beyond with FII, but it’s definitely next on the agenda. Thinking back, I can definitively say that there was a moment—a meeting, actually—where I all of a sudden understood what FII was all about. Sure, Kathryn and I gave our presentation in the first couple weeks that proved that we understood the concepts behind and mechanisms of FII, but it wasn’t until I saw the Fellows[1] in action that it clicked. They get it. They impressed me with their multilingualism, their initiative, their assertiveness, their confidence; I realized that this organization, too, is a part of me. Kathryn and I are finding ways to make sure the work we’ve done is sustainable; our next step is to make sure the relationships we’ve built are, too.
  1. The Harvard of the South.[2] What will I take back to Duke from this experience? I don’t know. There’s the obvious new friendships and new nonprofit and policy experience that will undoubtedly shape my education, but there’s also a new concept emerging from talks with David and/or Tony Brown that’s been a long time coming: Duke is what I want it to be. I don’t have to be the thing that Duke wants me to be; instead, I can use the Harvard of the South as a tool to getting what I want out of life and my future career. What I’ve learned this summer is that I need to go back to Duke and reset: I need to reevaluate the things that I’m doing (Am I really passionate about this? Why do I participate in this?) and get involved with people, movements, and groups that will help me develop my talents and build on the lessons I’ve learned here. Mostly, I need to remember that the two years I have left at Duke—well, they’re just as long as the two years I’ve spent there, and just as full of possibility, if not more so.
  1. My world, my arena. I love this city and the things I have learned from it. I love the thoughts it’s inspired me to have and the challenges it’s forced me to explore, and I am possessive of the experience I cultivated here. Perhaps my sentiments will be met by some quote-unquote true Bostonians with a dismissal of my experience on account of its prematurity. In response, I paraphrase Eula Biss in her award-winning Notes from No Man’s Land[3]: I don’t want the Boston I love to be confused with the Boston the t-shirts love; in other words, my experience of Boston is what I fell in love with, not others’ experience. No one else in the city of Boston—in the world—has spent two months in Boston traveling from Suffolk University to Family Independence Initiative to JP Licks to Purple Cactus to the Common to Allston to Mike and Patty’s to the Esplanade to Goodwill to Fenway to the Collier Memorial to Chinatown and back again. Yes, others may have been to these places, or eaten these foods, or cheered for the same team, and perhaps they’ve done things like this more times than I have, but no one else did it with my companions or through the lens of my own collection of experiences. No one else has added my months here to the development of their worldview. If I’m not allowed to own my time here, what good was it? Where does it go? In conclusion, I firmly assert to true Bostonians and otherwise: I love Boston. Thank you. Goodnight. 

[1] FII fellows are families and individuals that have displayed an understanding of and dedication to FII and have received recognition on that basis in the form of their fellowship. They advise FII staff on changes and policy and organize projects of their own. So it makes sense, you see, that I was in awe.

[2] Some may not know that Duke students sometimes refer to our university as “The Harvard of the South.” Is it a joke? Is it bitterness? Who’s to say?

[3] Her thoughts are on New York; mine, obviously Beantown

Jul 26

Blog #3

I feel that my time working here has been extraordinarily rewarding thus far. I have learned a great deal about the mission of my nonprofit, Union Capital Boston, and its vision of eradicating poverty and promoting equity for all through my numerous interactions with my two supervisors Eric Leslie and Laura Balleck, as well as my time spent with the participants of the smartphone mobile application my nonprofit is centralized on. My main motivation driving my involvement with my nonprofit is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, ensuring that I do everything in my power to get Union Capitalists, members of my organization, engaged in their communities by continually adding events to the application’s spreadsheet. Specifically, I have been looking into events publicized by various branches of the Boston Public Library in order to spark the flames of community engagement in, for example, events based on childhood educational development, engagement in extracurricular activities like a Yu-Gi-Oh! club and Anime club, promoting athletic development in young people through free sports camps, etc. Additionally, I’ve been traveling in person to different branches in Boston like Grove Hall and the East Boston Public Library branches taking photographs of flyers on bulletin boards to acquire information on events which are not only probably not listed online, but also specifically predicated in the location that I have travelled to. I look forward to learning more about the plight of the poor as I continue throughout this program.