I am incredibly grateful and proud to be graduating with the Innovation & Entrepreneurship certificate. Coming to Duke I knew I wanted to major in Economics, but I also wanted to find an opportunity to engaging in cross-disciplinary studies. Upon initially hearing about the I&E program, I was hesitant. I imagined that it was only for people looking to invent the next biggest app or technology platform, and I felt underqualified. I knew I wanted to pursue a program that complemented my Economics major and allowed me to apply my knowledge to real-world problems. I was particularly interested in innovative solutions address the incredibly complex issues of poverty and global health problems. I was excited when I learned that the I&E certificate was so much more than my preconceived simplistic definition of entrepreneurship. When I looked into the certificate and learned that a key part of the I&E certificate is pursuit of knowledge “in the service of society”, and I knew that this program was the perfect fit for my academic, personal, and professional passions.

The I&E certificate has allowed my learning experience at Duke to extend beyond the classroom. I have been able to directly apply what I have learned in my academic coursework to my hands-on learning experiences. I have gained valuable experience collaborating in teams thanks the focus on team-based projects in the certificate coursework. These experiences has helped me grow into a more confident leader and a better team player, both of which have made me more prepared to succeed in my summer internships.

One key overall takeaway from the program is that it is okay, and even constructive, to fail. Like many students, I found myself fearing failure, often to the point where I didn’t want to try something if I was not sure I would succeed.  I can remember the first time I was asked to engage in a “ideation” session. For those that are not familiar, this is when you set a couple of minutes on the clock, consider a problem, and then scramble to write down as many ideas as you can on sticky notes. The catch is that you are going for quantity instead of quality. My first ideation session I could only fill a handful of sticky notes. I felt myself censoring my ideas and hesitating to write down the more ridiculous ones. Four years and many “ideation sessions” later, I am proud to say that I can fill sticky notes with ridiculous ideas without judging myself, and I truly believe that there are no worthless ideas. This mental shift has enabled me to think more innovatively and creatively without fear of failure.

During my time in the I&E certificate, I have remained passionate and focused on the Social Innovation Pathway. At the start of the certificate, I was focused on social innovation from the lens of grassroots efforts and game-changing ideas, such as microfinance initiatives or more efficient water pumps. Through the certificate, I have come to expand my view of social innovation. I now understand that social innovation can be achieved at many levels, from startups to large corporations to national governments.  Social innovation is simply creating positive social change – whether that means a game-changing idea or overhauling a whole system. Through the I&E program, I have been encouraged and challenged to consider how the knowledge and skills I have gained at Duke can be used to address the complex problems facing our world today. While I have yet to develop a world-changing innovation, I can say for certain that the I&E program has empowered me with the skills, knowledge, and confidence to become a change-maker, a leader, and hopefully one day a social entrepreneur who has made the world a better place.