Lasting Lessons

I joined the I&E certificate during the fall semester of my junior year–one of the last chances I had to enroll in the program. I remember being skeptical. I had heard that you can’t teach innovation or entrepreneurial success, that it’s a combination of life experience and luck. Despite that, I was drawn to the program and, more importantly, the community  it offered. After taking an I&E class and interning with a startup, I decided to take the leap.

Two years later, I’m so glad I did. Through the formal elements of the certificate (the courses and experiences) and the daily lessons (my conversations with I&E professors, guest speakers, and my classmates) I learned that the buzzwords of “innovation” and “entrepreneurship” translate into problem-solving, flexibility, and empathy. I’ve worked with diverse teams, solved and re-solved different problems, and developed skills that help me better understand the people around me. I’ve gained skills that make me a more effective businesswoman, leader, and listener.

Developing and identifying these takeaways required a lot of conscious effort. Before joining the certificate, I was pursuing a major in Psychology with a minor in Computer Science. I was sating my appetite for understanding people and for telling stories from data, but something was missing. I could identify and analyze patterns in behavior, but I didn’t know what to do with that information. I was driven to create solutions that spoke to human behavior.

The I&E Certificate helped me do exactly that. I applied what I Iearned in Building Global Audiences to my internship at RocketBolt the following summer, building human relationships through customer acquisition and sales efforts and then scaling them into formalized processes. The business frameworks I learned in the keystone course supplemented my analytical KPIs and social understanding of teams at AWS. The certificate synthesized my background in psychology and computer science and helped me bring both skillsets to the professional experiences I’ve had while at Duke.

This synthesis is exactly what I hoped for when I joined the certificate. I knew I wanted to combine community and technology in innovative ways–I have always believed that technology and education are key in connecting and empowering groups of people. While some elements of my plans changed, the results were the same (if not better). I enrolled in Enterprising Leadership instead of Technology Commercialization, working on personal leadership development instead of explicit professional development. While I didn’t get the experience of taking a tech product to market, I did get to work with a nonprofit that supports women in tech. Though I never started my own company, I did get to apply the innovative principles I learned in class to the work I did in my internships.

What changed the most was my answer to the question I’ve always had trouble answering: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Before the certificate, I would have answered said that I want to work in marketing and eventually own my own business. Now, my answer sounds something like this:

I want to solve problems and tell stories. Whether I’m empowering communities, creating small but strong benefits for the people around me, or designing memorable experiences for others, I hope to use what I’ve learned about technology, people, and motivation to create positive impact.

That answer will continue to change as I move forward in my career, and I look forward to discovering its future iterations. Until then, I’m grateful for current version, one built upon the education and experiences I’ve had as part of the I&E certificate and the community that has come with it.