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Instructor Guest Post: Building Global Audiences for the Franklin Humanities Institute

Three years ago, I began teaching a class for Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship program called “Building Global Audiences.” In the half-dozen semesters since then, I’ve revamped the class twice, but its core thesis has remained the same. “Your product doesn’t matter,” I tell students on the first day, “if you don’t know how to get your product seen by the right people.”

In previous iterations of the class, I would begin the semester be asking students to “pitch” product ideas. Students would choose their favorite three, then they’d form teams and spend the remainder of the semester promoting their product ideas in order to practice growing an online audience.

Despite my best efforts, that course structure always ran into what I started calling the “idea bottleneck.” Even though the class was supposed to be focused on audience development, we spent much of our time workshopping ideas.

Circumventing the Idea Bottleneck

Since the goal of “Building Global Audiences” is to… well… build audiences, I made another big change to the class structure at the start of this semester. Instead of having students work on their own ideas, I decided to find existing projects that wanted our help reaching more people. By doing this, we could avoid the time consuming process of developing ideas and, instead, focus entirely on growing audiences.

Fortunately, at a world-class research institution like Duke, finding amazing projects wasn’t particularly challenging. The bigger challenge was choosing only three. Ultimately, I selected these three projects from Duke’s Franklin Humanities Institute (FHI):

Health Humanities Lab – “An innovative, interdisciplinary approach to advancing the health of populations worldwide through scholarship and practice grounded in histories, languages, and cultures.”

Humanities Futures – “[An exploration of] possible trajectories of the humanities in the wake of interdisciplinary developments of recent decades, particularly the rapidly changing paradigms and practices in research, teaching, publishing, and public engagement today.”

FHI YouTube Channel – A collection of nearly 400 videos documenting, sharing, and promoting the hundreds of lectures, workshops, seminars, conferences, and other events supported by the Franklin Humanities Institute every year.

The Semester-Long Assignment

At the beginning of this semester, instead of pitching ideas, we began the class by dividing into three teams of six students. Each team is assigned to one of the above FHI projects, and their work for the semester is to identify the ideal project audiences, determine where their audiences are most active online, and then provide the managers of their respective projects with a comprehensive strategy for reaching those audiences.

Unfortunately, for reasons both logistical and practical, the students won’t get to do much audience building work directly for their FHI projects. In other words, they won’t be creating content, posting to social media, buying advertisements, and so on. However, in the spirit of the course topic, I’ve asked them to document their work here, on the I&E Education Team blog, so that we’re building our own audience.

Throughout the semester we’ll post about our learnings and our progress. Our topics will range from search engine optimization (SEO) to social media content dissemination strategies. We’ll be conducting user interviews, we’ll be identifying “competitive” projects, and we’ll be finding online communities receptive to promotional content sharing.

While I don’t expect the audience for these blog posts to reach the size of the audiences of our FHI projects, I hope what we post is interesting to some people. Specifically, if you’re interested in reading about a group of talented young entrepreneurs and scholars exploring a vital skillset in a world increasingly mediated by digital communication technologies, then I hope you’ll follow along with our progress.

Want to get all of our posts? Subscribe to the I&E Education Team blog or follow Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship on Twitter.

Aaron Dinin teaches in Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship program. He majored in English as a Duke undergraduate (Trinity, ’05), and he earned a PhD from the University of Maryland, College Park, where he studied digital humanities. He’s launched multiple companies, been named a Microsoft fellow, and was a member of 500 Startups. If you’d like to read more from him, Aaron (very) occasionally blogs about his experiences teaching entrepreneurship at

Guest Post: A Summer in Aerospace

This past summer, many of our Duke I&E students were across the globe exploring the concepts of innovation & entrepreneurship. Some of them will be guest blogging for us detailing their experiences.

This summer I worked as a part of the Ground Operations team on the Dream Chaser Cargo Ship program for Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC). SNC is an aerospace company with several branches in Colorado. SNC works closely with other aerospace companies like Lockheed Martin, ULA, and NASA on programs like Dream Chaser. Simply put, the Dream Chaser is a miniaturized, advanced version of the Space Shuttle that will transport cargo to and from the ISS. Ground Operations is everything related to refurbishing and repairing the spaceship in between missions to prepare the vehicle for the next flight. My responsibilities included shadowing key members of the Ground Ops team, attending meetings, reviewing key Ground Ops documents, and tackling other assignments from my supervisor. This experience took place during the summer of 2017, prior to my sophomore fall semester. I chose this experience because it was a wonderful opportunity to explore the space industry, which is a continuous source of innovation and technological achievement. It also gave me the chance to network with other interns and meet a few space “celebrities” like former astronaut Steve Lindsey (see below).

Intern Lunch with Steve Lindsey. Steve and I are both wearing plaid shirts. Coincidence? I think not. Great minds think alike.


Final Presentation Artifact

This artifact is the presentation I gave to the entire Ground Ops team at the end of my internship. It is a synopsis of all the small assignments I was a part of during my time as well as a collection of facts about the individuals I shadowed throughout the process. Most of the slides are dumb inside jokes and dry humor but the projects I got to work on were beyond interesting. At the end of the presentation, I included a list of inefficiencies in the SNC system that I noticed along with potential solutions to these problems.



This internship was my first experience in the space industry, so naturally I had a steep learning curve to climb during my first few weeks. I pestered everyone I could manage to with questions about acronyms, parts, and names. But soon I became accustomed to the vernacular of rocket anatomy and I began taking on bigger and bigger assignments. My first challenge was trying to find or design a device capable of fitting through a narrow dorsal hatch on the vehicle and hoisting heavy cargo up to be strapped to the sides of the vehicle. My manhunt for a lifting device that could meet all the spatial restrictions and weight requirements stretched into a long odyssey, and ultimately I ended up deciding that the best solution would be taking a pressurized construction lifting mechanism and modifying the legs to fit through the hatch. This problem was particularly tough for me because of all the different requirements that the lift had to satisfy in order to function properly. But the thrill and satisfaction I got from finding a solution were well worth all the toil.

I gained a great deal of technical knowledge as well. I learned how to utilize programs like IBM DOORS, IBM Notes, Windchill, in addition to brushing up on my skills in Microsoft Word, Excel, and Project. If I continue to pursue further work in the space industry, I will use every single one of these programs or a close alternate (i.e. Microsoft Outlook instead of Notes) on a daily basis, so any experience I can take forward will be beneficial.

One of the most frustrating moments I had came during my last few weeks at SNC. I was assigned to a project focused on creating a mock replica of the Dream Chaser cargo hatch out of cardboard and aluminum so that the cargo team could practice loading their cargo bags through the actual dimensions of the hatch. The problem I ran into was that the model I created was too large and obstructed the loading dock in the section of the warehouse I was assigned to. So instead of asking me to move it, the loading guys bulldozed straight through my beautiful creation. It was hard to pick up the pieces that I had put so many hours into designing and setting up, but I went back and built the replica from the ground up, even adding improvements where I could. My diligence and refusal to give into failure is something I’m truly proud of, even though it was on a rudimentary intern assignment.

My initial build of the cardboard hatch. An architectural masterpiece!

I tried to contribute to the spirit of innovation in the work space by keeping a journal in which I jotted down little ideas about how certain aspects of the company could be improved along the way. From little things like excessive paperwork to bigger issues like the financing system, I tried to keep tabs on everything I saw. I also set up little time slots to interview my team members about areas they thought could be improved, since they’ve been in the industry longer and have more insight on the matter. I think the feedback I received and the knowledge I gained would go a long way if I have an opportunity to work with a space start up in the future.

My biggest takeaway from this experience was that the space industry is far from perfect; there are a multitude of ways to increase efficiency and encourage innovation, but sometimes workers are complacent and refuse to question the way things are around them because it’s easier to put your head down and just do your work. I imagine there would be a number of breakthroughs in the industry if people in the space industry analyzed their work with an inquisitive eye instead of simply clocking their hours. With that being said, there are still a lot of cool ideas that are on the fringe of becoming reality in aerospace so I can’t wait to see what breakthroughs SNC can come up with in the future!

John Bowler is a sophomore in Pratt studying Mechanical Engineering. He is also on the Duke Lacrosse team. He spends his free time doing curls in the weight room and catching up on Game of Thrones. He hopes to be a materials scientist in the aerospace industry after he graduates. 

Guest Post: An Inside Look at My First Month as an Intern at Microsoft

This summer, many of our Duke I&E students are across the globe exploring the concepts of innovation & entrepreneurship. Some of them will be guest blogging for us during their experiences.

If you had told me a year ago that after 21 years of living on the East Coast I would move by myself to the West Coast for the summer, I would have told you that you are crazy. But here I am, one month into my life in the Northwestern corner of the United States, and I could not be happier.

This summer, I am interning at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington. I am a Product Marketing Manager Intern in the ACE Marketing Program. Specifically, I am working in Microsoft’s Cloud + Enterprise division on marketing efforts to promote Open Source on Azure. If you have no idea what any of that means, have no fear, neither did I until a few weeks ago.

The first month of my internship has been a whirlwind: from meetings, to events, to time spent searching acronyms in Microsoft’s glossary, there has hardly been a moment for me to catch my breath. Luckily for me, that’s just the way I like it, and my days at Microsoft never cease to keep me on my toes.

Instead of walking you through all the nitty-gritty details of my projects, I thought I would share some of my favorite things about Microsoft, and some of the most important things I have learned during my short time here.

Diversity in the Workplace

From my first day in the office, I knew Microsoft was going to be different from my other internship experiences for one key reason: diversity. The past two summers I have interned at smaller tech companies, both of which I loved and enjoyed for many reasons. However, my biggest complaint at each of these companies was the lack of diversity, especially in leadership positions.

As a young woman interested in business and technology, nothing is more disheartening than looking up the management ladder and only seeing white men. This problem is not unique to these companies in any way, and in my opinion, the lack of diversity in leadership is one of the biggest issues facing the business and technology industries. If only a few voices are included in the conversation, companies cannot empower people of all backgrounds.

I recognize that I have a lot of privileges as a white woman from a family of high socioeconomic status. Nonetheless, I am hyper aware of my gender when I enter male dominated spaces. Even though I am a leader that rises to challenges, it can still feel hard to thrive in an environment where I am an outlier. Someday I hope to run my own tech company, but there are times when it is hard to picture that dream, especially when I don’t see many women role models in leadership positions at tech companies.

When I went through the tech recruiting process this past fall, I wasn’t sure I was going to find a company that was the right fit for me. It was difficult to envision myself working at some companies when the only person who looked like me at the information session on campus was the HR recruiter. Then, when it came time to interview, I met with more than a half dozen companies before I was interviewed by a woman. Microsoft was the first company where I looked around the room at other candidates and saw people of all genders, races, and backgrounds. Immediately, I knew it was a place where I wanted to be.

While Microsoft isn’t perfect yet, the company makes many efforts to hire diversely and create a company culture of inclusion. In my first few days on the job I was amazed to see significantly more balanced gender and race representation around the table at meetings. For the first time, I saw women and people of color in management roles, and I was so impressed by how they lead their teams. I believe strongly that the quality of the decisions being made benefited from this diversity.

Microsoft is building products and tools to empower people of all backgrounds, and in order to do so most effectively, the company has recognized it needs to represent all of its customers on its teams. To all the badass women, people of color, LGBTQ+, international, and otherwise diverse Microsoft employees: thank you for serving as a role model to the intern class.

A Global Corporation

Similar to diversity, another one of my favorite things about Microsoft is the global reach of the company and the global representation in its workplace. Microsoft’s work doesn’t happen in a bubble, and many of our projects have a global impact that is incredibly empowering. Microsoft creates products that are used around the world and, frankly, that’s pretty cool.

One of my worries about moving from smaller companies to a very large company was whether I would feel that I could have an impact with my work. After all, what can one employee do at a company of over 100k employees? Turns out, Microsoft has the opposite mentality. Every employee — from intern to “lifer” — is encouraged to move the needle with their work.

This September, after my internship, the project that I’m working on will be launching in more than 30 countries across the world. I’ve coordinated with people from countries I never dreamed I would be able to travel to. With this comes a set of new challenges figuring out how to manage such a large program, but it’s incredibly interesting work.

Beyond the global scope of my project, one of the coolest things is the international background of so many Microsoft employees. On my small team alone, we have people from Venezuela, India, Canada, Italy, and more. So many of the people I interact with in my work are from a country outside of the US, and they have broadened my understanding of the technology world beyond our borders. Once again, Microsoft realizes we need employees from many different countries to successfully bring our technologies to people around the world.

Ask Questions…then Ask More Questions

One of the biggest lessons I have learned from my first month here is the importance of asking questions. It is often our nature to project that we know everything and are the most capable person around, but in order to effectively accomplish my work I know I need to ask questions — and a lot of them. This doesn’t mean I run to my manager with every small question, but I figure out the key information I need and ask people until I find the answer.

Questions enable me to connect the dots on projects, to better understand how to create impact, and to navigate complex work problems that may be hard to solve. I have realized that I’m not expected to know everything on the first day, so I take the time to ask the people around me about their projects and how they find success. I use their collective knowledge as a starting point for my work, and refer back to people when they may have the answer I am looking for. So for all of you who have answered my many questions, thank you for your time and expertise.

Beyond asking questions, I learned how important it is to take the time and initiative to read work that will get me up to speed on my projects and areas of focus. I spent my first week flipping through slideshows, reading whitepapers, and skimming articles relevant to my projects. I didn’t let my lack of knowledge on the subject matter scare me away, but instead I viewed it as a challenge to get myself up to speed. While I’m by no means an expert, I have come a long way. I know I need to use the materials that already exist as a way to fill in knowledge gaps and to empower me to be successful on my projects.

But asking questions and reading are only half the battle; I’ve learned it’s important to have a way to record what I am learning. This works differently for everyone, but I like to take notes when possible, and I refer back to them when I need to remind myself about a topic. Then, at the end of the week I create a document on my key takeaways and learnings from the week. This document enables me to be more productive in the upcoming week, and spend less time tracking down information from the previous week.

Overall, I have learned it’s important to be a sponge, especially as an intern. Microsoft encourages learning and growth for all of its employees and interns, but it’s on the individual to fuel their own growth process. I have learned to take ownership of my learning, and to use all the resources available to me when I can. Ask questions, read, record what I’ve learned, repeat.

Immersing Myself in Microsoft Life

While reading and asking questions are important, one of the other important things I have learned in my first month is to immerse myself in as many opportunities and work as possible. It can be tempting to spend a lot of time in the research phase of my projects, but at some point I have to get my hands dirty and dive in. Whether it’s preparing for my first 1-on-1 with my manager, or putting together my first slideshow to show my team, or going to a new event, the best way to learn is to do.

One aspect of this “doing” is going to as many meetings and events as possible in my time here. It’s tempting for me to stay put at my desk all day, but I know this is not the best way for me to have impact with my summer. As a result, I go to as many meetings and Skype calls as I can, and I actively listen and participate in all of them. These meetings have enabled me to better understand the broader work environment around me, and have given me key insights to apply in my projects.

In addition to meetings, Microsoft has a variety of events happening at any given moment. From team lunches, to networking events, to Q+A sessions with executives, there is always something going on. At first, I wasn’t sure how important it was that I attend these sessions, but after going to a couple I realized how valuable they are. Personally, these events allow me to grow, learn, meet new people at the company, and gain perspective I may not have otherwise. But professionally, they also serve as great ways to get insight into my projects by learning from others across the company.

With the act of immersing myself into as many projects, meetings, and opportunities as possible came the need for time and task management. I quickly realized that it is easy to be pulled in a million directions at once, and I had a lot to juggle in a short period of time. To counter this issue, I developed ways to track my different projects, to do lists associated with each of them, and the timeline I need to keep in order to accomplish my goals. By keeping track of everything, it has allowed me to take advantage of more opportunities that come my way.

Onward and Upward

My first month at Microsoft and in Seattle has been incredible. I am grateful to be doing a job I love at such a diverse and global company. I am thankful for supervisors and mentors who allow me to ask countless questions, and who trust me to follow my gut and learn on the job. I look forward to the rest of the summer, and I can’t wait to see what else the future holds.

Whitney Hazard is a senior at Duke studying Public Policy, Information Science, and Entrepreneurship. She is a Product Marketing Intern at Microsoft this summer.

Guest Post: DukeEngage Detroit – The Power of Social Entrepreneurship

This summer, many of our Duke I&E students are across the globe exploring the concepts of innovation & entrepreneurship. Some of them will be guest blogging for us during their experiences.

I have always felt like kind of a fake when I found myself talking about social entrepreneurship. In all honesty, “social entrepreneurship” just sounds like a couple of buzz words put together in an effort to make business sound more humane– more stomach-able. In fact, the language surrounding social entrepreneurship is rife with these buzz words: “innovation” and “networking” and “pragmatic visionary.” I never admitted my views on the vagueness of the field to anyone, unable to confess to the awkward fact that I was enrolled in the “Innovation & Entrepreneurship” certificate without even knowing what it meant. I knew the term was something I could leverage for the public good, but it seemed to evade the simple definitions that could be ascribed to terms and concepts in my other classes.

Coming to Detroit, I did not expect to have an epiphany on the matter, but I was hoping the idea of “social entrepreneurship” would start to clarify itself. After two weeks at TechTown, I certainly do not have a clear-cut definition of what it means to be a social entrepreneur, but I have begun to find answers in the unlikeliest of places. Though I have been exposed to the incredible strides being made by social ventures at TechTown in the fields of medicine, technology, and even retail, I have learned most about what social entrepreneurship means to me from three politicians and the Motown Museum.

This past week, TechTown received a visit from Senators Debbie Stabenow, Gary Peters, and Cory Booker. The three Senators, along with a panel of Detroit entrepreneurs, addressed the changing American economic climate and how best to meet the concerns of small-business owners. Throughout the course of the event, the group discussed apprentice-based learning, automated manufacturing, loan acquisition, and caribbean food. The three Senators listened attentively to the issues facing the business-owners, actively articulating potential legislative solutions and aids. The exchange between the public and private sector was alive before my eyes on the first floor of TechTown, and I began to understand social entrepreneurship as an ecosystem of actions, all of which could be, if handled properly, maintained to promote broad and equitable economic growth in a city like Detroit, or Durham. Ventures could have clearly-stated social missions, but they could also serve the simple mission of community empowerment and ownership.

In this sense, many projects fall under the umbrella of social entrepreneurship. In Detroit, nearly everything is touched by a pervasive spirit of this sort of entrepreneurialism meant to uplift and embody a community. Even while walking through the Motown Museum, I could not help but think of Berry Gordy’s brainchild as the ultimate testament to Detroit innovation. Here was a businessman, driven by a creative and lucrative concept, who ingeniously swept the globe with chart-topping hits. And yet, while Motown was a profit-driven machine, it used its platform to promote the values of peace, love, hope, optimism, and equality, giving a little piece of Detroit to ears everywhere. Its sounds serve a purpose larger than money, even if money was its original motive.

Social entrepreneurship is taking shape for me as a private sector translation of grassroots democracy. Through socially motivated private action, thoughtfully coordinated with creative public policy, citizens can reach sustainable economic independence on their own terms, and demand that their economy fit with their moral conceptions of themselves. I am not sure if my definition matches up with those of textbooks or professors, but even if it is peculiar, it is definitely helping to stabilize the buzz words.


Leah Abrams is a Trinity Sophomore majoring in Public Policy and Political Science. She eats pizza for at least two meals a week, so please contact her with pizza-related inquiries. If interested in her non-pizza-related work, you can find her rantings in the Opinion section of the Duke Chronicle and her contributions as a columnist for the Duke Political Review.

Guest Post: Dream, Girl!

Being an entrepreneur is no easy journey — but it’s even more so for women. It’s no secret that the field of entrepreneurship is largely male-dominated, especially in tech-related startups. However, the future for female entrepreneurs are promising. While not nearly as much as their male counterparts, female entrepreneurs are starting over 1200 businesses a day. If you happen to be one of them, here are some tips that might help in starting and thriving in your entrepreneurial journey:

1. Be brave not perfect: “It’s important to be willing to make mistakes. The worst thing that can happen is you become memorable” — Sara Blakely. Girls are traditionally taught to avoid risk and failure, smile and get straight As, whereas boys are taught to play rough and are habituated to take risks. Additionally, women only apply for a job where they have 100% of the qualifications, whereas the number is much lower for men with only 60%. The best way to practice bravery is to familiarize yourself with rejections and failures. You can try this by: learning something new, asking someone out and constantly putting yourself outside your comfort zone. Be gritty, and think growth mindset instead of fixed minset.

2. Strengthen your vision: “You can’t be what you can’t see” — Marian Wright Edelman. Find a role model, know what you want and do everything you can to get there. Once you know what you want, it gets a lot easier to know who to surround yourself with, and what to learn and do. Action leads to clarity.

3. Don’t let genetics define your narrative: You don’t have to follow societal expectations, especially if they don’t work well in your favor. Your background, race, gender, or sexuality might get people to perceive you in a certain way, but don’t let that stop you! Be conscious of stereotypes and generalizations, but don’t let it discourage you in any way.

4. Surround yourself with the right people: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with” — Jim Rohn. With that, don’t spend your time with negative and unsupportive people, rather be around people who challenge you and support you to be your best possible self. Nowadays you can find communities and support groups everywhere — online, in person, through mutual friends, and more. With that said, get help from people and help people as well. There’s no better feeling that being in a supportive community who helps each other succeed.

5. Own who you are: Be unapologetically confident. What may be categorized as feminine traits, such as being graceful and loving, are not drawbacks — they are advantageous in their own ways. Know what your strengths and weaknesses are, but don’t doubt yourself, or judge yourself too harshly.

6. Actually do the work: At the end of the day, being an entrepreneur is getting your business off the ground, creating something viable and making sales. There’s really no substitute for hardwork, so there’s really no better advice than to be a lifelong learner and to work hard and smart. Know how to manage your time and energy.

This blogpost was inspired by the “Dream, Girl!” event on the 14th of April. The incubator where I work in, DUHatch, worked together with the Pratt Masters Program to host a screening of a new documentary, “Dream, Girl!,” which follows the journeys of several women entrepreneurs of all ages, colors, backgrounds and ventures. We invited Tatiana Birgisson, the founder of MATI Energy and Cecilia Polanco, the founder of So Good Pupusas, to be our panelists. Both shared their stories on the challenges of being female entrepreneurs and gave advice on how to tackle these obstacles.


Elena Lie is a sophomore from Indonesia studying Political Science and Economics. She started social enterprises, interned in a tech start-up and worked as a freelance graphic designer. At Duke’s entrepreneurship scene, she’s in the executive board of DUHatch incubator and The Cube selective living group. She is interested in toilet designs and the food and beverages industry. 

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