Knowledge in the service of society

The interdisciplinary experience at Duke goes beyond the classroom and laboratory. Duke faculty work to translate discoveries into new products, industries, and jobs, and to share insights with legislators and others involved in public policy. Students have many opportunities to engage in service learning, whether through courses or internships.

Different configurations of engagement and outreach, from public scholarship to community partnerships and two-way engagement with clients, take place all across campus. The university institutes and initiatives have expanded the number of platforms from which Duke faculty and students can have an impact beyond academia.

Models of engagement vary. The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions (NIEPS), for example, serves as a counselor to the policy process. This approach depends on a process of anticipating the likely directions of policy agendas, and then investing in preliminary high-level research related to those pressing questions and issues. When faculty members and research staff at NIEPS correctly identify looming policy debates, they have the chance to develop timely analyses (whether about fisheries management, climate change regulation, or other environmental concerns) and communicate them to stakeholders. All NIEPS reports are made available to the public. As another example, the Science & Society Initiative has developed SciPol, a comprehensive resource for scientists, policymakers, the public, and students on developments in science and technology policy.

Most Bass Connections research teams work with community partners, including nonprofits, school systems, hospitals, government agencies, and private companies.

[Our industry partner] was extremely responsive to the onslaught of questions and data queries from the team; they supported the students’ research process without trying to lead them. The students left the year having done real-world, cross-disciplinary work that allowed them all to contribute and collaborate according to their academic levels and disciplines. —Faculty member

It was great working with [our partner] on a project where it was made clear that they were actively interested in the outcome of our work, and were invested in us proposing a useful solution. Also, I learned the value of a diverse team, which enabled us to think more broadly about the question at hand. —Graduate student

Duke has provided me with an academic passion that extends outside of the walls of the classroom. Durham has a large population of refugees from Iraq; SuWA is a women’s empowerment group that I am involved in through the Kenan Institute for Ethics. —Undergraduate student

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