Duke Experts Coauthor New Guide on Boosting Universities’ Impact ‘Beyond the Academy’

International group of scholars outlines best practices for creating a more ‘engaged university’

Group of adults standing together on steps.
Scholars from the Beyond the Academy network attended a two-day workshop at Duke University in September 2019.

Faculty and students are increasingly looking for ways to directly engage with the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges, including climate change, the ongoing effects of a global pandemic and racial injustice. In a newly published book, an international group of scholars—including some from Duke University—offers a “vision and a roadmap to a more impactful future” for higher education.

Cover of book, Guidebook for the Engaged University.The Guidebook for the Engaged University highlights best practices to encourage scholarship that goes beyond the traditional university model to make a real-world impact. The guidebook organizes those practices around three main themes:

  • Reforming academic incentive structures;
  • Encouraging public engagement and co-production; and
  • Preparing students to be sustainability leaders.

“With their diverse knowledge, skills and networks, colleges and universities can and should be front and center in helping to address societal challenges,” said guidebook contributor Lydia Olander, director of the Ecosystem Services Program at Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability. “In practice, they’re too often disengaged or a step removed from the on-the-ground partnerships needed to work with communities, policy makers and corporations to solve these problems. The guidebook reimagines what an ‘engaged university’ could look like, shifting academic priorities to maximize impact.”

The guidebook was written and published by Beyond the Academy, a network of hundreds of sustainability researchers from universities in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Formed in 2018 with funding from the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative, Beyond the Academy is focused on making universities more supportive of applied interdisciplinary research.

Over the last three years, the network has hosted workshops, conducted literature reviews and collected case studies to identify innovative ideas for how universities can reform their systems and structures to promote action-oriented research. The discussions placed an emphasis on producing graduates prepared to make an immediate difference.

“Graduate students want curricula and research opportunities that provide an opportunity to have a practical effect on issues that touch all our lives,” said Edgar Virgüez, a 2022 Duke Ph.D. graduate who participated in the guidebook process and recently wrote about his perspective as an early-career scholar. “Working with Beyond the Academy showed the breadth of opportunities that forward-thinking universities, such as Duke, are already providing.”

The guidebook provides numerous examples from Duke and other institutions to show how universities can adapt their approaches.

A section on engagement leadership spotlights Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, now known as the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability. Since 2005, the institute has acted as a bridge between Duke scholarship and the policy-making world. It delivers timely, nonpartisan analyses to decision makers and convenes key stakeholders to help address environmental challenges.

Bass Connections is another Duke program recognized in the guidebook for a structure and culture that supports engaged scholarship. Bass Connections brings together interdisciplinary teams of students and faculty to co-investigate complex societal problems.

The guidebook also cites DukeEngage as an example of a program that trains students interested in more engaged scholarship. During this immersive summer experience, students and faculty collaborate with communities—both locally and globally—to address critical social issues.

“Vibrant community partnerships require much more of researchers than just looking for a field site; you have to build relationships, which doesn’t easily map onto the incentive structure embedded in many universities,” said Edward Balleisen, Duke University vice provost for interdisciplinary studies. “The guidebook offers a set of practical tools that institutions can use to facilitate this highly collaborative work and credit scholars in their individual career trajectories. As the many examples in the guidebook illustrate, Duke has—and will continue to be—a leader in this crucial mode of equitable, applied, interdisciplinary research.”

The guidebook’s publication coincides with the announcement of the Duke Climate Commitment, which unites the university’s education, research, operations and public service missions to address the climate crisis. The commitment—to be formally introduced on Sept. 29—builds on Duke’s longstanding leadership in climate, energy and sustainability to educate a new generation of climate-fluent innovators and create equitable solutions for all.

Read the Guidebook for the Engaged University.

Originally posted on the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability website

Call for Proposals: Faculty-led DukeEngage Programs

Deadline: September 30, 2022

DukeEngage is accepting proposals for new faculty-led programs in the U.S. and abroad in 2023 and 2024.

DukeEngage is a signature initiative of the University consisting of more than 20 eight-week, faculty-led summer programs, each enabling small groups of students and faculty to collaborate with a community to address critical societal needs through an immersive summer of community engagement. Each program centers around a societal theme—for example, education, engineering, environment, health, human rights, migration, race, or social enterprise.

DukeEngage is considering new international and domestic programs.[1] We are especially interested in new programs in North Carolina (particularly in Durham and Charlotte), programs in rural U.S. communities, and programs that focus on arts, healthcare, STEM disciplines, race/identity, or the environment.

Proposals for a Summer 2023 program are due September 30. For faculty wanting to explore the possibility of a program in Summer 2024, DukeEngage has site exploration funding for logistical research and relationship building with potential partners. We will entertain exploration grants up to $5,000 per program. Site exploration funds can be requested at any time during the year. To request site exploration funds, please send a query to Inga.peterson@duke.edu.

The Basics

  • Most programs consist of eight students. Smaller and larger numbers are possible.
  • The core of the program for students is full-time work with one or more community organization(s) for eight weeks. Some programs disperse students among multiple organizations, while others work as a team with one organization.
  • Each program begins with mutually beneficial partnership(s) between a faculty Program Director and one or more community organization(s). Student work must be guided by the community and may consist of direct service, capacity building, or research.
  • Work is accompanied by cultural immersion and regular, intentional critical reflection.
  • 2023 programs can run between May 15 – August 25, 2023.
  • DukeEngage hires site coordinators who will be on site for the full eight weeks. Faculty must spend at least the first two weeks on site; ideally more.
  • The program is fully funded for all participants. In addition to travel and living expenses, program budgets include a small allotment for cultural enrichment.
  • The DukeEngage Program Director role description and general timeline of responsibilities can be found here. Faculty compensation is provided in the form of supplemental summer salary.
  • Additional program development considerations can be found here.


We especially value programs that have one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Arise from existing partnerships
  • Focus on a new or compelling theme
  • Are in a location where there are currently no other repeating DukeEngage programs

Proposals should include:

  1. Faculty director(s) + contact information
  2. Location (city/community, state, country)
  3. Theme (see our website for examples; new themes are welcome)
  4. How long you envision being on site beyond the first two weeks
  5. Potential partner organizations
  6. Potential full-time student projects/work
  7. Brief description of the community
  8. Your prior experience in the proposed community
  9. Potential prerequisites (language, skills) or academic connections for students

We’re happy to be a sounding board as you consider a proposal. Send any questions you might have to Inga Petersen (inga.petersen@duke.edu). Once we receive your proposal, we will be in touch for more details.

[1] Domestic programs may be limited to states on Duke’s “approved to hire” list. Contact us for more information.

Want to Do DukeEngage Again? Now You Can


Deadline: October 18, 2019

(Re)Engage Program Overview

We are excited to announce a brand-new opportunity for DukeEngage alumni to participate in a second summer of immersive work. Open to all current undergraduates who successfully completed a DukeEngage project, select students will receive funding to do one of the following:

  • Return to their DukeEngage site to conduct original research, including research for a Graduation with Distinction project
  • Return to the location of their DukeEngage site to work with a different organization in the same sector
  • Pursue a project on the same theme as their DukeEngage work, but in a different location. Students may conduct original research, including research for a Graduation with Distinction project, or they may choose to conceptualize a project in conjunction with a local organization.

Funding is available in the amount of up to $5,000 for a domestic project and up to $6,000 for an international project. Funding cannot be combined with any other Duke award. All projects must be at least eight continuous weeks in length.


To apply, students must submit the following by 5:00 pm on Friday, October 18th to dukeengage@duke.edu with the subject line (Re)Engage:

  • Three-page proposal, including a one-page literature review that situates the project in a broader context
  • Preliminary work plan with anticipated outcomes
  • Budget outline
  • Names of two faculty references, one of whom will serve as the project supervisor

Preference will be given to solo projects, but teams of two students will also be considered. After an initial review of applications, up to five finalists will be selected. All finalists must be available to pitch their project to the DukeEngage National Advisory Board on the afternoon of Friday, November 8th, 2019.


  • Applicants must have completed a DukeEngage group program or independent project.
  • Students ultimately selected as DukeReEngage recipients will also be expected to return in fall 2020 to present their summer findings to the Board.

Key Dates

  • Application Deadline: 5:00 pm on 10/18/19
  • Pitch Competition: 1:00 pm on 11/8/19
  • Notification: TBD
  • Participation Agreement Deadline: TBD

We hope you will consider applying for this tremendous opportunity! If you have questions or would like more information, please email dukeengage@duke.edu.

Duke University Launches Project to Address Energy Needs of World’s Poor

Jim and M.A. Rogers

Duke University is launching a project focused on developing new and collaborative ways to meet the energy needs of some of the world’s most disadvantaged communities, President Vincent E. Price announced Wednesday.

The Energy Access Project was established by a $1.5 million gift from Jim Rogers, former CEO and chairman of the board for the electric utility company Duke Energy, and his wife, M.A. Rogers. The Bass Connections Challenge at Duke University will add $750,000 in matching funds for a total of $2.25 million to support the project’s goal of accelerating deployment of sustainable energy and empowering the world through expanded energy access.

(Duke Energy and Duke University are separate organizations, though both were founded nearly a century ago by noted businessman and philanthropist James B. Duke.)

“Duke University excels at bringing together knowledge across disciplines and a compelling vision to tackle complex global problems such as sustainable energy,” Price said. “We are thankful for this generous gift from M.A. and Jim Rogers, which will support our faculty and staff in discovering ways to make energy access a reality for all.”

Worldwide, an estimated 1.2 billion people live without electricity. Another 1 billion have limited access because of unreliable grids and far more lack access to clean fuels and technologies for cooking. These populations are concentrated mostly in India and sub-Saharan Africa. The lack of modern energy sources has far-reaching implications for global health, climate change and economic opportunity.

Subhrendu Pattanayak, a professor in Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy, serves as faculty director on the project and will lead educational initiatives and build the research network. Jonathan Phillips, formerly the senior advisor to the president and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) from 2016 to 2017, will lead the project’s applied work and engagement from Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

“Innovative business models, financing arrangements and policy reforms are coming together in a way that has the potential to eliminate global energy poverty in the next decade,” said Phillips, who led OPIC’s $2.1 billion engagement with Power Africa, a project that leverages partnerships to increase investment and expand access to power in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Duke has much to contribute to this fight. I’m thrilled to be joining this engaged community to help find ways to leverage the vast expertise and diverse resources across campus to catalyze change on one of the world’s most pressing development challenges,” he said.

Faculty and staff across disciplines will seek to apply the university’s collective knowledge to develop actionable solutions to overcome on-the-ground challenges. They will, in particular, research how to increase electricity access around the globe and directly engage governments, local communities, utilities, financiers and non-governmental organizations to put those ideas into action. Key collaborators in the effort include the Nicholas Institute, the Duke University Energy Initiative, the Sanford School, the Nicholas School of the Environment and Bass Connections.

The project will also bring students together with faculty and industry experts to develop hands-on solutions as a way to educate future energy leaders. It will build on established programs like Bass Connections, in which Duke faculty, graduate students and undergraduates form research teams to tackle global challenges, and DukeEngage, which provides students with immersive civic engagement opportunities in the United States and abroad.

Another key goal of the project is to create courses to deepen understanding and spur analysis of critical energy-access problems; support fellowships and convene stakeholders; and build collaborations with companies, organizations and governments working to expand the availability of clean energy.

“Based on my experiences at Duke, I am confident that our investment in the faculty and students of the university will generate scalable solutions bringing power to people around the world,” said Rogers, who has been a CEO in the power sector for almost 25 years. Both he and his wife have been advocates for energy-efficiency investment, modernization of electric infrastructure and a low-carbon future.

From 2014 to 2016, Rogers was a Rubenstein Fellow at Duke, twice co-teaching a graduate level course with Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute. Students in the class designed business models for deploying power technologies in different regions of the world.

Rogers and Profeta also served as co-leaders of a Bass Connections project in which team members explored renewable off-grid electricity solutions for rural populations. Several students continued their work through DukeEngage by traveling to Peru and Indonesia to test solar and wind technologies with community partners.

“The Energy Access Project, funded by the Rogers’ gift, will spark important new collaborations across campus and provide more opportunities for students of all levels to engage in the vital work of creating sustainable energy solutions,” said Edward Balleisen, vice provost for interdisciplinary studies. “The complexity and urgency of this problem demands expertise from many different fields as well as the creative synergy emerging from teams with multiple perspectives and regular engagement with decision-makers in government, industry and NGOs.”

Duke Undergraduate Finds Her Calling through Interdisciplinary Programs


Throughout high school in Clermont, Florida, Michelle Khalid had two clear goals: get into Duke, and become a doctor.

Thrilled to be accepted to her dream school, she started on her path. But she was drawn to an interdisciplinary program that changed everything.

“I was so set on being premed and my advisor said, ‘You’re going to be behind in your premed courses if you do DukeImmerse,’” Khalid recalls, “but I did it.”

She took part in DukeImmerse: Uprooted/Rerouted, led by Suzanne Shanahan. “It made me realize migration was an issue I was very interested in and I wanted to study it more in depth.”

Khalid’s next step was Duke in Oxford, where she studied the political economy of immigration. Returning to campus, she joined a Bass Connections project team on Displacement, Resettlement and Global Mental Health, led by Shanahan with Eve Puffer and Abdul Sattar Jawad.

Working on an interdisciplinary research team was deeply rewarding, Khalid says. With team members Leena El-Sadek and Olivia Johnson, she presented a paper at a conference in Oxford. “We were the only undergraduates there. I think Bass Connections really gave us the tools to be able to do that, and the mentorship is great. I learned so much, like how to write an academic paper for publishing. It really made me grow both intellectually and as a person.”

Now a junior majoring in International Comparative Studies and Political Science, Khalid just returned from a summer abroad assisting refugees and asylum seekers through DukeEngage Serbia.

And in Duke’s tradition of putting knowledge in the service of society, Khalid is helping refugees here in Durham.

“Durham actually has a very large population of refugees from Iraq,” she says. Organized by Duke students, SuWA is a community effort sponsored by the Kenan Institute for Ethics. “What we’re focused on is providing interaction between Duke students and refugee women, so as to form a relationship but also to help them with the things they need to adjust to life in the U.S.,” Khalid explains. “We do it for two hours every Tuesday. I love getting to know them. It doesn’t feel like work; I’m actively accomplishing something with someone I like.”

Khalid remembers one woman who spoke about seeing her husband and child killed in front of her. “Most times we can’t even imagine what they’ve been through.” She pauses. “I don’t think most people will ever understand the human nature of what migration really is.”

Currently she’s partnering with other students on a nonprofit that will help the SuWA women find jobs and start their own businesses. “It’s very much a cooperative type of thing,” she says. “We’re trying to get it off the ground.”

Michelle Khalid’s new pathway began with one interdisciplinary program at Duke that led to others. “It was the best experience,” she says. “It taught me so much about who I am, and I figured out what I want to study—it’s truly one of those college moments when you find something you’re so passionate about. It’s just amazing.”