Katharine Waldman '14

Throughout my time at Duke, I have taken numerous service-learning courses to not only enhance my academic knowledge, but also learn about Durham.  I yearned for an outlet that would connect me with my surroundings beyond the Duke campus.  In addition, I wanted to demonstrate to my peers at Duke that creating a connection to Durham residents would benefit themselves in addition to the fortifying a bond with the community.  In other words, I thought it was important that students, myself included, think of Durham as an environment that fostered lifelong networks rather than merely a setting for a college education.  I discovered that by participating in service-learning courses, I not only learned scholastically, but it also enabled me to establish relationships with people of all ages in the Durham community.  While at Duke, I have taken numerous service-learning courses.

For example, with Dr. Gold’s guidance, I have taken two courses that permitted me to forge connections with sick children at the Duke Children’s Hospital and with older adults living in a nursing home.  While taking two courses with Professor Grimes, I have volunteered at the Duke Children’s School and at Durham’s Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club.  I started my service-learning courses in sophomore year and continued them through senior year (junior year I took two courses and volunteered four hours per week).

While my original goal for participating in Duke’s service-learning courses was to impact the Durham community, I had not realized the ways it would influence my college experience.  Volunteering for the Duke and Durham community permitted me to discover different capabilities that I possessed.  For example, volunteering at the Salvation Army helped me embrace becoming a role model to younger children living in a challenging environment.  I can still remember having a conversation with an adolescent explaining how violence is not the answer for school problems.  I was able to learn about Durham public schools and she taught me how to communicate with younger teenagers that were nothing like me.  Further, the experience taught me how to be a friend and a support system to a stranger in need.  While volunteering at a nursing home, I provided companionship to the elderly.  It was through this experience that I learned that people are much more than what they appear to be.  It fostered a sense of curiosity in me to learn about people’s histories and stories.  Through simple activities such as Wii bowling and trivial pursuit, I discovered that these local residents had lived in India, met the loves of their lives, or just missed the “good old days.”

Volunteering in these various environments cultivated my passion for meeting and spending time with people I normally would not encounter.  It provided me with an outlet to escape the Duke “bubble” and give back to the community.  Through volunteering, I established unforeseen connections with people and these experiences nurtured my passion for helping others.  In addition, these experiences allowed me to step out of my “comfort zone” and grow into the person I would like to become.  Service-learning courses presented me with memories that formidably shaped my college career and memories that I will cherish.  Further, it inspired me to continue my passion for community service and creating bonds with people of all ages and environments.