What is the long-term impact of service-learning? Duke service-learning alumni share their reflections

“Civic identity can best be described as making sense of how to live every day to best contribute to the world.” (Knefelkamp)

Critical service-learning is an approach to civic learning that is attentive to social change, works to redistribute power, and strives to develop authentic relationships. But does participation in service-learning contribute to the long-term greater good, even after graduation?

On Friday, March 29th, service-learning alumni will offer their reflections on:

  • the impact service-learning has had on their life choices, future education, career shifts, and leadership in civic engagement since graduation
  • what worked for them in their service-learning courses at Duke
  • how faculty can design courses that will have a lifelong impact on a students’ civic identity
  • how undergraduate students can discuss service-learning experiences when interviewing for jobs post-graduation
  • There will be plenty of opportunities for questions!


12pm-1:30pm, Leadership Development and Social Action Conference Room: Current faculty and service-learning alums will explore how to assess long-term learning outcomes as well as course designs that can have a lifelong impact on students' civic identities. Lunch provided. RSVP required.

Note:    "Using a Critical Service-Learning Approach to Facilitate Civic Identity Development," by Tania D. Mitchell, is a great way to get grounded for the discussion. 

2:30-4:30 pm, Pink Parlor, East Duke Building: Alumni will answer questions and talk with current students about how service-learning has made an impact on their life choices, future education, career shifts, and continued leadership in civic engagement. They will also discuss how to incorporate undergraduate service-learning experiences into job interviews and career pathways within the public and private sectors. Monuts, coffee, and tea provided. 

Alumni Bios:

Dan Kessler, T'98

Learning through Experience, Action, Partnership, and Service (LEAPS) was by far the most formative experience of my four years at Duke.  Helping to build this organization instilled in me an entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for social change.  It also exposed me to the power of critical reflection in all facets of my life.

I’m currently the President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of a purpose-driven software company called Energage, a founding B Corporation that exists to make the world a better place to work together. 

After graduating from Duke (T ’98), I completed the Jane Addams Fellowship at The Indiana University Center on Philanthropy with fellow LEAPS founder Glenn Gutterman.  After spending a year as a Research Associate for Robert L. Payton, the founding Executive Director of the Center, I spent the next five years at a social enterprise Action Without Borders/Idealist.org.  My work with Idealist focused on helping college students explore nonprofit and socially responsible career options. 

I left Idealist to get an MBA from The Wharton School at The University of Pennsylvania, and joined The Boston Consulting Group after Wharton.  With a few years at BCG under my belt, I went back into the entrepreneurial world to join Energage (formerly called WorkplaceDynamics).  Our company leverages data gathered from 50,000+ organizations and 17 million employees through our Top Workplaces research to build winning cultures. 

Since Duke, I’ve lived in Indianapolis, Seattle, Boston, and Philadelphia (where I grew up).  I now live in a college town outside Philly called West Chester.  My wife Teri is a Certified Nurse Midwife and Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner who provides care to undocumented migrant farm workers through a health center called La Communidad Hispana.  We have a son in 4th grade (Jonah) and a daughter in 1st grade (Maeve).   

Many of the principles that I learned in LEAPS/service-learning have become kind of like air – it’s hard to even see or notice them.  In my day-to-day, I’m often playing the role of facilitator or trying to get teams to think about a situation or approach a problem with a fresh perspective.  My experience in LEAPS and through service-learning was foundational to cultivating this skill set.

Laura McDaniel—T’02; MSW ‘06

Participating in service-learning, both as a student and a student leader, provided me with the opportunity to grow both morally and interpersonally. I met a woman at my first field placement who became a close friend for years. Dr. Gold became a trusted mentor. I was proud that I was one of the few Duke students I knew who had explored Durham and felt comfortable in the community outside of Ninth Street. I learned to become comfortable in the uncomfortable; and to network and navigate relationships with faculty and community members. As a leader in LEAPS, I belonged to a phenomenal group of other student leaders at Duke (an especially fond memory was attending a retreat in Beaufort).

Working with LEAPS had a fundamental impact on my pursuit of a career in clinical social work. The roots of the profession in social justice and being of service were values cemented in me through my participation in service-learning. Since graduating, I have worked in DC in the health policy sphere and locally with the UNC department of psychiatry. I currently serve as the clinical supervisor on an inpatient unit at UNC WakeBrook hospital. 

Noha Sherif, T'14

The service-learning framework taught me two important principles. The first is that the context in which academic learning is applied will always be multidimensional in nature, and that the best way to understand the various interacting forces at play is by immersing yourself on the ground. Secondly, service-learning taught me the importance of involving local communities in addressing any community-level change. These two principles have come to guide my approach to academic and professional experiences.

Since graduating from Duke, I spent four years using my undergraduate training in health disparities to implement various sections of the Affordable Care Act before enrolling in medical school. The decision to obtain medical training was guided in large part by the core principles I learned through my service-learning courses. I knew that in order to meaningfully contribute to systemic approaches to healthcare, healthcare policy, and patient care, I needed to understand the context in which those policies were being applied and build relationships with the communities that were being most affected. By joining the medical community, I knew that the personal interactions I’d take part of would be the stepping stone to meaningful, macro-level change.

Nicole Daniels  T’14

I've always been passionate about service and community work.  At Duke, I participated in many opportunities to explore my interests including FOCUS, DukeEngage, DukeImmerse, and study abroad-- but I especially enjoyed Duke Service-Learning and LEAPS. Service-Learning provided me with hands-on experience working with community partners that was complemented by thought-provoking class discussions and readings.  I gained strong faculty mentors and met some incredible students who inspired me.

These experiences helped confirm my interest in the non-profit sector.  After graduating in 2014, I moved to Dallas and worked as a college advisor for an organization that supports first-generation students with the college admissions and financial aid process.  Afterward, I served as an AmeriCorps Program Manager at a non-profit that provides food and enrichment activities to youth. I recently started working at a non-profit called Generation, and I'm helping launch a new workforce readiness program in Dallas for young adults.  

Throughout my professional career, I've used many of the service-learning tools- especially critical reflection.  I continue to ask questions, read, and have conversations to widen my perspective.  I also try to journal when I have the time.  I even facilitated some of the same reflection activities I learned as a Duke student with my AmeriCorps team during their service. I'm very grateful to Service-Learning for helping mold me into the person I am today, and I'm excited to continue on as a lifetime learner.


Event Date: 
Friday, March 29, 2019 - 12:00pm to 4:30pm
Event Location: 
Leadership Development and Social Action Conference Room
Event Contact: 
Kimmie Garner
Event Contact Email: