Dane Emmerling Pursuing PhD at UNC's Health Behavior Program!

Friday, June 15, 2018
dane emmerling

Dane Emmerling, Assistant Director of Duke Service-Learning, has been accepted into UNC’s Health Behavior Doctoral Program at Gillings School of Global Public Health.  Dane will be studying interventions to eliminate health disparities and critical consciousness raising programs to help students and community members to develop skills, commitments, and efficacy around working toward social change.

During his time with Duke Service-Learning, Dane was instrumental in helping both faculty, students and the Duke community think more deeply and critically about what it means to serve and learn in community; how to do it well,  and the variety of ways it can go wrong.  He’s co-authored and published articles and  book chapters, designed trainings, tools and resources, and contributed leadership through presentations both locally, nationally, and globally. All of Emmerling’s contributions have  focused on building the intellectual frameworks and practical skills needed to engage more effectively and reciprocally in communities. 

More about Dane and his path to service-learning:

A graduate of North Carolina’s School of Science & Math, and a Biochemistry major at NC State,  Emmerling  initially dreamed of improving society through science, but the reality of tedious hours alone in a lab with only research mice for company proved to be less than fulfilling. 

As a Caldwell Fellow, a program at NC State that invests in first-year students who “share a passion to learn, grow and serve others”  Emmerling would learn that it was people, and more specifically, communities, that would connect his heart with his intellect.

“I think growing up in Eastern North Carolina, I felt like a particularly sheltered person. There was a lot of darkness in the world that I hadn’t really fully come to terms with. My experiences with  Caldwell Fellows, getting to travel and meet a lot of different people, really brought me more in touch with both the pain and the beauty in the world. It made me realize how important it is to show up for each other and work for a more fair and equitable world,” Emmerling says of the program designed to develop students both as individuals and servant-leaders.

Newly graduated, Emmerling deferred  jumping  into a chemistry career, and took an AmeriCorp VISTA position at Delgado Community College in New Orleans coordinating their service-learning program.

“The position used a lot of the skills that I most enjoyed using and was a really good fit, so I started to think more what that could look like and how I could keep doing it,” he says.

After the position ended, Emmerling headed to Carrboro, North Carolina to earn a Masters in Public Health at UNC and wasted no time  looking  for opportunities for community-engagement. He’d had his eye on UNC’s student-led service-learning program, APPLES, and set up a meeting with Leslie Parkins, then UNC’s Director of Service-Learning and Student Programs and now Duke’s Office of Civic Engagements’ Assistant Director, to learn about volunteer opportunities. Turns out, one of the grad students helping with the APPLES program had suddenly  quit a few days earlier.

“Long story short, I went from walking in off the street to having a job by the next day.  It was probably the luckiest thing that’s ever happened to me in my life, “ he says, “to  go from really wanting to work in this office and willing to do it for free, to suddenly having a paid position doing the exact work that I was hoping to do.”

The work Emmerling  was hoping to do revolved around preparing students for service-learning, and building skills to engage more effectively in communities. APPLES had just been tasked by the university to provide a more rigorous academic component for their alternative spring break, where students examine theories behind community service, coalition building, community asset development of the communities where they volunteer. Emmerling was hired to design the curriculum.

“I was probably wildly unqualified, but somehow they let me do it,” he laughs. “It was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I loved designing the  curriculum and then getting to see how the students experienced and implemented it. It really made me interested in the intellectual growth that can happen around service-learning and the conversations that can happen for students,” he says.

Emmerling’s interest in designing curriculum and facilitating conversations around service-learning continued to grow, and his  3  years at APPLES  positioned him very well for the Associate Director role with Duke Service-Learning, where he and Parkins and other members of the Duke community would continue partnering to develop  service-learning trainings and initiatives at Duke.

“If I hadn’t taken that job, service-learning may not have become such a big part of my career trajectory,” he says.

At Duke, Emmerling continued to build upon his experiences at APPLES, preparing students for service by developing and piloting a curriculum in partnership with Duke Office of Civic Engagement and Social Sciences Research Institute  that impacted over 600 undergraduates in a wide variety of settings including service-learning classes, Program in Education tutors, American Reads America Counts, and the DukeEngage Academy. 

 “I’ve felt very empowered to design, develop and support new initiatives that are beyond my job description. That’s only been possible because of being on a team that supports ideas and encourages people to move things forward,” says Emmerlling. 

Joan Clifford, a Duke Service-Learning Consultant and Director of Community-Based Language Initiative says of Dane:

“It was clear from the start of his time at Duke that the community had a true ally in Dane and that he would seek out ways to amplify voices and viewpoints that perhaps were not always heard on campus. Dane was always committed to learning and sharing what he learned—from one-to-one interactions to conference sessions, you could count on Dane to ask probing questions related to enacting social change. His commitment to critical service-learning, the development of ethical partnerships, and authentic relationships is commendable. We have been lucky to have him on the Service-Learning team as he has contributed greatly to the Service-Learning program at Duke."

David Malone, Director of Duke Service-Learning adds:

“Dane's contributions to raising the bar for service-learning have been enormously impactful -  not only to our program, but to the University as a whole. Best of all - Dane has become a trusted friend and a lifelong colleague. To you Dane I say: Go n-éirí an bóthar leat."

Amy Anderson, Duke Service-Learning consultant adds:

"The things I'll miss most about Dane are his laugh, his love of team-building, and his work to bend the work toward justice."

As for the next leg of his journey as a doctoral student at the Health Behavior Doctoral Program at UNC, Emmerling says he’s  looking forward to the ways the degree will allow him the opportunity to study, explore and contribute in the areas of his interests.

“Evaluation and data have been a big part of what I’ve felt I’ve wanted to contribute to organizations or enterprises. Measuring hard-to-measure things is something that really interests me. I think the PhD will definitely give me the skills to better measure things, as well as access to conversations and opportunities to be involved that I otherwise may not have,” he says.

Though it’s sad to see Emmerling go, the team at Duke Service-Learning says they have a feeling they’ll be seeing him around in future ventures. When it comes to contributing to and evolving with the communities around him, Emmerling is a lifer:

“I'll probably spend most of my life thinking about and arriving at answers about how to do good in the world most effectively and how to make a difference where my skills position me to make them,” he says.