Student & Alumni Stories

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. Below, Duke service-learning students and alumni reflect on the various ways service-learning has impacted their perspectives on life, leadership, civic engagement, social injustice and inequities, and how they engage with communities. 

Dan Kessler

“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. 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.”

Hira Ahmed

Through service learning, interactions like those provided by the FOCUS program benefit the students academically, professionally, and personally, which is absolutely vital to the social, cultural, and economic growth of our nation.

Brian Williams

My experience as a Service Learning Fellow in Professor Jenni Owen’s Policy in the Bull City class has provided a unique glimpse into the wheels turning on the backside of public life.

Katie Taylor

I chose to help ESL students in the Durham School of the Arts in 10th grade mathematics twice a week as my service-learning component. At first, I wasn’t comfortable. I had no idea what to expect, and the students didn’t seem to acknowledge me. However, as the semester went on, I created relationships with the students and was able to watch their mathematics skills grow.

Laxmi Rajak '15

Apart from sharing my knowledge with the student I worked with, this experience opened my eyes to the pertinent issues that Durham schools face.

Trish Ike '15

My experiences in service-learning within Dr. Gold’s courses have really challenged me as a pre-med student to delve past the scientific part of health/geriatric care and really understand people using biopsychosocial framework.

Emily Du '15

Participating in service-learning has given me the opportunity to engage in Duke's greater culture of service and civic engagement.

Jacob Tobia '14

Why has service-learning been such an integral part of my education? Because I believe that you can never truly be educated about a community or the people in it without service.

Katharine Waldman '14

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.

Noha Sherif '14

What surprises me most about this experience is how much more information I've retained from service learning classes than I have from other classes; I attribute this to the hands-on nature of the class.

Nicole Daniels '14

Service-learning allows students to come together with other members of the community and combine everyone’s knowledge and experiences to work towards social change.  It offers both intellectual stimulation and personal connections.

Joy Liu '14

My service-learning experiences both inside and outside the classroom have led to academic and personal interests and growth. Probably most relevant to other Duke students, it's made me ask myself, how can I maximize the impact of my service in a thoughtful and informed way?

Austin Mattox '11

Students understand that community service is not about allotting a few hours a week as a “feel-good” exercise but is instead a way to explore and learn about the people and places where they live.

Sarah Gordon '13

(Service-learning) has afforded me not only the opportunity to forge relationships with dynamic and interesting faculty, staff, students and community partners, but also has pushed me to confront the importance of reflection in service as well as the complexity of partnership in the realm of civic engagement.

Ian Harwood '13

Service learning experiences like my experience in Making Social Policy have shown me the importance of connecting research, policy, and the experiences of real people.

Benton Wise '13

I had often wondered "what's the point?" when learning some esoteric piece of knowledge or formula. Now, I'm better able to devote focus and energy to my studies and parse out the many, complex relationships that exist between learning and practice.