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The Tools for Change Citizenship Lab at the Kenan Institute for Ethics is about inspiring community change through individual and collective action. It does so by developing mechanisms for enhancing refugee civic participation with a focus on high school youth in Durham, North Carolina.

The project has two allied dimensions. First, we are creating a citizenship lab at Duke that engages refugee youth in the life of their new communities. The work of the lab will culminate in a community based research project that addresses a challenge refugee youth have encountered in Durham. This year’s project is a collaboration between the Citizenship Lab, local business leaders and Durham City council to installing more bus shelters across Durham. Second, Duke faculty, graduate students and undergraduates will explore the impact this program has on migrant youth civic participation and the broader empirical relationship between social science research engagement and citizenship. This work is animated by a cluster of questions: What civic traditions and practices do refugee youth bring with them and how are they deployed in the United States? When popular forms of American civic participation—i.e. voting and volunteering– are not immediately viable for refugees, what new civic forms may be possible? What is the relationship between problem-centered social science research and citizenship? How do we measure the effectiveness of teaching citizenship via this pragmatic social science research method?
The Citizenship Lab has three core goals. In a supportive and fun environment the participants work toward:

IMG_0093 copy1. Academic excellence

Working with Duke undergraduate mentors , students will not only improve study skills they will develop analytic skills. Mentors will work closely with students, families and high school counselors to achieve both high school success and college readiness.

2. Leadership development
Working in teams with Duke faculty and undergraduates on community based research projects of their own design students will develop a sense of personal empowerment and the tools for everyday leadership.

3. Robust citizenship

Working collaboratively to address community concerns, students will develop a keen understanding of US government (locally and nationally). Students will acquire both knowledge of the opportunities and challenges of citizenship for themselves and their communities as well as the ability to combine their new analytical skills and rights as engaged citizens to create positive change.

“Every time I wake up on a Tuesday I’m so excited because I know I get to come to Duke that day. And every time I wake up on a Wednesday I’m so sad because I know how far away my next class at Duke is”  -Brenda, program participant

For more information contact Suzanne Shanahan (