New Resource to Advance Social Change

Connecting Civic Engagement and Social Innovation Toward Higher Education's Democratic PromiseKenan Distinguished Faculty Fellow Eric Mlyn has been working on a new resource for those in higher education who wish to promote and advance social change.  Stylus Publishing recently released the edited volume Civic Engagement and Social Innovation: Toward Higher Education’s Democratic Promise.  In it, Mlyn and Amanda Moore McBride, University of Denver, explore the civic engagement and social innovation movements prominent on many of our campuses.  They also look at the government role in scaling social innovations – a topic that will surely grow more important as we launch public and private COVID coping and recovery efforts.  Mlyn and McBride discuss some of their  findings with Campus Compact President Andrew Seligsohn in this podcast.

“We hope that readers come away from this volume with a new sense of how higher education can respond to the challenges of this historical moment with a renewed commitment to our democratic purpose. This was important before this global pandemic – it is now simply crucial.”
– Eric Mlyn


What is meaningful labor in the midst of a pandemic?

Sara Kate Baudhuin is a rising Trinity Junior from Charlotte, NC. She is majoring in a Program II titled “Storytelling as a Tool for Social Change” that explores the ethics of storytelling and how narrative intersects with public policy. Her project is focused on exploring the question: what is meaningful labor in the midst of a pandemic? Because our physical selves pose the very threat we are trying to avoid, she wants to explore how we can still offer love and support to our communities in new ways, while keeping each other safe. By creating art in public spaces, she will investigate how less tangible forms of labor–perhaps ones we can’t see the result of–can be a necessary form of emotional relief and connection.


Kenan Moral Purpose Award Benner

What role does a liberal arts education play in creating a full life? Duke senior Joyce Er provides an answer in her Kenan Moral Purpose Award-winning essay. In her essay, “The Value of an Interdisciplinary Education,” Er reflected on how her desire to create something of value in the world led her to computer science, while her public policy studies reminded her that “there are no easy solutions—technological or otherwise—to the world’s biggest problems.”

Joyce er
Joyce Er (T’20) Double-major in Computer Science and Public Policy Studies. Hometown: Singapore.

The Value of an Interdisciplinary Education


This year, the competition opened a new category for the best graduate or professional student essay on how their research has informed their moral purpose or challenged prevailing ideas and institutions. Theology, Medicine and Culture Fellow D. Brendan Johnson described in his winning essay, “Moral Medicine,” how his studies in Social Medicine and Liberation Theology led him to question the inherent value structure of professional medicine, realizing, “the status of the poor becomes the ethical standard by which we measure the success of our actions, of our profession, or of our society.”

d. brendan johnson
Brendan Johnson (Divinity ’21). Fellowship in Theology, Medicine, and Culture. Hometown: Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Moral Medicine


The annual Kenan Moral Purpose Award is given for the best undergraduate student essay on the role a liberal arts education plays in students’ exploration of the personal and social purposes by which to orient their future and the intellectual, emotional, and moral commitments that make for a full life. The graduate award is given to the best graduate or professional student essay connecting their research to moral purpose.


Magic and Mindfulness


Wesley Pritzlaff is an “Ethics in Place” Fellow, living in a rural NC community generally lacking virtual opportunities to promote wellbeing during COVID-19. As part of his Kenan summer project, Wesley is determined to forge connections, inspire hope, and promote mindfulness practices through his teaching of slight of hand magic.

“Slight of hand magic allows you to share the greatest gift of all, the gift of a smile — which is especially important during this time. And I want to remind you that the cards are just a medium, the real magic comes from within.”

Navajo & Hopi Families COVID Relief


Shandiin Herrera, Duke Class of 2019 and DukeEngage Peru 2016 alumna, is a member of the Navajo Nation who is volunteering with the Navajo & Hopi Families Covid-19 Relief Fund as the call center coordinator and Utah team leader.

“I decided to become involved with this effort because I see every day how this pandemic has completely exacerbated existing issues in our communities on the reservation.”

Tulsa Responds, with some Inspiration from Kenan first-year

Mckenna Raley is a First Year at Duke and a Research Assistant at Kenan as a member of the Ethics, Leadership & Global Citizenship Focus Cluster. Now home in Tulsa, OK, Mckenna created a website, tulsaresponds.org, to reach people, small businesses, and organizations as a means to provide resources and invaluable information to navigate this pandemic. Her site soon gained attention from community leaders who wanted to collaborate. Adding a financial assistance program the city developed, together they just launched tulsaunites.org. Two weeks into the project, they have already received more than 1,200 submissions and have been able to provide assistance to each within 24 hours.
“We hope to make this a living website that can extend even beyond COVID-19 and really just help Tulsans with whatever the city has next.”