Christine Folch Named to Lead DukeEngage

Christine Folch wearing a hard hat in front of a dam
Christine Folch at a Technical Visit of Itaipú Binational Dam (Brazil-Paraguay).

Christine Folch, Bacca Foundation Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology, has been appointed Peter Lange Director of DukeEngage.

DukeEngage is an immersive eight-week summer program that sends undergraduate students around the country and the world to work with communities addressing critical issues. Launched in 2007 and administered by the Kenan Institute for Ethics since 2019, the program has enrolled more than 5,500 students to date. DukeEngage projects take students into the field each summer to work on issues that community partners deem a priority. For many students, the program becomes a cornerstone of their Duke experience.

As a DukeEngage program director for the past five years, Folch brought students to a site where she has done extensive research — the Itaipú Hydroelectric Dam, an abundant source of renewable energy shared by Paraguay and Brazil. Under Folch’s guidance, DukeEngage students have immersed themselves in the complex challenges faced by Paraguay by working with organizations promoting education, civic engagement, conservation, and sustainable tech. In 2022 and 2023, students appeared on “En Contexto,” a national news program, to discuss their experiences in the program and their research on the country’s economic development.

With a proven record of engaging students in complex societal issues through immersive experiences, Folch will bring renewed focus to the leadership of DukeEngage after several years of transition, including disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The appointment of a Peter Lange Director of DukeEngage also coincides with the planned implementation of a new curriculum for Trinity College of Arts & Sciences in 2025. New requirements that integrate ethics and experiential learning into undergraduate education will create new opportunities for DukeEngage to impact the student experience, said David Toole, Nannerl O. Keohane Director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics.

“I’m excited to have Christine Folch stepping into this role,” said Toole. “She has directed a remarkable program in Paraguay and is a fantastic example of a new generation of faculty whose scholarship is inseparable from community-engaged research and teaching. She brings the perfect mix of intellectual depth and administrative acumen to DukeEngage and the Kenan Institute.”

“I see DukeEngage as one of the best examples of Duke’s leadership and innovation,” said Folch, “because from its very beginning, it offered every student the opportunity to go out into the world and have an immersive experience, learning from and working in a community. I’m looking forward to continuing and building on that legacy. I’m delighted to be part of it because I’ve seen — personally —the impact that DukeEngage has. It builds genuine connections between students, faculty, community partners and the Duke community as a whole.”

“As we continue to deepen our commitment to equitable, co-created community engagement across the university, there is a great opportunity for DukeEngage to deepen its links to curricular structures and other co-curricular programs,” said Ed Balleisen, Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies. “Christine Folch will bring incredible energy and a wealth of relevant experience to that effort.”

Folch earned her Ph.D. from the City University of New York in 2012 and arrived at Duke in 2015, after a stint at Wheaton College. She has a secondary appointment as associate professor of environmental sciences and policy in the Nicholas School of the Environment and has codirected the Amazon Lab and the Global Brazil Lab at the Franklin Humanities Institute. Her books include “Hydropolitics: The Itaipú Dam, Sovereignty, and the Engineering of Modern South America” (2019) and “The Book of Yerba Mate: A Stimulating History” (forthcoming), both from Princeton University Press.

Folch’s appointment follows an internal search by a faculty committee led by David Malone, professor of the practice of education and a longtime DukeEngage program director.

The DukeEngage directorship is named in honor of Peter Lange, Thomas A. Langford University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science, who served as Duke’s provost from 1999–2014. Lange was instrumental in creating the program and securing endowed gifts from The Duke Endowment and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that continue to provide DukeEngage with financial support.