Civic Engagement & Social Change Certificate

The Certificate in Civic Engagement and Social Change is an academic credential for Duke undergraduate students interested in deepening their understanding of social issues by integrating academic coursework with community-based experiences. Students can design learning and experiences around an issue and develop relationships with faculty and community mentors. Students will emerge from the certificate with strategies for engaging with social issues, competence in navigating diverse communities and clarity around possible career paths.

Why civic engagement and social change?

The goal of the program is to develop students’ capacity to effect social change in intentional, ethical and sustained ways. Students will think critically about volunteer efforts and change movements while developing the skills to tackle societal challenges using different approaches. An important aspect of the certificate is to ensure that students are well-equipped to become engaged citizens and ethical leaders throughout their lives.

Who is it for?

The CESC is for Duke undergraduate students of all majors and backgrounds who want to examine what it means to be civically responsible and actively engaged in their community while gaining the skillset necessary to effect social change after Duke.


Students in the Civic Engagement and Social Change Certificate program are required to take one gateway course which will pose foundational questions and frame future learning. The current gateway course is CESC 201S: Engaged Citizenship and Social Change.

The second and third courses in the certificate will be two electives that fit thematically within a student’s proposed pathway. Electives will delve more deeply into the intellectual themes and concepts introduced in the gateway course while exploring the student’s specific interests. Electives may be taken concurrently with the gateway course but cannot be taken before the gateway. Electives must be completed prior to taking the capstone course. A sample list of electives eligible for the certificate is found here

The capstone course, CESC 391: Lives of Civic Engagement, will require students to critically revisit the themes introduced in the gateway course and explored through electives and experiences. The goal of the capstone course is to encourage students to examine their co-curricular experiences through a critical lens and to develop a framework for engaging in community throughout their lives.

To earn the Certificate in Civic Engagement and Social Change, students must complete two thematically related experiential-learning projects that enhance their understanding of their proposed interest area. These co-curricular experiences will provide opportunities for students to work with community organizations and gain the skills necessary for effecting change. The projects should respond to needs identified by the community partner organization and embody principles of collaboration, cooperation and reciprocity.

Experience Set A

Experience Set A may include activities such as unpaid internships, fellowships, community-based research projects, volunteer service programs and apprenticeships. The 300+ hours required for Experience Set A must be completed in one continuous experience. For example, a student interested in educational equity could participate in DukeEngage Charlotte,  tutor with America Reads America Counts or do a summer internship with a nonprofit such as Communities in Schools NC.

Experience Set B

Experience Set B can include ongoing continuous activities similar to those listed above under Set A. However, for Set B, students may choose to engage in several distinct but related activities that, when added together, exceed 150 hours. For example, a student may volunteer with a voting advocacy group during the summer and then follow up in the fall semester with a mentored community-based research experience examining voting issues for a combined total of 150+ hours.

*During the COVID pandemic, students can work with certificate leadership to find alternatives to experiences as they are difficult to accomplish under current circumstances

Once a declaration proposal is approved, the student will begin their ePortfolio. The ePortfolio is a means of recording the intellectual, personal, social and civic development that occurs throughout a student’s participation in the certificate program. The primary goal of the ePortfolio is to serve as a mechanism for deepening the learning process by encouraging the student to document and represent the coherence, intentionality and integration of their experiences within the Civic Engagement and Social Change Certificate Program.

For the ePortfolio, students will be required to provide an intellectual rationale for the curricular choices they make and to select and feature representations of their work that best capture their individual development. Students will have multiple opportunities throughout the certificate program to refine their ePortfolio, to critically reflect on its contents as well as its form and to determine how best to make the ePortfolio public-facing.

Sample Certificate Pathway [Educational Equity]

How to apply

> Part I: Basic Student Information (available here)
> Part II: Open-Ended Questions (shared via E-Portfolio following submission of Part I)
Outline your objectives for completing the certificate and describe a proposed pathway.
Identify two electives and two experiences and provide a clear rationale for how they connect to your overall goals. Click here for details and sequence of requirements.


For more information about the CESC Certificate, contact Eric Mlyn, Assistant Vice Provost for Civic Engagement (eric.mlyn@duke.edu)