Incoming Students Make Community Connections through New DukeEngage Gateway Program

Incoming first-year undergraduates saw their final years of high school dominated by the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racial injustice, and by a period of intense political upheaval and polarization. For many, these experiences heightened questions of community, responsibility and citizenship, and created a desire to work for good. How might these questions and impulses shape this cohort into a community that values collaboration and is committed to partnership within and beyond Duke?

The new DukeEngage Gateway program invites these students to collaborate with community partners in their hometowns during the summer prior to their arrival at Duke, while joining a virtual community of engaged peers, faculty, and alumni to consider the responsibilities of citizenship, best practices in community-based collaboration, and their own sense of purpose in the world.

“After learning about redlining and historic housing injustices faced by BIPOC communities, I decided to get involved in zoning reform advocacy in my hometown,” said incoming freshman Coral Lin, who is working on a DukeEngage Gateway project with the City of Newton, Massachusetts’ Planning Department. Lin hopes to study housing policy and urban studies at Duke. “The Gateway program’s training and mentorship opportunities will not only help my work this summer, but also help me develop effective strategies for advocating for social justice.”

Ishaan Brar is working on a Gateway project in partnership with The Mission at Kern County, in his California hometown.

“Bakersfield has had a homelessness crisis for several years, but due to COVID-19, many shelters, such as our Mission at Kern County, are in critical need of support from all sides, especially in the realm of medical care and reducing barriers to medical access,” said Brar. “I have partnered with them to develop a telemedicine project to help address many of these issues.”

Even before they arrive on campus, Gateway allows students to begin building relationships within the Duke community. In addition to their community projects, participants engage virtually in reflection workshops led by Duke faculty and in weekly “community conversations” about citizenship with leaders in public service fields.

“Our small group reflection sessions give students the opportunity to think deeply about their work, to discuss challenges and celebrate each other’s accomplishments, and to learn about each other’s communities. They also offer a valuable opportunity to consider big questions like how to do work that has a lasting impact.” said Deondra Rose, Associate Professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy and one of the DukeEngage Gateway faculty facilitators. The weekly meetings with faculty cover topics such rights and responsibilities of citizenship, working across ideological lines, and how students can think about their role in relationship to Duke and Durham once they move to campus. “It is a privilege to be a part of these energizing conversations, and we are so excited to welcome these bright, energetic, inspiring young leaders into the Duke community.”

Through Gateway programming, participants explore the challenges of community engagement, and strategies for making sustainable relationships while maximizing impact. Additionally, participants are placed in mentoring “pods” with Duke alumni who have completed DukeEngage.

“DukeEngage Gateway is so exciting, since it allows me to make an impact in my community before I leave, while still looking forward to my future at Duke by connecting with like-minded peers, passionate faculty, and amazing speakers – all of whom offer insightful new perspectives on the work we do,” said Brar.

Another Gateway student, Ian Bailey, shares Brar’s enthusiasm. He is working with a local office to support the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization’s contact tracing efforts.

“When I applied to Duke, I wrote in my application, ‘Duke will give me the opportunity to follow my curiosity, create solutions, and work collaboratively to improve society,’” Bailey said. “My first semester has not yet started, and Duke has already lived up to those expectations.”

Meet the Students

Erin Collazo Miller works on Virtues & Vocations, an initiative to consider how to cultivate character in professional education. She earned a BA in English at Duke University and studied theology at Regent College.

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