Purpose Project at Duke  seeks to make matters of character, questions of purpose, and explorations of one’s life work signature features of the Duke experience, and to create a model for such efforts for peer institutions across the country.

The Purpose Project a project at Duke makes question of character, purpose and meaning signature features of the Duke community and develops evidence-based program models for Duke and peer institutions across the country. The Project strives to facilitate diverse conversations, foster unlikely partnerships, and field experiments inside and outside the classroom that enable students — undergraduate, graduate, and professional— to pursue questions of moral purpose and a life well-lived as an integral part of their Duke experience. Our hope is that by helping students imagine their lives as more than a career we are guiding them to understand their work and their lives in the context of commitments to character, community, and the world. We also hope this cultivation of a set of commitments beyond themselves will make students happier, healthy and more successful in whatever they pursue.

The Purpose Project is a collaboration between the Kenan Institute, Duke Divinity, the Duke Office of Undergraduate Education and faculty across campus. It is supported by The Duke Endowment, The Kenan Fund for Ethics, and The Kern Family Foundation.

What Now Network

What if your classes not only shaped the way you thought but also the way you lived? What Now? The Duke Guide to Happiness, Purpose & Well-Being offers seminars designed to help you develop the tools and capacities to thrive at Duke and beyond.

Research across multiple disciplines suggests that students—and working adults—perform best when they are authentically connected to their work and to the people around them. What Now? classes are an opportunity for every student to consider what drives them, to learn habits that may help them succeed, and to have fun along the way.

Pursuing Purpose

Pursuing Purpose offers a curricular bridge to direct work experience over the summer. Each year, currently sophomores and juniors apply to take Pursuit of Purpose, a one-credit interdisciplinary seminar designed to hone students’ personal sense of purpose, situate that ethos in the contemporary world of work, and provide practical steps for moving forward. By semester’s end, each fellow has a funded internship placement for the summer, during which they will continue to reflect on questions raised in the course. Students design and participate in a Purpose Symposium upon returning to campus in the fall.

Reimagining the World Together


Reimagining the World Together: Why Friendship Matters for Our Future is a fall series that examines the problems of the present and the possibilities for the future through moderated conversations between pairs of friends. The series is open to the public and for Duke students is also available as a course.

Reimagine Medicine

ReMed seeks to foster the character, imagination, and practices needed to work effectively in contexts of human suffering and healing. Leaders in many disciplines — history, ethics, visual and performing arts, spirituality, and expressive writing, as well as doctors and other healthcare professionals from a range of specialties—help students explore themes often absent in traditional medical education.

Typically, ReMed Fellows live, eat, and learn together on campus during the summer intensive and participate in a full schedule of classes, hospital shadowing, and enrichment activities. Fellows also take a half-credit course in the fall (ETHICS 216), where themes and questions from the summer experience are explored further.

20|20 Scholars

2020 is a watershed year in our collective experience demanding a renewed commitment to racial justice to understand our past, respond to the present, and shape a better future. How might character and purpose guide and sustain this work to bring a better world into focus? The 20|20 Scholars explore the realities of racism in our time through a spring seminar series with practitioners, activists and academics, an immersive summer experience working with and in a community, and a fall course to gain a deeper understanding of their own purpose and commitments to racial equity in our time.

Race and the Professions Fellowship



Race and the Professions is a year-long fellowship program through which Duke graduate and professional students explore challenges of racial inequities and the work of anti-racism in the professions.

Moral Moments in Medicine

Moral Moments in Medicine brings the resources of the medical humanities and ethics to bear on how healthcare trainees and clinicians are navigating the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism. Students and faculty from across the Schools of Medicine and Nursing participate in monthly small groups offering a variety of critical lenses and practices for negotiating our current moment purposefully. In collaboration with the Purpose Project and the Center for Interprofessional Education and Care, this course is hosted by the Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities & History of Medicine. Students also participate in medical humanities lectures, narrative exercises, and book clubs/film discussions related to the course themes. Workshops will include sessions on Voices in Pandemic: Stories of Resistance and Social Justice; Epidemics, Disparities, and History; Seeing is Believing– Documenting Pandemic through Photography; Plague Literature, Past and Present; Covid Stories: Narrative Medicine in the Midst of Epidemic. For more information, contact Brett McCarty.

Forging Purpose: A Workshop For Alumni


Forging Purpose offers alums of all ages a space to devise a purpose plan for a meaningful new career or pathway after retirement, for an unexpected life change brought on by circumstances beyond our control, or for getting “unstuck” personally or professionally.