The 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 at Duke makes questions 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. The effort is funded by two 5-year grants from The Duke Endowment, one to the Provost Office focused on undergraduate education and the second to the Divinity School focused on graduate and professional education.

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.

Transformative Ideas

Transformative Ideas offers second-year students the opportunity to participate in courses that promote open and civil cross-disciplinary dialogue about “Transformative Ideas” – those enduring questions and big ideas that change lives, link cultures, and shape societies around the world.

Re-Imagining 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.

Teaching on Purpose

Teaching on Purpose brings doctoral students and faculty together to explore what it means to be a good teacher of undergraduates and to learn educational practices that will help their students flourish. This program is an opportunity for graduate students to cultivate their own sense of purpose as aspiring teachers who soon will be (and maybe already are) playing a vital role in the flourishing of undergraduates.