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.

Click here for the Purpose Project 2021 Request for Proposals (closed for this year)

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.

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.

Re-Imagining Tech

The Re-Imagining Tech Fellowship, sponsored by Kenan Institute for Ethics, Trinity College, and Pratt School of Engineering, will offer 15 students pursuing majors in engineering and computer science at Duke University an interactive summer program exploring the intersection of ethics and technology.

Fellows will receive a $1,000 stipend; meet weekly on Wednesday evenings in June/July for 12 program events featuring speakers, discussions, hands-on activities and community building; and participate in a 1:1 mentorship program.

Good Reason: Purpose and Public Policy

Good Reason is a two-day virtual immersion in a new kind of space where artists, activists, academics and practitioners from a range of policy fields re-imagine how public policy can build a better world. Inspiring keynotes, panel discussions from various vantage points, and team-based problem-solving exercises with alumni will facilitate a meeting between the messiness of the real world and the tidiness of classroom work.

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 will gain a grounding in the realities of racism and racial justice remedies, both past and present, through an intensive 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 a radically better future.

Race and the Professions



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.

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.

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.

Grad Engage


GradEngage is a fellowship opportunity for graduate and professional students to exercise their moral purpose through a collaboration with communities in North Carolina.

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.