Teaching on Purpose is a fellowship program that prepares doctoral students as educators who are committed to helping today’s undergraduates lead lives of meaning and 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. Today’s college students are grappling with questions of purpose and meaning — questions about who they are and want to become and how to make sense of life — amidst the pressures of college and the increasing uncertainty and complexity of the world. Professors (and graduate students who teach) are uniquely positioned to help students explore how they understand themselves and the world during this pivotal time in their lives.

Teaching on Purpose 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.

This fellowship will benefit any doctoral student with a heart for teaching undergraduates regardless of teaching experience. If you have taught previously, you’ll be able to reflect on your teaching experience in concrete ways and gain a deeper and broader understanding of your practices. If you are currently teaching, you’ll have the opportunity to discuss some of the challenges you are encountering and immediately try out some new approaches. If you don’t have experience teaching yet, you can develop a foundation for your teaching practice that will enable you to be intentional in your role as an educator.

Questions we’ll explore include:

  • What’s the purpose of college and the university, and how might that inform one’s purpose as an educator?
  • What kind of teacher-student relationship supports meaningful learning?
  • What are the challenges college students face as emerging adults, and how do we meet them where they are to help them flourish not only as students but as human beings?
  • How do we connect our subject matter to the “big questions” that undergraduates are grappling with?
  • What is our responsibility in responding to students’ anxiety and other mental health issues?
  • What role do higher education institutions and our classroom practices play in promoting (or undermining) democracy and justice?
  • How do we create a classroom community that is a safe learning environment for students to take risks and discuss difficult topics?

Click here to read an article about the program

How to Apply

Applications are closed for the Fall of 2022.

Please review eligibility requirements and commitment before applying.

Faculty are also invited to nominate graduate students from their departments whom they believe are excellent candidates for this fellowship. To do so, please email Jesse Summers at jesse.summers@duke.edu.


  • Discipline: Ph.D. student in any discipline taught at the undergraduate level (at Duke or other institutions)
  • Status: Must have passed preliminary exams
  • No conflicts with other funding: Participation in this program must not conflict with policies of departmental or external funding sources.
  • Approval of DGS: Applicants must confirm at the time of application that their DGSs are aware that they are applying. The Purpose Project team will reach out to the DGSs of selected applicants to confirm approval of participation.


  • Weekly 2.5-hour sessions (Tuesdays, 12-2:30PM, lunch provided), September 6-November 29 (no session October 11)
  • Must be able to attend most sessions, with no more than 2 absences due to prior engagements (prior notification required).
  • Modest preparation outside of sessions, such as short readings and written reflections (~2 hours/week)


  • $3000 stipend

Application requirements

Short essays

  • What do you find most rewarding about teaching undergraduates? If you have not had the opportunity to teach undergraduates yet, what would you most look forward to? (200 words max)
  • Why are you interested in the Teaching on Purpose Fellowship program? (200 words max)
  • If you could develop your own course on any topic, what would you love to teach? Write a brief course description. (150 words max)

Apply Now


Contact Katherine Jo (katherine.jo@duke.edu) or Jesse Summers (jesse.summers@duke.edu).

Congratulations to our Fall 2022 Teaching with Purpose Fellows!