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 meaning and purpose — questions about how to make sense of life and about who they are and want to become — 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.

Questions we’ll explore include:

  • What’s the purpose and value of college, and how might that inform one’s purpose as an educator?
  • 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 kind of teacher-student relationship and assignments support meaningful learning?
  • What is our responsibility in responding to students’ anxiety and other mental health issues?
  • How do we create a welcoming classroom community that fosters a sense of belonging and supports genuine learning?
  • What is grading for, and how can we approach assessment to promote genuine learning?


This fellowship will benefit any doctoral student with a heart for teaching undergraduates, regardless of discipline or 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 classroom practices.
  • 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.
  • Fellows can also earn course credit for ETHICS 890S, which counts for the Certificate in College Teaching.

Overall, Teaching on Purpose will help you develop a robust teaching philosophy, create compelling courses, and incorporate pedagogical approaches that will enliven students’ intellects and shape the lives they lead. Moreover, as a Teaching on Purpose Fellow, you will be part of a dynamic interdisciplinary community of doctoral students and engage with faculty who care deeply about teaching.


  • Weekly 2.5-hour sessions (Thursdays, 12-2:30PM, lunch provided), January 11-April 11 (no session March 14)
  • Final dinner on Thursday, April 18, time TBD
  • Must be able to attend most sessions, with no more than 2 absences due to prior engagements (prior notification required).
  • Weekly readings, written reflections, and practical assignments (3-4 hours/week)


  • $1000 upon completion of the program and fulfillment of the above commitments

Click here to read an article about the program

What Teaching on Purpose alums say about the program

Teaching on Purpose was the most helpful and engaging professional development program I have ever participated in. I particularly enjoyed the variety of speakers and structure, as well as the dialogue with and the insight gained from those in other disciplines. In addition to the brainstorming that came about from discussions, I learned tangible strategies to implement in the classroom. ~ Adam Soliman, Economics


The Teaching on Purpose meetings were my favorite of the entire week. Every week I left feeling elevated, with food for thought — and I know for a fact that I wasn’t the only one. The program will connect to your personal journey in higher education. You’ll receive feedback tailored to your curricular design and reflect on how your own educational experiences have influenced how you teach and what you value as an instructor. Lessons that reach you personally are the most valuable. Teaching on Purpose achieves exactly that. ~ Sinja Küppers, Classics


Teaching on Purpose shows how teaching is more than clear syllabi and engaging homework. It allowed me to engage with peers and faculty from a wide range of disciplines and wrestle with questions often left unaddressed. (Should a teacher seek to be a student’s friend? Counselor? Coach? All of the above?). When I started working as a lecturer of mechanical engineering, what I learned from Teaching on Purpose helped me navigate the transition from grad school to faculty life. ~ Richard Hall, Mechanical Engineering


I’d recommend Teaching on Purpose to any graduate student who is considering teaching, regardless of discipline and where they think they’ll end up. The activities, discussions with guests, and reflections expanded my teaching and mentoring skills, and helped develop my teaching philosophy. As a result of participating in the program, I see myself as a more well-rounded educator. Teaching is not just something I do and love, but one of the many expressions of my aims for undergraduate students’ academic, civic, and personal growth. ~ Fernanda Andrade, Psychology and Neuroscience

How To Apply

Applications for spring 2024 are due December 1, 2023. 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 Katherine Jo at katherine.jo@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 DGS is aware that they are applying. The Purpose Project team will reach out to the DGSs of selected applicants to confirm approval of participation.

Application requirements

Three short essays

  • What would you say counts as successful teaching in college? How has your own undergraduate education informed your idea of what successful teaching is? What do you most want to learn in order to succeed as a college teacher? (500 words max)
  • How did you come to care about your discipline and the research you are pursuing? Why do you believe study of your discipline is worth pursuing? (250 words max)
  • If you could develop your own courses on any two topics, what would you love to teach? Write a brief but compelling description of each that not only informs students about what they will learn but also suggests why the subject is worth their attention. (150 words max each)

Apply Now


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

Congratulations to our Spring 2024 Teaching with Purpose Fellows!