What Now? Network

What makes you happy? Why are you (or any of us) here? How do you know when you’ve found “your” people? These kinds of questions can be fun (hard-fun) to answer, but they’re more than that. They may help shape your time at Duke and whatever you do next.

Plenty of research has shown that students who can align their interests and abilities with something bigger than themselves are more likely to be happy, excellent in their work, comfortable with uncertainty, and resilient. Purpose-oriented students are, simply put, more likely to thrive in complex, challenging, and diverse environments—those like Duke. This fall, the Kenan Institute for Ethics and Trinity College will launch a new network of interrelated seminars designed to help incoming Duke students develop the tools and capacities to thrive, here and beyond.

The What Now network of first-year seminars creates a community organized around (really!) big questions and building the skills to not only begin to answer them but live better in the process. Through the network, you’ll take a seminar led by engaged faculty. You’ll also regularly connect with students and faculty in related courses. By taking one course, you’ll have access to a wider array of ideas and students than is usually possible in a single seminar.

You take a seminar in the fall or spring of your first year. We’re offering six (6) first-year seminars (89S) in the fall and four (4) in the spring. Enrollment for these is open—sign up for the one you want.

Your peers register for other, related seminars that are part of the What Now network.

Each What Now seminar also has a time scheduled together. We’ll use these to mix up and also connect with faculty teaching in the opposite semester. This is a great opportunity to make friends who share your interests and also to connect with multiple faculty–all through enrolling in a course that fulfills an academic requirement for first-years.

The Classes




Jennifer Hawkins (Philosophy) How do we understand notions of “the good life,” being self-directed, and what it means to be free?


Denise Comer (Writing) & Christian Ferney (Ethics) An interdisciplinary exploration of art and science related to stress, identity, and wellness

What Now? Life, the Universe, & Everything

David Toole (Global Health & Ethics) What does it mean to be human?

What Now? Tyrant & Writer

Carol Apollonio (Slavic Languages & Literature) Explore the work of two Russian masters and find insights into life in the Trump-Putin Era.

What Now? The Examined Life

Alex Hartemink (Computer Science) A space to ponder persistent questions about the nature of a life well lived

What Now? Virtue & Political Disagreement

John Rose (Ethics) In a moment of profound political polarization how do we engage ethically with others whose opinions we despise?

What Now? Organizing for Action

Adam Hollowell (Public Policy) A deep dive into the theory and practice of community and political organizing in the United States

What Now? What We Owe Each Other

Jesse Summers (Philosophy & Ethics) What are obligations to our families, communities, and people to whom we have no direct connection? How do we generate collective action to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges?

What Now? The University’s Purpose

David Malone (Education) with John Blackshear (Psychology & Neuroscience) How do universities shape the social landscape?