Duke University was founded in 1838 and has a somewhat confusing history. (The University Archives has on file documents from a 100th anniversary celebration in 1939 and a 50th anniversary celebration in 1975! Plus, a centennial celebration recognizing the opening of Trinity College in Durham was held in 1992…) Like many of our nation’s oldest institutes of higher education, Duke changed its name, leadership, and location several times. It finally settled in Durham in 1892 and becoming a full-fledged university 1924, thanks to the Duke Endowment and the family’s incredible generosity over the years. Over the next several decades, the school grew from a small liberal arts college to a robust university with a Graduate School, Law School, School of Medicine, the Fuqua School of Business and more.
Today, Duke sits on over 9,000 beautiful acres in Durham, North Carolina, and though it is relatively young compared to other prestigious research universities, it is consistently ranked among the best. The core of Duke’s undergraduate program is its highly renowned faculty, with 2,500+ full-time faculty members and 90% teaching undergraduate courses. The 8:1 student to faculty ratio provides students with many opportunities to interact with senior faculty members and a great degree of individual attention.
Undergraduate students in their first year can opt to take part in the Focus Program, where they can choose a “cluster” that will expose them to courses surrounding an interdisciplinary theme. Clusters fulfill Duke’s curriculum requirement and cover a variety of topics and disciplines, including Knowledge in Service to Society, Humanitarian Challenges, The American Experience, and Visions of Freedom. Focus students also live together in the same residence hall shared with other first-year students and have access to weekly group dinners with faculty members, which foster an academic community outside of the formality of the classroom. Field trips, travel, research, and community service are also incorporated into the Focus experience.
After their first year, Duke undergraduates have the incredible opportunity to take part in DukeEngage. Established in 2007 and made possible by $15 million gifts from both the Duke Endowment and Bill and Melinda Gates, DukeEngage provides students with one-time funding to engage in an immersive local, domestic, or international community service project over the summer. The project must last a minimum of eight weeks and provide meaningful assistance to a community locally or abroad, and it can either be pursued independently or with a group immersion program. “More than 3,200 Duke students have volunteered more than 1 million hours […] serving more than 600 community organizations in 18 U.S. cities and in 69 nations on six continents,” Duke reported in 2015. Examples of past projects include launching a school enrichment program, designing health education outreach programs, and developing microfinance opportunities for disadvantaged women and families.
Outside of academics, Duke is also a great university for student athletes. But the athletic program is about more than just sports. Through four years of leadership programs, undergraduate athletes have the opportunity to develop and strengthen their leadership skills to better serve the Duke community and learn how to make the most of their academic and athletic careers. First-years participate in the A.C.T.I.O.N. program, where they learn accountability, commitment, teamwork, integrity, opportunity and “now” through workshops, guest speakers, self-reflection, and mentorship from upperclassmen. As sophomores, student athletes attend S.O.L.E., the Sophomore Outdoor Leadership Experience, where they participate in challenging activities individually and with teammates to discover their potential. Finally, in their senior year, select athletes are invited to participate in the Student Athlete Interactive Leadership Experience, where they will continue their leadership development, as well as meet alumni and leaders from various professional fields who can offer advice to students as they begin to transition into professional life and become leaders out in the world.