Giving to Duke


Rethink traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms

May 07, 2013

"A snapshot of a typical school day. We offered classes in English, physical education, art, and music." - Sabrina Darwiche


From the Haiti Lab to the Duke Law Community Enterprise Clinic, Duke undergraduate and graduate students have access to a wide range of unique learning opportunities outside of traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms. Five students, several of whom are graduating this week, reflect on the importance of Duke’s distinctive programs.

David Roche, Caroline Meade, Paige Gentry, Sabrina Darwiche , and Esther Sackett  spoke with Professor Andrew Janiak during the “Classrooms Without Walls” panel at Duke Forward in New York about how the university’s interdisciplinary and co-curricular offerings have cultivated their research interests and career ambitions.

Janiak, the Creed C. Black Associate Professor of Philosophy, is overseeing “Information, Society & Culture,” one of the five themes of the recently announced Bass Connections program, a new problem-based educational program designed to prepare students to tackle the world’s complex challenges. He told the audience that Bass Connections is “one of the most exciting higher education initiatives in the U.S.”

The April 26 New York gathering was the most recent in a special series of events for Duke supporters to celebrate the university’s extraordinary past and exciting future following the launch of the $3.25 billion university-wide Duke Forward fundraising campaign. The next event will be on June 1 in Washington D.C.


David Roche: “Classrooms Without Walls” means that support, opportunities, and inspiration from the broader Duke community are available to you—and this is what makes the university so special. I cofounded BaseTrace, a company that produces well-specific hydraulic fracturing fluid tracers, to compete in the 2012 Duke Start-Up Challenge. After winning the Clean Energy Track of that competition and being awarded a grant from the Nicholas School of the Environment, we opened a lab in Research Triangle Park. Now, we are moving from research and development to commercialization in hopes of providing objective, scientific answers to replace the current bumper-sticker environmental debate. BaseTrace would never exist without the opportunities and support provided by Duke.

Moreover, BaseTrace is the result of collaboration between different schools. When we started, we did not have the needed business or engineering knowledge. But because everything at Duke is connected, we were able to form an interdisciplinary team with all of the necessary problem-solving skills.

Caroline Meade: Duke’s Haiti Lab exemplifies “Classrooms Without Walls.” In the lab, I spent the semester thinking about post-traumatic stress disorder and trauma in post-earthquake Haiti. I was inspired by the results from past DukeEngage Haiti studies on PTSD to think about how cumulative and complex trauma throughout a person's lifetime differs from trauma related to a single event. The Haiti Lab connected me to professors in different disciplines who knew a lot about Haiti and were excited to hear what I was working on. I was inspired by my work with all of them to apply to DukeEngage in Haiti, where I’ll be heading this summer.

Paige Gentry: Through the Duke Law Community Enterprise Clinic, I got to work directly with a social enterprise start-up on sustainable agriculture, which included students from Fuqua, Sanford, and the Nicholas School, as well as local farmers. Working with the team gave me hands-on experience in working as a lawyer for a start-up, which requires technical legal skills and knowledge in addition to basic business counseling. One of my favorite memories (aside from being given fresh eggs off a farm), was sitting with my professors and a few other students around a clinic table trying to solve one of the legal issues the start-up was facing. We threw up some ideas on a whiteboard and spent the next hour iterating and adapting our solution so that it met both the business needs of the start-up and any legal concerns we might have had.

Sabrina Darwiche: DukeEngage Cairo enabled me to understand that the end goal of civic engagement isn't necessarily teaching English or raising money to start a library. One of the primary goals of civic engagement is to realize that there exists a “human connection” that links together every individual on this planet regardless of race, religion, culture, and nationality—and because of this connection we have a duty to help one another. Another goal of civic engagement is to understand that this prior realization is not idealistic—it's necessary.

Esther Sackett: The importance of getting experience outside the classroom—particularly when it involves working with interdisciplinary teams—is that students learn the value of flexibility and adaptability and get to start building those skills early on. Regardless of how much we do know about what makes teams work effectively (setting aside that there's still so much we don't know!) and how much students can learn about how to collaborate effectively "by the book,” there are always going to be idiosyncrasies in teamwork. By gaining more exposure to different types of collaborative settings, students can be more prepared and comfortable handling unexpected situations they may encounter when they are applying their classroom knowledge in the professional world. These types of programs can be hugely empowering.

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