Outside the classroom, what Duke experience has had the most influence on you?

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At Duke, some of the most exciting—and enriching— educational experiences can take place outside of the classroom. Five students reflect on the experiences that have shaped their time at Duke, from participating in DukeImmerse, the InCube, and the annual Winter Forum, to joining the Duke Financial Partnership and leading student organizations.

Marcus Benning ’14, Tatiana Birgisson ’12, Chris Brown ’13, Ting-Ting Zhou ’13, and Chris Tschudy ’13 will participate on the Classroom without Walls panel discussion at Duke Forward in San Francisco, one of an exciting series of events celebrating the launch of the Duke Forward campaign and what it means for the university’s future.

Chris Brown ’13: Many opportunities have influenced my experience at Duke, but for me, it’s hard not to single out Winter Forum. I came to Duke thinking I would major in economics because I’d enjoyed it in high school. However, my freshman year I heard about the first Winter Forum on making the green economy work. I thought to myself, “I’m going to major in economics, and this seems like a big issue and something I should check out.” Winter Forum was my first introduction to environmental science, the work of the Nicholas School, and applications of environmental science in the private sector. The experience inspired me to pursue the certificate in Energy & the Environment at Duke. I’ve also focused on environmental economics within the econ major and I’m writing my thesis on environmental justice, air pollution, and race and income across the country. I’ve accepted a management consulting position in Houston, Texas, because Houston has a high concentration of energy work and the head of my company’s sustainability practice is based there. A domino effect of things that started with Winter Forum led me to what I’ll be doing in the future.

Tatiana Birgisson ’12: The Duke Summer Innovation Program (SIP) has had the most direct impact on me. InCube is a residential entrepreneurship community on campus which I was founding member of in 2011.We quickly realized that if we wanted InCube members to graduate and run their own companies they needed to spend a good amount of time getting the company to a place where they could actually live off of it or be able to get investment for it after graduation. Because most of us are not in the position to spend the summer working on our companies and need to have paying jobs, it’s very difficult to get our companies to that place. We talked to the administration and requested that a grant program be made—the Summer Innovation Program—so that students could work on their companies during the summer. My company, Mati Tea, was one of four selected for the pilot program this past summer and that completely changed everything. Without SIP, I would not have been able to do the work to get Mati to the place that it is today. 

Chris Tschudy ’13: I decided to minor in finance to complement my engineering major and to better understand how finance relates to engineering. But through the Duke Financial Education Partnership, I ended up really liking finance—and the next thing I knew I was pursuing a career in finance and took a summer internship in the financial industry. The Duke Financial Education Partnership has a great portfolio of programs that help immerse students in actual real world financial situations and understand what it would really be like to work in the financial industry. It really changed how I approached my time at Duke.

Marcus Benning ’14: My most transformative experiences have happened outside of the classroom. From visiting the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa, to stumbling upon the Pantheon in Rome, Italy, during a late night tour, I have experienced first-hand the importance of bridging the gap that exists between literature and reality. As a result of Duke’s programs, particularly DukeImmerse, I have developed an expectation that my education will bring me into deeper connection with the subjects I’m studying. Sometimes this means traveling to a place of study, but this could also mean Skyping the curator of a museum, or borrowing books and manuscripts through Duke’s inter-library loan system. Undisputedly, the bar of what constitutes a comprehensive education has been raised. Programs like DukeImmerse and DukeEngage have broadened the definition of a classroom to include varied, intense academic experiences that lack traditional boundaries. With programs like these, Duke is giving us the tools to create change in the world.

Ting-Ting Zhou’13: The biggest influence on me has been my four year commitment to the Asian Student Association (ASA), where I am currently the president. I joined it as a freshman and I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. I very quickly learned that ASA is one of the largest cultural organizations on campus—if not one of the largest organizations on campus. ASA has been a whole class in and of itself. I’ve been able to interact with so many different students, see how different people lead and respond to challenges, and learn how to celebrate our successes. I’ve also learned how to speak for—and not speak for—an organization. We’re still figuring out how to best represent the entire Asian community at Duke, how to best engage our members and what that engagement looks like. But, it’s been fun to learn about these obstacles. Being such a high profile organization on campus has taught me a lot and it’s been great to put our heads together to find the most effective ways to engage the greater Duke community.

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