Our History

Our History

The first endowed leadership program for undergraduates in the country, the Hart Leadership Program was founded in 1986 with a generous gift from Milledge A. Hart III, and his family.

The Hart Leadership Program is the first endowed leadership program for undergraduates in the United States. It was established in 1986 thanks to a generous gift from the Milledge A. Hart III Family Endowment. Our program was founded with these guiding principles:

  1. Leadership is for everyone, not just business executives and politicians.
  2. Critical thinking, mindful reflection, and deep ethical consideration are essential to leadership.
  3. The best way to learn leadership is to learn by doing.

Since then, more than 12,000 undergraduate students have taken our courses and participated in our experiential learning programming. For over three decades, Hart students and fellows have worked with hundreds of community partner organizations throughout the world.

Origins: 1985-1994

In the 1980s, Mitch Hart—then a Duke trustee, Sanford Institute Board of Visitors member, Dallas businessman, and proud Duke parent—learned about public policy professor Bruce Payne when his son, Milledge Hart IV ’87, took Bruce’s signature public policy ethics course “Policy Choice as Value Conflict.” Mitch believed that ethics ought to be at the center of leadership education, and he and his wife Linda Wertheimer Hart believed that Duke could be at the forefront of a new movement in leadership education. Mitch, Bruce, and former Sanford Institute director Joel Fleishman began meeting to discuss the creation of a new undergraduate program that would engage students in practical leadership experiences and rigorous academic study. The Harts endowed the Hart Leadership Program in 1986, and the program began offering courses and experiential programs in 1987.

“I said that we ought to help students learn about leadership through well-taught courses, courses that focused on stories, especially on history, rather than management skills or the kinds of leadership techniques advocated in the business schools. Beyond that, I said, we ought to combine serious and thoughtful learning with experience, and more particularly with experience that involved taking on responsibility.”

– Bruce Payne on how he described his vision for a leadership program to Mitch Hart

One of the first Hart Leadership Program initiatives to launch was the Interns in Conscience program. Student participants conducted internships with social service and environmental organizations in Florida, New York City, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. In 1987, its first year, 80 students participated in these summer internships.

Bruce Payne stepped down as director in 1989 and was succeeded by Bob Braverman, who directed the program for three semesters before handing over the reins to Neil Boothby in 1990. During this time, Bruce continued to teach Hart Leadership courses and to advise Hart Leadership Program students.

In 1994, the Hart Leadership Program launched two new initiatives: the Refugee Action Project and Summer Opportunities in Leadership (SOL). The Refugee Action Project organized humanitarian aid trips to Turkey, Slovenia, Austria, and the former Yugoslavia. The early iteration of SOL, developed by Bob Korstad and Duke alum Scott Cooper ’94, was founded as a sister project to the Refugee Action Project and involved student internships addressing social and civic problems in the United States.

Early Days: 1995-2000

In 1995, Bob Korstad succeeded Neil Boothby as director of the Hart Leadership Program. Bob’s tenure marked a period of growth and reflection for the program, marked by a few key developments: the launch of the Program in Global Leadership and Service (the precursor to the modern Hart Fellowship) in 1995 under the direction of Kirk Felsman, the establishment of Bruce Payne’s unique study-away semester Leadership and the Arts in New York (LANY) in 1996, and the merger of the Refugee Action Project and Summer Opportunities in Leadership into the Service Opportunities in Leadership (SOL) initiative in 1998 under the direction of Alma Blount.

“The model we created in 1995, right here in Sanford, informed the development of the SOL program, the B.N. Duke scholars, the Robertson Scholars and eventually became one germ that helped create DukeEngage. Each is built on a foundation of student engagement and what students can take from these experiences. But it’s also about what they can contribute to organizations, individuals and communities around the world.”

– Bob Korstad on how the HLP has influenced other initiatives at Duke

During this time, the Hart Leadership Program continued to refine its take on leadership, incorporating documentary work and research service learning into its curriculum. Ethical and pedagogical interrogation, reflection, and debate have always been central to the Hart Leadership Program’s values and operations, and our highly-engaged students, faculty, staff, and alumni have all played a part in shaping the program.

Growth and Change: 2001-2021

In 2001, Alma Blount succeeded Bob as director of the Hart Leadership Program. In 2002, Tony Brown launched the Enterprising Leadership Initiative, a project incubator encouraging students to collaborate on social entrepreneurship endeavors. ELI placed a heavy emphasis on teaching, coaching and supporting the leadership development of students and alumni during their time on campus, and well into their professional careers. Students in ELI addressed problems in the community through Tony Brown’s signature leadership tactic: defining outcomes and equipping students with the necessary tools and resources. Each year during the Initiative’s long tenure, a dynamic group of students and alumni worked together on Enterprising Benefit Projects to identify a community problem and create a project to address it, with a strong emphasis on defining and creating real results. ELI launched hundreds of successful projects throughout its duration. ELI concluded with Tony Brown’s retirement from Duke in 2021, but its alumni network remains very active and Tony’s wide-reaching impacts are still felt at Duke and far beyond.

“In my alumni work, we talk about a concept of strong-hearted leadership — the kind of leadership that is not only moral-driven but compassionate and courageous. If you're doing tough things without compassion, you're ruthless. And if you have heart, and you're going to exercise courage, you have to have the kind of empathy to suffer for people that are harmed.”

– Tony Brown on the guiding principles behind his work

From 2002-2005, the Hart Leadership Program collaborated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics on a campuswide research service learning pilot project, Scholarship with a Civic Mission. This project, funded by a US Department of Education grant, successfully engaged students, and it was later sponsored by Trinity College as a program in the Office of Undergraduate Research.

LANY concluded in 2005, and in 2006 Bruce Payne resigned from Duke to become the Executive Director of the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation. Also in 2006, SOL restructured to center research service learning, with a full-credit gateway course in the spring, a student-designed community-based research internship connected to a social or civic topic of the students’ choosing, and a fall capstone course. Critical reflection remained a central part of the SOL pedagogy.

“It's being completely awake and aware in the midst of the thing that's unfolding. You need to be so calm that you can see the patterns. So you're not so engrossed in what's going on, that you can’t see it.”

– Alma Blount on critical reflection

In 2008, the Hart Leadership Program launched the Connect2Politics speaker series, which brought political heavy-hitters like Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg (then-mayor of South Bend, IN), Sen. Cory Booker (then-mayor of Newark, NJ), and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro (then-mayor of San Antonio, TX) to Duke, well before their memorable 2020 presidential runs.

In 2009, looking to revive the spirit of LANY, the Hart Leadership Program launched the Leadership and Arts Policy Internship (LAPI), which funds Public Policy majors’ summer internships in the nexus of policy and arts.

In 2018, Alma retired and was succeeded as Director of the Hart Leadership Program by historian Gunther Peck.

“Leadership involves more than mastering a checklist of skills, but requires understanding historical context and complexity and asking ambitious questions that help students and stakeholders alike assess, address, and resolve conflicts with deep historical roots.”

– Gunther Peck on leadership

In 2020, the Hart Leadership Program and POLIS: Center for Politics launched the Patman Political Engagement Project (PEP), an initiative supported through a generous donation from the Carrin M. Patman fund. PEP drew its inspiration from numerous older Hart Leadership Program initiatives and aims to involve more students in political engagement and leadership.

Looking Forward: 2022 and Beyond

In 2022, Gunther Peck stepped down as director and was succeeded by Andrew Nurkin. The Hart Leadership Program currently offers four signature initiatives: the Hart Fellowship, Service Opportunities in Leadership (SOL), the Patman Political Engagement Project (PEP), and the Leadership and Arts Policy Internship (LAPI). Hart faculty continue to teach flagship courses like “Women as Leaders,” “Ethics in an Unjust World,” “Leadership, Policy, and Change,” and “Business and Human Rights.”

Over the years, Hart Leadership Program students have consistently reported that their engagement with the Hart Leadership Program was one of their top experiences at Duke. Our students and faculty build communities that last a lifetime. We work tirelessly to enrich the undergraduate experience and to foster leadership among students from all backgrounds in all areas of study.