Political Engagement ProjectThe Political Engagement Project (PEP) is a collaboration between the Hart Leadership Program and POLIS: Center for Politics. PEP is designed to inspire, cultivate, and prepare future leaders in democracy and provide them pathways to meaningful participation, contributing to more diverse and inclusive political representation at all levels in the United States. PEP is open to all Duke undergraduates in their junior year who are interested in political leadership, broadly defined. However, the program has a special interest in supporting students from communities who have historically been disenfranchised from or underrepresented in formal political power. 

The PEP experience involves five core components:

  • Spring Pedagogical Preparation: Before PEP fellows have access to their summer stipend, they must satisfactorily complete one of the following courses in the spring of their junior year, which directly engage questions of political leadership and structural barriers to political participation. All of these courses are open to all Duke undergraduates. The 2023 course options are:
    • PUBPOL 307 – Democracy: Crisis & Opportunity, MW 8:30-9:35 PM, taught by Prof. Suzanne Katzenstein.
    • PUBPOL 246 – Policy, Power, & Social Change, MW 3:30-4:45 PM, taught by Prof. Mallory SoRelle.
  • Peer Community Dinners: The PEP fellows come together as a cohort at monthly dinners in January, February, March, and April of their junior year, and again in September in their senior year. These dinners double as workshops for fellows to learn practical skills, build community, and engage in reflective practice about questions about ethics and political leadership.
  • Immersive Summer Learning: PEP fellows will be awarded a $3000 stipend for use in the summer between junior and senior year. These funds can be applied to either a summer internship or to research for an honors thesis.
    • Internships must be with nonpartisan organizations or agencies that work broadly in the political realm, including, but not limited to: local, state, federal, or tribal governments; think tanks; nonpartisan legislative or policy organizations; political media or news literacy initiatives; youth political engagement; redistricting and gerrymandering; voting rights and ballot access; democracy reform/democratic renewal; civic participation; or political communications.
    • Thesis funds may be used for independent research contributing to a Sanford senior honors thesis on a question relating to any of the above topics or another aspect of political leadership.
    • Students must meet with a PEP faculty convener when developing their summer proposals. Funding proposals must be submitted for review and approval by April 1 in order to be processed.
  • Reflective Practice: Students write two “letters home” during their summer experience in which they reflect on their work and its implications for their own future political engagement. Each letter is read and responded to by a Hart faculty member.
  • Public Purpose: Students present their summer work at the fall Public Purpose Symposium.

POLIS and HLP will work collaboratively to nurture the PEP Fellows’ political and leadership abilities through engagement with guest speakers and participation in training and mentoring activities centered on running for political office or building careers in public policy.

PEP is supported by a generous gift from the Carrin M. Patman Fund. Patman was a long-time activist for political reform and inclusive political practices in Texas. She successfully lobbied for a law requiring political parties to publicly disseminate their participation rules prior to making decisions. On the national level, she led the fight against winner-take-all presidential primaries at the 1976 Democratic National Convention. Patman was an advocate for political engagement, and multiple members of her immediate family served in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Texas legislature.

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