Learn More about
and Projects

SOL is a nationally recognized, intensive 12-month leadership program for students who are interested in complex social and political issues and the art of implementing systemic political change. SOL’s three-stage structure includes a preparation (gateway) course in the spring, a collaboratively-designed community based research (CBR) project with an organization in the summer, and a follow-up (capstone) seminar in the fall. Throughout, students participate in a structured process of critical reflection on the ethical, intellectual and personal aspects of their community-based research project. This reflection helps them discern ethical issues and leadership dilemmas inherent in their work.

We believe that leadership in the public sector is honed through meaningful service and thoughtful engagement with communities. Students collaborate with community partners to design field-based service and research projects that are well-grounded in the context to address community needs. From experience, this model enables students to develop their own leadership skills and do so in a manner that is respectful of the communities.

Professor Lalita Kaligotla and Suzanne Katzenstein’s Letter About 2020 SOL Cohort:

As the noted civil rights activist and Durham native Pauli Murray said, “true community is based upon mutuality, equality, and reciprocity. It affirms the richness of individual diversity as well as the common human ties that bind us together.” These are the principles that the Service Opportunities in Leadership (SOL) program is based on – mutuality, reciprocity, individual diversity, and affirmation of our common humanity. Meaningful service and thoughtful engagement are at the heart of the transformative experience that SOL enables students to have. However, the power of these words only becomes apparent when they are translated into real experiences, when complex societal challenges are grappled with, the world bends a little more towards justice, and our students grow in concert with the challenges they encountered.

Students work collaboratively with community partners to design field-based service and research projects that are well-grounded in the context and address real community needs. The SOL pedagogical model enables students to develop their capacities as leaders and agents of change and do so in concert with the communities they work in.

While the COVID-19 pandemic made direct community engagement and in-person activities particularly challenging this year, we are grateful that the 2020 cohort of Service Opportunities in Leadership (SOL) students were able to pivot to working virtually on their summer projects. Eighteen students undertook service projects partnered with organizations here in Durham, across the United States and around the world.

We are also humbled by the depth of their commitment to the projects that they worked on and their growth as individuals, leaders and agents of change.

In the following paragraphs we cannot help but see the SOL model for social change and getting a glimpse of the experiences that will stay with and shape each SOLster (as we affectionately call them!), and the communities they’ve engaged with. We cannot think of a more perfect attempt at leveraging knowledge in the service of society. We are sharing below a compilation of the 2020 SOL projects – we are grateful to have shared this journey with each of them.

Two students directly examined the effects of COVID-19 on different scales. Emily Woodrow (Class of 2021) worked as a policy intern with Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, where she assisted with national policy recommendations to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Margaret Gaw (Class of 2022) worked with Partners for Youth Opportunity and Durham VOICE to create a podcast, COVID-19 Chronicles: Zooming in on Durham Youth, to amplify the voices of students in the Durham area about their experiences during the pandemic.

Five students’ projects were related to education. Leslie Li (Class of 2023) partnered with the sex education organization MAYLOVE to develop online sexual and reproductive health courses for students in China. Nora Benmamoun (Class of 2022) conducted research for the reopening plan for North Carolina public schools with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Caroline Doherty (Class of 2021) worked with the Eastern North Carolina Internship Program to create curriculum for 6th grade students, and Mehdina Koleini (Class of 2021) worked with Horizons Greater to examine the impacts of summer education programs on underserved children in the Washington, D.C. area. Swathi Ramprasad (Class of 2021) researched school policing with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania, ultimately presenting at the ACLU national advocacy institute.

Three students led social media and marketing campaigns. Belle Almendinger (Class of 2022) worked with the U.S. High Speed Rail Association to increase their social media presence and engagement. Olivia Kramer (Class of 2021) worked with the Tent Partnership for Refugees to research changing trends in the perceptions about immigrants and refugees in the U.S., and this research was integral for the new branding and marketing initiative “Lives UNSTUCK.” Mila de Souza (Class of 2021) worked with the sustainable fashion nonprofit Remake to lead the #NoNewClothes campaign.

Three students worked on civic engagement and/or community organizing. Lily Levin (Class of 2023) worked with the National Poor People’s Campaign to lead phone-banking teams and also advocated for clients at the Community Empowerment Fund to mitigate concerns around food insecurity. Lizzy Kramer (Class of 2022) organized with Durham for All, a group aimed at building coalition among Durham progressives. Carlee Goldberg (Class of 2022) worked with the Department of Justice’s Voting Rights Division to investigate the barriers to voting which face indigenous populations.

Five students led other research-based projects. Micalyn Struble (Class of 2022) worked as a member of the White House Sub-Working Group at Third Way to develop policy recommendations aimed at reducing cybercrime. Jessie Xu (Class of 2022) researched the cost of banking for low-income communities with the Federal Reserve Board. Sakib Hoque (Class of 2021) built a database for the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity to connect LGBTQ+ Muslims with resources related to mental health, legal help, housing, immigration, and more. Chitra Balakrishnan (Class of 2021) conducted research for Valens Global, an international anti-terrorist think tank, about the Incel Movement, a misogynist online subculture. Quinn Smith (Class of 2023) created a photo documentary on the lived experience of the Blackfeet tribal community in Montana and Glacier National Park in collaboration with the Indian Arts and Crafts Board.

To learn more about this year’s students and their amazing work, visit their SOL profiles here.


Lalita Kaligotla, Associate Director, Hart Leadership Program &

Suzanne Katzenstein, HLP Writing Coach

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