What do students and alumni say about SOL?

About the preparation course, “Border Crossing”:

  • The class is more than just ‘intellectual’. Assignments and readings aren’t difficult because they’re hard to understand. They are challenging because they make you question and identify your values/beliefs, and methods of engaging with others.”
  • “This class was unlike any other I’ve taken at Duke. I’ve learned life lessons and been challenged in my core beliefs.”
  • “We had to learn how to interact with people of different backgrounds with different values by exercising leadership skills we discussed in class. The class provided a new way of thinking about leadership as a practice to incorporate into daily life rather than only in certain situations.”
  • “It challenged me to think, be patient, respect points of views and helped me grow enormously as a person. The readings were fantastic; assignments were self-reflective and energy in the classroom was always powerful… The passionate discourse in and out of the classroom really honed my communication skills and the writing assignments were extremely helpful in teaching me how to write in an engaging manner.”
  • “She (Alma) has brought together a group of very diverse students who generally would not be friends outside of class and engaged us in interesting, challenging topics… Alma constantly challenges us to think deeper and go outside our preconceptions to challenge the status quo.”
  • “One of the most valuable courses I have taken. I’ve learned that leadership is about opening space, being present, having the moral courage to expose oneself to messy situations in which personal values are challenged and worked with (not against) to harvest collective movement.”

About the overall SOL experience:

    • “The Hart Leadership Program gave me the skills and the experience necessary to apply and receive a Fulbright. Once in the field, my research and classroom experiences were invaluable. The Hart Program gave me the confidence to pursue a goal I never would have imagined possible. It led me to create a documentary in a foreign country, in a foreign language about a topic I feel passionate about. In the job application process, it has also been a significant point of interest and continues to help me make tough decisions both professionally and personally.”
    • “Words cannot adequately describe how SOL has changed my ideas about my purpose and role in life. These weren’t facts I memorized or someone else’s opinions that I regurgitated – it was a product of myself and my own thoughts and actions.”
    • “SOL was the most forming and important experience I had at Duke. Although different than my study abroad experience (which I also enjoyed highly), SOL’s integration of classroom learning with work abroad was extremely powerful.”
    • “I couldn’t rely on the skills I’ve developed my whole life in being a ‘successful student.’ I couldn’t skate by on my ability to hone in on what people want. I had to re-learn how to learn, and how to be a ‘true’ student of life. It was scary, because I hate to fail. It was also challenging because I couldn’t predict the outcome of most of the things I engaged in. It was also challenging because there were people’s real lives at stake; I was experimenting in the real world, and taking lessons from real life – I didn’t have absolute control, and I had to be bold and careful at the same time.”
    • “SOL was a valuable experience for me and really changed the direction of my studies and my career plans. I believe that 2nd year students, in particular, really benefit from the experience because they’ve already had a year to mature and then have ample time to alter their course of study and explore other educational/organizational options.”
    • “If you are a student and interested in better understanding yourself and the world you live in, do the program. If you are a student and you are interested in making yourself and the world you live in a better place, do the program. If you are a student and you are interested in having a fun, exciting, and challenging college experience that you will never forget, do the program.”
    • “I only wish I could do SOL again.”


PEPP: A Chapter in SOL's Story

The Political Engagement Pilot Project was a one-year experiment we launched in January 2016. Based squarely on the three-stage SOL model of a preparation course in the spring, a collaborative project with a community partner in the summer, and a capstone course about policy and leadership in the fall, PEPP was an intensive leadership development program focused on politics.

Service Opportunities in Leadership has been a signature program in the Hart Leadership Program for more than two decades, and by the summer of 2017, a total of 403 SOL students have worked with community organizations in 45 countries.  Over the years, SOL participants have been involved in fields such as health education, the environment, human rights, economic development, and women’s empowerment, as well as policy and politics.  The focus of the SOL program has been engagement in what we call “leadership for public life,” which includes working productively with value conflicts in communities, and mobilizing people for difficult problem-solving work.  SOL was part of a national study about political participation among college students, and our pedagogy is featured in a book called Educating for Democracy.

We created Political Engagement Pilot Project experiment after a group of students, faculty, and administrators at Duke began discussing political engagement opportunities for undergraduate students a couple of years ago. It became clear that many students were interested in civic engagement, but not necessarily in political participation.  The discussion group felt that given the immense policy challenges facing our society today, it was imperative that we learn together how to engage in productive political activity, revitalize our political culture, and rebuild the health of our democratic institutions.

The Sanford School of Public Policy recently created POLIS: the Center for Political Leadership, Innovation, and Service. By dedicating a center to the political leadership development of students, Sanford’s goal is to inspire a new generation to make our politics better.  The Hart Leadership Program offered to help POLIS by designing and sponsoring PEPP for one year.

PEPP students started their yearlong commitment in the spring of 2016 by taking a preparation course called Political Participation and Leadership, co-taught by Alma Blount and Steve Schewel, who serves on the Durham City Council.  When students returned in the fall after completing their summer politics projects, they took a capstone course in Sanford School of Public Policy such as Adaptive Leadership, or Leadership, Policy, and Change, or they completed a capstone project of their own design, with guidance from the Hart Leadership Program.

Fifteen PEPP students conducted politics projects in eight cities across the U.S in 2016. They worked in places as varied as a Congressional office, a firm that conducts data analysis for political campaigns, a think tank that conducts independent analyses of candidates’ platforms, and an advocacy organization focused on ending domestic violence. You can read more about their projects under Students and Projects.


SOL Summer Grants

About SOL Summer Grants

Due to the retirement of the Hart Leadership Program Director, Alma Blount, the traditional yearlong SOL program was not offered in 2018. Instead, the Hart Leadership Program offered SOL Summer Grants. The grants were awarded to undergraduates to design and conduct community-based research projects collaboratively with partner organizations for 8-12 weeks during the summer.In a competitive application process, 8 eight SOL Summer Grants were awarded. Grantees agreed to full participation in a training and preparation process that took place at Sanford School of Public Policy in March and April 2018. You can read about the students who were awarded a SOL Summer Grant here.

Requirements and Eligibility

Grants were awarded to second or third year Duke undergraduate who has previously had an intensive, full-time, summer service experience through DukeEngage or another similar community-based volunteer opportunity offered by Duke University.Students were required to find their own community partner organization, proposed faculty mentor, and take care of all the proposed logistics connected to their summer project, including finding suitable options for housing, thinking through travel arrangements, and proposing a reasonable budget for daily expenses.

Students who were awarded a SOL Summer Grant, and accepted, agreed to participate fully—no exceptions—in spring training modules about research methods, reflective writing, and safety and security issues. Students agreed to work full-time on their SOL community-based research project for 8-12 weeks during the summer. Finally, all SOL Summer Grantees, committed to participate in Visible Thinking, the annual forum for undergraduate research that is sponsored by the Duke Office for Undergraduate Research.


Please visit Students & Projects to read about the summer projects that our SOL Summer Grantees completed in 2018.

Read more stories about Service Opportunities In Leadership