“When you leave Duke, your education is just beginning”
Imagine spending a weekend back at your old college campus with your favorite professor and 40 of his most inspiring students. What kind of conversations would you have? What kind of ideas could you generate? How might your life change?
That is exactly what Professor Tony Brown wanted to find out three years ago.
Tony Brown says he created 36 Hours at Duke in 2013 as a way for alumni to return to the university and “fuel personal energy, connect with a terrific group of alumni, define an enterprising idea that would contribute to the lives of others, and contribute to the experiences of the participating Duke students.” Tony’s vision for the program was two-fold—to re-energize alumni and give them a way to feel a part of an extended Duke community, but also to benefit current students by showing them the breadth of life beyond campus walls.
The idea of having the gathering last only 36 hours reflected Tony’s passion for ideas that are “high impact, low cost.” Tony’s thousands of former students are fiercely loyal but ridiculously busy. Some of them have job titles such as General Advisor to the Secretary at the US Department of the Treasury, partner at Thrive Capital, and CEO of the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Even though 36 Hours participants are together only for a weekend, Tony believes this amount of time offers ample opportunity for alumni and current students to come away with ideas that are meaningful, impactful, and potentially life-changing.
A 36 Hours weekend usually begins on Friday night, with participants gathering for dinner. Students and alumni are paired together for the weekend based on mutual interests or compatibility, and begin getting to know each another, establishing the groundwork for a partnership. To help things along, Tony often invites a guest speaker who offers remarks that inspire in-depth, authentic conversations.
The weekend continues with a series of events. Certain activities allow participants to have fun and let loose, like attending a basketball game, or getting lunch at the new West Union building. Other activities push participants to dig deeper into their own lives, actions and goals, like a workshop led by Tony called “Recalibrating Values and Behaviors,” or small-group conversations about “Personal Stories, Aspirations, and Challenges.”
At this point Tony has held nine 36-Hours events. The weekends are often centered around themes such as “Do Better Be Better,” “Entrepreneurs and Change Agents,” or “How Do You Contribute to the World in New Ways?”
Alumni and students come away from their 36 Hours experiences with nothing but praise. “An environment was created for people to authentically connect with one another around issues and opportunities that matter,” one alumnus wrote in an evaluation. “Many of these connections will lead to long-term friendships and partnerships that truly can have an impact on our community. This is a powerful accomplishment for a 36 hour experience.” Another alumna wrote that “the experience made me really feel like Duke is still very relevant to the work that I am doing, not only in reminding me of how I was shaped by the experience, but also by helping me to identify contacts and ideas that I can draw upon today.”
One student’s evaluation stated that “programs like these are exactly what I expected college to be like: highly entrepreneurial and collaborative engagements with the ideas of one’s peers. It was wonderful to see that these alums had the same passion and drive I would expect from a current Duke student, but had used these traits to propel themselves into a diverse set of careers and interest.” Another described 36 Hours simply: “One of the best experiences I’ve at Duke.”