Admissions talks up DukeEngage

When President Richard Brodhead welcomed the Class of 2011 to campus in his August 2007 convocation speech, he gave them one piece of advice: become engaged. Now, it seems some prospective students are pointing to DukeEngage as a program they want to be involved in.

The Office of Undergraduate Admissions announced Tuesday that it received a record-high 23,750 applications-a 17-percent jump from last year. Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag cited the program as one explanation for the record-breaking increase.

"I've really noticed the degree to which DukeEngage is visible among prospective Duke students," he said. "We always talk about DukeEngage when we are presenting Duke to prospective students and their families."

Six percent of the applications in the Class of 2012 admissions pool mentioned the DukeEngage program, Guttentag said, a number that compares favorably with the approximately 10 percent of prospective students who mentioned "basketball" when explaining their decision to choose Duke.

"It contributes to Duke's reputation as a community that is committed to service," DukeEngage Director Eric Mlyn said. "That notion of engagement is nationally recognized as a word that describes university partnerships with communities."

DukeEngage debuted in February 2007 when the University announced that it had secured $30 million in funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Charlotte-based Duke Endowment. A pilot program was launched during the summer of 2007, and last summer was the first full term of operation.

The University also sends out fliers and pamphlets about the program to prospective students and sends DukeEngage staff members to off-campus recruitment events whenever possible, Guttentag said.

"It was exciting to hear about how enthusiastic the prospective students were about the DukeEngage program and hear how many of their questions were directed at DukeEngage," said Sarah Trent, assistant director for programs, who has traveled with admissions officers to high schools in Florida, New York and Ohio.

Trent added that she thought DukeEngage was one of the factors that contributed to this year's jump in regular decision applicants.

"There's no program of its size and scope among higher education currently," she said.

Inga Peterson, also an assistant director for programs for DukeEngage, noted that many students she is interviewing for this year's round of DukeEngage group project applications mentioned the program as one of their reasons for selecting Duke.

The success of the program could have boosted admissions statistics, she said, but students at most high schools she visited were more focused on the general admissions process.

"Quite honestly, when you go to these sessions, these students are really just interested in getting into Duke," she said, adding that prospective students just viewed DukeEngage as another opportunity Duke offers its students.

Peterson said parents were particularly excited about the program during DukeEngage information sessions, noting that DukeEngage was one of the factors encouraging students to attend Duke over peer institutions.

Joel Bray, an early decision applicant from Olympia, Wash. who was accepted last month to the Class of 2013, said he did not hear about DukeEngage until his first campus visit. Although the program was not what initially drew him to Duke, he said he was excited about the opportunities it provided.

"I have traveled and worked in Latin America and having the opportunity in that type of work to engage internationally is something that I have enjoyed doing," he said. "It definitely shows that there is an understanding that having their community being involved and doing volunteer work is important [at Duke]."

Duke was one of 119 universities recognized last month with a 2008 "Community Engagement" classification by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Guttentag said DukeEngage was building on the University's reputation for a commitment to civic engagement.

"The idea of engagement in general is a robust concept... it has lots of implications and connotations. One of the characteristics of Duke students in general is, what we would hope they would be, is engaged in any number of areas," he said. "[The word] is a perfect exemplar of what we try to say about Duke."

Brodhead relied heavily on the word's many valuable connotations in his Aug. 22, 2007 convocation speech welcoming a new batch of students to the University.

"You've come to a place extraordinarily rich in opportunities. But like certain famous energy sources, Duke's offerings will remain inert until something is added to start the reaction. The missing ingredient is your personal engagement," he said. "Your class will be the first to have full access to something highly relevant to what I'm describing-the program called-did you guess it?-DukeEngage."


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