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‘This really was my only chance’: How DukeEngage cancellations impacted students

Last week, students learned that Duke-sponsored summer programs involving travel had been canceled for this summer, including all DukeEngage programs. 

DukeEngage programs in China, South Korea, Vietnam, Uganda and Tanzania had already been canceled for this summer due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

Students from the China program, the first program to be canceled, were given the options to postpone their participation in the China program until summer 2021, create an independent project in partnership with a nonprofit organization in their hometown or possibly participate in a program in Laos. Students enrolled in the South Korea program were also promised guaranteed acceptance for summer 2021. 

However, students who had been enrolled in other programs have not been granted guaranteed acceptance for summer 2021. According to an email sent by Inga Peterson, associate director of operations at DukeEngage, to all students who had been accepted into 2020 programs—including China and South Korea—students won’t know whether this is possible for the foreseeable future. 

“I know that many of you are also wondering about next summer and if the 2020 cohort of DukeEngage students will be offered automatic admission to 2021 programs. Unfortunately, given the continually changing landscape, I don’t anticipate having an answer to that question for several months,” Peterson wrote in the email.

Multiple students expressed that they were sad to find out their programs had been canceled, simply because they had been excited about what they’d learn and experience. 

“I was really looking forward to the experience because everyone I know who has done my program has told me about how transformative it was,” wrote sophomore Jackie Vicksman, who had been planning to participate in the program in Togo. 

According to sophomore Eli Kline, a student who had planned to participate in the China program, about eight of the students in the original 10-person cohort initially planned to go on the alternative trip to Laos, which has now been canceled along with the rest of the programs.

First-year Colton Ortiz was also one of those students, and he said that he now likely won’t be able to participate in DukeEngage during his time at Duke. 

“Unfortunately, I highly doubt that I'll be able to do any DukeEngage program next summer, simply because I have other programs and/or internships that I need to do,” Ortiz wrote in an email. 

Vicksman echoed Ortiz’s thoughts, writing that, although she would love to participate in the program next summer if she is offered guaranteed acceptance, she may need to prioritize other plans. 

“I think a lot of current sophomores like me may have to sacrifice the experience because of career timelines,” Vicksman wrote. 

Some students expressed that they were disappointed in how long it took for DukeEngage to announce that all programs would be canceled. 

Ortiz wrote that he was “surprised it took Duke this long to announce the cancellation,” because he “thought it seemed pretty clear that there would be no DukeEngage, let alone any international ones.”

“If I got in this year, I’m not sure why I wouldn’t be able to be accepted again next year. It really just seems like the sensible and reasonable thing to do,” wrote Sydney Gaviser, a sophomore who had been planning to do DukeEngage Serbia this summer. 

Gaviser also wrote that she does not blame DukeEngage for not yet telling students whether they will have any alternative options, like guaranteed acceptance next year.

“This is a very stressful/confusing time for all, so I totally understand the lack of information I’m getting,” Gaviser wrote. 

Despite their frustration and disappointment, students said that they were neither surprised nor angry.

“I do think Duke Engage handled the situation as well as they could have,” wrote sophomore Grace Dessert, who had planned to participate in the DukeEngage Tanzania program.

“I don’t think they have any obligation to give us guaranteed acceptance next summer or help us find another summer gig because the whole world is in this situation, cancelling summer plans and just trying to figure it all out,” Dessert wrote.


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