If Duke University’s location in Durham, North Carolina, conjures up images of a staid institution in a lethargic southern town, a closer examination of the institution will change those impressions. Set in the middle of the state, this 8,000-acre campus exudes the energy and entrepreneurial spirit of the Research Triangle Park area, Duke’s home. Just as the region is a relatively recent hotbed for economic development and growth, Duke is a relatively young university that pulses with activity and enthusiasm.
Complemented by eight graduate and professional schools, Duke’s Trinity College of Arts and Sciences and the Pratt School of Engineering have climbed to the top tier of undergraduate programs.
There is a sense on campus that the best is yet to come. That expectation translates into energetic students and faculty pouring themselves into bettering the university and themselves.
Duke is an institution full of surprising and pleasant contrasts. The most dramatic and immediately apparent contrast is the widely divergent architecture of Duke’s West and East Campuses. West Campus features the soaring 210-foot-tall chapel framed by Gothic buildings, creating an inspiring picture of intense academic pursuit.
On the other hand, the Georgian architecture and long, lush lawns of the East Campus convey a sense of relaxation and peace. Weekends on East are often filled with outdoor concerts, Frisbee on the quad, and sunning students.
In the same way that the architectural styles of the campuses work together to create a magnificent place to grow academically, emotionally, and spiritually, the intense nature of Duke’s academic program is enhanced by a sense of balance and perspective as students engage in a wide array of interesting activities and events.
With eighty-six percent of the student body coming from outside North Carolina, and a significant international and minority presence, the university is a model of diversity. Student backgrounds vary from America’s top prep schools to large public schools in some of the country’s most impoverished areas. In the midst of this divergence of experiences, however, Duke has created a unique sense of “family” among its community members. This closeness is evident in the informal chatting of students crossing Duke’s pristine quads or in the chaos of the Cameron Crazies cheering for Duke’s revered basketball team.
Perhaps the men’s basketball program has contributed to a “team mentality” among the students. It’s great to feel a part of something bigger during your college years.
Some students cite Duke’s friendly environment as the reason for such a close-knit community. Others believe that the students attracted to the university represent multi-dimensional, engaged individuals with common desires to excel in every activity while they develop lasting relationships in the process.
It is not uncommon to walk from one end of the main quad to another and know the first names of most of the people around you.
This camaraderie often stops at the campus gates during athletic seasons, however, since Duke is in close proximity to two of its primary athletic rivals, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Outside of sports, however, Duke utilizes its relationships with these schools to benefit its students.
An inter-library loan program allows the three schools to share resources, enhancing Duke’s impressive library collection of more than 4.8 million volumes. In addition, students can cross-register at the other campuses, greatly expanding the number of available courses. These relationships have also translated into a large number of local internships available to students during the academic year or the summer.
The active, inclusive climate at Duke has given the campus a feeling of constant change. Students are encouraged to share ideas and participate in the affairs of the university. There is a sense that the university is not interested in resting on its laurels but constantly and creatively thinking about ways to grow and develop.
While Duke’s Trinity College traces its origins to 1838, the university proper was founded in 1924. Because of its relative youth as a university, Duke does not boast graduating Revolutionary War heroes or America’s earliest presidents. However, alums like Judy Woodruff, Elizabeth Dole, Gary Wilson of Northwest Airlines, and Phil Lader, founder of the famed Renaissance Weekends and an ambassador to Great Britain, represent a sterling presence in political and corporate leadership. Duke is fast becoming a training ground for top participants in American and international affairs. For instance, the Terry Sanford Institute’s Hart Leadership Program brings together classroom, extracurricular, and internship experiences to prepare students from different majors to think about lessons of ethics and leadership. This is just one way that Duke instills a sense of responsibility and challenge in its graduates as it continues to produce tomorrow’s leaders.
Duke has been a growing experience. Instead of being a part of a university community, I learned to become an active participant. Duke taught me to act after thinking, to encourage, and to constantly push.
Duke is uniquely positioned to provide students with a remarkable opportunity to develop and learn. No other school in the country has such a strong sense of possibility throughout its campus. This aggressive positioning involves and excites students who are working to make Duke’s vision of excellence a reality. In this move to preeminence, however, the university never loses sight of its commitment to develop and foster personal relationships among students, faculty, and the entire campus community. It is common to find Duke grads congregating at parties or events around the country, watching Blue Devils basketball and sharing stories of their student days. Their loyalty to the university speaks volumes of the power of the Duke undergraduate experience.
Every March, I feel a strong urge to pack my bags and flee to Duke. My memories of the friendships I made, the classes I struggled with, and the ways I grew are intense and sweet. Returning to the glorious campus with friends reminds me of how we all grew up in those four years.
In the end, Duke is transforming. Students who are fortunate enough to enter the “gothic wonderland” will find challenge and reward. On the road to gaining these rewards, however, students also build the kind of relationships that last and will encounter opportunities to actively lead in all settings—laboratories, classrooms, athletic fields, organizations, and living groups.
After four years, you will feel refreshed, renewed, and ready to excel in new settings with a cadre of “family” members to assist you on the way. I can hardly think of more precious experiences to gain from college.