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Duke Engage Detroit

Spend your summer working with real-world partners on important projects tackling social, environmental, health, and economic issues in the Detroit community.

About the Program (Virtual in 2021)

A thriving industrial hub through most of the 20th Century, Detroit slid into economic decline that has left the region reeling to this day, with a quarter of the city’s housing abandoned, an unemployment rate more than double the national rate, and nearly a third of residents living in poverty.

But viewing necessity as the mother of invention, local entrepreneurs and change-makers are rolling up their sleeves to tackle the city’s challenges with creativity and determination, and incubators, accelerators, and other organizations are supporting them. Social enterprises, community development corporations, and other nonprofits are addressing Detroit’s problems in new and promising ways.

Since 2014, DukeEngage Detroit—a collaboration between Duke I&E and DukeEngage—has enabled students to work with innovative social enterprises tackling the Motor City’s most pressing social, environmental, health, and economic problems. The goal is for students to help these enterprises achieve increased effectiveness, sustainability, and scale of impact.

Detroit Food Academy Student

How It Works

Pairs of students are matched with a community partner and charged with implementing a strategic project important to their community partner and beneficial to the Detroit community. Student teams are challenged to create significant deliverables, which students might view as a signature accomplishment when they graduate from Duke. Students are actively supervised and coached by the program leaders and the site coordinator(s).

Students also learn the basic concepts and tools of social entrepreneurship; learn about the culture, history, and economics of Detroit; and reflect on their learning throughout the summer and beyond through weekly gatherings. The program puts a priority on developing the student cohort as a supportive, helpful, engaged community.


  • Overview
    DukeEngage Detroit aims to support students in becoming leaders with a clear sense of self, empathy, a willingness to collaborate, an orientation towards action, a drive to continuously improve, and a deep sense of accountability for their actions in the world.
  • Learning Objectives
    -Increased ability to work with self-reliance in a new community environment

    -Increased skills and principles in the areas of leadership and teamwork

    -Increased knowledge of social innovation and entrepreneurship, advocacy, and urban economic development

    -Increased abilities of creativity and problem solving, drawing upon critical and interdisciplinary thinking, and applying knowledge to develop community-based solutions

    -Increased ability to reflect upon the linkages between civic engagement, social innovation, and social entrepreneurship

    -Increased knowledge of careers in the social sector

    -Deepened empathy and the ability to forge collaborative relationships across socioeconomic divides

    -Increased appreciation of systems thinking and the dynamics of systemic change

    -Strengthened ethical fiber, moral courage, and self-efficacy

Community Partners

  • Overview
    DukeEngage Detroit partners with innovative nonprofits, public agencies, civic organizations, social enterprises, philanthropic foundations, and intermediary organizations.

    The program aims to help community partners see real and beneficial results, as well as establish a basis for future DukeEngage Detroit programs. Ideally we will strengthen the relationships between Duke and Detroit, resulting in additional programming and research on social innovation and entrepreneurship in the Motor City.
  • Become a Partner
    If your organization is interested in having students work on a future summer project, please contact Katherine Black. We accept inquiries, to be followed by full applications, on a rolling basis.
  • 2021 Community Partners
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