BackgroundInterview Date:January 2019
Gender Identity: Female
Sexual Orientation: Bisexual
Graduation Year: 2020
High School Experience: Public school in North Carolina with about 650 students in the graduating class. There was a culture of going to college.
Major: Public Policy
Minors: Computer Science and English
Extracurricular Activities: I’m a leader of a social entrepreneurship club, I’m part of one of the film clubs, and a women in leadership group.
Have any of your extracurricular activities had a particularly big impact on your experience?
I think they all have in different ways, both good and bad. Being a leader of a club, you have to take on more responsibility and learn how to deal with engagements and making sure people are doing their responsibilities. I think that’s a useful skill, even though it’s not always a pretty experience. You always get to meet great people [participating in clubs]. I really appreciate that about the women in leadership club and it’s also a great way to get to know about the Duke administration. The film club is a great way to explore and learn things that I never had an opportunity to in high school.
Can you describe your weekly coursework for your major?
It depends on the class. Right now, I’m going through the core requirements. I’m taking an Economics requirement, which is problem sets, tests, and weekly assignments. If you’re in more policy-oriented core class, then it’ll be memos and tests.
Is there anything you feel either of your major’s department does especially well or especially poorly?
I started out as pre-med, which was a lot. One of the things that drew me to the major was that they have a really great faculty. The Public Policy department is housed under Sanford, which is the graduate school, but it’s all kind of this one big conglomerate so there’s a lot of support there. There’s a really strong faculty and a lot of support from the administration to help you with internships and what you want to do. The professors have all been involved in really interesting things, whether that’s in the public sector or in their research. They all have been pretty good teachers as well. I can’t say that will be necessarily the same with every department at Duke. I have had some lacking Computer Science professors, but the content there is very different. In terms of weaknesses, I think there is somewhat a lack of diversity in who studies Public Policy, but that’s more so about who is interested in the subject.
How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s competitive or collaborative?
It depends on who you surround yourself with because I think it can be both. I’ve been able to collaborate with my friends, but it also can feel a bit competitive. When I started off doing pre-med, there are people who are willing to work together with you but there are also people who want to work on their own. You learn to find the people that suit your studying environment. The competitive environment might be more apparent in certain classes based on what the requirements for that class are and for people to be able to apply for medical school.
How accessible have your professors been?
I think they’ve been fairly accessible. It feels like they’re more accessible when you’re in a smaller class because they see you more often, you feel more comfortable speaking up, and, in general, you have more back and forth interaction with them. It’s still possible to go up after class and ask questions after lectures. In terms of stuff outside of class, it’s up to you to visit during office hours or schedule appointments with them. Going through that process, I was always able to find time to meet with them. It’s less an issue of the professors being inaccessible and more about the students fitting that into their schedule.
Do you feel people are open to multiple schools of thought in the classroom?
One class I took last semester was called Ethics, and it is probably the best class I’ve taken at Duke, and our professor was very much a proponent of being the devil’s advocate. If people didn’t speak up for a more conservative viewpoint then he would. He created a very open class environment and we could say idea that we wouldn’t be comfortable saying otherwise, but I think that was the nature of that class. I have been in other classes where you can guess the general vibe of the room and it might be a little bit less open if you have an alternative viewpoint to the majority.
Do you feel people are open to multiple schools of thought in the classroom?
One class I took last semester was called Ethics, and it is probably the best class I’ve taken at Duke, and our professor was very much a proponent of being the devil’s advocate. If people didn’t speak up for a more conservative viewpoint then he would. He created a very open class environment and we could say idea that we wouldn’t be comfortable saying otherwise, but I think that was the nature of that class. I have been in other classes where you can guess the general vibe of the room and it might be a little bit less open if you have an alternative viewpoint to the majority.It took a little bit of soul searching because I went into college not really knowing what I wanted to do. I’ve always been interested in science, but taking classes and shadowing doctors I realized that that may not fulfill me in the way I wanted it to. I took a couple classes that were cross-listed in Public Policy and I really liked the flexibility of the major. I liked that we were able to explore different topics and that we have really talented faculty with experience in different fields. I also liked that there was a large part of the curriculum that focused on debating the morals and ethics of things, even if it wasn’t specifically a philosophy or ethics class. Even though I can’t say that it’s going to give me a lot of technical skills, it will give me a lot of critical thinking skills that will be helpful in anything I do later in life.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: Pegram with one roommate.
Sophomore: Edens, which is part of a complex of dorms that are the farthest away in West Campus.
How do you like going to a school that is close to your hometown?
Originally, I didn’t like it. I was very adamant about going somewhere very far away. But, it does have its conveniences. It’s really nice not having to worry about flying back. Actually, my dad came yesterday night to bring me something that I forgot to pack. It’s also nice for going home for doctor’s appointments and stuff.
Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
Generally, I do feel pretty safe on campus and when I’m out in Durham. I know some people feel less safe when they’re farther away from campus, but because I’ve lived close to here my whole life it doesn’t feel as unsafe. If you’re with a group of people and you’re being smart, I don’t think anything will happen to you.
Pros and Cons of being in Durham, NC?
Pros: (1) We’re really close to Chapel Hill and it’s a nice area in general.
(2) We have great weather.
Cons: It’s a smaller city, so it’s harder to get out of the Duke bubble. Going off-campus mostly involves going out to eat or, if you’re 21, going to bars.
What kind of nightlife or weekend activities do you like to participate in?
Usually, I’ll find time to hang out with friends, whether that’s just hanging out, going out to eat, or watching a movie. Occasionally, I’ll go out with friends and stuff but it’s not too frequently. If that’s the case, really the only two places you can go are Shooters or Devine’s or an off-campus party. Or, you can go to someone’s dorm or apartment or hang out with those guys. If I’m going to a party, it’s usually a friend of mine who’s hosting it or it’s a frat party.
What are some of your favorite things to do with your friends?
It’s usually going to restaurants. Honestly, just being able to sit in someone’s dorm room and chat for a really long time is really nice. Occasionally we’ll go to the Washington Duke Inn and get a nice meal if we want to splurge.
How happy are you with the weekend options? Is there anything you would change if you could?
I’m not mad about it. I do know, having talked to friends at schools in more city environments, that at those schools there are more options if you don’t want to do something that’s not very college-y. That’d be nice, but I also don’t mind it. Because there are not as many activities to do, you have to really find the things and people you really enjoy. You get to really hang out with people. There’s always something going on at Duke that you could do, whether that be a performance or a movie showing. There’s also stuff going on in downtown Durham or on the outskirts.
How did you meet your closest friends?
A lot of them were from my focus program my freshman year. You live with them and take classes with them, so I met them by proximity. I also met people through classes. You have mutual friends, so you start talking and hanging out and whatnot.
How would you describe the overall social scene?
It can sometimes feel that you choose the people you hang out with and you may not be able to see other people again, but that’s also your choice. If you choose to only hang out with your friend group, or the people in your club or on your team, [it’s easy to isolate yourself]. There’s also a fair amount of intermingling. Outside of who you would hang out with over the weekend, it self-segregates itself into smaller groups.
To what extent do you think people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
I think it depends on what group you’re looking at. Greek organizations have a reputation of being White and heterosexual, and the majority of students that’s the case here. There is slightly more diversity in SLG’s, but that is because in their selection process they are intentional about creating a group that has diverse people. People do tend to self-segregate by race or sexual orientations because they connect with people through cultural groups. There are possibilities to find diverse groups if you look for it, like in acapella groups or dance groups where their identity markers aren’t based on a certain group. I think there’s a long way to go, but it’s not completely self-segregated.
How strong is the Asian community on campus?
It’s not one cohesive unit, but it’s still pretty strong. There are strong pockets because you have some people, like international students, who tend to all hang out together. Speaking specifically for East Asians, there are some who are together because they are international students and are from the same country, some are together with the Asian Christian group and the Asian Students Association. Within the three, they’re fairly strong and everyone knows people from each one, but they are not in one unifying group constantly. [21% of the student body is Asian.]
How strong is the LGBTQ community on campus?
I don’t really participate in it and most of what I know is secondhand.
How do you like the size of Duke in terms of undergraduate enrollment? [There are about 7,000 undergraduate students at Duke.]
One of the main strengths of Duke is that it’s not too big in comparison to public universities. Our largest lectures aren’t [massive] and as you move up you can very easily get into classes of 20 students and below. It helps me personally learn better and connect with faculty as mentors. There are a lot of things on campus that are application-based or audition-based, and when you have more numbers it naturally gets more competitive. Even though that is the case at Duke, there is always something you can get involved in or, if you don’t get in, you can apply for it the next year. It may not always work out, but you will always be able to get involved in or have the opportunity to be a part of.
Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
Yes, I think the alumni network is one of them most valuable things to take away from my Duke experience. It goes hand in hand with the fact that it is a small university. Overall, Duke alumni are very willing to respond to you and talk with you about your experiences. They will offer you an internship or connect you with people who have opportunities. It’s one of the strengths of Duke. That goes for recent grads and also older graduates. I’m involved in the arts community at Duke, which is a smaller niche, and, because it’s not as strong of a presence, those alumni have been even more willing to help me out with stuff.
What have you used the career office for? How helpful were they?
I have used them for resume workshopping. I participated in a summer program where you had to find an internship, so we were assigned an advisor from the career center to help us through the process. I think it depends on who you’re given, because some of them will not have the experience or the knowledge to know specifically what you’re looking for to be much of a help. On the other hand, there was one woman who I sat down with when I was debating on whether or not to take an internship and she was really helpful. They also can give you a different perspective on the recruiting process and telling you exactly how much effort it can take. They can be incredibly helpful depending on who you talk to.
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about Duke before entering as a freshman?
The first is something I still grapple with, and that’s the social scene can be very hard at Duke. Having affiliated life, whether that’s Greek life or an SLG, makes peoples’ experiences really wonderful here, and, being an independent, I sometimes struggle with that. I’ve still been able to make amazing friendships and I don’t regret coming here at all, but there are moments where you feel self-conscious and don’t’ know if I’m able to fully enjoy my experience here. It’s a small school, so if you don’t know somebody directly you’ll know of them, so it feels very intimate. I think that’s something to be aware of, and just that any school of this size and academic tier may face similar things.
The second is it’s a pretty pre-professional school. There are some traditional tracks that a lot of students will take, and those are generally pre-med, anything in technology or computer science, and then business or finance. Oftentimes people will feel pressured to pursue one of those three and if you are someone who is not necessarily interested in those there will be moments when you think you should be interested in them. Duke has amazing alumni in all of those three tracks, which is great if you’re interested in them. So, know that if you have interests that are not in those three tracks, it might be harder to find the wealth of alumni and opportunity. They’ll be there, but you have to go out of your way to find them. I think that’s something that comes with the growing and maturing during your college experience. [The top three industries employing Duke students are Information Technology, Healthcare, and Finance.]
What is something that a student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
I think the biggest thing is taking the time to talk with students and have more conversations like this with students at Duke or any other school you look at. The tour will give you the best the school has to offer, which is great, but it’s good to know the complete experience.
Reasons to attend Duke:
1) It has a pretty amazing alumni network. There will always be people you can reach out to and will help you. When I graduate I will definitely want to help any students who reach out to me. That’s definitely not something to be overlooked because it may not be as easy to have that kind of support at other universities.
2) Being at Duke and the types of opportunities it has, it forces you to be outgoing in terms of networking around campus. That may not be where everyone is most comfortable, and it certainly sometimes feels disingenuous, but it’s a fairly important life skill to learn.
3) Duke makes you be your own instigator of what your interests are and how to cultivate your opportunities and accomplishments on campus, whether that be with academics, extracurriculars, or friends. I think that’s really valuable to learn and experience all the difficulties and challenges that come with that. Even though I won’t retain everything I’ve learned after I graduate, I feel that I’m a pretty capable person that will be able to make opportunities for myself because of those experiences. It teaches you to be ambitious in a way.
Reasons to not attend Duke:
1) Socially it can be hard. [If you’re not part of an SLG or Greek life organization it can feel that you are not getting the full experience.]
2) The pre-professional culture can sometimes be a lot and will make you feel like the only reason you’re doing something is to get to the next place.
3) [Number 1 and 2] are the main two and they encompass a lot. Overall, Duke’s less on the academics-side and more on the social/extracurricular-side, so if you’re somebody who is very highly intellectual and really wants to do that, this may not be the place for you.