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Duke is a Student-Driven Institution

By Charlie Colasurdo, Class of 2023

Before my time at Duke, I was able to spend a gap year working in the tourism industry in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and Bangkok, Thailand. It was there that I developed a fascination with cities — how they are designed and the people that live in them. When I started as a first-year student at Duke Kunshan University in the suburbs of Shanghai, China, (a city of over 25 million people), my interest in urban areas only grew! In the wake of the pandemic, I found myself in Durham, North Carolina, with an entirely new community of students who were, like me, excited to learn more about cities. Despite Duke not having a formal program dedicated to urban studies, we quickly set about meeting with like-minded students and faculty with similar interests.

In the Fall semester of 2020, we officially launched the Duke Initiative for Urban Studies, an interdisciplinary academic program that seeks to explore the future of cities and how we can prepare students at Duke to be better citizens of an urban world. Unlike other academic programs at peer institutions, this program has been completely student-driven. We’ve built strong networks among undergraduates, graduates, and alumni — and have set about a variety of ambitious goals, from launching a certificate program, to supporting urban studies research in Durham, Kunshan, and beyond. We even have a spin-off student organization “Our Urban Future” and a physical space on East Campus in the Classroom Building!

Duke’s academic environment has provided a strong foundation for creating a space for us to learn about cities. We have found support through the Office of Interdisciplinary Studies, department chairs from Biology to Art, Art History, and Visual Studies, and even alumni! The Duke Initiative for Urban Studies isn’t the only student-driven initiative on campus, and you can be sure it won’t be the last.



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