Piloting Project Edge for First-Year Students

7/11 Pratt School of Engineering

New program Project Edge looks to introduce first-year students to Duke and entrepreneurship before classes even begin

Piloting Project Edge for First-Year Students

Who would want to give up a week of their summer and go to school early?

Despite confusing many of their peers, there’s no shortage of first-year students who choose to come to Duke a week early to participate in pre-orientation programs designed to acclimate first-year students to college. This year was the first for the pre-orientation program called Project Edge.

Project Edge is a week-long program led by returning students staff that exposes first-year students to innovation, entrepreneurship and practical design. It helps them get to know people at Duke, become aware of the professional business and entrepreneurship resources available on and off campus, and learn skills and processes important to innovation.

A student stands at a white board with a markerA typical day of the program starts with a group lecture at the Bullpen, an extension of Duke’s campus in downtown Durham, where an entrepreneur, professor, former student or other professional speaks to the students about business and entrepreneurship. Following the presentation, the group has lunch and works on a team project.

At the beginning of the week, the students are split into teams of three with one upperclassman mentor. Each team is tasked with creating a business to address an issue affecting Duke. Some of the issues this year included connecting Duke students to the city of Durham, reducing the amount of food waste on Duke’s campus, and increasing voter participation among Duke students.

To help connect Duke students to Durham, one team designed a Google Chrome extension that gives students access to more information about what events are going on in the city and how they can participate. Another team came up with the idea of creating an app that would reduce the amount of food waste on Duke’s campus. The app would be attached to the students’ Duke Hub and help students earn extra food points as part of a reward program every time they did not waste food. Another team also designed an app to increase voter participation among Duke students.

Jonathan Riley, a first-year member of this team, explained that the whole thought process behind this app was “to make the very complicated process of registering and voting easier for the Duke student.” First, the user would choose where they wanted to vote, then the app would lead them to either the voter application for North Carolina or the absentee ballot form of their state of choice. The app would also clearly show all of the deadlines to ensure no confusion. There was also an incentive associated with the app: the more times you voted or shared the app with other people, the more points you earned, which could be redeemed at local stores.A top-down view of a bunch of students working in a large open space

Besides the smaller team-based groups, there were also larger social groups within the program composed of eight students and four leaders. This created a sense of community within the program and allowed everyone to get to know each other very well.

Throughout the program, first-year student Megan Wang learned a variety of skills including “team-building skills, prototyping skills and 3D printing.” Meanwhile, Kassen Qian discovered that “entrepreneurship is a process—it is about putting in the work and having dedication.”

Being able to see the workspaces of different startups and talk with entrepreneurs about their careers gives students insights into the qualities necessary to be an entrepreneur. Since the program was in its pilot year this summer, it was not perfect, but Kassen Qian felt that it was even better that way, since “entrepreneurship is all about adapting to the current situation.” The pilot status of the program also meant that there were only 20 first-year participants. In the future, hopefully many more students will have the opportunity to participate in Project Edge.

Caroline Salzman is a first-year student majoring in biomedical engineering.