Duke’s Clark Scholars Take to Cape Town to Support Local Businesses

12/20/23 Pratt School of Engineering

The unique scholarship program combines cultural experiences, hands-on professional development and academic rigor in global settings to emphasize the importance of adaptability and leadership.

undergraduate students at Duke on a rooftop in Cape Town, South Africa
Duke’s Clark Scholars Take to Cape Town to Support Local Businesses

Margie Clarke’s physiotherapy practice in Cape Town, South Africa, was struggling. Having recently branched out on her own, she found herself at a crossroads of having deep expertise in physiotherapy but needing support in business expansion. Enter the Duke Clark Scholars.

Founded in 2016, the A. James Clark Scholars Program helps underrepresented students and those demonstrating financial need majoring in engineering reach their goals. Each of the 11 institutions involved has implemented the program in its own unique way

Duke’s approach has garnered attention for its particular focus on leadership in engineering through entrepreneurship. 

The program is about more than just academic enrichment; it offers different cultural perspectives, with hands-on learning and professional experiences that cross borders, as well as a required service component. First in 2019 and then again this past summer, Clark Scholars visited local businesses in Cape Town, South Africa.

Duke’s Clark Scholars participating in a Bo-Kaap walking tour

The students quickly committed to projects ranging from website development to market research for Clarke’s physiotherapy practice. They also conducted a competitor analysis and even formulated a go-to-market marketing strategy, ensuring that Clarke’s practice had a robust roadmap for growth.

She emphasized that the success of this collaboration was rooted in open communication. Regular check-ins, feedback sessions and goal-setting ensured both the students and her practice derived maximum value from the experience. 

“Five months ago, I started my own practice … The impact [the students] had was really tremendous. They helped me grow my business,” Clarke said. “With the students’ diverse backgrounds, they undertook a range of projects from web development to strategic planning.”

Kate Stutheit of Duke University

Despite how varied our academic backgrounds were, we collaborated and bonded over the course of the internship and our time overseas.

Kate Stutheit A. James Clark Scholar at Duke, studying biomedical engineering

Clarke also emphasized the importance of that continuous feedback loop, noting, “If there’s a breakdown in communication between a student and the company they’re interning at, that would be really challenging, but we navigated troubleshooting any issues quite efficiently through that open dialogue.”

For many Clark Scholars, who represented the 2026 class of Duke undergraduates, this international trip was their first journey outside of the United States. Beyond the professional training, the access to cultural immersion was profound for them. 

Kate Stutheit, a North Carolina native who is studying biomedical engineering, credits the Clark Scholars experience in Cape Town with bringing her peers closer.

“The camaraderie among the Clark Scholars was incredible,” she said. “Despite how varied our academic backgrounds were, we collaborated and bonded over the course of the internship and our time overseas.” 

Feedback from the scholars emphasized the growth they experienced. Beyond the hands-on projects, they valued the interactions with locals, understanding the socio-economic dynamics of the region and the personal growth that came from navigating an international environment.

The combination of structured learning and real-world application at places like Clarke Physiotherapy enriched their perspectives and equipped them with stories and experiences to share back home.

Duke’s Clark Scholars at iXperience with Margie Clarke (fifth from left), who runs her own physiotherapy practice in Cape Town

Giovanni Smith, an undergraduate who in high school switched from focusing on accounting to engineering, loved the problem-solving aspects of his field and felt more connected to it through Clark Scholars. “What struck me most during our time as Scholars was the direct impact we could have,” Smith shared. “The bridge between theoretical knowledge from Duke and its practical application in a dynamic setting like Cape Town was eye-opening.”

Fellow Clark Scholar Dylan Nguyen, who hails from Sydney, Australia, and double-majors in electrical engineering and computer science, found the experience strengthened the bond between peers and helped push them out of their comfort zone.

“Being a Clark Scholar isn’t just about academic excellence; it’s about stepping out of your comfort zone, embracing new challenges and growing exponentially in a short span,” Nguyen said. 

By encouraging students to engage in spaces out of their comfort zones and immersing them in new environments, the program ensures that its scholars and future researchers are well-equipped leaders and thinkers in their respective fields.

Bill Walker headshot

We believe strongly that we are helping these young people become leaders, with a big ‘L’, and to do that, we’ve made sure that we spend a lot of time and care developing their resilience and their resolve.

Bill Walker Executive in residence, and director of Duke’s A. James Clark Scholars Program

Bill Walker leads Duke’s A. James Clark Scholars program. He emphasized its objective of providing a learning environment that is multifaceted and applicable even after students are done in the program. The importance of real-world exposure combined with academic rigor is a cornerstone of its ethos and is part of what makes the Clark Scholars program so well-rounded.

“One of the things we want students to have is an exceptional summer experience,” he shared. “That element has evolved throughout the history of the program, with the first cohort visiting South Africa, and subsequent cohorts working locally and virtually in Durham to adjust to the pandemic.”

Central to the Clark Scholars’ journey in South Africa is their collaboration with iXperience (iX) which spanned eight weeks over the summer.

“We’re fortunate in our experience with iX to have a deep relationship with them,” Walker said. 

Tyler Evans, the director of iX Summer at iXperience, shared a comprehensive overview of the company’s mission, explaining that it started in 2014 as a coding boot camp. But after recognizing the diverse needs of students and the ever-evolving global job market, they’ve expanded their curriculum to include courses in fields like management consulting, investment banking, data science and software engineering.

“One of the reasons for starting iX and having this travel component is that we are true believers in travel,” Evans explained. “[It] has a positive impact on your professional and personal growth, and I think it gives you a component of empathy and understanding of how other people navigate their day-to-day lives. I also think having that better understanding of individuals and their backgrounds allows you to better collaborate with people.”

What the Clark Scholars accomplished this summer was clear: practically apply what they’ve gleaned from the classes into their internship, work collaboratively to aid local businesses, and gain experiences that they can articulate as future leaders in their respective fields.

“We believe strongly that we are helping these young people become leaders, with a big ‘L’,” Walker explained. “And to do that, we’ve made sure that we spend a lot of time and care developing their resilience and their resolve.”

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