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As the new director of the Sanford School of Public Policy’s Hart Leadership Program, Gunther Peck will guide a significant transition in the nation’s oldest endowed leadership program for undergraduates.

Man speaking
Gunther Peck

Alma Blount, HLP director for 17 years, retired this summer. Professor Tony Brown is gradually gearing down, and Professor Robert Korstad is in his last year of teaching. Steve Schewel, another longtime teacher in HLP, was elected mayor of Durham last fall.

As Peck, a professor of history and public policy, begins to recruit a new generation of leadership faculty, he plans to build on the program’s unique strengths. HLP is grounded in politics and civic engagement, and strives to empower young leaders, he said. Deep reflection, historical context, and learning through experience and action will remain central to the curriculum.

“The Hart Leadership Program has, throughout its history, crafted innovative ways of teaching leadership, inspiring Duke students to live their values across a lifetime of learning and engagement. It’s my intention to continue that work,” Peck said.

He is inspired, he said, by a question posed more than a half century ago by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “What does the ‘fierce urgency of now’ require of us, at this moment in the history of our country and our planet?”

Connect to Politics

This year Peck has rekindled “Connect to Politics (C2P),” an initiative first started in 2008 to bring early career politicians to campus. As part of this year's “C2P” series, HLP co-sponsored with POLIS the Sept. 21 visit from Kathy Tran. Tran is a 2000 Duke history graduate and alum of Blount’s Service Opportunities in Leadership SOL program. Tran came to the United States as a child refugee from Vietnam, and is the first Asian American woman elected to Virginia’s House of Delegates.

Parkland Student Activist

A second event focuses on the recent history and importance of student voting and the deliberate ways students have been discouraged from voting or disenfranchised since 2008. That year, North Carolina produced the biggest youth voting wave of any state in the nation, Peck said. On Oct. 25-26, HLP will bring Parkland, Fla., activist Sari Kaufman to Sanford. Since the tragic murder of 17 of her classmates at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, Kaufman has worked to register thousands of student voters. She will share the stage with Anita Earls, a voting rights advocate who is running for N.C. Supreme Court. The next day, on Oct. 26, HLP is planning a workshop for students from Duke, NC Central and Durham Tech to discuss ways to strengthen student voting and student voting rights across Durham County during the fall election.


On Nov. 29, HLP will convene a public conversation about “Dreamers,” focusing on the experiences and leadership of young undocumented men and women. Maggie Loredo, founder of Otros Dreams en Accion, an organization that helps those who have been deported to Mexico become familiar with their new home, will speak. Loredo will be joined by a recently deported student.

Although Loredo had immigrated to the United States at age three and finished high school in Georgia, as an undocumented resident, she was unable to enroll in college in the United States. She returned to Mexico at age 18.

“In all three convenings,” Peck said, “we will hold up the theme of youth leadership. We seek to stimulate insights on what it is today, how and why an amazing group of young people have changed the national conversation.”

Peck said he enjoys the challenge of building on the core strengths of the Hart Leadership Program while reimagining what innovative and lifelong leadership preparation can look like.

“Piloting innovative and inspiring teaching will remain the focus of the Hart Leadership Program,” Peck said.


Alma Blount & the Art of Teaching Leadership

Alma Blount led the Hart Leadership Program for 17 years before stepping down in 2018. Blount’s approach to teaching leadership was grounded in “adaptive leadership” courses she took with Ronald Heifetz at Harvard Kennedy School. At the time, she was pursuing her Master of Divinity degree in a program focused on religion in public life. Blount had arrived at Harvard after spending the mid to late ’80s as an anti-war activist in Central America.

Read her story