Sanford School faculty, students and alumni engage with North Carolina through research, events, podcasts, masters’ students consulting and research projects, internships and classroom projects at the statewide and local level. Take a look at some of our favorite engagement projects.

Sample Student Projects in Durham

Citizen Experience Lab (CX-LAB)

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Students in the Citizen Experience Lab, using human-centered design to improve user experience. 

Sanford faculty members Tom Allin and Blythe Meyer co-teach Sanford’s Human Centered Design course,  the “Citizen Experience Lab.” As a part of the course, Sanford MPP students helped GoDurham improve the customer experience of Durham public transportation. The students worked with customers and employees to test ways to improve the customer experience. The students shared results and recommendations with GoDurham in a HCD storybook that detailed all of the students’ work from the 14-week process.

Durham Partners for Youth Opportunity Project

Students in Lalita Kaligotla's PPS270 Lead the Way Durham course are working on a collaborative project between the organizations Step Up Durham and Durham Partners for Youth Opportunity on ways to better raise funds for the organization's projects. They are making a video about a family who went through some financial training the organizations provided. Watch video>>

Durham Bull Moon initiative

Students in Lalita Kaligotla's PPS270 Lead the Way Durham course are doing outreach and program evaluation work in collaboration with Durham's Bull Moon Rising project/community event. It's being run by the City's Public Arts Program in the General Services office. Read more here. 

Urban Hope

A student group teamed up with Urban Hope to help the nonprofit better collect data on their success and measure their impact in the community. 

Beautiful Durham

When the nonprofit Keep Durham Beautiful needed help to make sure they were effectively tracking impact they worked with a team of Duke students. 

Just Listen

Fifty Duke students collaborated with dozens of high school students from Durham's  Southern School of Energy and Sustainability to create a live show called Just Listen. 

Sample Initiatives and Research Projects

The Sanford School has many programs and centers housed within the school that carry out many initiatives and research projects focused on particular policy issues.

Home Buying and Inequality

Durham, NC has a legacy of inequality. Many neighborhoods had "covenants" requiring that excluded non-whites from buying homes. Professor Bob Korstad has been looking into the issue, and his research has been turned into a civic education initiative, Bull City 150: Reckoning with Durham's Past to Build a More Equitable Future. The project culminated in 2019, Durham's 150th birthday.


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Jacquie Ayala MPP'21

The summer of 2020, as Durham City government grappled with the pandemic, Sanford alum Ryan Smith MPP’12, recruited Sanford students and recent graduates to be the research arm of the Durham Recover and Renewal Task Force.

The task force advised Mayor Steve Schewel and County Commission Chair Wendy Jacobs on how to safely and successfully re-open Durham and address longstanding problems aggravated by the pandemic. 

Learning to Run for Office

Ways & Means podcast episode explores how to get more ordinary people to run for office. Features school teacher Jeremy Hachen as he launches a bid for N.C. state office.

Gov't Innovation in Durham, NC

Ways & Means podcast episode features a government innovation team with the City of Durham that recently tested several ideas to get commuters to use alternative transportation. Episode features Duke Sanford School MPP alum, Ryan Smith.

Durham Family Connects

Podcast episode goes inside the innovative, free public program that helps new moms and dads adjust to life with a newborn, Durham Connects.

Statewide Engagement Examples

Policy Lab

In Policy Lab, students learn to write a succinct policy memo under the guidance of faculty member Deondra Rose – often for lawmakers in North Carolina. Rose is co-director of the North Carolina Chapter of the Scholars Strategy Network. Through Policy Lab, students gain real-world experience, while North Carolina policymakers receive research, ideas and recommendations at no cost to taxpayers. Last year, students wrote memos for N.C. Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (ways to boost teacher retention rates), Greensboro City Council member Tammi Thurm (how to implement a cost-effective and robust “good repair” ordinance) and N.C. Rep. Gale Adcock, among others. More info.

NC Education Data Center 

The North Carolina Education Research Data Center (NC ERDC) at the Center for Child and Family Policy was created in 2000 through a partnership with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction to store and manage data on the state’s public schools, students, and teachers. Data can be accessed by researchers and government agencies who meet the established guidelines. Hundreds of dissertations, academic papers, and policy briefs have emerged based on data from North Carolina, benefiting the state and other states across the country. 

Governor's Commission on Education 

Helen "Sunny" Ladd, professor of public policy and economics, was appointed by Gov. Cooper to a commission to ensure compliance with the NC Supreme Court ruling in the Leandro case to provide equal opportunity to a sound basic education. 

Master's students' MPP projects 

Many of Sanford's MPP students conduct research for NC agencies or nonprofits for their master's projects. Since 2011 they have been archived digitally by Duke libraries. There are 211 projects here, many of them done for NC clients.

White Bias and Food Systems 

Alison Conrad is working with the Duke World Food Policy Center on her Masters Project, researching white dominant narratives and white supremacy in food access policy and food movements. Research will involve a review of prominent food movements, interviews with food access policy organization leaders, and case studies of select organizations and programs. Here is a podcast with Ali talking about the 8 ways white bias can misdirect food systems work.


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Helping a NC County Collect Taxes

For his MPP master’s project, Tyler Gamble ran an experiment with Guilford County, N.C. to find out if small changes to a single letter could get more people to pay their taxes on time. Research showed what he came up with (a personalized letter and envelope sent to each taxpayer) increased the likelihood of full, on-time payment by 31%.

Featuring NC Farmers

The World Food Policy Center created a series of podcasts in partnership with the Farm Bureau to increase awareness of North Carolina farming families. 

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Pitt Family Farm

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Gwen’s Cotton

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Hogs and Hurricanes

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Student Story: Yadira Paz-Martinez

Yadira Paz-Martinez PPS‘25 shares her experiences and passion for public policy studies in relation to migrant workers in agriculture, educational opportunities, and immigration policy.

In the Governor’s Office

In November 2019, Gov. Cooper appointed to the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency Board of Directors Adam Abram of Chapel Hill as a member with expertise in public housing policy and chair. Abram is the founder, chairman and CEO of James River Group, LTD, which owns a group of insurance companies. He is the chairman emeritus of the board of visitors of Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy. Gov. Cooper also appointed to the North Carolina Humanities Council Sanford alumnus Christopher Lam of Charlotte as a member at-large. Lam is a partner at Bradley Law Firm and is the managing partner of the Charlotte office and a former Sanford Board of Visitors member. 

NC School Research Partnership 

The Duke University School Research Partnership was established with support from the Office of the Provost and the Center for Child and Family Policy in 2006.  The Partnership links Duke students and faculty members with local schools and school districts that request strategic research that can have an immediate impact on their policies. Read more about the partnership.

NC Resilience & Learning 

The North Carolina Resilience and Learning Project, led by the Center for Child and Family Policy's Katie Rosanbalm, works with high poverty schools across the state to ensure academic success and improve social and emotional well-being of children impacted by trauma. To date, Rosanbalm and her team have supported implementation of a trauma-sensitive educational framework in 24 schools across 14 counties in North Carolina.

Student Internships

There were 92 Sanford students, both undergraduate and graduate, that had internships in Durham in 2019-2020. There are some from the summer of 2020. 

  • Brian Lim – Policy Fellow, Brighthive
  • Indraneel Dharwardkar – Intern, City of Durham
  • Elizabeth Jones – Intern, Durham Public Schools Foundation
  • Matt Landers – Intern, Families Moving Forward
  • Jessica Au – Intern, Girls on the Run
  • Jeremy Carballo Pineda – Intern, IndyWeek

Local Area Engagement

Area high school engages with ethics events 

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Nadia Murad

Matt Cone, teacher of social studies class from Carrboro High School, has brought students to many events. Cone often coordinates small group meetings with the speakers, like Nobel Peace Prize-winner Nadia Murad.


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Helping NC Teach About Civil Rights

Dozens of teachers in NC and across the country taught about the civil rights movement in a more nuanced way after participating in a summer institute at Duke designed by scholars, civil rights veterans, the SNCC Legacy Project, and Teaching for Change. It was co-directed by Sanford Professor Bob Korstad and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) veteran Judy Richardson. 

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Fayetteville, NC and Human Centered Design

The town of Fayetteville, NC was having trouble with its garbage collection. New trucks have side-arm loaders, and pickup should be relatively simple. But the garbage cans need to be placed on the curb in a specific way in order for the process to work effectively. MPP students from PubPol 830.05 (Behavioral Economics for Municipal Policy) tackled the problem.