Building Community Through Academics

Image of Sagar in the Broadhead Center
Image of Sagar and three other pep bandmates wearing blue and white shirts

The Focus Program

Building Community Through Academics

How FOCUS inspired academic interests and built community for a first-year student.

Image of Sagar and three other pep bandmates wearing blue and white shirts
Image of Sagar in the Broadhead Center

Sagar Shah ‘22 credits his first-year FOCUS program for opening his eyes to newfound academic interests and urging him to consider ethics in his everyday life.

He participated in the “Humanitarian Challenges” cluster with 26 other first-year students. Sagar took two classes during his fall semester through the program. “Making Your Case” centered on public speaking and advocacy, teaching students how to craft a compelling argument. “Technology and Society” used cultural anthropology to explore how technology has changed our society.

Small class sizes contributed to a unique learning environment. With only 15-20 students per class, Sagar said, “you get this unique opportunity to interact with a faculty member and your peers in a close and personal way.”

But the learning didn’t stop after class. Students in his FOCUS cluster all lived in Alspaugh Dorm. “We were able to extend our conversation from the classroom into our residential life,” Sagar said. All FOCUS programs also include weekly dinners with faculty members and students featuring frequent guest speakers.

The concepts and conversations he had during his FOCUS allowed Sagar to discover his interest in public policy with a focus on renewable energy. “FOCUS was less so about a particular topic, and more so about a lens in which you view your interaction with the world,” said Sagar. Now, he makes an effort to consider the potential outcomes of his actions before he makes decisions, a practice he applies to his study of policymaking as well.

Sagar encouraged first-year students to take advantage of the FOCUS programs. “It’s a great way to begin your first year at Duke,” he said. “Having that community that you see in two out of your four classes allows you to be comforted and supported in exploring your undergraduate endeavors.”