Learning Objectives

Maria Gibbs in hard hat


The Focus Program (FOCUS) admits about one-fifth to one-fourth of the incoming first-year class to themed interdisciplinary course clusters consisting of small-group seminars taught by regular rank faculty from different departments across the university. Typically, the students take two (of three or four) courses from different departments in each cluster plus a weekly discussion seminar in which all faculty and students in the cluster participate. The program aims to introduce first-semester students to interdisciplinary learning and intellectual engagement both in and out of the traditional classroom environment. Faculty and students work together to apply multiple disciplinary perspectives on a common theme or topic within a cluster (e.g.Cognitive Neuroscience & Law; Ethics, Leadership and Global Citizenship; Exploring the Mind; Narratives and the Meaning of DNA: Genomes in Our Lives; Global Health: Local & International Disparities; Humanitarian Challenges; Knowledge in the Service of Society; Memory and Invention: Medieval and Renaissance Worlds; The Middle East in Global Contexts; Modeling Social and Economic Systems; Power of Language; Visions of Freedom).

The Focus Program also seeks to enhance the Duke experience with a unique residential opportunity that nurtures collaborative study in small communities of students. First-semester students in each cluster are placed in the same residence hall. The program supports non-classroom experiences through service learning, field trips, and other activities that allow students to apply theoretical knowledge gained in classrooms to real world situations. Finally, the program supports follow-up projects by faculty-student partners who propose research or other creative or service projects after the semester has ended.


The Focus Program intends that students are able to:

  • Apply knowledge, concepts, principles and/or theories from diverse disciplines to specific situations or problems.
  • Evaluate the relative merits of ideas and competing claims.
  • Integrate lived experiences with classroom learning.
  • Learn to make claims in public space with confidence.


Courses offered in the Focus Program are evaluated annually in two ways, through (1) student evaluations collected in their respective home departments and (2) a program-wide survey conducted by the Duke University Office of Assessment at the end of each semester that evaluates all aspects of the program experience.