Carter Zenke

Hi there — I’m a researcher at Duke University building community to design a better education for the digital age.

Care to join me?

 
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What I Do.

For a more formal introduction, check out my CV.

Above everything, I strive to create meaningful learning experiences. This pursuit has taken me around the world, from local Durham schools to the suburbs of Kathmandu, Nepal. Over the years, I’ve seen the power of merging research with action - which is exactly how I approach all of my work.

CSbyUs

In my first year at Duke, I co-wrote an award-winning paper exposing how most children in Durham are excluded from computer science (CS) education. I used the publicity to drive action, assembling a team of universities, K-12 schools, and nonprofits who all agreed: Durham needed to address inequity in CS education. That summer, one question drove me: how could we show each student CS is for them? I pored over theories, papers, and projects, triumphantly emerging with a plan. We would mobilize undergraduates to teach students that with CS, you can pursue any interest. That fall, we piloted my vision with 15 middle school students, reinvigorating their after-school CS program. It worked wonderfully: students developed apps to improve nutrition, teach survival skills, and promote literacy. 100% of them said they were confident they could learn more CS. Building on this success, I recruited 4 Duke undergraduates to both improve our curriculum and teach another 30 students in the spring. Our work gained traction. After winning $17,900 in grants that I co-wrote, we could enact the vision for CS that now ties Duke and Durham together: CSbyUs, whose mission is not only to expand CS education, but to empower students to use it in personally relevant ways. Since then, I have co-launched a CSbyUs lab at Duke, where I lead our curriculum research and development team. I have rallied more stakeholders behind our mission, including Citizen Schools - a nonprofit scaling our curriculum across 3 states. I have shared my research at international tech conferences and have been invited to lead civic engagement workshops - finding collaborators among teachers and technologists alike. Behind these accomplishments is a network of students, experts, and organizers: a community I’ve intentionally built to sustain itself beyond my time at Duke.

The Karsh Mentorship Initiative

I believe the youth changing our world live in Gatthaghar, Nepal. I would know, because for the past two summers I’ve taken part in their revolution. At CVM Secondary School, I co-lead the Karsh Mentorship Initiative with principal Shanker Paudel. We aim to cultivate his students into change agents, because we know that rote learning education systems - in Nepal and in the United States - disengage them from our global challenges. Resisting these forces demands a reciprocal relationship. During the year, I rally and train students at Duke while Shanker sir advises us. Then, every summer, we come together for our culminating project: after-school camps I've tailor-made to grow students' world-changing potential. Since 2017, I’ve helped over 70 Nepali students identify issues they care about, guided them in creating plans of action, and stood with them as they’ve created videos about the importance of education, protested against gender inequality, and uncovered child labor abuses. The fruits of our teamwork are extraordinary: a family decided to send their daughter to school, and a neighborhood assembled to clean its streets.

Why I do it.

Dissatisfied with how education wasn’t preparing students for the new Industrial Revolution, Charles Eliot, 21st President of Harvard University, outlined a plan titled “The New Education” that gave us our contemporary education system. Now we find ourselves facing a new revolution – a digital one filled with grand promises of new technologies, yet rife with new social inequities and cultural conflicts – and a look at the numbers shows we should be just as dissatisfied with education as Eliot was a century and a half ago.

What should the next "New Education" look like?

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Recognition.

John Lewis Fellowship

With the National Center for Civil and Human Rights and 25 international fellows, studied past and present social justice issues in Atlanta, GA

Holton Prize for Innovative Work in Education

Often awarded to senior theses, but received freshman year for CSbyUs research, curriculum, and strategic plan

Angier B. Duke Memorial Scholarship

Awarded to approximately 15 students per year (out of 34,000+) who “most embody a commitment to solving challenges faced by society at large”

Let’s collaborate.

Hardly anything is more powerful than collaboration and community.

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My bookshelf.

I’m always reading. Here is a regularly updated list of articles that are shaping (and challenging) my worldview.