Skip to main content

“I’ve noticed that student-athletes who have participated in the ACE program frequently take leadership roles on the team. Those roles are not always apparent to outsiders (ie. team captain) but often take the form of emotional or organizational leadership, contributing to the family spirit we take pride in. Additionally, they often gravitate towards truly pro-social careers after graduation.”

Darius Wei, Duke Assistant Men’s and Women’s Fencing Coach

About the ACE Program

ACE is a national model for student-athlete community engagement.

The program is unique because it offers student-athletes the opportunity to:

  • participate in a fully-funded immersive, international experience;
  • serve with student-athletes from a variety of different teams;
  • and engage in preparation and back-on-campus programming before and after the experience.

ACE encourages student-athletes from all sports and teams with an interest in service and cross-cultural engagement to apply. ACE does not require student-athletes to have international experience or extensive service experience to be considered for the program. Approximately 50% of the participants each year indicate that ACE is their first significant international experience!

The ACE Program coordinates closely with the Duke Compliance Office to ensure the entire program experience is permissible for eligible student-athletes.  ACE covers all program-related expenses for ACE participants.

These may include:

  • travel (including airfare to and from the host community),
  • meals,
  • accommodations,
  • gym facilities (if available),
  • vaccinations, visas, and incidentals.

ACE does not cover the cost of applying for student-athletes’ passports.

For further questions regarding compliance, please contact the Duke Athletics Compliance Office.

For information about the program in general, student-athlete eligibility requirements, program dates and length, and application deadlines and process, please read our general FAQs.

On-Site Experience, Training, and Nutrition

At any of the ACE program locations, student-athletes can expect to have “full-days.” Student-athletes will spend the majority of the time contributing as a team to a community-based service project.  The ACE program provides all participants with dedicated time to train, engage in cultural enrichment activities to learn more about the area, and participate in group reflection. Student-athletes have limited free time and are not allowed to spend the night away from the group or add on any personal travel before or after the experience. Learn more about each program.

Each ACE program location is run by a volunteer sending organization (VSO).  Staff from the organization are on-the-ground and available 24/7 to participants.

Student-athlete safety is a program priority. Participants are not allowed to participate in any high-risk activities, such as, bungee jumping, ocean swimming, hitchhiking, or ride any non-standard forms of transportation, such as, motorbikes, bicycles, or tuck-tucks. Participants are required to report any injuries or illnesses to on-site staff immediately who share this information with ACE staff for follow-up. For more information on other precautions to ensure students’ health and safety, read our Families FAQs.

Each program site has dedicated time in the daily schedule for student-athletes to train. Training facilities vary based on location but are described in detail on our program profiles. Student-athletes are encouraged to talk with their strength and conditioning coaches, athletic trainers, and sports performance coaches about a training plan before departure.  ACE staff work closely with sports medicine and sports performance to ensure that student-athletes needs can be accommodated on-site.

ACE staff work closely with Duke Athletics Nutrition to ensure student-athletes’ fueling needs are met on-site. Participants are encouraged to meet with nutrition staff before departure for a one-on-one consult regarding any concerns and to create a fueling plan. All ACE participants are provided with resources provided by Duke Athletics Nutrition including a packing list and how to build a healthy plate based on locally available foods.


Application and Selection Process

The ACE staff team is excited to talk with you, your coaching staff, and/or team.  The ACE office can arrange for ACE Ambassadors (ACE alumni) to visit your team for a quick overview of the program at your convenience.  You can encourage students to follow the ACE social media accounts for up-to-date information and to browse the ACE website to learn about program offerings and the application timeline and process.

Over the years, we have found student-athletes are more likely to apply if they know you are supportive of the experience. Your role in openly encouraging student-athletes to think about ACE as part of their summer plans is incredibly important. If you would like materials to share with your team, please contact the ACE office.

To apply, student-athletes must submit an online application through the ACE application portal.  In addition, the application requires a head/assistant/position coach to submit a short online recommendation. ACE participants are expected to be excellent representatives of their team and committed to being a student-athlete throughout their time on campus.

During the application process student-athletes can indicate which program session(s) to which they are interested in participating. Student-athletes are encouraged to talk with their coaches about their program session options to ensure that they are taking all timing and training requirements into consideration.

The ACE Interview and Selection Committee, after reading through the applications, decides who will receive an in-person interview. After the in-person interview and a second round of interviews by the specific program location staff, the ACE Interview and Selection Committee discusses the candidate pool and selects 36-40 student-athletes plus alternates, giving thought to sport and team diversity, the written application and in-person interview, and coach’s recommendation.

Student-athletes are notified via email before spring break about all application decisions.  All applicants will either be accepted into an ACE program session, placed on the alternate list, or declined a spot for the current application year.

Any coach who submits a recommendation on behalf of a student-athlete is notified by ACE about all application decisions.

All program decisions are final.  Students on the alternate list will be contacted if a program spot opens up. ACE will notify coaches via email if the status of a student-athlete changes. All students accepted must respond and “commit” to the ACE Program for that academic year. Student-athletes are not allowed to defer their decision to the following academic calendar. If a student-athlete submits a statement of intent to participate and later withdraws, they will be ineligible to re-apply.

Coaches Involvement with ACE

ACE provides a unique opportunity for student-athletes to:

  • travel abroad
  • engage in leadership and teamwork skill development in a non-athletic context
  • learn about and experience inter- and cross-cultural learning.

Across the Duke University campus, ACE is perceived as a positive part of the student-athlete culture.  ACE experiences may help participants become more effective leaders, contributing to the service and engagement culture of their teams.

Through their service, student-athletes have leveraged both their knowledge of sports and their educational accomplishments to make a positive impact. Many student-athletes return to their teams and sports with a renewed passion for competition and awareness of the privilege and opportunity that is afforded to them through the opportunity to participate in collegiate athletics.

ACE participants have found that their summer experiences help them reflect on how they perceive themselves and their skills. While ACE participants are regularly inclined to see themselves as strong leaders and team members prior to participation in the program, the majority of ACE alumni report some level of improvement in their skills in these areas, such as, increased self-confidence. Alumni also report a stronger ability to speak up, initiate projects or program changes, prioritize work, and give and take directions.

Pre-Program Training

Before, during, and after the experience coaches are encouraged to ask questions and be curious about the experience. Leading up to their ACE experience, all participants must complete the required pre-program training and preparation. The ACE office would be happy to share pre-departure materials with you.

During the Program

Coaches are encouraged to read their student-athletes’ blog posts. As a coach of a participant, you’ll be signed up to receive weekly ACE newsletters throughout the summer with program updates.

Back on Campus

When student-athletes return to campus, we encourage you to talk with your student-athlete about the experience.  For example: What did they learn? Where were they challenged? How do they want to bring the experience back to the team? To campus?

In addition, ACE staff work with every participant to think about how to engage post-program and continue to reflect on their experiences. These include creating personal ACE Action Plans, on-campus programming, leadership opportunities through the ACE Ambassador program, and engagement opportunities with program donors.

Many teams ask their ACE participants to share about the experience with teammates. For example, the Duke Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving team has asked ACE participants to present about their experience during the first back-on-campus BBQ (this is the first event first-years attend). ACE alums make a short PowerPoint presentation to share photos from their ACE program.

ACE staff and/or ACE Ambassadors can meet with recruits to share more about the program and ways to get involved. The ACE office can also provide printed or digital materials for your distribution.

We encourage you to talk with your student-athlete before they depart about ways to share the experience widely. During the program, all ACE participants are asked to contribute to the ACE blog and ACE social media accounts. The ACE office works closely with the Duke Athletics Sports Information Department to promote and share the student-athletes’ experiences widely.

For example, SIDs have used team social media accounts to share students’ blog posts, partnered with the NCAA to allow students to do an account “takeover,” and published articles before and after the experience about the ACE participants’ experience. If you have ideas or specific requests, please contact the ACE office.

Still have questions? Contact us–we’re always happy to meet with coaches and learn about your teams and your sport’s specific needs and concerns.