DURHAM, N.C. – Ruthie Kesri says life is chaotic as she's about to move hundreds of miles from her Kentucky home, in the middle of a pandemic.


What You Need To Know

  • Duke Student Government created "Blue Devil Buddies" from scratch

  • Algorithms helped match mentors and mentees based on answers to dozens of questions to gauge interests and personalities

  • About 1,100, more than half of the incoming class, signed up

  • Program includes six weeks of "conversation starters" to keep mentors and mentees in touch and spark deeper conversations

Chaos is something the incoming Duke University freshman says the class of 2024 has grown accustomed to.

"We were born in 2002, year after 9/11. We were raised during both the Bush and Obama presidencies, which were polar opposites," Kesri says. "We came into high school during the Trump presidency, which like it or not, changed a lot of things. Now we're leaving high school during the coronavirus pandemic. We've seen a lot."

As a new world of education awaits, she won't have to navigate through it alone.

"Letting Ruthie know it's all going to be OK. Everyone else will be in the same position, and I'll always be there for her," says her mentor Lana Gesinsky.

The rising sophomore was brought into Kesri's life thanks to a new mentorship program created from scratch by the Duke Student Government.

"We had 1,100 mentees sign up. So over half of the incoming class signed up which is super exciting," says Christina Wang, the Duke Student Government's Vice President of Equity and Outreach.

"Blue Devil Buddies" pairs students based on their answers to a survey gauging their interests and personalities.

"It's crazy. I feel like I've known Lana my entire life and it's been a week," Kesri says.

Gesinsky's insights through just several conversations and texts have been invaluable; tips about campus life, course selection, and what to pack.

"I text her at random times of the day 'I don't know what to bring,' " Kesri says. "In a general sense, yeah, I need a comforter but the specifics, do I need a case for my laptop? What exactly do you need in your bag?"

Universities are spending millions on COVID-19 safety measures, but you can't put a price on having a friendly face the day you arrive onto uncharted territory.

"Going into this process I was sort of terrified," Kesri says.  "Having someone who's lived through the process. 'OK I survived my freshman year at Duke. Let me show you how you can do it too,' has been really awesome."