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Women's group set for spring

Three decades after the Woman's College merged with Trinity College, Duke will once again be home to a select group of women that provide each other with the academic and social support for which all-women's colleges were once known.


     Named for the first dean of the Woman's College, the Alice M. Baldwin Scholars will live together, study together and pioneer the University's latest attempt at addressing the social and academic pressures facing undergraduate women.


     A product of the Women's Initiative, administrators hope the Baldwin Scholars program will blossom into a full-fledged support system, both academically and socially, for a small group of undergraduate women. The inaugural class of 18 Baldwin Scholars will be selected during the fall semester from the incoming freshman class.


     "In the Women's Initiative report, we found that a number of the young women students felt the need for more contact with upperclasswomen, female faculty members, female administrators--there was a sense that everyone talks to each other a lot, but they don't have the opportunity to talk to folks who might be able to offer a different perspective on the world," said President Nan Keohane, who formed the initiative's Steering Committee in May 2002.


     To fill this void, faculty members developed the Baldwin Scholars program, a unique collaboration between academic and student affairs. Co-directors Donna Lisker, director of the Women's Center and member of the Women's Initiative Steering Committee, and Emily Klein, associate professor of earth and ocean sciences, have been working since the report's publication in September 2003 to develop the curricular and extracurricular components of the program.


     After the scholars are selected, they will enroll in an interdisciplinary seminar course during the spring, offered only to those women in the program.


     The women will live together on West Campus during their sophomore year and will have the option of staying in that living group for the rest of their undergraduate careers. They also have the option of bringing non-Baldwin roommates into the group, which Klein said was exemplary of the program's character as an "overlay" that still allows scholars to participate in any other aspect of Duke undergraduate life.

Junior year will include an internship with a Duke alumna in the field of each scholar's choice, and the women will return to the classroom during the fall of their senior year, for a capstone course that has yet to be designed.


     "The goal is to introduce these women to diverse female faculty, so that they begin to develop relationships with established female faculty members who we hope will act as mentors throughout their undergraduate careers," Klein said.


     She noted that with a working title of "Changing Perceptions of the Self, Society and the Natural World," the freshman seminar will combine elements from the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. "Many undergraduate women say they came in contact with very few female faculty members, so part of what we're trying to do is create a network," she added.


     Lisker noted that although the idea for the program was planted before the Initiative, the data collected during that study called attention to the challenges women at Duke were facing. The Baldwin Scholars program is an attempt to recreate the positive elements of an all-women's college within the larger setting of Duke's campus.


     "We heard a striking difference from graduates of the Woman's College and more recent graduates," she said. "[Woman's College alumnae] said their experience made them think they could do anything, increased their confidence... more recent graduates were much more likely to say, 'I loved my Duke experience, but my self confidence took a real hit.'"


     Response to the program in its developing stages has been positive--so positive, in fact, that officials are now looking for ways to involve female sophomores, juniors and seniors in the Baldwin Scholars program as early as next year.


     The goal, Lisker said, is to provide scholars with peer mentors as well as faculty mentors, and although officials have not yet hammered out the details, there will be opportunities for non-Baldwin Scholars to be affiliated with the program, expanding the budding women's network even further.


     "I'm hoping it will provide good experiences not just for the scholars but for the whole community," Keohane said.


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