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Upperclass women to mentor freshmen

When senior Ashley Carlson has to make an important decision in life, who does she turn to for advice? Her grandmother—“Nana,” for short—the “backbone” of her family.

“She was also my role model,” Carlson said. “She shared with me personal stories, and she always encouraged me to go to college to get an education so that I could support myself no matter what happened in my life. She showed me that it is possible to have it all.”

After this month, Carlson might be able to turn around her invaluable relationship with “Nana” and invest her energy in the lives of younger women.

Carlson is one of 60 upperclass women who applied to be one of 18 Giles Mentors for first-year women. These women will comprise the inaugural class of the Alice M. Baldwin Scholars Program, a major product of the Women’s Initiative.

The future Baldwin Scholars, who are also in the middle of their own application process, will pioneer the University’s latest attempt at addressing some of the social and academic pressures facing undergraduate women revealed by the Initiative. The Scholars will enroll in an interdisciplinary seminar their freshman year and will live together on West Campus during their sophomore year as part of the program.

For their part, the Giles Mentors—named after Mary, Persis and Teresa Giles, the first women to graduate from Duke—will each be matched with one of the first-time scholars and help ease the transition for the select group of first-year women. “We hope they can give back to the Duke community through their wisdom and experience,” said Colleen Scott, assistant director of the Baldwin Scholars program, who is still accepting mentor applications over the course of the next two weeks.

Another Giles applicant, senior Mary Ellison Baars, said that there is no better feeling than knowing that there is someone out there who cares about you. She put her name in the hat because she wanted to reach out to a group of talented women, much like she does as vice president of the Panhellenic Association.

“From my gymnastics coaches to my teachers, these people have influenced my decisions, my goals and my confidence all in a very positive way,” Baars said of the mentors in her life. “I consult them on many of the decisions that I have made while in college, my decisions to take certain classes and join ROTC.”

Junior Liza McClellan, who has applied to be a mentor, said that females on campus deal with very different issues. The select body of Baldwin Scholars, who choose to live and work with other women, deserve to be advised by their own select group of women, she said.

“For instance, a female mentor could be there to help guide first-years through problems such as dating scenarios that males never encounter,” she said. “In addition, the first-year may be more open with a female mentor, as she may be self-conscious around a male mentor.”

Freshman Serwaah Agyapong, who has applied to the Baldwin Scholars program, loves the idea that the mentors would be upperclass women, as opposed to first-year advisory counselors, a program open to a legion of upperclassmen and upperclass women.

“I think in many situations females are intimidated by the presence of men,” Agyapong said. “With just females, that stigma or distraction will be removed.”


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