On a warm spring evening in late April, Duke seniors Idalis French and Katie Taylor met me for a celebratory dinner at Durham’s Gonza Tacos Y Tequila restaurant. With their time at Duke coming to a close, Idalis and Katie reflected on the highs and lows they had experienced since joining the Class of 2019: The exhilaration of being admitted with full financial aid. The questioning and self-doubt they struggled with as they navigated social and academic obstacles. The complicated challenges of familial expectations and long-distance romantic relationships. The excitement of heading to graduate schools to pursue degrees. And the gratitude of being selected as the inaugural Duke Women’s Impact Network (WIN) Scholars.
“When we first got your email telling us we’d been selected as WIN Scholars, we had no idea what we were getting into,” said Katie, a first-generation college student from rural southeastern Arkansas.
To be honest, I told them, neither did we. When the WIN Leadership Council endorsed creating an endowed student scholarship, our focus was on securing the required funding to make it happen. While we knew from national research that women like collective giving opportunities, raising endowment money from multiple donors is not an easy endeavor. Thanks to the generosity of dozens of women and men from throughout the Duke community, we reached the minimum threshold to activate an endowment in 2017 and qualify for matching money from the Access & Opportunity Challenge. Working closely with Alison Rabil, assistant vice provost and director of the Karsh Office of Undergraduate Financial Support, we identified Katie and Idalis as young women with leadership qualities that could be further encouraged and cultivated through contact with the WIN community.
When they were selected, what had once been an abstract idea became personal. Katie and Idalis embraced the honor of being WIN Scholars, sharing their backgrounds, aspirations and accomplishments with us along the way. We cheered them along as they earned recognition and accolades for their work as peer advisors, tutors, and mentors. We beamed when Idalis won the prestigious Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, which recognizes a graduating senior for qualities of selflessness, service, nobility of character, integrity, and depth of spirituality. Katie bonded with WIN Leadership Council member Stacy Klein-Gardner B.S.E.’91 over a shared love of STEM education, particularly for girls and low-income students.
Idalis accepting the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award with Duke Provost Sally Kornbluth.
This past spring, as Katie and Idalis began applying to graduate schools, Stacy and others in the WIN community chipped in additional money to help defray the significant costs of grad school applications, travel to interviews and purchasing professional wardrobe items. Last fall, wearing a Duke blue dress she’d purchased through this collective giving effort, Katie delivered the Karsh Undergraduate Student Scholarship address at the scholarship recognition dinner, and she thanked the women of WIN for helping make her dreams possible.
As our waiter cleared our plates, Idalis asked me if I had any advice for her and Katie. Suddenly, I was hit by a wave of emotion, a kind of powerful maternal pride for these amazing young women as they prepared to embark on the next phase of their adult lives. I sputtered through some vague platitudes about being true to themselves, and knowing that life’s inevitable disappointments, when seen in hindsight, are often the experiences that we learn from the most.
But then I regrouped and offered this: “Become financially savvy about money. Start saving early. Always have enough saved so that you can walk away from a job or relationship or living situation that’s not working. And when the time comes, pay back what WIN did for you by helping the next generation of young women who will follow in your very large footsteps.”
Idalis French will pursue a Master of Science in speech-language pathology (MS-SLP) at the University of Illinois on a graduate fellowship that covers full tuition. Katie will pursue a Ph.D. in mathematics education at the University of Alabama, where she has been awarded the Graduate Council Fellowship and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Graduate Scholarship.
Support the WIN Scholars by making a gift to the WIN Scholarship Endowment Fund.