Duke University | Baldwin Scholars Program

Melissa Bernstein


Melissa  Bernstein

Melissa Bernstein thought she knew what she wanted to do when she grew up.  At Duke she studied Public Policy and Japanese in preparation for her career in international law.  And then she had a panic attack while taking the LSAT, the entrance exam for law school.  Her body was telling her something she did not want to admit, that law school was not “it.” 


Instead, she took a position as a financial analyst with Morgan Stanley’s investment banking division.  Melissa describes her experience, “At the time, this was one of the most coveted and prestigious jobs a college graduate could obtain.  But from the moment I began there, I was a fish out of water---a flower without sunlight. Numbers didn't speak to me and I could not find the beauty in them. I felt no joy in my daily tasks and I couldn't see the path to success or to personally making a difference.”


Her family thought she had lost her mind when she left Morgan Stanley to start a children’s business with her boyfriend Doug.  “I stepped completely off the path of near certain wealth, prestige, and ‘success’ conventionally defined, and chose to take a much riskier and uncertain path to doing something meaningful and finding my personal passion and calling.” 


Melissa is the co-founder and co-CEO of the multi-million dollar Melissa and Doug toy company.  The company offers over 2000 products and has built a reputation based on innovation, value, quality, and exceptional customer service.


When asked about her mentors, Melissa gives a unique response.  “It is interesting that I have always turned inward for introspection and reflection and have never looked outside for advice or had role models or mentors who have impacted me in any profound way. I have been primarily guided by my own inner voice, which was squelched for so many years during childhood due to an excessive desire to please, that it made up for lost time from my early twenties on!  If I clear out all the other noise that can gather in my head and allow that inner voice to ring through, it nearly always asks the appropriate questions, raises the red flags and ultimately leads me down the correct path. Although initially this inner dependence was forged by a difficult childhood and lack of trust of others, it has made me entirely self-sufficient, tough as nails, fiercely independent, beholden to no one and has become one of the greatest gifts of my life!!!”


Melissa has six children, ranging in age from 4 to 18.  She understands what it takes to be a working mother but finds passion in both roles.


Melissa declares that first-year Duke women should NOT have all the answers and know their life's path at a young age.  “This is a time of self-discovery and growth.  Push yourself to try new things, do not be scared to make mistakes, and hone in on finding your function in this world so you can embark on your correct path and begin fulfilling your mission!”