Duke University | Baldwin Scholars Program

Carolyn Rubenstein


Carolyn Rubenstein

One of the most important aspects of the Baldwin Scholars program is mentoring, pairing younger Duke women with more “seasoned” undergraduate women for support and guidance.  When the program first began and we were preparing to select the first class of Scholars, there were no older female students within the program to provide mentorship.

We decided to select a group of eighteen Giles Mentors, named for the Giles sisters who were the first three women to graduate from Trinity College.  The Giles sisters were trailblazers for later generations of Duke women as we hoped the Giles Mentors would be for the Baldwin Scholars.

We anticipated that most of the Giles Mentors would be seniors, with a wealth of experience to share.  To our surprise, several sophomores applied; while they didn’t have years of Duke wisdom, they had the passion and drive that we hoped to see in the Baldwin Scholars.

Carolyn Rubenstein was selected as a sophomore to be one of the original Giles Mentors.  After you read her profile, you will know why.

After eighth grade, Carolyn, a native of South Florida, decided to spend a week volunteering at Camp Sunshine, a camp for children with life-threatening illnesses.  That week changed her life.  She knew she needed to do more.  She created a non-profit organization, Carolyn’s Compassionate Children, which began as a pen-pal program, linking the children with illness with their “healthy” peers.  Later, the organization evolved to include raising funds for college scholarships for young adult cancer survivors.

Carolyn reflects, “When I was 14 years old, I decided that I wanted to help critically ill teens and young adults. At that young age, I didn’t know what or how I was going to accomplish this in any meaningful way, but I knew I had to do something. Without question, it is the decision that has made me the woman I am today, having led me on path I never would have chosen had it not been for this choice.  I have met incredible people facing life-threatening illnesses with grace and dignity. These people have taught me so much about the strength and beauty of the human spirit. I have been so overwhelmed by these individuals that I spent the last four years of my life writing a book commemorating what it really means to live while you are alive. The journey has not always been easy for me. Along the way, I have lost many young people who were very close to me. At times, the pain of their loss seemed unbearable. However, I wouldn’t change one minute of any day that I have spent with them.”

The book to which Carolyn refers, titled Perseverance: True Voices of Cancer Survivors, will be published in August 2009.

She credits her parents for inspiration and support. 

“My parents have been both role models and mentors for me. Growing up, I watched in awe as they lived passionately every single day, using their passion to work tirelessly for what they believed in. They were always learning new things about the world and themselves. They also dedicated (and still do) a huge part of their lives to helping those less fortunate—often without anyone even knowing. Most importantly, they never gave up when things got tough. I thought it was incredible that they were working together to balance a family with three children without ever sacrificing their personal dreams.

Growing up in this unique environment definitely affected me. I learned the importance of following my heart and what I feel passionate about doing. I couldn’t help childhood cancer patients and survivors if it weren’t for my parents. The emotional toll of working with these patients is tremendous, yet giving up on this passion is not an option for me. ‘Giving up’ is not part of my vocabulary.”

At Duke, Carolyn majored in Psychology and was very involved in research and community service. She was a research assistant in the Infant Cognition Lab as a sophomore and completed an independent study in that same lab her junior year. She earned distinction in her major, completing a thesis focused on quality of life for adolescent survivors of childhood cancer.

Carolyn urges Duke women to not be afraid to ask for help!

“Entering Duke, you will be faced with many choices and decisions. It is unrealistic to expect yourself to be equipped to make them all independently. Surround yourself with a reliable support system—whether family, friends, professors, or others you trust—and don’t be afraid to talk to them. Women have unique personal and professional issues, and Duke has built a strong network of sensitive and responsive professionals to help with these concerns.”

Carolyn graduated from Duke in 2007 with Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude honors.  She is currently working toward her PhD in clinical psychology at Harvard.