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Rachel McLaughlin graduated from Duke in 2008 with high distinction in her Public Policy major and with a Political Science minor. She earned cum laude honors and was awarded the Sanford Ambassador prize in Public Policy. She is a member of the inaugural class of Baldwin Scholars.
McLaughlin is passionate about creating positive change. One of her initiatives to improve the campus climate for women at Duke was to create and co-teach a half-credit course for undergraduate students entitled “Women, Vocation, and Identity.” The class involved connecting students to successful women in different professions and exposing them to multiple definitions of success and work-life balance. In this way, McLaughlin gave back to the Duke community what she gained from the Baldwin Scholars program and the female role models in her life.
“I don’t have one mentor and one mentor only. Instead I have surrounded myself with inspiring women and men who each bring a different thing to the table. Betsy Alden, my Women as Leaders professor, was a life-saver during my time at Duke, teaching me how to listen, how to love, and how to live authentically. My Giles Mentor Megan O’Flynn taught me to speak up and be heard, David Fiocco taught me to never pass up an adventure, Katharine Vandergriff taught me to meet people where they are and to withhold judgment when necessary, and Sarah Gordon – a Baldwin too – always instills in me a new love of learning every time we have one of our lengthy chats.”
McLaughlin grew personally over the course of four years at Duke. But in important ways, she has remained true to her core beliefs. She reminded herself daily that each opportunity and each challenge at Duke was a gift that her parents did not have. She explains, “Through it all, my parents and large extended family keep me in line, demanding humility: after every foray to a new city or country, they ground me once again in our family’s values.”
Coming to Duke changed her life. “Before Duke I had adventured outside the state of Missouri maybe once or twice. At the time, I remember being overwhelmed with nervousness . . . leaving Missouri and my friends seemed so traumatic because everyone I knew and everything I knew seemed to be staying put. Today I laugh a little at my nervous freshmen year self, but I do so because it highlights how much I have grown here. The woman I am today relishes change, especially when it involves travel, and seeks to live her life fully.”
McLaughlin’s professional dream is to rise through local and state politics to national prominence. Her drive, passion, and solid grounding will contribute to her success in this arena. Her peers look to her as a role model and a leader.
She worked incredibly hard for the success of the Baldwin Scholars program, serving as the group’s presiding officer for two of the three years since her selection. Hers has been an important and authoritative voice speaking for women on campus, whether in the house courses she has taught or in her regular column for the Chronicle.
She encourages first-year women to take a risk. “College is a time of self discovery. As cliché as it sounds, you will learn new things about yourself during every class, study abroad trip, job, internship, relationship, and friendship if you allow yourself the time and energy for some serious self-reflection. Too often I see women at Duke going through the motions, accepting an internship or job because they think that is what they are supposed to do – it’s a mantra that makes taking risks taboo and making mistakes off-limits. So my one piece of advice is to let yourself take academic, social, and extracurricular risks: write the senior thesis even though you don’t think you can do it, break out of the prescribed Greek scene and assemble a dynamic, diverse, and exciting group of friends and mentors (including professors!), and never do an extracurricular activity just because you want a dot on your resume. Extracurricular activities should be your ‘10.’ After all, you have limited time outside of your classes and so you should devote this precious time to that which either challenges you or makes you tick. Mistakes, tiny and big, accompany risk – own up to them, learn from them, but at least when you graduate college you won’t be asking, ‘What if?’”
McLaughlin will be spending next year teaching English in Indonesia on a Fulbright scholarship.