Duke University | Baldwin Scholars Program

Michelle Sohn


Michelle Sohn

Donna Lisker, a co-Director of the Baldwin Scholars program, refers to Michelle as the “Commander.”  It began as a humorous nod to Michelle’s signature blazer with its preppy pocket crest but it is a fitting description of her persona.  With her a sharp wit and well-honed conversational skills, she can easily command the attention of everyone in a room.

Michelle wasn’t always so comfortable in public settings and had to make a conscious choice to change.  She remembers, “Up until the third grade, I was painfully timorous. I never spoke up in class and did not naturally attract many friends. In the 3rd grade, I had this great dream to be the ‘Master of Ceremonies’ for a school assembly. But I was never even considered, because my teacher thought I was much too shy to speak in front of an audience. After having a dream of mine discarded like that, I decided to take steps to have a bolder and positive impact on my environment.”

Michelle graduated from Duke in 2011 with an English major and was a finalist for the Harry S. Truman post-graduate scholarship for students interested in government or public sector service. She was elected Duke’s Young Trustee by her peers, a great honor in a competitive field.  She will serve a three-year term on Duke’s highest decision-making body.

She wrote about strategic campus, state, and national issues for The Chronicle newspaper’s editorial board.  She taught the Asians in America house course and participated in DukeEngage focused on undocumented workers and Arizona immigration law.

Her interest in gender relations led her to chair a Duke Student Government committee that convened focus groups, analyzed University policies, and eventually resulted in a recommendation for on-campus gender-neutral housing.  This proposal was accepted and will be a housing option starting in Fall 2011.

Michelle has always held high standards for herself and credits many for inspiration. “My younger brother, Clayton, has always taught me the importance of moral courage and service. At Duke, each of my Baldwin sisters exemplifies great boldness in their respective fields. Historically, I greatly admire Barbara Jordan. Her journey as the first Southern black woman to be elected to Congress proves that excellent leadership requires excellent ambition.”

Michelle urges first-year Duke women, “Never let anyone decide your possibility for you.”

Michelle will be working for one year in Washington, DC before heading to Harvard Law.