Katie Mitchell's first female mentor - besides her mother - was her high school English teacher, Elizabeth Singleton. Singleton, she says, taught her "how to think."
"She taught me to always question - especially that which I have never thought to doubt - and, more than that, she taught me to delight in the questions," Mitchell recalled. "Ms. Singleton opened my world to life's great themes as told through the finest literature, and each time I begin a new book, I think of her and thank her."
Mitchell, from Carmel, Indiana, graduated from Duke in 2004 with a major in public policy and minors in women's studies and Spanish. Outside the classroom, she was a member of Duke Dancing Devils, a DSG legislator, president of Delta Delta Delta sorority and a volunteer in the Walltown community.
Mitchell considers herself lucky to have found a network of supportive female mentors on campus, including Jean O'Barr, Donna Lisker, Betsy Alden, Kate Whetten, Alma Blount, Helen "Sunny" Ladd and Cherrie Henry.
"When a particular mentor found out about a personal interest, she would set me up with a coffee date or an email exchange with that relevant person or recommend that professor's class," Mitchell said. "It was incredible."
Lisker, for example, encouraged Mitchell to take O'Barr's graduate-level course on gender and organization. Mitchell remembers connecting with O'Barr "instantly." Alden, after learning about Mitchell's faith background, connected her with Cherrie Henry, the female Presbyterian campus minister. Mitchell later accompanied Henry on a service trip to the Dominican Republic.
"Certainly, I gained indispensable knowledge and wisdom from each of these women," Mitchell said. "But equally importantly, I learned through watching their interactions with one another what it means to cultivate and to strengthen a community of women that edify, support and connect one another. When I accepted the position of president of TriDelta sorority, I tried to emulate that informal structure among the 200 members."
Mitchell believes that change can evolve through "small things done with a good heart and good intentions."
As a Hart Fellow after graduation, Mitchell worked with the Kilimanjaro Women's Information Exchange and Consultancy Company (KWEICO) in Tanzania, where she conducted a research project that will help her host organization develop more effective awareness campaigns on human rights for area youth.
"As a result of that choice and of not continuing along the traditional 'track of success,' I find myself taking on life quite differently than a year ago," she said. "I seek the unknown, and I attack the tough questions. I am no longer in a hurry toward some illusion of success."
Mitchell urges Duke first-year women to find a "place that is yours" to visit once a week for self-reflection. For Mitchell, that place was at Sarah P. Duke Gardens. Mitchell visited to write in a journal and pray.
"It is, unfortunately, too easy to get sucked into unhealthy pressures at a highly competitive place like Duke," Mitchell said. "It is imperative that you know yourself now and that you continue to get to know yourself as you evolve over your four years. Be aware of who you are and how you want to situate yourself among the Duke community. Seek out an adult mentor with whom you feel comfortable exploring these questions of self and of the world."
After completing her Hart Fellowship, Mitchell plans to work in Washington, DC as a Research Analyst for the research division of the Atlantic Media Company.