Dora Baldwin, 22, has a running start on her future. A star track and field athlete at California State University, Dominguez Hills, she received the 2011-12 Dr. Richard Butwell Award in recognition for her athletic contributions, and for her academic excellence the senior business administration major recently received the 2012 Presidential Outstanding Student Award.
As a testament of these accolades, Baldwin has engaged in leadership while a student at CSU Dominguez Hills. She has served in two officer positions for the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, and as a resident advisor in University Housing, providing guidance to about 40 students and creating programs that both educate and entertain. She has often taken the extra step to learn something new in order to teach it to her charges. For example, to familiarize herself with photographic editing, she took a Photoshop class through Extended Education and created an idea-sharing group she dubbed “AutoFocus,” for those housing students who have an interest in photography. In April, she attended the Alcohol and Other Drugs Educational Conference held at CSU Fresno to be able to recognize and help remedy potential problems among student residents.
She also performed charitable works such as organizing a bowl-a-thon to raise money for the Junior Achievement Foundation, and volunteering in support of breast cancer awareness, Thanksgiving turkey giveaways, the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and Bubbles for Troubles in support of the elderly.
All the while, Baldwin has kept her grades up, earning a spot on the College of Business Administration and Public Policy Dean’s List with a grade point average of 3.60.
However, it was running that got her to college.
Baldwin, who plans to graduate spring 2013, started running track just for fun as a freshman at Claremont High School. But when she started winning, she discovered she had some talent. Armed with that knowledge and unable to afford a college education on her own, she set out to find a university where she could attend on an athletic-based scholarship. She was able to do that at CSU Dominguez Hills, and as an added benefit, she found a mentor in women’s track and field head coach Warren Edmonson.
“He really is a key influence in my life,” said Baldwin, crediting Edmonson for not only nominating her but helping her achieve the very things that made her eligible for the Outstanding Student Award. “I don’t think there’s a bigger honor here on campus. It makes me really reflect on everything I’ve done in the last four years [as a student athlete], because basically, everything I’ve done is mostly because of him.”
What Baldwin has done athletically is quite a bit. A member of the university’s relay team, Baldwin is a three-time All-American. In 2011, she was on the team that won the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Track and Field Outdoor National Division II Championship for the 4 by 400, the first national title for the program. And just last month, the team made it to the NCAA Division II National Championships podium again, this time with a third-place finish in the 4 by 400, and a season-best time of 3:43:05.
Along with her relay team, Baldwin has broken a number of school records, including in the 4 by 400 twice in one year (first at the 2011 Mt. Sac relays with a time of 3:41:57, and then in the 2011 National Championship finals with a time of 3:39:87), as well as in the 400 meter dash that same year, with a time of 54.74. She has also recorded team-bests in the 800-meter run (2:19.96) and the 200-meter dash (24.71).
Although she credits Edmonson with much of these athletic successes, when it comes to academics, Baldwin said she takes personal responsibility.
“I was brought up with school being the top priority, where the kids are in competition for the highest GPA not the fastest time on the track,” Baldwin said of herself and her three older brothers. “That really carried into academics here at Dominguez Hills. I would rather be inside studying instead of going out to a party.”
She said she’s found a way, more recently, to balance her studies with her running and spending time with friends. While taking a six-week business course last summer at the University of Pais Vasco in Bilbao, Spain, she learned that perfect grades are not what necessarily define a student.
“There, I was challenged in so many different ways intellectually that I hadn’t been challenged academically. It really broadened, in a sense, my whole horizon. Which is kind of cliché-ish, but it’s true. When you study abroad, you become a different person,” she said. “I took classes there, so it was really eye opening to what I really wanted as a student. I really wanted to know and understand what the teacher was talking about, and not just do enough to get the good grade. That really shaped how I changed my academic ethic when I came back–learning inside of the classroom as well as outside of the classroom.”
Her trip to Spain also awakened her inner travel bug. This summer she will attend Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica to study Spanish language, and Latin American dance and culture. With a newfound love of travel, she’s not ruling out starting a career outside of the U.S., either. And while she’s got a one-track mind on the field–winning–she’s not single focused when it comes to a career; she’s keeping her options open. She can see herself becoming an artist, photographer, teacher, writer… or all of those. And, that’s exactly why she chose entrepreneurship as the concentration in her major.
“I’m interested in so many different things. So, I decided if I go in the entrepreneurship route, I can combine everything or have different things going on at one time. I still have so many options and I love that flexibility,” she said.
Most immediately, however, she wants to continue to run competitively, particularly in the Olympics. Her first steps toward that goal will be to market herself beyond college, to club teams where she will be able develop into an Olympic-level athlete.
A lofty dream perhaps, but Baldwin, self-admittedly a bit of a work-aholic, puts in the training to accomplish her goals.
“I think I challenge myself in ways others don’t. I make my dreams come true,” she said. “I’m not afraid to take a risk. That’s what sets me apart.”