A group of Dziagla Women in Finance fellows in New York City.
Photo Credit
Courtesy of Kirsten Dzialga

Mentoring Duke Women in Finance

Kirsten Dzialga ’93 was so pleased with the impact of her gift to the Duke Financial Economics Center, she gave to the center twice.

As a competitive swimmer, Kirsten Dzialga understands that you can’t just throw a novice into the pool and expect them to win a race. It takes coaching and regular training.

In 2018, retired from her finance career and ready to give back to Duke, Dzialga (pronounced ZHAWL-guh) learned about the obstacles faced by female students interested in finance careers. For much of the 2010s, women made up only about 30% of Duke graduates entering the financial markets. Dzialga knew from her own career that if women could learn the basics of finance and gain access to internship and networking opportunities while in school, they could succeed in the field. A few Duke conversations later, the result was the Dzialga Women in Finance Initiative, a coaching and training program that has proven so productive, Dzialga and her husband, Mark, recently renewed its funding for another five years.

“One angle that gave me so much confidence in the success of the program was hearing from the students, and then obviously seeing that they were all getting amazing internships. You had real data there,” Dzialga says. “The other side of it is that I have gotten many calls and emails from employers who have said, ‘We hired one of your Dzialga Women in Finance students—absolute rock star. Do you have any more?’ They have really been successful once they’re in the seat. This is actually really working.”

Matt '23 and Kirsten Dzialga '93 at a Duke athletics event
Matt '23 and Kirsten Dzialga '93

Her namesake initiative is run by the Duke Financial Economics Center (DFE), itself part of the economics department. The Dzialga program accepts 10 fellows at the end of their first year at Duke, and they remain in the cohort for three years. The fellows receive mentoring, skills training, faculty advising, and networking opportunities. In the fall of their sophomore year, they take ECON 256: Practical Financial Markets, in which they learn the foundational concepts and technical skills required for finance careers.

Fellows also learn from guest speakers; receive advising from DFE faculty; are guided through the internship recruiting process; and make a trip to New York over fall break to visit major banks, advisory firms, and private equity firms.

Dzialga enjoys meeting and talking with the cohorts on their New York trips—a benefit that was suspended during the pandemic but has now resumed. “It was really rewarding to see the amount of information they were armed with, and the confidence that that brought to these women,” she says. “I think it also was helpful that they were together as a group of women, because they were there to help each other, and they’re going through it together and learning together.”

Her own experience at Duke led her to finance somewhat organically. “There was no finance concentration, there was no DFE, there was really just the economics major, which isn’t necessarily focused on finance,” she says. “But what it allowed me to do was meet other students who were also interested in finance who were a year and two years older than me. And that was what opened the doors for me to kind of go down the path.”

DFE faculty members and Wall Street veterans Linsey Hughes and Emma Rasiel lead the initiative’s efforts to bring women into the industry. They emphasize the importance of female mentorship, including older fellows helping younger ones, and alumnae advising students. Program participants often go on to be dedicated and supportive mentors to other young women.

“The Dzialga program has had a profound impact on both my professional development and personal growth,” says Rebecca Williamson ’22, an investment analyst at DUMAC, which manages the university’s endowment assets. “I am immensely grateful to the faculty and alumni who make this program what it is—I could not imagine a better professional launch pad.”

“It’s kind of the best of all worlds,” Dzialga says.


  • Kirsten had hoped to swim competitively at Duke, but no scholarships were available for female swimmers at the time. Instead, she chose to run a season of cross country for fun. She now competes in masters swimming events.
  • She relied on academic financial aid at Duke, and has since endowed a scholarship at Trinity College of Arts & Sciences.
  • Her son, Matt, is on track to graduate from Duke this spring. His twin sister, Molly, is at Rollins College, and their younger sister, Katie, is a sophomore at Harvard.