Meet: Carolyn Edelstein '10

Name: Carolyn Edelstein

Hometown: Toronto

Current location: Boston (Somerville, if we're getting technical)

What were you involved with at Princeton?

Theater! I miss it! Also environmental groups, OA, and the international relations council 

What's your favorite memory of Princeton? 

This question prompts a summer camp-style slideshow montage in my head, complete with Green Day soundtrack: sitting in my common room at 3am giggling at my roommates, sitting backstage in a dark theater, giggling again, Tower dinner, more laughs... I don't even know if these scenes actually happened. 

One thing I'll never forget, mostly because Alex Satty will never let me, is the time I sent the most freshman-esque email out to all five hundred students in ECO100, two weeks into first year. Harvey Rosen emailed an Economist article to the class over Blackboard, illustrating a point he'd made in lecture that day. I replied all with a message that went something like "By golly, Professor, it's just so special that we can already apply some of the wisdom that you've been imparting to real events happening in the actual world. Thanks! Carolyn E."  Yep. That was me. Oh god, why am I telling you this. 

To this day, Satty will still sign her emails to me "Thanks! Carolyn E." 

What have you been up to in the five years (!) since graduation? What are you currently doing? What has your path been like since college? What's next?

1. I became a sketchy grad student. Right after graduation, when it seemed like everyone else was off teaching English in Borneo or becoming an adult in New York, I moved across the golf course into the Grad College. It felt awfully anticlimactic, but it kicked off a couple of my favorite years on campus. I stayed to get a Master's in Public Affairs at WWS as part of the SINSI (Scholars in the Nation's Service Initiative) program, which helps position students to work in the federal government (other alums from our year are Will Wagner, Rashad Badr, Simonne Li, and Andrew Kim).

2. I became a DC bureaucrat. Also through SINSI, I spent two years, mostly in DC (a little in Delhi) working for Development Innovation Ventures at USAID. DIV evaluates and funds promising ideas in international development based on their cost-effectiveness and potential to scale. I spent a lot of time learning about amazing things people are doing around the world to try and chip away at poverty, some of which is working really well. (One of our early grantees was Dimagi, an organization where Danny Roberts has been working for many years.) 

3. My cousin got sick. While I was at DIV, my cousin got sick with C. difficile, a terrible, nasty gut infection that people most often pick up in healthcare settings. (It's the most common healthcare-acquired infection in the U.S., and makes about a half million people sick every year.) His life was on pause as he tried to beat it, but 18 months and seven rounds of very strong antibiotics later, he was just getting sicker. That's when he tried a fecal transplant. 

4. I ship poop to hospitals. Fecal transplants are exactly what they sound like: stool from a healthy donor is infused into the intestines of the patient, and the bacteria in the healthy person's stool outcompetes the infection. Patients are usually better within the day. 

Back in 2011, my cousin (who has politely asked that I refrain from using his name) couldn't find a physician who would perform the treatment -- it was not as well understood, and it was also a logistical nightmare to find and screen a donor, get set up to process the stool, and then hope that the day of the procedure the donor could perform on command. So, he ended up doing the transplant at home, by himself, using his roommate's stool. 

It worked. 

My boyfriend, Mark Smith '09 was working on a PhD in microbiology at the time and heard this story over a thanksgiving dinner with my family (brave man). He thought it was insane that anyone had to do this at home. To make the logistics of fecal transplantation easier for everyone, in 2013, he and James Burgess started OpenBiome, the first stool bank. I helped. Today, I cover our public comms, policy, and our expansion overseas. So far, we've sent out about 6800 treatments to ~450 hospitals in 6 countries. Next, we'll be launching poop pills! 

5. _____?. I don't know what comes next! I feel like this is one of those brain teasers where you have to use some pattern from the first four numbers to predict what the fifth one should be. I was never very good at those.  

TL; DR: I'm at OpenBiome, a stool bank that sends doctors frozen stool preparations for use in fecal transplants. 

What about your life now would your sophomore-year self be most surprised by?

I own a Mac. 
Just kidding. 
I don't think I would have ever expected "poop bank" to be on the list of activities, but I probably wouldn't have found it wildly out of character. 

What's a lesson/belief/idea/skill you've learned since graduating?

I've claimed to have learned to play the ukulele, but that's a vast over-exaggeration. I've learned to drive, which has proven useful, if terrifying. I've learned that a very rewarding way to travel is to pick a place, any place, that looks crazy beautiful on Google Earth and then sort out how to get there. 

Anything else you want the class to know?

If you ever want to come check out the poop lab, it would be great to host you! We're in Medford, which is one of the many suburbs that thinks of itself as part of Boston, just behind Tufts University. 

Inside OpenBiome: Mary Njenga processing samples

Inside OpenBiome: Mary Njenga processing samples