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| Thursday, February 19, 2004

When Carolyn Woo first became dean of the Mendoza College of Business, she felt like an outcast in a white, male, Notre Dame-affiliated world.”If you were not affiliated with Notre Dame, there was a very strong sense that you were an outsider,” she said. “It was very male, and very white. I could not have been more different.”In her first few years at Notre Dame, Woo learned not to rely on external affirmation or a sense of belonging as markers of success or happiness. With this realization, she stayed away from the social activities of many of in her professional circle, which revolved around golfing, hunting and country clubs.”That is just not my world,” Woo said. “Now that I am older, I don’t have that sense of a need to belong.”However, seven years after coming to Notre Dame, the small Asian woman has created a niche for herself in the predominantly white male business school.According to Woo, the alienating atmosphere she first encountered gradually vanished as Notre Dame became a more welcoming place for minorities. Woo attributes much of her hard-won success to the support she found in her colleagues in the College of Business, whom she calls “tremendous,” and her friends within the Congregation of the Holy Cross.”There was no question that [my colleagues] wanted me to succeed,” she said. “When I came here, they told me, ‘We’re not going to bring you problems without solutions.'”Because of these friendships, Woo has developed more of a sense of belonging to the Notre Dame community and she said now she feels cared for.In addition to the bonds she formed, Woo credits her ability to succeed at Notre Dame to her upbringing, which instilled in her strength and a passion to achieve her goals.Born in Hong Kong, Woo was raised in a very traditional Chinese family and was the first female in her family to attend college.Woo was educated by the Maryknoll Sisters in a Catholic, all-girl institution, where she imbibed the language, knowledge, imagination and faith of these American missionaries. The sisters served as incredibly strong, independent and courageous role models, said Woo.”Where there was a desire, they made things happen,” she said. “They allowed me to imagine a different path from my mother and sisters, and that was very important to me.”In school, she learned to cooperate in an extremely competitive society, forming deep bonds with her classmates. “We learned to support each other and to succeed as a group,” said Woo.Woo has maintained these skills of cooperation and has worked her way to the top through collaboration rather than competition.Woo also ascribes her aptitude in business to the mixed cultural milieu in which was raised. In this atmosphere, she gained a “Western-style individual assertiveness” while retaining her “team-oriented Eastern culture,” she said. She has never lived in a homogenous environment, and said she has never allowed her race or sex determine her goals or her performance.Because women often have to “run twice as fast as men” to succeed, Woo said that she has let her “work, due diligence, and performance do the talking.”The Maryknoll Sisters also taught her to follow her own passions, and in striving to do so, she turned down higher positions because of her love for Catholic education.”I’ve only chosen things which I really love to do,” Woo said. According to Woo, she has achieved success in the once foreign world of business not through competition or conformity, but by enjoying her work and the challenges this world has presented her.The most unexpected result of her experience at Notre Dame, Woo said, is the way in which she has improved as a mother. “I have gained some insight and wisdom,” she said. “I have developed a deeper appreciation of what is important in life.”