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Dean to leave Mendoza for Catholic Relief Services

Mel Flanagan | Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Dean Carolyn Woo will continue to live Notre Dame’s mission after she leaves the Mendoza College of Business to become president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) at the end of the month.

“I think that is the Notre Dame message: to go out and be of service to those who need you,” Woo said. “I see it as a privilege to be able to do that work with a group of people who are extremely dedicated and extremely good at what they do.”

Woo has been dean of Mendoza for 14 years. She had served as audit committee chair at CRS for six years before being offered the position of President and CEO.

“When the invitation came to be a candidate, at first I did not think I was an appropriate candidate because I do not have an international relief background,” she said. “But I prayed and went through the process of screening and then was offered the job.”

Having spent her entire career in academics except for a two-year period, Woo said she went through a period of intense reflection prior to making her decision to leave.

“It’s not easy to leave your own comfort zone,” Woo said. “I will be leaving my comfort zone in a big way, from something I know very well and have done for most of my life to a very new sector of work in international relief.”

Woo said she was concerned about whether she will become skilled at her new position quickly enough. The atmosphere surrounding CRS differs greatly from the relatively isolated atmosphere of Notre Dame, she said.

“[Notre Dame] is not an open environment in the sense of having a lot of disturbances or being subjected to a lot of environmental uncertainty,” she said. “I will be going from an environment that is somewhat stable to an environment which is a lot more open-ended.”

Because CRS is part of the Catholic Church, Woo said she found comfort in the fact she will still be able to follow in the mission of Christ.

“I want to work to bring Christ to people who really need help, assistance and a better shot at life,” Woo said. “To be able to serve people who are really poor and vulnerable, who could really use a lot [of help] and a more stable way of life so they can really have dignity and some level of security that allows people joy.”

Despite her excitement about the future, Woo said she will miss working with students.

“I will miss the rhythm of lots of students with lots of ideas, and then they progress and grow in significant and dramatic ways and then they graduate and another generation comes in,” she said. “To see those different waves of growth and the dynamism and the professional growth you get to see in your students, that’s a wonderful gift.”

Woo said she has enjoyed working with the faculty and staff of Mendoza during its climb to the number one undergraduate business school in the country. To her, the most important aspect of the achievement is that Notre Dame never abandoned its Catholic principles.

“We never traded off or diminished or deemphasized our Catholic identity,” Woo said. “That was the most important goal, commitment to our mission, and the fact that we achieved number one while embracing our mission means the world to me.”

Woo remains confident Mendoza will continue to grow in her absence.

“I feel like Mendoza is in a really good spot and I’m not leaving it in difficulty,” she said. “I’m leaving it in the strongest position ever, so it is time then to work on other services.”

Associate Dean Roger Huang will act as interim dean of Mendoza while Notre Dame searches for a permanent successor.

“My advice to the next dean would be to stay faithful to the mission,” she said. “That will drive everything else.”