From higher ed to higher callings

The mother of two grown sons — one is a doctor and the other is a high school theology teacher — Woo talks about the importance of lifelong growth and learning.

She says she has learned, like the agency diplomat she is, how to manage different global relationships.

“You have to know how to act, whether meeting with kings of small villages who don’t speak or others who do speak,” she says. “You have to know how to act with very diverse cultures and faiths, how gender relationships are managed, how to be a woman in different countries. You have to become very flexible and be open to different ways of interpreting things.”

Carolyn Woo

CRS staffers, including Carolyn Woo (second from right) and the CRS board of directors, react to the Vatican’s announcement on March 13, 2013, that Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio would be the new pope, choosing the name Pope Francis. (Photo by CRS)

Both flexible and firm, Woo says she is trained from years in higher education to be able in new environments to “read patterns, know the content and the context.” She also has learned to admit that she is not the expert and to ask questions.

“When you work in higher education, you work with a lot of experts and they all know more than you do,“ she says. ”Working as a dean in an academic setting where all professors know more about their topics than you do, how do you manage to create a sense of cohesion and coherence? My job with CRS is not very different from this. How do you add value when you are not the technical expert?”

Woo has proven that she does add value, through a combination of book learning and iron integrity.

“I have very high expectations. I have a sense of the vision, strategy and implementation to bring it about,” she says. “Generally, I scare a lot of people. I am a very analytical person, always problem solving in some way. I’m scary to people who don’t like hard questions, who don’t want more things to open up.”

1 | 2 | 3 | 4