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Notre Dame of Maryland University Welcomes Catholic Relief Services’ CEO Carolyn Woo as 2014 Commencement Speaker

January 29, 2014

Notre Dame of Maryland University announced today that Carolyn Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, will speak at the 2014 Commencement on May 24 at the Hilton Baltimore. Dr. Woo will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at the ceremony.

Dr. Woo has led Baltimore-based CRS since 2012. It is one of the world's largest and most respected international relief and development agencies, each year reaching more than 100 million people in more than 90 countries.

 “In responding to the recent typhoon in the Philippines, assisting victims of violence and unrest in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Syria and fostering development in more than 90 countries, CRS is a face of compassion to millions of people around the globe,” says Dr. Joan Develin Coley, president of Notre Dame of Maryland University. “CRS truly embodies the mission of Notre Dame by engaging in social action that is transformational.”

Dr. Woo’s life story is an inspiration. She was born and raised in Hong Kong to parents who left China after the Second World War, and was educated by American Maryknoll Sisters. She immigrated to the United States to attend Purdue University, where she received her B.S., M.S.I.A. and Ph.D. degrees and became a member of its faculty. But before embarking on that journey, she had to overcome a few hurdles.

“I have three older sisters and none went to college, and the Chinese way was to marry well. Two of my three sisters married by the time they were 21. I wanted something else,” she told the Baltimore Sun. “I decided I wanted to come to the U.S. My parents were against it; my father was completely against it.”

She came anyway, arriving at Purdue with just enough money for one year of school. Hoping to extend her stay, she applied for one of two scholarships for international students and ended up receiving enough funding to complete her degree.

As an academic, Dr. Woo specialized in strategic management and emerged as a leader in a new and growing field. After serving as a professor and administrator at Purdue, Dr. Woo moved to the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business, where she served as dean from 1997 to 2011. During Dr. Woo's tenure, the Mendoza College was frequently recognized as the nation's leading business school in ethics education and research and received top ranking in 2010 and 2011 for its undergraduate business program from Bloomberg Businessweek magazine.

Dr. Woo, who had previously served on the CRS board of directors, took the helm of the agency in January 2012. Her perspective on international development is shaped by her deep Catholic faith, her professional experience in recognizing what it takes for organizations to succeed, and the remarkable economic and social transformation she has witnessed in the underdeveloped Hong Kong of her youth.

She was featured last year in Foreign Policy magazine’s 500 Most Powerful People on the Planet and was one of only 33 of those recognized in the category of "A Force for Good." Dr. Woo's Catholic News Service monthly column took first place in the 2013 Catholic Press Association Awards in the category of Best Regular Column—Spiritual Life.

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Notre Dame of Maryland University was founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame more than 100 years ago. Based on the progressive vision that education can transform the world, we prepare compassionate leaders who change lives. Visit our website, ndm.edu, for more information.