Caroline Croft ’71 was born, reared and educated in Chapel Hill. Her mother was a UNC alumna and her dad went to N.C. State. She never even considered leaving to go to college.
But when she graduated from UNC in 1971 with a B.A. in history and a minor in political science, Croft knew that her future lay beyond her home state’s borders. She headed straight for Washington, D.C., where she landed a job working in Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s office.
“I was always fascinated with government affairs, domestic and foreign policy, the political process and international commerce,” Croft said. “I had always admired Senator Kennedy as well, and I had made up my mind that I wanted to work for and learn from him.”
And so an illustrious career that began on Capitol Hill has now progressed to the Department of State, where Croft is a coordinator in the Office of Commercial and Business Affairs, a division of the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs. She has also served in numerous other leadership capacities in and around the nation’s capital, including for the Department of Health and Human Services, the Congressional Human Rights Foundation, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Foundation, the White House Millennium Council, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and the United States Mission to the United Nations.
After four decades in public service where she has crossed numerous borders, Croft thought it was time to consider her life and legacy, and her alma mater. She recently established a bequest as part of her estate plan that will create the Caroline J. Croft Study Abroad Scholarship Fund to support students pursuing international experiences.
“To me, a comprehensive, well-rounded education must include international travel, scholarship and service,” Croft said. “The world is becoming increasingly interconnected and interdependent; it behooves us to learn as much as possible about our global citizenry as well as our domestic population. For everyone to achieve success, we must work together to know and better understand one another.”
Though Croft never studied abroad as an undergraduate at UNC, she contends that is the one thing she would change about her time at Carolina. “At the time, there were few established study abroad opportunities or programs, and there certainly wasn’t funding to support them,” she said. “Today, UNC students are fortunate to have a robust international studies program at their disposal and I hope to help prevent cost from being a barrier to such broadening, life-changing experiences.”
“To me, a comprehensive, well-rounded education must include international travel, scholarship and service.”
Currently, UNC offers more than 300 programs in 70 countries to meet the needs of a diverse student population and most are open to undergraduate and graduate students.
Croft is quick to point out that as her career evolved, she gained that international exposure and experience in real-time, hands-on situations. An experience abroad would have definitely given her a head start. “I was very fortunate to have good mentors and experienced people to guide me,” she said. “Today, young people must react almost instantaneously and helping them prepare for whatever comes their way is deeply rewarding for me.”
Croft is also involved with the State Department’s internship program and mentored UNC senior Julia Parker Fuller during summer 2012. Julia will graduate in May 2013 with a degree in public policy, peace war and defense with a minor in history. For her, working with Croft in the State Department was a huge step on her way to a public service career. “Working in the State Department certainly gave me perspective and experience I could only gain by doing,” Fuller said. “Ms. Croft was a great mentor and role model, especially for women who want to pursue high level public service. I feel so much better prepared to graduate and to know what I don’t want to do as well as what I’d like to pursue. Only time will tell.”
For Croft, she wants to pass the baton to a well-prepared next generation. “I am so pleased with the knowledge and commitment of the next generation,” she said. “I want to do my part to help them see how a complex, interconnected global society fits together, and to help them find their place in it.”
Experience is the best teacher.
By Hope Baptiste