History Department
History Department

Caroline Corcoran (B.A., ’14): Applying skills gained studying history in her present-day humanitarian work

Mon, November 27, 2017
Caroline Corcoran (B.A., ’14): Applying skills gained studying history in her present-day humanitarian work
Caroline Corcoran, NSP alumna, and B.A., 2014, in History, Government, and French

Story by Jennifer Levin, History and Plan I Honors, University of Texas at Austin

The History Department recently caught up with Class of '14 graduate Caroline Corcoran, a distinguished UT and Normandy Scholar Program alumna whose dedication to humanitarian work draws upon her experiences as a history student at UT. A native of Plano, Texas, Caroline earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in History, Government, and French at the University of Texas at Austin in 2014, graduating Phi Beta Kappa and with highest honors.

Fascinated with World War II since childhood, Caroline took the majority of her history courses through the Normandy Scholar Program. She notes the importance that this program had on both her undergraduate experience and her career, writing, “This up-close look at how war plays out both politically and militarily, as well as how it impacts civilians, very much informed my work to prevent and resolve conflict.”

“Caroline Corcoran is one of the very best students I have had the privilege to teach,” writes Dr. Charters Wynn, Associate Professor of History and Director of the Normandy Scholar Program. “Both in the classroom and during our travels together, in her unassuming way, Caroline enjoyed tremendous respect from her professors and classmates. During our trip to Europe, she was endlessly curious and took the opportunity to pursue with me and the other faculty members her questions about European society as well as WWII. Moreover, Caroline is truly a delightful person – at once warm, genuine, and empathetic; exactly the qualities I value in a travel companion and student.”

Caroline attributes four history courses in particular with preparing her and informing her work as a humanitarian aid programme coordinator--

“Dr. Charters Wynn's course on the Soviet Union's role in the war provided a clear picture of enormous loss of human life that nation endured, on the battlefield and as prisoners of war but also because of political ideology and religious practices. I had no concept how many people lost their lives as part of the war until I understood the extent of the Soviet suffering. This course crystalized the fact that war affects entire societies, not just the politicians who declare it and the soldiers who fight it.

I draw a clear connection between the complicated choices the French people faced when living under Nazi occupation and the more recent experiences of Iraqi and Syrian people living under ISIS occupation. This is thanks in part to Dr. Judith Coffin's course on how the French simultaneously collaborated, stayed silent, and actively resisted their Nazi occupiers.

Dr. Michael Stoff's discussion of how U.S. foreign and domestic policy evolved before, during, and after the war clarified my understanding of the power of both American diplomacy and American military. It also shaped my thinking about an American responsibility of sorts to drive recovery and reconstruction efforts in post-conflict countries, particularly in places where our military has been a party to the conflict. I firmly believe in the $13 billion the United States spent as part of the Marshall Plan, an initiative that revitalized Europe after the end of World War II. And I feel just as supportive of the $104 billion we invested for relief and reconstruction in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2014, the $52 billion we contributed to stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq from until 2013, and the $1.7 billion the United States has spent in Iraq since the 2014 to provide humanitarian assistance the 11 million Iraqis in need due to the ISIS crisis.

The inner workings of the Nazi war machine, the ideology they espoused, and the extent of the death and destruction they caused, in just over a decade, were discussed in horrifying detail in Dr. David Crew's class on the role of Germany in the war. I learned some of the early warning signs of conflict in his course. I also credit his course with helping me develop the coping strategies I use to this day when spending hours and days on end thinking about the horrible things human beings do to each other.”

After graduating in 2014, Caroline spent three years in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, where she designed, monitored, and evaluated conflict prevention and conflict resolution programs. She also served as a member of the bureau’s peace process and mediation support team – providing U.S. diplomats with analytic and technical support to bring conflict parties to the negotiating table, work through mediation processes, and sustainably implement peace agreements.

Caroline currently serves as a Programme Coordinator with the Canadian Aid Organization for International Society Rehabilitation (CAOFISR) in Kurdistan, where her humanitarian work includes managing emergency livelihoods projects to provide income-generating opportunities to Iraqis living in internally displaced persons camps (IDP).

She employs internally displaced Iraqis living in Haj Ali camp, the majority of whom fled ISIS control of Mosul or the fighting to retake Mosul from ISIS, with cash-for-work jobs. These jobs, which include cleaning latrines and showers, collecting garbage, constructing a prayer space, and running a day care that enables women to become employed without worrying about childcare, provide wages that IDPs can use to buy basic necessities.

The project funding, provided by the Government of Japan and the United Nations Development Program, is unfortunately limited. Of the Haj Ali camp’s population of almost 30,000 people, 840 IDPs are employed in Caroline’s project, chosen by a random selection process among the most vulnerable IDPs.

“Each time I visit the camp, my CAOFISR colleagues and I are bombarded with requests for cash-for-work jobs from IDPs we have not been able to hire,” says Caroline. “But these conversations demonstrate the enormous need in Haj Ali camp and in camps across Iraq. Conversations like these keep me, my CAOFISR colleagues, and the entire humanitarian community working hard to support those in need of assistance across Iraq and the region.”

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