Caroline Williamson (BSBA ’83) knew little about the Institute for the Arts and Humanities when friends Sandy Cockrell (BSBA ’82) and Sherwood Smith (BA ’56, JD ’60) approached her about joining the board. But she was immediately interested. As a long-time volunteer at her children’s schools and with her oldest daughter nearing college age, the time seemed right to look ahead.
“When I saw who was on the board, I was so impressed,” Williamson said. “It was such an honor to be asked to join. I love Carolina and liked the idea of getting involved again. So I said. ‘Yes.’”
Eight years later, Williamson said, she has gained more than she could have imagined. In particular, she has learned about the power of conversation with people from diverse backgrounds and differing views and the value those perspectives bring to the work of finding solutions.
Williamson is passing on what she has learned from her IAH involvement to the nonprofit grantees of her foundation so they can more effectively grapple with the challenges and opportunities they face.
“I have learned the more people you have around the table, the better the solution,” she says. “When you have more than one perspective, you get a more robust outcome.”
Williamson has contributed in many ways since joining the board in 2006. She hosted salons – those intimate IAH gatherings that feature a UNC scholar and a small group of alumni focused on a single topic or issue. She helped recruit other board members, attended IAH events and contributed financially.
She has taken away from those experiences knowledge, insights, friendships and a stronger connection to the Carolina community.
“It’s been intellectually stimulating,” she says. “I love when Fellows talk about the work they are doing. I love learning about what’s going on at the university. I love the conversations at dinner where we discuss a question and hear different points of view. I used that when starting this foundation.”
Williamson created the B. Robert Williamson Jr. Foundation in 2012 in memory of her late husband with a founding gift from Richard and Maureen Chilton. The foundation provides financial support for nonprofit organizations that focus primarily on the education and empowerment of young people.
“Our grants are about collaboration and getting different groups around the table to collaborate around one project. I learned that approach at the IAH,” Williamson says. “You need different stakeholders involved in the discussion to make progress.”
The foundation’s first three grantees spent their first year learning about each other’s organizations and defining the project they would work on together. In subsequent years, the hope is that they will work on a specific challenge in their organization and then serve as consultants and supports for each other using the collaborative skills and extending that model to their respective nonprofit communities.
“The nonprofits think it is incredibly powerful that we’ve provided this for them and that more foundations should fund this type of work,” Williamson says.
Williamson’s family is a Carolina family, through and through. She and her late husband, Robert, both earned undergraduate degrees from UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. Daughter Caroline is a 2013 graduate of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications. Son Rob is currently a sophomore at UNC. Daughter Wyndham is a high school sophomore who aspires to follow suit.
The value Williamson has received personally and professionally from her involvement with the IAH and the value she sees it offering others fuel her desire to continue supporting its work, she says.
“The IAH is a great retention and recruiting tool for faculty,” Williamson says. “It gives faculty a chance to work on a project on which they wouldn’t otherwise. It offers them a respite from teaching to recharge their batteries. And it’s a place on campus where people from different perspectives can air their thoughts around issues.”