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Caroline Savage MA’02, MA’04

Caroline Savage is a rock star, according to colleagues. She’s an international phenom for the foreign policy set. But you won’t see her name in the headlines.

March 01, 2012

2012 Forward under 40 Award Honoree

UW Majors: Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies; Political Science
Age: 32 | Washington, D.C.
Foreign Service Officer, training for Mozambique embassy

Caroline Savage is a rock star, according to colleagues. She's an international phenom for the foreign policy set. But you won't see her name in the headlines.

Savage has played a quiet yet challenging role behind the scenes as a top leader in Russian and Eurasian diplomacy and is headed to Africa. At thirty-two, Savage just finished a year planning, directing, and coordinating the development of policies relating to Russia at the National Security Council (NSC), during which she prepared briefing materials for all meetings with Russian officials and President Obama, Vice President Biden, and the National Security leadership. Typically, a Foreign Service officer would spend decades reaching this perch.

Now she is training to take a two- to three-year assignment as head of public affairs at the U.S. embassy in Mozambique. Savage has won six awards since 2005 at the State Department — accolades that foreshadowed her extraordinary path.

Prior to her NSC position, during Obama's "reset" of relations with Russia, Savage was a political-military affairs and foreign policy officer for the U.S. Department of State's Russia Desk. Her work to implement air and ground transit routes through Russia to Afghanistan has permitted the travel of more than 1,700 flights carrying more than 277,000 troops.

From July 2007 to July 2009, Savage helped keep operations running during the threatened closure of the U.S. embassy in Minsk after tensions flared between the United States and Belarus. As the public affairs officer and consul, she led a large, local staff, despite a 90 percent reduction of American personnel at the embassy, and she temporarily served as chargé d'affaires.

When Savage heads to Mozambique in August, Africa will be a new continent for her. After her year at the NSC, she hopes to bring a more holistic perspective to embassy challenges. While some issues will be similar to her European assignments, Savage says she now has a broader perspective about other agencies' capabilities, which will be helpful when dealing with U.S. programming in education and combating HIV/AIDS and malaria.

When asked to return to campus to mentor students last year, the competent and calm Savage humbly offered practical advice and encouragement. She continues to keep in contact with Foreign Service hopefuls from UW-Madison.

She mentions her alma mater's influence on her in a recent essay that refers to the university's famed Sifting and Winnowing statement. Savage says that the most important lesson she learned at the UW was "to embrace the constant sifting and winnowing in an ongoing learning process that continues to help me search for clarity and forge decisions in a world of ambiguous and sometimes contradictory information."

In her own words

What was your first job?

My cousin and I worked at The Ham Store at the Wisconsin State Fair. They were really long days, but it was a fantastic time.

What do you miss most about campus?

Between classes, I regularly took in lectures by visiting or resident scholars on their research projects, which were always informative and often inspiring. At the same time, I loved the fantastic and inexpensive classes offered by the Union. I really enjoyed photography, salsa dancing and yoga classes while I was a graduate student.

What was your favorite class?

That's a hard one. I loved comparative politics, taught by Michael Schatzberg. He had us read a book about the politics of international soccer and another on the impact of ghosts and spirits on African politics, among others, in order to show the various lenses outside our standard Western conceptions that have very real influence over people's perceptions, worldview and behavior. The course underscored the need to recognize and understand others' points of view in order to have a full picture of where they are coming from. Those lessons come back to me regularly in the course of my current work.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?

Pay attention and devote yourself to your family and friends. Your job will never love you back. Especially when your career is getting started, there are a lot of distractions, and the pressures at work can be really overwhelming. But those people who have known you and loved you as separate from any title or company on your business card are irreplaceable.

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