Doctor of Philosophy in Social Policy

Opening doors and changing systems for underrepresented and marginalized people

Barbara Nobles Crawford, PhD’84
Barbara Nobles Crawford, PhD’84

Barbara Nobles Crawford, PhD’84, has just finished unpacking boxes in her new home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and in the top layer of a dusty box that has made three moves since 1984 is her PhD acceptance letter from Heller. 

“Reading this letter still has the power to bring me tears of joy, even close to forty years later,” says Nobles Crawford. “It was so welcoming and spoke to the ways that Heller was looking for my gifts. My commitment to Heller started the day I received that letter.”

At the time, Heller had a required “years of experience” component in its admission criteria, Nobles Crawford recalls, which she says led to a rich learning experience from all of her PhD colleagues as well as from professors.

Her newest role, in an extraordinarily varied career spanning multiple industries and sectors, is as professor of the practice in organizational behavior and director of executive and leadership coaching for MBA Working Professional Programs at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Kenan-Flagler Business School. Her students are current and future leaders who will benefit from her experience in applied leadership and organizational behavior and development.

“These are working professionals who have an interest in coming back to earn an MBA degree, and to enhance their knowledge, skills and capabilities to bring their whole selves in adding their unique value to their workplaces.”

As someone who has effected profound changes in equitable social policies, such as sentencing guidelines, parental leave, pay equity, inclusion and diversity practices, corporate social responsibility, unbiased leadership best practices in higher education and corporations, and the application of the Americans with Disabilities Act to people with “invisible” disabilities, one of Nobles Crawford’s goals as she interacts with the organizations and people around her is to look for underrepresented and marginalized people and open doors and change systems for their betterment.

One could say that Nobles Crawford has had the best of all employment worlds. She’s worked for and coached C-Suite executives at Fortune 50 companies, entrepreneurs and in not-for-profit organizations, and higher education leaders and faculty globally. She served in both the Department of Justice and in Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s administration. In addition to serving on several multifaceted not-for-profit boards, she has also pivoted to higher education, working for years at Harvard University and now at UNC in Chapel Hill.

“I struggled with what was the right move for me, as my talent was in high demand upon receiving my PhD from Heller. My intentional decision was to take a corporate job at one of the many high-technology companies at that point, which enabled me to take all of my learnings from Heller—social policy, economics, statistics, data analytics, and my own core values and experiences and apply them,” she says.

To the benefit of the Heller School, Nobles Crawford serves as a member of the Heller School Board of Advisors and participates in Heller events as much as possible. “I’ll always be grateful to Heller and for my experiences there,” she says. “It is and was a place where I felt like I belonged from day one, and could try out new ideas.”  

In March, Nobles Crawford moderated a panel with Dr. Eddie Moore, creator of the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge©, and representatives from graduate schools across Brandeis as a follow-up to each school’s inaugural participation in the 21-Day Challenge. “The Heller School was a trailblazer in presenting this opportunity to the community in January. Just as I feel proud to have been part of movements to improve policies, best practices, and laws that ameliorate injustices for underrepresented, and brown and Black people, I’m proud to be a part of helping teach equity, diversity, and inclusion to my fellow Brandeisians.”