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Thomas Carroll, BA '18

thomas carroll

Pate Family Scholarship

Thomas Carroll wanted it all.

Birds chirping as he walked to class in the morning. People tossing around Frisbees on an expansive, grassy lawn. But also a big city. With internship opportunities. And easy access to museums and live music.

bridge   The Pate Family

Carroll recalls trying to explain what he was looking for in a college to his dad: “After listening to me, he said, ‘Wait, Tom. Let me get this straight. You want a school that feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere but is not actually in the middle of nowhere.’ And I’m like, ‘That’s right.’ He paused and then simply said, ‘Good luck.’”

But he did find it. More than 850 miles away from his suburban New Jersey home was the perfect fit: Vanderbilt University.

Coming from a middle-class family with five other brothers, Carroll understood that attending Vanderbilt was dependent on financial aid. Then he heard about the university’s financial aid initiative, Opportunity Vanderbilt, which replaces all need-based undergraduate student loans with grants and scholarships.

“Knowing that Vanderbilt has that commitment to attracting students with different socioeconomic backgrounds was very powerful,” says Carroll.

He describes the moment he found out he was accepted into Vanderbilt as “one of the highlights of my life.” Then the financial aid package came. “That was a very different kind of happy. It was like a sigh of relief. Now I could go to Vanderbilt stress-free. I could make an impact.”

An economics major, Carroll helps lead the Vanderbilt Investment Club, participates in student government as a senator of Warren and Moore College Halls, and serves as a university tour guide.

But perhaps his most profound experience at Vanderbilt so far has been with Vanderbilt’s Students Consulting for Nonprofit Organizations, which pairs students with faculty mentors and professional consultants to work on year-long, pro bono projects for Nashville nonprofits.

He’s been involved with this student organization since his first year and currently serves as president. Among the many aspects of this role, Carroll helps recruit and select nonprofit organizations, including a local thrift store that approached him about strategies for increasing their profitability. This particular request was personal for Carroll. He had previously led a team to make recommendations to the same nonprofit about a customer loyalty program, which the thrift store went on to adopt.

“As a college student, that blew me away,” says Carroll. “They are turning to us because we made a difference for them the year before. That was the moment I realized that being a college student and making a real impact were not mutually exclusive.”

Once he graduates, Carroll hopes to continue to learn about the world of business through both his professional path and volunteer work aimed at helping give people their own chance to succeed.

“Maybe part of this drive is that I come from a middle-class background and got this phenomenal opportunity to come to Vanderbilt. There’s never been a day during my time here where I’ve taken it for granted. There’s never been a day where I don’t feel like I need to give back. Today, I’m helping out a local Tennessee thrift store, and maybe 20 years from now it will be Goodwill. None of this would be possible without Opportunity Vanderbilt and the people who invested in my future.”