For Natalie Grandison, personal success is certainly something to celebrate, but positively impacting the lives of others in your work is where the real magic lies.
“Always advocate for yourself and advocate for others,” says Natalie, Director of Engineering Initiatives at the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation, which provides members of the DC community the best opportunity to thrive through various initiatives—including a unique education program for engineering students.
“Whether you’re entry level or a C-suite executive, you always have to advocate for yourself, and you can always advocate for somebody else.”
It’s a powerful sentiment Natalie chose to live by after a “misguided stint at a hedge fund,” as she jokingly recalls, inspired her to pivot toward more meaningful work—starting with a brief return to school for a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from New York University.
“I fell in love with the nonprofit sector and the impact I could have on society with organizations using money, strategy, and investments for the greater good,” she says.
Making Moves & Making an Impact
In 2011 she moved from New York City to Washington, DC for a job at City Year, an education nonprofit focused on the high school dropout crisis. “I worked on making programs better, getting more resources, and making a difference,” she recalls. “It was so inspiring, and I definitely felt that I had found my people.”
It was during this time that Natalie met a contact at George Washington University who encouraged her to apply for a Major Gift Officer role at the university’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. She was offered and accepted the job, kickstarting a focus within the engineering field, and went on to serve as the Director of External Relations in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Maryland College Park. There, she grew her expertise in development, corporate and public relations, external outreach, and communications before joining the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation in her current role.
Dismantling Exclusivity in STEM Education
Today, Natalie manages the Foundation’s multi-year investment of nearly $220 million to the University of Maryland. The Foundation’s signature academic program, the A. James Clark Scholars Program, is also under her charge.
Established at 11 campuses nationwide, the program is focused on providing a quality engineering education to students from underrepresented and first-generation backgrounds, who both have financial need and show promising potential.
The program not only provides a high-quality engineering education, it also integrates elements of founder A. James Clark’s values and interests, like engaging in community service and building business acumen.
“My day-to-day focuses on looking at the impacts of various structures within higher education that affect affordability and access,” says Natalie. “How can we structure our program in a way that attracts underrepresented students to apply to and enroll in the elite and selective institutions that we partner with?”
Providing scholarship dollars and alleviating the financial burden isn’t the only hurdle, says Natalie. Academic support and guidance are also critical.
From helping students apply for additional financial aid to educating on the importance of networking and relationships, the program champions success across the student experience under Natalie’s leadership. Program directors at every participating school support students in making important introductions for career-building opportunities. The program also connects students with fellow Clark Scholars on campus to build community and provides a stipend so students can take advantage of low-paying internships or unpaid opportunities assisting faculty.
“It allows them to stay on campus and do research or other work related to their degree instead of picking up an extra side hustle,” notes Natalie, who held several jobs unrelated to her degree as an undergrad just to make ends meet.
“It’s the additional piece of helping them persist and get those career and research opportunities that really enhance an education experience,” says Natalie. “A lot of students that are first-generation college students don’t realize those connections are available.”
Know Your Worth to Grow Your Worth
With extensive experience across both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, Natalie brings a unique perspective to growing one’s career.
When asked for advice, she doesn’t hesitate: Don’t be afraid to make a lateral move if it gets you closer to your passions, and be proud of your journey.
“Don’t apologize for your knowledge or your expertise or your success,” says Natalie. “You earned it. Bring that with you wherever you go.”