Meet Grace Foster! She is currently an Associate Development Manager at Enroll America, the nation's leading healthcare enrollment coalition. Grace This past August, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Grace to hear more about her career path and why she loves her job.
What Was Your Education Like?
Well, my background is all over the place. I was young and starry-eyed and I really wanted to do art. I majored in graphic design and studio art. I also sang, so I had a music scholarship and I did all of this stuff my first year and I went to a private school. Then I got into the “real world” and was like pshhh....no. Art’s not going to make me any money and music isn’t going to make me any money. So, then I switched and I went to a community college for a while. I had to work the whole time I was in school. I had three to four jobs all throughout college at a time. You know, my family didn’t have money, so everything we had, we earned ourselves. So, when I went to school, when I went to private school, it was very expensive and I just couldn’t afford it. So, I switched to community college, which was much more reasonable. I got an associates degree and kept working.
How did you start your career?
The nice thing is, you know, because of the work experience I had when I was young, it lead to an internship while I was still in school. It really was like the catalyst for my career. I got an internship with a hotel, Embassy Suites and I worked in their food and beverage department. I was a bartender and server for them and then jumped into their events department and then the rest is history! Because they’re a for-profit, they have to make a lot of money. It’s like 80-90-hour weeks. People don’t understand this. I was still in school and by that time I had transferred to the University of Minnesota. The boss that I had at Embassy Suites...like never take for granted your first boss who gave you that shot. I never forgot him. You know, he worked me to the bone, yes, but he always had my future in mind. He let me start there without a college degree and that was a big deal. So, never take your first boss for granted because they usually are the ones to make or break you. I learned a lot from him and we’re still really good friends.
Why did you transition away from your hospitality job?
My time at Embassy, I had to wrap it up because I wanted to finish school. Education is so important. Let me tell you though, it took me, I’m embarrassed to say it, but it took me nine years to graduate. It go to the point where I was skipping classes because I had to work. I was like, ‘I can’t do that, I have to finish school.’ I was able to find an opportunity with a tech company, Proto Labs, and they actually chased me a little bit. It was for manufacturing and technology. It was great but at the same time, it was a brand new industry. I got to learn a whole other side of how America works. I spent two years there and learned a lot. What was really cool about that company was that the manager who hired me there, again never take your bosses for granted; she saw something; I don’t know whatever she saw, she liked. Instead of starting me in a more entry level position, she advanced me right away into their top performer team.That industry really helped me grow my skill set. I was doing sales for them. You know, people think sales and they think greasy, grimey, whatever and it’s not. It depends on who you work for and it depends on what you make of it. It’s hard work which is why a lot of people don’t like it, but if you can grow in that industry, you can learn so much.
What Made You Decide to Leave the For Profit World?
You know, it’s exciting to be making a lot of money for a company, but at the same time, it’s like ‘woah, they make a lot of money.’ My boss’s boss gets paid a lot of money and like what for? More backstory, I had two siblings pass away from terminal illnesses. One was from cancer. My first year of college, she passed away. She died of cancer that was in her Uterus. It was really sad and made me think about what I could do to help people with cancer. So, I started looking into it when I was at Embassy Suits. I joined the American Cancer Society, their young professionals group. What we did was we ran a gala every year. I ended up chairing the group. I really got to experience leadership as a volunteer. It was a big time commitment because I was already in school and working. We would raise $70 or $80 thousand at each gala, which was good for one event. I did that for three years and that was really rewarding. When I was at Proto Labs, it helped me keep my foot in events. It also helped me network and networking is key. That’s another thing I have learned. It’s true, it’s about who you know and who you meet and how you can help each other.
How Was the Transition From For-Profit to Non-Profit?
When I got to DC, that was the hardest career transition I’ve ever done. I had become a work-a-holic. Aparently, some people, when they switch industries like that, it can take them a year or more to find a job. I was going crazy. I was like, ‘there is no way it’s going to take me a year!’ I got down because it took me three months. It doesn’t seem that long but it feels like eternity! I went back to waiting tables while I was looking; trying to eat some humble pie. It worked out and I was offered a position with Be The Match. They recognized my events experience, my sales experiences, how I related with people and that I had experience from the top level to the bottom level. The work is so different. It’s just as hard and just as challenging. People don’t appreciate what it’s like to work in non-profit. It’s a whole different skill set and a whole different mindset. It’s still profit driven because you have to raise money to keep the organization going. Especially for organization like Be The Match, where they’re paying for patients to get transplants, they’re paying for donors to donate. People don’t realize that costs like 30 to 40 thousand dollars per transplant. It’s also an unknown organization.
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