The phone rang at 4:15 p.m. Though I was in a gas station bathroom, changing clothes before high school crew practice, I picked up the phone. It was my Denison admission counselor. “Congrats, Grace! Welcome to Denison’s Class of 2016!”
I’m Grace, born and raised in Worthington, Ohio. I graduated from Denison in seven semesters in the Class of 2017. Now, I’m a funding consultant for a community foundation in Central America. Here’s how it happened.
A week after that phone call, I told Denison, Yes. Count me in. But just not this year. I want to learn a new language, get to know myself inside of a new culture, and come back with a set of questions that a Denison education will help me answer. Ultimately, my request for a gap year was approved by the Office of Admission.
In August, I helped send off my friends headed to college — cars packed with dorm decor and new MacBook Pros. Then, I boarded a plane to start my Global Citizen Year in Senegal.
At first, I struggled with my new normal. No power, no running water. Living in an earthen hut. Sleeping under a mosquito net. Drawing water from the well. Sharing a large dinner plate with my host family. Eating with no utensils. And exchanging the Spanish I learned in school for conversations in Pulaar and French.
But during the next eight months, I discovered my flow: I organized an art-based conservation class at the local school, found friends in the village’s shopkeepers who brewed tea on small charcoal stoves late into the night, and shelled peanuts on hot afternoons in the shade with host sisters and aunts.
Global Citizen Year uncovered in me a new-found curiosity and a slowed cadence at which to experience life’s fruit. I shifted away from the unsustainable pace of the extracurriculars and career-prep and instead surged into life’s next stage with a set of questions about the global, environmental, economic, and social histories responsible for the world unfolding before me. I came to Denison looking to enrich and sort out an understanding of it all, and my place in it.
On Denison’s campus, a community immediately surfaced where I could unpack and expand upon those questions and my time in Senegal: an African Diaspora dance class, a fellow Denisonian and a staff member who spoke Pulaar too, and upperclassmen pursuing grant funding for projects in Ethiopia and Central America. Because of my Global Citizen Year, I was also a candidate for funding from Davis Projects for Peace and was granted $10k to return to Senegal in 2014 to implement a pilot waste management project.
My four years as a Denisonian were punctuated by daily wood-chopping and communing with fellow residents at the Homestead, weekly radio shows on WDUB The Doobie, quarterly geoscience field trips, and a six-month academic enrichment leave for community development and a forestry internship in Ecuador’s Amazon.
During my senior year, while dreaming about where I might land after my time on the Hill, I saw a post in the Global Citizen Year Alumni Network from founder and CEO, Abby Falik, and it caught my eye. Abby’s colleague and mentor at For Impact | The Suddes Group was offering a paid fellowship “working alongside social entrepreneurs and change agents working to impact important causes of our lifetime.” My interest was piqued.
With Abby’s encouragement, a conversation with the Columbus-based consulting firm turned into my first post-grad job. For Impact respected my Global Citizen Year; they saw it as professional development satisfying the year of professional work experience they required. They hired me because of the complementary experiences Global Citizen Year and Denison fostered in me.
Over the following 18 months, the For Impact team mentored me and then sent me coast to coast, and even to Central America, to train nonprofit leaders on message building, sales and fundraising necessary for their organizations to thrive. For Impact further transformed me and the way I think about improving our world. I had the privilege to work alongside development teams and executive directors of local and national non-profits and help them refocus on the role of the hard work they do and how they engage with the world to accomplish their missions.
As the For Impact fellowship wound down, I looked for a job in Latin America that landed me where I am today: consulting for the Monteverde Community Fund in the Costa Rican cloud forest and employing the skills I developed at Global Citizen Year, Denison, and For Impact. It all began with a simple phone call taken in a gas station bathroom from a university that shared my passion for exploring opportunities that would prepare me to contribute meaningfully to our global society.
Listen to Grace’s TEDx talk about the experience.