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7 Questions with Gia Grier McGinnis
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7 Questions with Gia Grier McGinnis
Name: Gia Grier McGinnis
Current title: Executive Director, UMB CURE Scholars Program
Current organisation: University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB)
Dr. Gia Grier McGinnis is the Executive Director of the UMB CURE Scholars Program, a groundbreaking, year-round STEM and healthcare pipeline program for West Baltimore youth. At CURE, she leads a passionate team of STEM educators, social workers, student success and community engagement professionals who manage day-to-day program operations for middle and high school programming for over 100 West Baltimore youth. She partners with faculty and staff across UMB’s campus to leverage internal and external resources and volunteers for the program.
Before coming to UMB, she served for 12 years in leadership positions at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Social Concern, the service-learning center for the Homewood campus. Dr. Grier McGinnis has previously served on the Community-University Advisory Board for Morgan State University’s A Student-Centered Entrepreneurship Development Program (ASCEND), a board that administered a NIH small grants program for joint community-university research projects. She is a member of the Strategic Steering Committee of the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education and serves on the boards of the Maryland state organization of the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI MD) and Placewise Learning (formerly Baltimore Green Map).
Dr. Grier McGinnis earned her BA in environmental studies from Washington College and her MS with a focus in environmental behavior and policy (environmental justice sub-program) from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She completed her DrPH at Morgan State University’s School of Community Health & Policy through their Prevention Science Research Center. Her research was conducted in partnership with an anti-tobacco, peer-led community-based participatory research initiative.
She enjoys working at the intersection of public engagement and science and believes that anchor institutions have the resources to support their neighbors in transforming their communities.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
CURE Scholars is unique in that it has the feel of a small non-profit staff-wise, but it's embedded in—and orchestrates its work across— the infrastructure of a university. The challenge is to make sure the day to day staff have their own identity and support as a team while integrating the participation and passion of other university stakeholders.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I had worked for over a decade prior at another university in a Center that was community engagement focused where I had worked my way up progressively through various career levels and had even served as the interim director of the organization for a stretch. When the time came to leave there, I knew I was well prepared to be an Executive Director.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I get up early..before everyone else in my house is awake and looks at my day. Two of our children are still school-aged so there is a phase of child-wrangling and school drop off (or logging in).
Every day is really different for me at work. My days are a combination of 1-1 meetings with staff, strategic meetings with other university offices, and these days I often have at least one form of public presentation (panel, philanthropy pitch, class presentation etc). Some days I also have meetings with our parents or caregivers. We have a parent organization similar to a PTO.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
I think I have learned to be more open and vulnerable with my team and let them know that they can also be human. I have never been a hardline manager, which in certain org cultures can be viewed as a negative. I am excited that workplace wellness has gotten more attention in recent years. Passion fatigue is common in community work.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
A couple of years ago when I was finishing up my doctorate in public health, I knew I wanted to leave where I was and do something different, but wasn’t sure how to make sense of my varied skills, interests, and talents. The book Pivot by Jenny Blake was one that I read in this transition period. It helped me articulate what I wanted, philosophically, from my next phase of my career..and helped me create, in writing, a vision for what I was hoping to achieve. It allowed me to reject leadership opportunities that weren’t serving this higher purpose and lean into ones that did.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
Because CURE Scholars has so many moving pieces, sub-committee structures were developed to orchestrate different internal and external players. This created vehicles for project and program development, ideas for resource generation, and feedback on strategy. One person can’t do it all. It really takes many hands and hearts to do this work.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
Very early in my time at CURE, the program had its annual induction ceremony for its latest cohort of youth. The large-scale event has become a university tradition that also draws VIPs from across the state. As I took the podium to lead the ceremony portion of the program and looked out into the crowd of families, university officials, volunteers, and community partners, I fully processed the magnitude and diversity of support for the program… as well as the responsibility my role has in orchestrating it all.