Futures in Foundations: The Interview Edition

In this second look at “Futures in Foundations” we’ll be hearing from two professionals, one who is a full-time staff member at a foundation, and another who has a long-term consulting relationship with a foundation.

Dr. Chera Reid (PhD, Higher Education) works for The Kresge Foundation as a Program Officer in Education. The Kresge Foundation is a national foundation based in Michigan that describes its mission as expanding opportunities in America’s cities through investing in areas such as art, culture, education, and community development. ShawnTina Harrod (M.A., Counseling Psychology) is a consultant for the New York City-based Heckscher Foundation for Children, supporting their college prep program. Below, they provide insights into the value of being part of a foundation, how foundation work applies the skill set developed as a graduate student, and how to position yourself if you’re thinking about a career at a foundation. Missed our intro blog on careers at foundations? Check it out here.

Q: Dr. Reid, what was your motivation to move out of academe and into the foundation world?
A:  I view my work in philanthropy as an extension of my academic interests. As a graduate student, my work focused on issues of access and equity in American higher education, particularly for racial and ethnic minority students and first-generation college students. The Kresge Foundation’s Education team grant-making strategy centers on two areas: 1) pathways to and through college for first-generation, low-income, and minority students and 2) strengthening postsecondary institutions that have as their mission to support first-generation, low-income, and minority students, which includes community colleges and minority-serving institutions. As a Program Officer at The Kresge Foundation, I have the privilege of thinking deeply and critically about what it will take to increase college attainment for students from underserved backgrounds and partnering with organizations that find innovative ways of working toward this goal.

Q: Dr. Reid, which of the skills developed during your PhD process do you think are most appreciated by your foundation peers?
A: Strong critical thinking, analytic, and writing skills are assets in my work.

Q: Ms. Harrod, which of your specific skills from graduate school do you think assist in your collaboration with foundations?

A: My counseling skills are applied in different settings when I work with foundations – giving me an opportunity to do what I actually went to school for.  However, being a consultant with an organization also entails some entrepreneurship, which my graduate school did not lend any advice about!
Q: Dr. Reid, what strategies would you recommend to PhDs seeking to move into the foundation world?
A: Be confident that you are gaining versatile, productive, intellectual and professional skills while studying for a PhD. Reach out to people who have taken less traditional professional paths, and ask them about their experiences. A number of foundations are increasing their overall learning and evaluation capacity. Consider positions in this area of work in addition to content-specific program ones.

Q: Ms. Harrod, why do you like collaborating with foundations?

A: I like applying my skill set in non-traditional ways.  I truly hate the cookie-cutter mode of how/where counselors should work and prefer the flexibility of being a consultant and expanding my career.  Foundations, like The Heckscher Foundation for Children, tend to have a very specific mission and goals, and I appreciate being able to support them in achieving that.

Thank you again to both of our interviewees for sharing their insights!

– Jackie Kelly