Pace wanted Amanda Grant before she wanted Pace. Grant, a champion of the Lincoln Douglas Debate Tournament, was recruited with a full scholarship by the debate team before she knew anything about the university. Grant was also a perfect candidate for the (now-shuttered) Freshman Thinking Project at Dyson, led by Prof. Harold Brown, who remains Grant’s mentor. She is passionate to this day about the creative, supportive surprise Pace turned out to be for her.
Freshman year was a first year of grown-up life for Grant. She had the room to think differently, to work hard and to connect. “I fell in love with everything at Pace: the diversity of the remarkable students, the professors’ engagement with the students, the intellectual stimulation.”
Grant had graduated from an innovative and competitive high school program in Ridgewood, New Jersey, which developed critical thinking through an interdisciplinary program. She felt that most of her high school classmates were headed for the Ivy League, but the American college process overwhelmed Grant’s British parents. Neither had studied in the States, and neither had gone to university in Britain. “My parents were so creative and supportive, but we had little ability to navigate the information, especially with limited financial resources, “ she says. As a result, Pace’s scholarship offer was life changing and critical for this debate geek.
“At Pace, I learned that my ideas were as worthy as anyone’s in the room. I developed the confidence to explore without fear, to pursue ideas and to cultivate an irreverence for authority in my career.”
Unfortunately the debate team was disbanded at the end of her freshman year, so Grant’s college experience needed to change. She took a summer job on Wall Street, which culminated in an offer of a full-time position. She moved to Hoboken, where she still lives, and finished her BA in English Language and Literature at Pace New York with a full-time course load and a full day at work. “Yes, it was hard and exhausting,” she says, “ but evening students were so driven and motivated for both personal and professional development.” Grant returns again and again to the endless influence her undergraduate studies had on her life, and the pivotal experiences and invaluable skills she learned then. “At Pace, I learned that my ideas were as worthy as anyone’s in the room. I developed the confidence to explore without fear, to pursue ideas and to cultivate an irreverence for authority in my career.”
“At first I thought I’d study business, but I was also sure I’d become an English professor,” she says. “I finished a masters at Hunter in English Literature, but then it was time to commit and make a choice.” She felt a pull to other careers and as a result of her Pace experience, she was confident that she could learn the business world on the job going forward. “At 29, I was managing a team of 10 people in their forties and fifties in client services and asset management. I counted on my debate skills because I was often presenting to corporations and pension funds.”
In hiring today, Grant values people who have “done for themselves” through their own creativity and hard work. “I’m looking for people who have interests in life outside of the numbers, and problem solvers who see opportunity in challenges, candidates who are fearless, resourceful and have ideas to share.” The communications and thinking skills developed by a liberal arts degree remain important to her too. “Communication skills and global, historical awareness are sorely lacking today, and they are so useful in a shrinking world. It often all comes down to relationships and a holistic view of the world and the issues.”
Grant feels young people live with information overload. She acknowledges that because this generation has grown up with exploding technology, it’s “all they know,” but she wonders about their depth of knowledge and about the possible paralysis caused by so many choices. “Young people have energy, but not a lot of patience. It can be hard to develop expertise with the lack of stability of today’s job market.” She advises that young people might “look for opportunities to re-purpose their abilities within an organization, to build tenure, but still grow. Get comfortable getting outside your comfort zone, someone once told me, “ she quoted.
“Young people have energy, but not a lot of patience. It can be hard to develop expertise with the lack of stability of today’s job market.” She advises that young people might “look for opportunities to re-purpose their abilities within an organization, to build tenure, but still grow. Get comfortable getting outside your comfort zone, someone once told me, “
And how does Grant balance her work life and her personal life? “I don’t,” she says. “It’s all one life with lots of give and take. I’ve learned when to shuffle and be flexible in order to spend time with my son. I’m proud that I’ve never missed a game or a school concert, but I may have to continue working after he goes to sleep at night.”
Choosing to be a single parent through an open adoption taught Grant lessons she couldn’t have expected. In an open adoption, the biological and adoptive families know more about each other and can stay in contact. “Of course, I was anxious about the process, but my son’s birth mother is so grounded, self-less and good-hearted. She’s half my age, but her resilience and maturity are amazing. She’s genuinely joyful that my son and I are a family. Adopting my son is the best decision I ever made.” Grant has also learned plenty from her eight-year old. “Because of my athletic son, I now know all about football, soccer and wrestling! I don’t have an athletic bone in my body, but my son and I wrestle together as our favorite WWF stars. I remind him that not all moms would do that!”
The experience of adopting also led to a fascinating side step in Grant’s career. In 2011 she bravely left a senior position as managing director of global institutional services at what is now Columbia Threadneedle to start USAdopt, a central resource for domestic adoption information that she had discovered was not previously available. “Adoptive parents have to make decisions that biological parents don’t.” USAdopt closed as a business in 2015, but Grant continues to provide services to families pro bono. Grant then returned to the business world in 2015 as a principal at Third Street Partners, an executive recruiting firm. This new path “aggregates all my career skills,” she says.
“Then about three years ago I was first approached about the advisory board. I received a call from Jeanne Hayes, who said that my background had come to the school’s attention, and they thought that I could bring an interesting perspective to the board. While I had not been an active alumna, Pace was so instrumental in who I am today.” Grant wants to be helpful to students going out into the world; to help these “remarkable, accomplished and innovative” young people survive and thrive. She also enjoys connecting more alumni back to Pace, who may not be aware that the college is “even more magnificent today!”
What does she do in her free time? “Well, there’s not much of it. I help people to adopt, and I’m on the refugee committee of my synagogue.”
Grant’s next travel destination: “My son and I go to the family camp, Quisisana, in Maine every summer, but I’ve always wanted to see the gorgeous scenery around St. John in New Brunswick. I’m hoping to get there for my 50th birthday.” (There’s a Pace Performing Arts connection at Quisisana too. Acting faculty Susan Aston directs the camp drama program and often brings Pace students with her to perform.)
What’s on her Kindle? Non-fiction: Grit by Angela Duckworth. All about persevering. Fiction: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, an unlikely love story.
The opposite of a collector: “I’m utilitarian. I ‘get rid of’ instead of collecting.”
What does she do to spoil or reward herself? “Maybe a manicure for 30 minutes of ‘me’ time, and Latin dancing with a group of friends at SOBs in the city.”