For the Maryland Chamber’s 50-year anniversary we’re taking a walk down memory lane—highlighting exemplary moments from our past. Recipient of the first Public Service Award for the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, former State Superintendent Dr. Nancy Grasmick chatted with us about the highlights of her own career while we noted that she was a part of ours as well.
What did it mean to win the first Public Service Award with the Maryland Chamber back in 2011?
First of all, I was totally surprised and my second reaction was that I was thrilled. I was surprised because the Maryland Chamber has always attracted so many outstanding people on of their board and they are also people who do amazing public service. Obviously, I did public service as the state superintendent but to be the person singled out for that first award was beyond thrilling for me. I always had huge respect for the Maryland Chamber, their ability to attract outstanding people, and how they galvanized positions on issues that were so important to our state. Finally, they cared deeply about education so this award meant the world to me.
How has public service advanced your life—both personally and professionally?
I believe that public service is actually one of the most important thing we do. Serving in many of our positions, I find it benefits all of us. It is offering opportunity and talent to the larger community. By doing public service, you are interacting with the people who populate this state. You have a depth of understanding of the views of the people. But beyond that, you are making a serious contribution to the betterment of the lives of people and of the state as a whole I think it is one of the most important things we do and as a result, when I was state superintendent, I said every student would have to do a service requirement to get a Maryland high school diploma. We remain the only state in the nation that has been able to say, “all students in the state have to have done service to be able to get a Maryland high school diploma.”
Service has benefited our students who have had experiences they would have never had. They have interacted with a myriad of different talented people, have had career paths defined that they would have never been exposed had they not done that service.
You have had an incredibly impressive career advocating and equipping students for their future. What is your advice to institutions and businesses on how they can get involved in fostering Maryland’s talent pipeline?
I use a saying when I make speeches that, “teaching and what we do in the educational community makes every job possible.” So, if people in the business community want prepared employees, if parents want their children to be self-supporting, if we want to provide for people to be productive citizens by way of earning money and being independent it is through education that those people will be successful. Therefore, I urge businesses to have a deep interest in education because that represents the future of those businesses and it represents the future of our state and country in terms of the self-sufficiency, the creativity of ideas, in moving forward to be competitive. That will not happen otherwise.
We have placed a lot of emphasis on students going to college, which I support but I would also say, that there are very respected and important professions in the area of career technology education. If businesses want students to matriculate through school and be prepared for this 21st century they have to realize schools will never have the budget to be able to have the state of the art equipment, exploration research, etc. that businesses have, so we need strong partnerships for our students to have those opportunities.
I do think at the community college level, those partnerships have been extremely productive. I think that we need to do more in terms of our high schools and it cannot just be one school in a county or city that students attend, but rather partnerships that exist as a part of every comprehensive high school.
In an interview, TEOHP 2013: Towson University Teacher Education Oral History Project, you mentioned at one time during your position as area superintendent for Southeast Baltimore county that you were one of about two women amongst more than 30 men, could you elaborate on what that experience was like? What advice can you give on what it takes to successfully collaborate in various sets of circumstances and workplace dynamics?
I am a very fortunate person because I have had incredible male mentors who never, in any way, diminished what they saw as my potential and who were willing to give me opportunities and support me as I pursued those opportunities.
There were times when I was given an administrative opportunity and people were a little surprised when they saw a young woman come in who is going to be responsible for 30 schools in an area. I have always embraced the idea that one has to make their mark. I was unfamiliar with the area where I was assigned. I delved into it, forged a relationship with the community from which I received excellent information. I built bonds with community members and it became a very reciprocal relationship.
It was a matter of engaging myself in the community, of not seeing myself as different because I’m a woman. I wanted to do good work, I wanted to support the people who were doing a great job and I did not let being a woman become the centerpiece. Ultimately, it all worked out for me. Sometimes I think we can put so much emphasis on why we’re different as opposed to why we are the same and how we can make a contribution working together.
It wasn’t always easy, there were nights I thought, “I’ll never convert these guys.” But the point was, you persevere, you do good work. And you know what? In their hearts, people are ultimately fair. Those men were wonderful to me.
One funny story, when I was walking with a principal through his school, a second grade student said to him, “Who is this woman with you?” He said, “Well, she’s my boss.” The little boy looked up at him and said, “I thought only God was your boss.”
What advice can you give to others looking to get more involved in public service?
It is the most rewarding thing you can do.
You know you have made a tangible difference [through service], and you can also look at it as reciprocal in the sense that you are giving but you are also receiving.
I think it is the most powerful reward.