A Profile of Grace Grindstaff
Recreation, Student Development, and Building Evolution
Senior Associate Director of Facilities & Business Operations
University of North Carolina Wilmington
Grace Grindstaff, the Senior Associate Director of Facility & Business Operations at the University of North Carolina Wilmington lives in two worlds – facility management and student development while overseeing a recreational facility on campus.
Grace oversees the daily operation of the over 165,000 square foot Student Recreation Center serving over 16,000 students, faculty staff and the community. On a recent Zoom call, we had a laugh about the painting of Ron Swanson, actor Nick Offerman’s character from the comedy TV series Parks and Recreation, hanging in Grace’s office. “Yes, in real life, I supervise a big rec center,” she said.
Grace is happy to be back on the East Coast, closer to her family, after attending grad school in Texas.
She started working in campus recreation during her sophomore year of college. That’s when her advisor asked her, “What do you want to do with your life?”
Meanwhile, she was pursuing a degree in what she calls Modern Home Economics, taking lots of sewing and cooking classes, to which her boss jokingly said, “Well, you can’t bake cupcakes the rest of your life…”
Grace got her first job out of graduate school working at Texas A&M at a 500,000 square foot facility, where she lived with expansions and other amazing experiences. There, things became clearer about facilities and working with college students.
Grace explained that one of the slogans at UNCW is offering something for everyone because not every student on a college campus comes into the rec center, and not every student wants to come in and play basketball or go to group fitness class.
“We’re constantly offering opportunities for students just to get into our facility. We’re taking programs out onto campus to be with students where they live. We keep our doors open and have activities available for students from 6 am until 11:30 pm most days,” she said.
Student staff are also responsible for keeping the rec center running. Students set up spaces for groups or clubs or if athletics needs to come over and use a space, they make sure policies are enforced. They're doing things like checking mechanical closets to make sure they're not leaking.
Some of the things that have really helped her grow as a supervisor is making sure that students understand what they're getting out of their job, including transferable skills. “Not a lot of students get hands on experience in conflict management and how to work through an angry customer interaction. My students get that daily here,” said Grace.
The students run the facility from open to close while Grace oversees the building supervisors who open and close the facility.
Grace’s personal recreational fun is working with her hands. “I like to crochet, cross-stitch, and paint. My friends call me a grandma, but those are the kinds of things I love to do,” she laughed. She’s also a big reader. Brene Brown, John C. Maxwell and Jon Gordon are favorites. She reads a lot of leadership development books and tries to sprinkle that on to her students.
Her career advice to anybody wanting to go into facilities is to be organized.
“I have a notebook and I write literally everything down. And some people think it's a little bit overkill. However, when someone comes into a meeting and they're like, "Hey, you know, what did we do about this process?" or "How did we fix this thing?" Everybody in the room goes, "Hey, Grace, did you write that down in your notebook?"
Being organized has been useful in emergency situations, like leading and coordinating hurricane evacuation efforts.
“When I started at UNCW, two weeks into my job, Florence hit which shut us down for over a month. With the hurricane, we had a ton of flooding in our facility and even just on our campus. We had to replace floors and deal with mold,” she said.
Then there was the time a student athlete destroyed a backboard during an intramural basketball game. Her supervisor who had been working in recreation for 20 years said, "This has never happened in my career." Grace shares these stories with students to give them a feel for dealing with emergencies.
“I’m always looking for opportunities to grow and learn,” she explained.
Grace has serious concerns about losing historical building information about the rec center which opened in 2000, so she wrote up the history, including a 2013 expansion, based on archives in the library. That kind of hands-on, take responsibility attitude extends to her leadership style. “Never ask someone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself,” she said.
“This is a learning environment. You should be allowed to make mistakes. I like to give my team a roadmap to manage their building and offer the freedom to make their own decisions,” she said.
Grace believes that the next trend in campus recreation will be e-sports arenas on college campuses and hosting video gaming tournaments. She sees a continued evolution of outdoor fitness centers and more casual recreational sports and games like pickleball and spike ball.
Here are some parting career words of advice for women from Grace.
“If you see a job you don’t think you’re fully qualified for, or you can’t check off every qualification box, apply for it anyway. Women are always selling themselves short and our skills and knowledge speak for themselves. When working in a male dominated field, don’t be afraid to take up space. Suggest your ideas and bring yourself (and others) to the table as often as you can. Especially as a leader, make sure you’re making space at the table for your experts!”