Where They Are Now – Alex Gant, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Manager, Meetings & Conventions – National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Alex received a B.A. in History from George Mason University. She has been in her current role and organization for 5 months.
What was your career path to get your current role? Conference & Operations Manager, OUT for Work; Program Coordinator, OUT for Work; Program Coordinator, George Mason University Office of LGBTQ Resources
What was your first job? My first real job was at Blockbuster Video at the end of my sophomore year of college. Quickly after starting there as a customer service representative, I rose up to Shift Manager and unofficial Assistant Manager while being a full-time student at George Mason University. After graduation from Mason, I started working at OUT for Work as an intern, then as a part time volunteer, then as the only full-time staff member. After serving in a variety of capacities at OUT for Work for six years, I started at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Why did you choose this career? Originally, I had planned to become a High School History teacher. I have always had a passion for history, but it was always about the culture and social aspects of history that I loved the most. In everything that I do, I always look at the people, the ones I work with and the ones that I serve in my roles. After college when I got into non-profit management and working at OUT for Work with colleges and students, it became clear to me that I loved working with a variety of academic institutions, professionals, and as an educator in public speaking and bringing people together to make the world a better place. After years with OUT for Work, I realized how much I love putting together events and programs to bring people together. I love the ability to provide an outlet for people to gain insight into best practices and tools available for specific groups of people. At OUT for Work, it was the LGBTQ student population and with NAMI it is with mental health professionals, social workers, registered nurses, scientists, and people living with mental illness and their friends and families. Both communities are groups that I am passionate about and to me that makes me feel lucky that I have ties to both great communities.
What is the skill that is most important in your current role? Being very attentive. Every role I’ve ever had is about understanding. Being aware of what matters to supervisors, co-workers, the organization, the mission, and attendees of events and programs. Listening is sometimes that hardest thing to do, but it makes all of the difference. When I listen to my boss and my co-workers, I get a sense of what to them means success in our events. Attendees need to know their opinions and feelings are important, and it is crucial that everyone know that they are being heard and counted.
How did you develop this skill and how do you fine-tune it regularly? I grew up with privilege. I was very lucky to grow up with 2 loving parents, French and English languages, and 2 not so loving at the time by love-able brothers who kept me on my toes. We got to travel a lot as kids and moved from Germany to Hawaii to Paris and different parts of Virginia. It was an amazing childhood that I wouldn’t trade for anything. My parents taught me a lot about different cultures, languages, language barriers, and being diplomatic in talking to people and making everyone feel heard and respected. It is a hard skill to fine-tune but consistent outreach to my event attendees makes them feel respected and fully aware of all of the small details, lets them know that I am prepared for all of the little things. Connecting with co-workers and other staff is essential in making sure that everyone around me knows what the small details are as well as everyone is on the same page. One of the most important things I can do is let co-workers know where I will need their assistance so that know they are included and if a time comes when help is needed, there are no hiccups. There’s nothing better for an event coordinator than to see an event run perfectly.
What is your biggest career accomplishment? I would have to say the 2014 NAMI National Convention, but essentially the last five months. I had worked at OUT for Work with an LGBTQ community, colleges, sponsors, and niche I loved and had been a part of for over six years. I was an expert in the community and I was given a chance to be a part of the mental health community at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and I seized the opportunity. In only five months, I learned how to do my job, how the organization worked, who my 80+ co-workers were, how the convention runs, everything I needed to be in control of, who the speakers were, how to work best with my department, the sessions, the experiences of our attendees, the hotel layout, what would come up last minute at the convention and how to make everyone happy. Despite being four times larger in size than any event I had previously put together, it was the first time I was relaxed throughout. I knew I had a great team and great experience behind me and that it would go well. It was such a great feeling and I felt lucky and proud to be a part of it all.
How many years were you a member of EACE? 4
What organization(s) and role(s) did you have when you were a member of EACE? Conference & Operations Manager, OUT for Work Program Coordinator, OUT for Work
Did you serve on the Board of Directors or as a Committee Chair? Co-Chair, Diversity & Inclusion Committee, 2013-14
How did EACE help you in your personal career development? EACE gave me an opportunity to work on my networking abilities, collaboration skills, and outreach skills. It can be a little awkward sometimes to put yourself in the middle (or even the corner) of a room of people who all know each other and you don’t and jump into singing and playing guitar on Rockband in Philadelphia, playing poker in Atlantic City, or an evening on the town in Portland.
What is your advice to current EACE members who aspire to your current or a similar role to yours?: Just know that you can do it. The worst thing that you can do for yourself is think that you can’t do something. People always say you can do anything that you want to do. It isn’t true unless you make steps to get there. Sometimes you don’t get there quickly but you will never be disappointed in yourself when you try. I’m lucky in having a role that connects me to advocacy work, event planning, and tying in my passion for the LGBTQ community into future programming with NAMI. I currently have my dream job and I’m looking forward to seeing what the next 5 months and 5 years have in store.
Alex did visit her career center when she was in college.