A native of Toppenish in Eastern Washington, Alyson Summers studied communications at the University of Washington and was a student coordinator for the UW’s GenOM ALVA Project—a program that provides summer internships to minority students who are interested in scientific research, especially in genetics and genomics. In 2004, Alyson joined the foundation’s education team as a program assistant and has since held a number of positions in grants management supporting the work of the Global Health, Global Development, and Global Policy & Advocacy divisions. Alyson is a founding member of the Latino Community Fund of Washington State and helps lead the foundation’s Latino employee resource group.
When people ask what I do, I compare it to stage production. You have the grantees who are the stars. Then you have the program officers who are the writers and directors. As a grants manager, I’m the stagehand, making sure that everything goes off without a hitch.
Working here can be unusual. You can be having lunch next to someone who is nice and funny and without airs, then you find out he helped eradicate smallpox. The people here are incredible. It’s exciting to be around such smart, talented individuals—and completely humbling.
You obviously need a strong work ethic to succeed here, but what you really need is to be flexible and comfortable with change. While our overall mission and goal is consistent, how to get there can and is expected to change. You have to be adaptable.
Is it more important to bring experience or education to the foundation? It’s a combination, but in some areas, I think having more experience outweighs education. I remember hearing about a project a couple of years ago concerning a seed storage bag that wasn’t working and they couldn’t figure out the solution until they took it out into the field in Africa. What you bring from the classroom is not the same as what one brings straight from real-life experience.
My advice to job seekers is to not apply for just any position to get your foot in the door, with the hope that it leads to something else. There are so many other organizations that need people where you can get experience to find out if this is something you want to do. There are many other organizations with similar missions that certainly need and want qualified, energetic people.