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Granting Gifts of Appreciation

Christine Grant gives.

It’s a second-nature response to the crafting hobby she has cultivated throughout a lifetime of handiwork outside her role as the inaugural associate dean of faculty advancement in NC State’s College of Engineering, giving away the pins, earrings, bookmarks, plates and other pieces of jewelry she makes at home in her off hours.

To be honest, she never knows in whose hands her homemade goods will end up. Last year, she pulled into a parking space at a Raleigh craft store for a going-out-of-business sale. She was shocked by a magnetic sign on a car promoting a crafting company that coincidentally shares a name with her late mother, Frances Grant.

She struck up a conversation with the car’s driver, a fellow crafter who also loves giving her creations away. Seeing dangly earrings the elegant senior woman was wearing, Grant wondered where they came from. As it turned out, said the woman, they were something given to attendees at a local National Council of Negro Women meeting, a chapter Grant’s mother had founded long ago.

“They were a gift,” the driver said.

“I think I made them,” Grant replied.

And indeed she did, having donated them to the NCNW years ago to give to any participant who wanted a pair.

“You never know where your gifts might go,” Grant says.

NC State Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Christine Grant.

Grant always makes gifts to share at the conferences, lectures and church meetings she regularly attends when travel is allowed. It keeps her engaged with her creative side.

In March, when almost all out-of-home activities came to an abrupt halt for faculty, staff and university leadership, Grant started making even more. But what should she do with all the stuff? There were no meetings to attend, and she only gets a little traffic on her personal Jewels of Resilience ecommerce store.

Grant, remembering those on campus who first welcomed her 30 years ago as the first female African American faculty member in the College of Engineering, thought about the campus housekeeping staff, a group of more than 300 hardworking employees who have been on campus and on the job even while most other staff and faculty have transitioned to remote work and virtual instruction.

She made something by hand for each housekeeper, zone leader and administrative staff member as a token of appreciation for their superhero work over the last nine months, delivered them as a package or in a gift bag and included a handwritten note for each person. Working with the guidance of University Housekeeping Director Ada Baldwin, she included pens and notebooks with the idea that parents would write notes to their children or other family members. She thought about the joy they might bring.

“It kind of grew into a mammoth project that kept me quite busy,” she says.

It was a well-received effort from the housekeeping staff.

“They all loved them,” says Hezekiah Henry, a housekeeping zone manager at Centennial Biomedical Campus. “Every piece was handmade. She had something for everyone. I told them it was all handmade by Dr. Grant and they looked at me like, ‘wow.’

“It was a big morale boost to know that someone here on campus took the time to do that for them.”

For Grant, it was particularly important to show her appreciation to housekeepers, which was a job her grandmother once had in New York, prior to working in the state university bursar’s office. When she first came to NC State, there were few other African American professors on campus and only a handful in the College of Engineering.

“The people who looked like me were staff and housekeeping, not other faculty,” she says. “There was an older African American woman who reminded me of my grandmother who cleaned my office, and we developed a close relationship.

“Not being from the South, I did not expect the nurturing I received from the housekeeping team,” Grant says. “They took me under their wing and nurtured me as a young professor at NC State. They made me feel welcome, whether I saw them here on campus or at church, in a way no one else would ever really understand. I got such joy from those interactions.”

It was a big morale boost to know that someone here on campus took the time to do that for them.

Grant grew up in upstate New York, the daughter of a science teacher and music teacher, both of whom were actively engaged in community, civic and church activities. After earning a degree in chemical engineering from Brown University and both her master’s and doctorate degrees from Georgia Tech, she came to NC State in 1989 as an assistant professor in chemical and biomolecular engineering, rising steadily through the academic ranks to fully tenured professor and then associate dean. Even as a student, she stayed busy by making bookshelves and decorating plates to sell.

She is currently on a one-year assignment from the College of Engineering to a federal agency as a program director for broadening participation in engineering. Recently, she was elected  president of her professional society, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, leading an international organization of more than 60,000 members in 110 countries.

While she is professionally passionate about promoting STEM education to underrepresented groups, she always saves some of her free time for crafting. Giving most of it away makes it more special, especially to the few fellow women STEM students and professionals she has encountered through the years.

“And the joy that it brings to them, brings joy to me,” she says.

Now, as campus activities grind to a halt for all employees until after New Year’s Day, Grant leaves 2020 behind filled with the joy celebrated during the cultural and religious seasons of giving.

This post was originally published in NC State News.