This week's Behind the Board feature is Nicole Pulliam, Associate Professor and Director of Social Justice Academy at Monmouth UniversityThank you to Nicole for taking the time to talk with us!

1. What made you want to serve on the Grunin Foundation board?
I met Jeremy and learned about the Grunin Foundation almost two years ago before I started my role as the Director of the Social Justice Academy at Monmouth University. I learned a lot about the Foundation and was able to glean how much they valued social justice, as evidenced by their generous support of the Academy. The Foundation’s commitment to social justice, advocacy and equity really spoke to me.

About a year ago, Jeremy and Heather asked me to serve on the Foundation Board. I said yes immediately, which is something I rarely do without taking some time to reflect first. I am very mindful of where I spend my professional and personal time, but I knew the Foundation team was genuine in their work and I had felt that from the very beginning. I believe in the Foundation’s mission and feel especially connected to it as a resident of the Central Jersey Shore.

2. The Grunin Foundation’s mission is to improve the quality of life for all members of our community by using philanthropy to drive economic excellence at the Central Jersey Shore. What does economic excellence mean to you?
The first thing that comes to mind when I hear economic excellence is access. Who has access to economic excellence? Along with that comes diversity. No matter where you live or work, communities do best when there is a diverse workforce – whether that’s race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, etc. Often, there are organizations and businesses that exist but fail to thrive because they don’t have the resources to do so. This aligns with the work of the Grunin Foundation – providing resources and assisting with capacity building. Access to financial resources and diverse leaders are needed to run organizations. This is key to economic excellence.

3. Of our grantmaking pillars (arts, education, healthcare) which are you most passionate about and why?
I am most passionate about education because that is where I’ve devoted the majority of my career, with the exception of a small amount of time working in the nonprofit world. Education has been my driving force and a common thread throughout my life. Personally, I was able to witness the role that education played in my career trajectory. I was the first in my family to go to college. Growing up low-income, I understood the impact of what a college and graduate-level education could have on my family.

Most of my career has been in higher education, both as an educator and administrator. I was able to see the impacts of education from both perspectives. Education will always be an important part of my career and life.

4. We strive to ensure that all our partners are committed to advancing equity. How do you (or how does your organization) work to advance equity in the community?
I have two roles: I am an educator and the Director of the Social Justice Academy. As a professor, I teach courses focused on equity, access, and inclusion. I teach and train future school and college counselors to become social justice advocates. Additionally, I research and publish as part of my faculty role, and that is also focused on equity, diversity, and inclusion. My role as Director of the Social Justice Academy is also directly aligned my EDI work. Equity is the heart of the Academy, specifically focused on teaching and training K12 educators and administrators on ways to combat racial inequity in in and out of the classroom,

Everything in my life is tied to equity-- between my work, how I personally move through the world as a woman of color – all of my EDI work is aligned with my being. It’s who I am as a person.

5. What is your favorite part of the Central Jersey Shore and why?
As a North Jersey girl born and raised, I feel the Central Jersey Shore is a more relaxed environment. Having just moved down to this area (although I’ve worked in Monmouth County for the past eight years), I’m still learning the area, but I can see it’s a much slower pace, which is great in many ways. I’m really starting to embrace and love the low key, relaxed vibe and I can feel a difference in my overall wellness.