For Wanda Heading-Grant, there’s nothing more important than building relationships.
A UVM employee for 28 years, Heading-Grant is now vice president for Human Resources, Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at UVM. She’s also a UVM alumna.
For the three decades she’s been at UVM as either a student or employee, Heading-Grant has seen the benefits of staying in one place for so many years. Not only has she formed lasting relationships across the UVM community, she also has a unique perspective on how the University has progressed over the years.
“I’ve seen the shifts happen—the moments and times when the University has taken big steps forward along the way,” she says. “Here at UVM, it’s not little old Vermont. We do things that are big. And we do things well.”
After graduating from UVM with a degree in social work in the 1980s, she held a range of administrative and leadership roles at UVM, including Executive Director of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity, Associate Dean of the College of Education and Social Services, Associate Provost, and Chief Diversity Officer.
At the end of the day, it’s building relationships with staff, students, and the community that make Heading-Grant’s work so rewarding.
“My success as a leader is about being relational and transformative,” she says. “I love working in higher ed because of the kinds of people I get to meet and engage with every single day.”
Even in a state like Vermont that is not exactly known for its diverse population, Heading-Grant sees progress being made at UVM. Under her leadership, for example, the Mosaic Center for Students of Color has been relocated from a remote part of the campus to a more centrally located and larger space. In 2008, she launched the Blackboard Jungle Symposium, an annual professional development event designed to support UVM faculty, staff, and others seeking to enhance skills, knowledge, and a deeper understanding of diversity, inclusion, and cultural competencies. It’s one of her proudest accomplishments.
“I have felt incredibly blessed working at UVM. Race and gender matters or issues are things I had to endure as a student—especially race,” she says. “What my experience at UVM has afforded me is an education and an understanding on how to fight the ills of the world in terms of discrimination and diversity.”
Three Decades at UVM
While growing up in Trenton, New Jersey, Heading-Grant chose to attend college at UVM just to experience something different from the rest of her classmates. Her high school peers were mostly attending schools in New Jersey or in the South.
“I kept telling my college counselor that I wanted to be different,” she says. “He had gone to St. Michael’s, so he said to me, ‘You really want to be different? Go to UVM.’”
Heading-Grant, a first-generation college student, was accepted to UVM and arrived in Burlington that fall, when she saw the campus for the first time.
“I got into all the schools I had applied to, and I decided to go to UVM. The concept of visiting a school before you started was not part of my framework growing up,” she says. “I came up here sight unseen. My family made the one trip they could when they drove me up here and dropped me off at my college dorm.”
After earning her bachelor’s degree at UVM and then her master’s degree in social work from Adelphi University, Heading-Grant working for the Howard Center at the Medical Center of Vermont (now UVM Medical Center). She later worked for the UVM Counseling Center and was eventually recruited for a position in the UVM Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity, where she worked her way up to a leadership position.
“As a woman and person of color, diversity and equity kept coming into my life,” says Heading-Grant, who earned a doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies at UVM. “In my work, I get to make an impact and change systems at higher levels.”
In 2013, she was named vice president for Human Resources, Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, a division that underwent a major reorganization by integrating diversity into human resources under Heading-Grant’s leadership.
“The making of this new division felt very cutting edge,” she says. “With all the work I had done in diversity and inclusion, I was known as someone who was well respected and was doing good things for the University. The move added a different level of influence to HR, and the merger was a good move for everyone.”
Moving the Needle at UVM
Overseeing 58 employees., Heading-Grant can be found in the trenches with her staff, working hard to make a difference. Her Division handles everything from benefits enrollment to diversity initiatives to onboarding new employees. The onboarding process takes place over a 12-month period with orientation, five “lunch and learn” seminars, and other activities to help new employees feel more engaged with the UVM community (a video for new employees was also recently produced for her office).
Heading-Grant, who is married and has three grown children, describes herself as a hands-on leader, a community builder, and an optimist.
“I like to know what’s going on, and I’m not afraid of conflict or hard work. I’m a visionary in that I know I can move the needle here,” she says. “I also trust that the world is more half full than half empty. I embrace the challenges, and I often see challenges as opportunities. That’s how I’m built. I recognize that I’ve learned something even when something goes wrong.”
Perhaps her greatest lesson at UVM is learning the power of relationships.
“Relationships matter—I’ve always felt this way. This October I will be breast cancer-free for five years. The number of people who were supportive of me, who fed me, who sent me notes—I really felt the love,” she says. “I felt like I was part of the fabric of the community. I learned that building relationships—lasting relationships—is everything.”
-The “UVM Is” series celebrates University faculty, educators, and the campus community.
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