Many college students think their education will go one way, but it doesn’t take long after arriving on campus for those plans to take an unexpected turn and go in an entirely different, but welcomed, direction. The same thing happened to Grace Figliomeni. Not once, but twice.

Grace has always been driven by a strong sense of social responsibility and a commitment to volunteering. She has given her time to several nonprofits, including her local humane society, her grandfather’s nursing home and a neighborhood community garden.

Farm to table is what spurred her community garden involvement — Grace loves to cook and try new foods. In fact, she thought her future involved earning a degree in hospitality, maybe even owning a restaurant one day.

When the Toledo, Ohio, native was considering colleges, having two older sisters attend Fisher certainly influenced her decision, but what convinced her Fisher was where she wanted to be was Columbus.

Grace, a self-described “local enthusiast,” is passionate about supporting small, locally owned businesses.

“I believe strongly in the value of a vibrant, locally owned business community,” says Grace. “Columbus has so many small businesses owned by people who live in the neighborhoods where the business is. That culture doesn’t exist at the other Ohio school I considered.”

Shortly after starting her undergraduate studies at Fisher, Grace and her new friends gathered every Wednesday to choose a locally owned restaurant in Columbus for their weekly dinner together. They challenged themselves eat somewhere new each time, deliberately spreading their support to as many local businesses as possible, exploring new parts of the city and savoring new foods.

From finance to freedom

Despite her creative culinary plans, Grace believed having a firm grasp on the realities of finance was the foundation to owning any business — restaurant or otherwise. She knew regardless of the type of business, she would eventually become a small business owner with an active role in the health and wellbeing of her community, and with her focus on that future, she declared finance as her major.

One of the student groups Grace participated in was Business for Good (formerly Alleviating Poverty Through Entrepreneurship). It was her first exposure to the idea of social entrepreneurship.

“I had no idea I could combine a for-profit business model to support the mission of a nonprofit,” says Grace.

Fueled by the discovery of social entrepreneurship, Grace explored the idea in greater detail. Thanks to scholarship support, Grace was able to participate in Fisher’s Global Projects Program.

Her global experience took her to Nepal where she worked with the organization, Seven Women, a social enterprise that seeks to help teach business and entrepreneurial skills to marginalized women to help them gain financial independence and stability.

“Going to Nepal changed my life and made me see how I could empower women by blending my passion for nonprofits and business,” says Grace. “That entire trip led me to be where I’m going to be after graduation.”

Soon after, she changed her major to operations management and added a minor in nonprofit management.

“Operations gave me an over-arching view of how to run a business,” says Grace.

Returning from Nepal with a refined focus, Grace’s scholarships allowed her to accept an unpaid internship with Freedom a la Cart in Columbus.

Freedom a la Cart is a social enterprise catering company, café and bakery committed to helping survivors of human trafficking and exploitation build new lives as they reintegrate into the community.

The internship led to a part-time position through the end of the school year and, after graduating this spring, she is now Freedom a la Cart’s full-time community engagement coordinator.

“Despite the pandemic, I have a full-time job,” says Grace. “I’m one of the lucky ones. It’s not just a job, it truly feels like a calling. And it’s one I never would have known about, or considered, if Fisher hadn’t exposed me to new ideas and opportunities.”

Discovering her niche

Grace is the recipient of four scholarship funds within Fisher and compares the impact of donor support on her Fisher experience to a pebble in a pond.

“Donor support creates a ripple effect,” she says. “If it wasn’t for scholarships, I wouldn’t have gone to Nepal and discovered my passion for social enterprise. If it wasn’t for discovering this new direction, I would never have pursued an unpaid internship with an organization that combines all of my passion. And if it wasn’t for that internship, I wouldn’t be starting my dream job after graduation.”

It’s not every day a student arrives at Fisher expecting to complete a very traditional, corporate-focused degree program, and ends up finding a way to combine their love of culinary arts, empowering women, philanthropy and business all in one career.

“If you look for what’s right for you, you’ll probably find it within Fisher,” says Grace.

“I had a niche I was passionate about and because of donor support, Fisher has the resources to guide students like me toward our most meaningful path forward in business.”

 

If you look for what’s right for you, you’ll probably find it within Fisher.

Grace FigliomeniBSBA '21