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Granberg looks to build DC connections amid city labor, safety shortfalls

James Schaap | Staff Photographer
President Ellen Granberg poses with George attendees at a basketball game.

D.C. government and nonprofit leaders said University President Ellen Granberg has a distinct opportunity to strengthen workforce pipelines and rapport with residents during her tenure, as the District struggles with employee retention and safety.

City stakeholders said Granberg has advanced GW’s role on nonprofit and government boards that formed during previous administrations, which provide employment opportunities and business growth for residents in the greater D.C. area. Granberg said she has met with city government and nonprofit leaders throughout her first nine months as president to ensure the University contributes to the District community.

She said GW’s urban campus prompts the formation of many external partnerships to address issues like food and health disparities in the District and beyond.

“These are not just transactional relationships born out of proximity, but strong partnerships that are built on a foundation of collaboration, trust, mutual goals, and values,” Granberg said in an email.

When Granberg took the helm of GW in July, she continued academic partnerships like the Global Food Institute and launched a revitalized agreement between the Corcoran College of the Arts & Design and the National Gallery of Art. The efforts will set up external partnerships to further policy initiatives on equitable food distribution and connect students with NGA staff, respectively.

She also maintains an in-person presence at District organizational meetings like the Greater Washington Partnership and the Greater Washington Board of Trade. She’s also welcomed D.C. business leaders like Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Agency General Manager Randy Clarke at the Revolutionaries’ basketball games.

Granberg said in an October interview that she plans to collaborate with other universities’ satellite campuses in D.C. for academic opportunities. Granberg declined to comment on the progress of this goal.

“There’s a lot of people moving into D.C., a lot of universities opening up and they’re going to bring students here,” Granberg said in October. “But what they can’t replicate, are the connections between our faculty and city organizations, our University and city organizations that we can bring to bear on behalf of our students.”

Steven Knapp, GW’s president from 2007 to 2017, said his service on community boards like the Consortium of the Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area and the Greater Washington Board of Trade helped D.C. taxpayers understand GW’s value to the District.

GW has not been listed in D.C.’s top 10 property taxpayers, despite owning $4.4 billion worth of educational and commercial buildings. Knapp said the University cannot prove its value through paying taxes because it is a tax-exempt nonprofit organization.

“We got a reputation for being very collaborative with other institutions, whether they were government institutions, private institutions or our fellow universities,” Knapp said. “If you’re recognized as a good citizen, then you know, people reach out to you when there’s something important that needs to be addressed.”

He said he developed a relationship with then-Mayor Vincent Gray, a GW alum, from 2011 to 2015, when Gray would attend University events and basketball games. Knapp said his leadership on a city task force designated to make D.C. an elderly friendly city — which he started in Gray’s term and continued into Mayor Muriel Bowser’s term — afforded students the option to participate, including by conducting a sidewalk safety survey.

He said Granberg’s continuation of interaction with the District will improve the recruitment and retention of students and faculty at GW. He said D.C. is still in the process of revitalizing itself after the pandemic, which the University can take advantage of using faculty expertise in areas like sustainability and the creation of walkable neighborhoods.

“As it comes back, I’m sure that will open other opportunities for the University to be involved in the ongoing revitalization of the city and the advancements,” Knapp said.

Gray, now a D.C. councilmember for Ward 7, said the District and GW “enhance” each other. He said the University creates a pool of talented potential recruits for the District’s employers.

“Some students come from out of town, others come from the District, but all of them are integral to the culture of our city while they’re here,” Gray said in an email. “Being involved with the city enriches young minds and can lead to insights that a person might not otherwise experience.”

Gregory Proctor — who chairs the Board of directors for the GWBT and serves as the president and CEO of lobbying firm G.S. Proctor & Associates, Inc. — said Granberg had emerged immediately as a “dynamic” leader as a member of the Board.

“Quite often people will come to a meeting and kind of sit back and see how it’s gonna play out,” Proctor said. “She came in, jumped right in, became a partner, became active and really engaged.”

He said many employers in D.C., Maryland and Virginia are struggling to recruit and retain employees, which local higher education leaders like Granberg can help improve by providing insight on what she is noticing with the University’s recruitment and retention. He said the Greater Washington Board of Trade provided input for Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto’s crime bill, a large piece of safety legislation that would change punishments for certain crimes and police reforms.

He added that Granberg can provide input to the board on other policies regarding safety in the District.

“She’ll bring a lot to the table when you talk about law enforcement and crime,” Proctor said. “Most of these major forces in this region are off by hundreds and hundreds of officers. So I think that’s a real conversation to be had. And I think she brings a lot to the table when we talk about that.”

Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area President Andrew Flagel said the consortium has partnered with the University for the past two years to participate in a conference on college hunger.

He said financial inequities in the greater D.C. region are a “tremendous” issue that GW community members help combat through the University’s partnership with Miriam’s Kitchen, an organization dedicated to ending homelessness in D.C. GroW Garden members grow hundreds of pounds of produce for the organization each year, and Flagel said he contributed to the garden when he was a GW student from 1986 to 1994.

“Now more than ever, I believe passionately that this is the greatest college town in the world, and I am delighted that President Granberg is advancing those efforts with such tremendous enthusiasm,” Flagel said in an email.

Emily West — the vice president of skills, talent and the future of work at the GWP, a nonprofit organization of employers in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area — said former University President Thomas LeBlanc initiated GW’s participation in the partnership’s Collaborative of Leaders in Academia and Business.

She said Granberg delivered a presentation at the group’s luncheon in February on how private sector partnerships with higher education can bolster the region’s workforce and provide employment for students. She said the partnership has a naturally strong tie with GW — its founder Russ Ramsey is a GW alum, as well as former trustee and current GWP Board Chair Kathy Warden.

“We’re grateful that President LeBlanc initiated this important partnership, and with President Granberg taking the helm this fall, we’re excited to continue to deepen our working relationship with GW,” West said in an email.

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About the Contributor
Ianne Salvosa, Managing Editor
Ianne Salvosa, a junior majoring in journalism and international affairs from Lake Saint Louis, Missouri, is the 2024-25 managing editor for The Hatchet. She was previously a news editor and assistant news editor for the administration and finance beat and a contributing news editor for the academics and administration beats.
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