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Riveting Women has posted about some pretty outstanding women, women who soar in politics, business, education, and community activism. Nancie Suzuki is no less incredible than any of those women; it’s the story of how she became who she is that makes her stand out from the rest.

Born in 1980 to Japanese immigrants who spoke no English, Nancie was raised in Salisbury, MD, on the Eastern Shore of the state. For anyone who’s never been out there, the Eastern Shore is vastly less populated and less diverse than other areas of MD, and it was especially so in the 1980s. Her parents had no family here and weren’t planning to stay in Salisbury, but they did, and so Nancie was raised in a community where she was the only Asian child in her community. Her parents worked hard as chicken techs, specifically as chicken sexers, positions that entail more detailed work than simply raising and feeding the chickens; yet her father yearned for something more, something that was his from start to finish, so he quit chickens to become a vegetable farmer. He worked all the time, literally 365 days/year, and modeled to Nancie the importance of taking pride in your work and doing your best no matter your task. By the time she was 14 she was working in a restaurant to save money for school and help out with her family’s finances.

Being the only Asian child in school was hard for Nancie because she wasn’t given many opportunities to be anything other than “the Asian girl” to her classmates. But school was important – so very important – in order to have more opportunities in life. Nancie’s mother ensured that her daughter put her education above all else. Her parents wanted more for Nancie, and they knew that becoming an educated woman could open doors for her that would never be opened for them. Her mother’s insistence made Nancie work hard to get into Franklin & Marshall College; while at school she babysat for 10 families and, because it is a small college, got to know her professors very well.. But the fact remained that it was a small college filled with kids from upper-middle class families who, unlike Nancie, had never struggled financially or socially. After 2 years of being removed from the sense of direction she got from her mother’s encouragement, Nancie returned to Salisbury to finish school at Salisbury University. She did her parents proud by becoming the first person in her family to graduate from college.

Nancie set out to work in finance after college, taking a job with a small bookkeeping/accounting firm and also waiting tables because the money wasn’t all that great. Out of frustration with her lack of career mobility, Nancie applied to jobs in DC where she could live with a childhood friend who was getting her PhD at George Washington University. And it was there that everything changed. She posted her resume online and was contacted by a recruiter to interview for a job with the Marriott family. She was hired to work as a financial assistant in their main office, and one of her responsibilities included writing checks for the foundation. What Nancie quickly learned is that charitable giving is about a whole lot more than writing checks to groups that need money. And Nancie really liked that. It appealed to the side of her business acumen that understands all of the good that can be done in the world through charitable giving. During this time Nancie also decided to pursue an MBA at the University of Maryland – University College. In 2008 she earned her degree, this daughter of immigrants who didn’t speak English until she went to kindergarten and who is now a key player in the philanthropic efforts of one of the wealthiest families in the country.

Today, Nancie is the Executive Director of 3 Marriott foundations: The Richard E. and Nancy P. Marriott Foundation; The Nancy Peery Marriott Foundation; and The Marriott Daughters Foundation. She sits on the Board of Directors for The Apple Tree Early Learning Public Charter School, the Apple Tree Institute for Education Innovation, and Leadership of Greater Washington. Looking at all of those foundations and Board memberships, they all represent 2 of the most important things in Nancie’s life: providing opportunities for children everywhere to receive a quality education; and family. Her own experience taught her that kids in less advantageous situations often aren’t aware of all of the scholarships, grants, work study opportunities, and numerous other avenues that may provide additional funds to help them afford college. She knows she can help kids who want to get an education, but who lack the same support she had. Nancie knows that if she hadn’t been a dedicated student who was encouraged by her mother to leave Salisbury, then she wouldn’t have connected with the people who led to her getting the job with the Marriott family, and she wouldn’t have the chance to connect people in her various orbits who can elevate each other’s causes in different ways, and she certainly wouldn’t have the chance to work towards creating educational opportunities for kids like her who just need one person willing to take a chance on offering them the opportunity to soar.

And, don’t worry, Nancie’s whole life isn’t about work. She’s a formerly avid runner who now scuba dives and loves to cook, eat, and ski her way around the world, creating connections to a worldwide network of people looking to make a difference in their corner of the globe, just like Nancie.

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