A Leap of Faith
Alumni Profile: Eileen Alexander
By Sheryl E. Taylor
Eileen Alexander (MANPM ‘19) was so ecstatic that she had to share her news with UHD’s Dr. David Branham.
Her email to Branham read: “I’m beyond thrilled to share this update with you and the Master of Arts in Nonprofit Management (MANPM) program. I am so grateful for everything I learned, which led me down this path (even though I didn’t take the grant writing elective).”
Alexander served on a seven-member grant-writing team at Hunger Free Oklahoma (HFO) for a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP). As Grants Manager for HFO, “I had never worked on a federal grant application. There are so many moving parts to a federal grant application; there is no way on earth this could have been accomplished without teamwork,” she said.
The grant ask, per the USDA, was capped at $15 million over four years with matching funds no matter the level of the ask. HFO raised over $17 million in matching funds. “We were elated to learn we had been awarded $14.2 million over four years to increase access to fruits and vegetables in Oklahoma food deserts. It’s the largest recorded GusNIP grant!” added Alexander. This grant will be, according to an HFO press release, “critical to expand the Double Up Oklahoma program to farmers’ markets and grocery stores in high-need areas across the state.”
The native Houstonian graduated in 1991 from Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University) with a BFA in Theatre. After graduation and unsure of her career aspirations, she worked as a staff reporter for Herald Publications, a weekly newspaper group in Mascoutah, Illinois. She then became a certified doula and continued to practice while in Germany with her now former husband who was serving in the Air Force. Alexander eventually moved back to Houston and worked in her first “real, career-type job” as a communications coordinator at a church. “I loved it! I have always felt called to be of service to people,” she added.
Having worked for several nonprofits in the city, she continued, “I knew I needed to accelerate my learning so that I could catch up to my peers in the nonprofit sector who had surpassed me in knowledge and career growth. Thanks to my ‘not-exactly stellar’ undergraduate grades, I worried that graduate school would be out of reach for me.”
Alexander attended a “Power Tools for Nonprofits Conference” where she met Branham, UHD Professor of Political Science and Nonprofit Management, at an exhibitor table for University’s MANPM program. “I discovered that admission was possible, since I already had extensive nonprofit experience,” she said. “My undergraduate grades were far enough in the past that I was granted conditional admission to the program.” While at UHD, she was initiated into The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi and also received the 2018 -2019 Outstanding Student in Nonprofit Management Award. She graduated from UHD with a 4.0 GPA.
Her initial intentions pre- and post-pandemic included remaining in her hometown, but she soon realized, “I was ready to spread my wings and try a new adventure." Friends in Oklahoma City and Tulsa suggested that “I sell my house, move, and get a job!” she said smiling. “I was hesitant at first, but my daughter was grown and on her own … so why not?"
Alexander accepted the Grants Manager position at HFO in October 2021. Now, nearly a year and a half year later, her success is undeniable. “It’s the biggest accomplishment of my career,” she said, referring to the GusNIP grant. On a personal level, “It reiterates that collaboration and teamwork is absolutely vital for success. While this was a daunting task, I was capable of accomplishing big things,” she added. “In my family’s past, there were also times of food insecurity. Knowing what my team and I achieved will help people live healthier lives brings me peace.”
On a professional level, “From day one of the (MANPM) program, I was able to take what I was learning and use it,” Alexander said. “It was a privilege to learn from amazing professors who are leaders in the nonprofit sector. I am forever grateful for their knowledge, availability, and service to the program.”
Her advice to anyone considering a graduate degree or any degree, “It is never too late. Never. Believe in yourself, study, and don’t be afraid to ask for help,” said the 53-year-old. “The MANPM degree changed my life by reminding me that I am far more capable than I believed. It provided me with the knowledge I needed to grow in my career, and it opened me up to life’s possibilities, empowering me to take a leap of faith, which led me to my new home and career.”
Learn more about UHD’s Master of Nonprofit Management’s 10th Anniversary.
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.
U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.