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Employee Spotlight: Natalie Gross


Natalie Gross

Date Published

May 02, 2023
7 minute read
Natalie Gross

Senior Consultant Natalie Gross left a decades-long career in higher education when she joined The Clearing. Today, we’ll get to know Natalie and hear firsthand the parallels she’s discovered between helping students and helping our clients succeed.


Tremendous Leaps in Higher Ed

I started my higher education journey as an academic counselor with Upward Bound, working with high school students who were either first-generation college or low-income applicants to help them transition into college. I moved on to become a coordinator for the Health Careers Opportunity Program at Marquette University. I then switched gears to serve as the Associate Dean of Intercultural Affairs at Marquette. It was a big change, but I tend to take these huge leaps of faith toward whatever it is I want to do next. I later became the Director of Diversity and Campus Engagement at Sarah Lawrence College – a new position at a small liberal arts college in New York State. I stayed for more than 14 years, working with amazing students and really finding my stride and growing up in the role. My final position in higher ed was Director of Civic Engagement and Social Justice for The New School. No matter the title or institution, most of my work was student-facing, ranging from event planning to helping students learn how to budget or advocate for themselves.


Opening the Door to a New Future

I felt I was ready for a shift away from higher ed before I started at The New School, but the job description ticked so many boxes and incorporated so many things I hadn’t been able to do while working more directly with faculty and staff. I couldn’t resist going for it. It was a great position, and I learned and grew a lot of my skillsets – particularly in project management. I’m grateful for my time there, but when the pandemic hit, I – like so many people – asked myself what I was doing. I lived far away from my family and community, and I still felt the itch to do something else. I wanted to go back home to Wisconsin, give myself time to save money, buy a house, and start looking for my next leap.

Around that time, Liz Glodek, with whom I had previously worked at Sarah Lawrence, reached out and asked if I would be interested in consulting. I thought it would be temporary and I admittedly had only a basic understanding of what it really meant to be a consultant. But I said yes, because it was my year of being open to new things and opportunities that would bring me joy, help me grow, and that would be good for my son and I. And then it all just started happening… my last day at the New School was supposed to be November 11; I got offered a position at The Clearing on November 11. It seemed my next huge leap was going to work out and I knew I’d found a nourishing role that would challenge me and help me keep growing.


“Whether it’s higher ed or consulting, understanding people, supporting others’ growth, and providing constructive feedback in a way that lets others bloom are completely transferable skills with universal application.”


 Transferring Higher Ed Skills to Consulting

Working with students requires being able to hear what someone wants or needs and helping them articulate that as they plan for the immediate and longer-term future. It’s all about advocacy. Whether it’s helping an individual get the attention of more senior staff or helping a student meet with a dean or faculty member I worked with them to clarify their voice so that they can advocate for themselves in those situations.

The consulting world is like a new language when compared to higher ed, but I’ve managed a lot of lanes in my career, such as funding, event planning, training, and leading and facilitating workshops for small groups of students and resident advisors. It’s all very intentional and shares many skills with consulting.

Understanding people, supporting others’ growth, and providing constructive feedback in a way that lets others bloom is completely transferable. I love being in a space where we’re problem-solving and thinking through solutions. I love brainstorming and discovering what will work best for the community, what will work best for those with boots on the ground, and what will work best for the culture and climate. We get to do a lot of that here with our clients, as we ask the kind of questions that help them think about and own a solution. I don’t necessarily have the answers; I just have to ask the right questions. It comes down to being a good listener and having empathy, a future vision, and good advocacy skills. Just like I did with students, I like helping clients get energized and imagine what the future possibilities are and how to get there.


Putting Lessons Learned into Practice

I had a recent experience that neatly sums up how my higher ed experience is paying off in consulting. One of our clients was planning an upcoming session. However, they were very concerned that one individual had very clear, potentially divisive needs. Rather than spinning out about this one person, I encouraged everyone to focus on what they had in common and where their goals overlapped rather than focusing on where they were misaligned. I think it’s better to start with the commonalities – it often leads to feeling like we’re all actually more on the same page than we originally thought.

I lean on that approach because I worked with so many students who came in with serious concerns on their mind. I’d listen and encourage them to focus on just one thing rather than trying to solve five things at once. Similar to my client, it’s all about avoiding the tailspin that can come with worry. That experience of helping people just sit down, breathe, pause, and think about the one next step is huge, particularly in the context of people with wildly different needs, inner conflicts, and varying resources. No matter the challenge, so much depends on reminding people that they’re not alone, their challenge isn’t as unique as they fear, and that they have us, The Clearing, as a thought and action partner as they figure it out.

I think having people with diverse backgrounds – be it education, the military, or executive service – allows The Clearing to offer a unique take on management consulting. Whether you’re looking for the right training or a workplace strategy, our diverse experience ensures you won’t receive an off-the-shelf solution.