For Shenendehowa High School graduate Grace Schlembach, staying local after high school has been a key factor in her early successes in college.
Schlembach, 20, currently a sophomore at the University at Albany, is studying accounting and German. As a recipient of the university’s Massry Community Service Fellows scholarship, she dove even deeper into the local nonprofit scene over the summer through an internship with The Schenectady Foundation.
Schlembach, whose family moved a handful of times prior to settling in Clifton Park, attended schools in the Shenendehowa Central School District. Shen, which is one of the largest school districts in the Capital Region, played a large part in preparing her to succeed at UAlbany, which boasts a student population of almost 18,000, she said.
“One of the nice things about having been to Shen is that I know what it’s like to be in a big school. Shen offered me a lot,” Schlembach said, adding that she was even able to take an accounting class there before she started college.
Once she arrived at UAlbany, Schlembach’s path to her involvement with the Schenectady Foundation happened in a series of quick steps. Even before classes started, Schlembach had already met with some of her professors.
Early in her freshman year, Schlembach became involved with UAlbany’s Honors College program, which pushed her into a space with like-minded people who valued both strenuous academics and extensive involvement in activities outside of class.
“Being in the honors college, I met a bunch of very driven people,” she said. She then joined UAlbany’s chapter of Beta Alpha Psi, the international honor society for accounting students, as well as the Center for Leadership and Service. Both organizations not only taught her interviewing and research skills, but were also able to identify specific opportunities and programs that were available to her for scholarships.
Shortly after, Schlembach discovered the Massry Fellowship program, which provides UAlbany students with a scholarship, provided they successfully apply to the program and secure an internship with a non-profit organization.
“I thought, ‘Alright, let me take advantage of this. Let me work local, let me get a $5,000 scholarship. This sounds like something I want to do,’” she said. She eventually settled on a summer internship with the Schenectady Foundation and became the youngest of five applicants who were selected to receive the scholarship last academic year.
While she worked for the foundation as a finance intern, Schlembach spent time helping the organization prepare for audits, complete forms needed to maintain its non-profit status, and review applications for grant money that the foundation received. She also worked hand-in-hand with the groups that receive funding from the organization.
“I also did a lot of work looking at past grants that were given, and examining what areas of non-profits we had been giving to,” she said.
After her internship was finished, Schlembach said, the Schenectady Foundation officially hired her as a part-time employee. Each week, she spends ten hours working for the foundation. Her responsibilities include maintaining a database of non-profits in the city of Schenectady that the foundation works with, along with relevant information including revenue generations.
Working with a non-profit as an accountant, as opposed to a private company, Schlembach said, was not something she ever thought she would venture into.
“It was a great experience and it was a great way to branch out,” she said.
Schlembach said that balancing her work and her extracurricular activities is not a particularly large source of stress, because she knows that she’s capable of successfully multi-tasking, she said. On weekends, she returns home to work at her church on Sundays. Schelmbach also says she’d like to join an a capella group on campus. Her original plan was to graduate from college and become a forensic accountant, investigating white collar crimes with either the FBI or the CIA. As a result of her experiences with the Schenectady Foundation, those plans may change. Now, she’s leaning more towards traveling abroad, maybe to Germany, to become an accountant there.
The wide range of opportunities that Schlembach has taken advantage of are available to anyone, if they seek them out, she said.
“You can just go to class. You can do that and be a student. But to make UAlbany work for you, you need to put something into it. There are so many opportunities to make this school here what you want it to be,” she said.