Passionate Pursuit

Molly Gruss turns her love of working with underprivileged youth into a career

Molly Gruss, of Albany, New York, has always had a passion for working with youth. When she landed a job working in direct care with underprivileged children at St. Catherine’s Center for Children in Albany, she was able to turn that passion into a job. After earning a Master of Public Administration in 2023 from Excelsior University, she became the supervisor of recreation and engagement and is now on her way to making her passion a lifelong career.

Gruss joined St. Catherine’s Center for Children more than five years ago, working with underprivileged youth who have experienced some sort of trauma. “I’ve always had a passion for working with youth,” she says and adds, “I’m passionate about helping the community… My passion really is for helping people.”

It wasn’t too long after she began working at St. Catherine’s Center for Children that she decided to pursue an undergraduate degree that would best suit her interests and her role. Volunteering in the community as well as working full-time at St. Catherine’s meant her time was limited. She discovered Excelsior University (then College) and found that the online courses fit in with her busy schedule. She describes her decision of choosing a major: “I decided if I was going to work with that [underprivileged] population, I really wanted to focus on youth that needed more of an adult figure or mentor, and so I decided to go into the human services route.” She earned a Bachelor of Science in Social Sciences with a concentration in human services in 2021 and soon after decided to pursue another degree.

“I was working a full-time position that required a lot of me, so I needed a flexible online program,” says Gruss. “I had a great experience with Excelsior undergrad and I figured why not just continue that way?” So she re-enrolled. Gruss says she benefited from not only how much the online courses matched her lifestyle, but also how much she learned from others. “I don’t think you realize how much other educational opportunities there are in an online studies program,” she says, noting how she learned things from peers in her classes as well as from the instructors. Gruss explains she personally benefited from the various insights and value systems that other people brought to the online classroom.

Arrow up  Molly Gruss talks about the impact of earning an MPA and why Excelsior was the right choice for her.

Gruss, recipient of Excelsior’s 2023 Robert E. Kinsinger Memorial Award, has brought much of what she has learned in her academic journey into her career. Since earning her master’s degree, she became the supervisor of recreation and engagement and can showcase her leadership talents. “I’m able to use a lot of the leadership skills that I’ve learned in my academic studies and bring them to my career as I develop as a professional, and lead and mentor through an embedded coaching style. I’m able to offer a better version of myself,” she explains.

Her newfound knowledge is critical to her success at St. Catherine’s. No two days are ever the same, and Gruss is always busy. A typical day can be chaotic, she says, and she can be doing a variety things at once. Sometimes Gruss works directly with the youth, taking them on community outings, like hiking, going to a local organization, doing art or equine therapy, or participating in fitness classes. Other times, she supervises an activity that a recreational specialist facilitates. Still other times, Gruss takes part in meetings or does administrative work. She also spends time in the community looking for other outlets for the youth and building partnerships with other organizations to provide opportunities for them.

The biggest reward of her job is what it does for the children. They benefit from the opportunities she helps bring to St. Catherine’s in many ways, but Gruss says, “I would say the biggest benefit is providing them with normalized experiences.” In other words, they are able to experience the activities and events just like other kids when they usually might not have the opportunity to do so.

Now that she has earned her master’s degree, Gruss hopes it will allow her to be the best version of herself because “The best version I can be is going to benefit them [the children].” Gruss, a first-generation college graduate, isn’t stopping there, either. She intends to be an even better version of herself by attending the NEW Leadership New York (NLNY), a program offered by UAlbany and other partner institutions to educate women in the Capital Region about politics and social issues, and teach them to become effective leaders. Gruss is excited to learn from her peers and other successful individuals through this institute and is proud she can take everything she has learned and continues to learn and bring it back to St. Catherine’s. As she puts it, “I’m most proud of finding my passion and putting everything into that.”