The Strength of a Foxcroft Girl

Elizabeth Lester, Class of 1988 and current Head of Global Store Design and Development at New Balance, one of the world’s foremost sports footwear and apparel manufacturers, kicked off Foxcroft’s fifth annual Alumnae Career Day last Friday with her keynote speech at Morning Meeting. A design, architecture, and project management professional with over 20 years of diverse experience in retail, commercial, and residential projects, she has consistently focused on giving back and currently serves on the Foxcroft Board of Trustees as the Co-Chair of the Advancement Committee and the Building for Our Future Campaign.
Lester found her love of architecture and design during Wintermission of her junior year at Foxcroft. “It was like, wow, what is this? This is very interesting. We were just talking about the environment, what to do, and how to save it. I had the best time in that class, and it opened my eyes to design. It opened my eyes to creating spaces for people. So I decided at that time I wanted to go to college for architecture.” 

After taking an eight-hour entrance exam, Lester learned that she was one of 80 students chosen from 400 who took the exam to attend the College of Architecture at the University of Kentucky. “[It] was a change … not because I went from a school of 170 students to a school of 30,000; that didn't faze me. What fazed me was the day I got to that school. I sat down in my first class with the 80 other people accepted, and there were eight females. Eight. Ten percent of the people they had let in were like me.”  

That was when she realized, ”... no matter what I do or how well I work, I'm always going to stand out, and they are potentially going to hold something against me because I'm one of the eight girls. Is that fair? No. But did I learn to deal with it? Yeah. I wanted it to be easier for people like you to go to the College of Architecture in the future.”

“I would say going to college and realizing that the strength we talk a lot about, the strength you gain as a Foxcroft girl, will carry with you wherever you go,” she continued. “You may not realize until 35 years later what that strength was or what it gave you, but that strength — Foxcroft helping me learn what my voice was and giving me the confidence to speak my voice — let me sit in that class of 80 people surrounded by 72 men and say ‘I can do this.’ I can do this just like anybody else. Interestingly enough, out of those 80 people, by the end of the year, I think we were down to 55. That's how many people didn't make it a year through architecture school. Only one girl left; the rest were guys.” 

After college, Lester spent the next 20 years following the winding path of her career, from working for free at a small firm that designed residential and liturgical architecture to designing retail spaces for Charlotte Russe, Gap Inc., and ultimately her current position with New Balance. 

She also spoke of her more personal journeys, like pausing her career to build a family — “... the most rewarding experience I will ever have … and learning that it was okay to take time away. My career was still going to be there.” — and her volunteer work with the Junior League of San Francisco, among others. “If you take anything away from this, please take away that whatever you do, your time, your treasure, whatever you're willing to give back, means something. It means a lot.”

In closing, she shared the following wisdom and advice with students, “Foxcroft is this microcosm of what's to come in your life. None of you will have the same journey or career path, nor should you. Remember, there is no correct path for you other than what is right for you. You can take time off; it's okay to do that. It's okay to make your family your choice. Get a mentor. Find your tribe. Find those groups of people who hold you up, male or female; it doesn't matter. Be a mentor to someone. Set the path for people to come after you, for Foxcroft girls to come after you. Set the path and always give back.” In that vein, the last thing she did was to give away two new pairs of New Balance shoes to two randomly drawn and very excited girls!

Elizabeth’s talk kicked off a morning full of stimulating sessions for students conducted by alumnae who graciously gave their time to share personal stories about their professional paths in a dozen breakout sessions. These women, representing classes ranging from 1985 to 2016, hail from a variety of fields, including civil engineering, software engineering, fashion finance, news anchor and film producer, marketing, entrepreneur, DEI coordinator, author, travel content creator, and med spa owner. 
Students attended two sessions and undoubtedly learned a lot about the many possibilities for life after Foxcroft. Thank you to the remarkable women who gave their time and to the Office of Institutional Advancement for organizing the event.
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An all-girls boarding and day school in Northern Virginia, Foxcroft prepares young women in grades 9-12 for success in college and in life. Our outstanding academic program offers challenging courses, including Advanced Placement classes and an innovative STEM program. Our premiere equestrian program is nationally recognized, and our athletic teams have won conference and state championships. Experience the best in girls' boarding schools: visit Foxcroft.