Relationships Matter: Make Connections and Nurture Them

Traci Collins, Class of 1989 and current Head of Communications for Mission Systems at Northrop Grumman, one of the world’s largest aerospace and defense technology companies, kicked off Foxcroft’s annual Alumnae Career Day last Friday with her keynote speech at Morning Meeting. With a career spanning communications, management, and strategic leadership in the corporate and government sectors, she brought a wealth of experience and insights to Career Day — and invaluable life advice for students.
As with many of our Career Day speakers, Collins’ career did not travel in a straight line. “My career has been much like Foxcroft Road," she reflected. "Lots of twists and turns, and sometimes you can't see over the top of the hill, and that can be a little bit scary, but the views are glorious, and the ride is spectacular. It's even more fulfilling when you can just sit back and enjoy the ride and absorb all the experiences along the way.”

Growing up, Collins had two goals for her future. “Everyone who knew me knew that I wanted to be fun. I wanted to be adventurous. I wanted to do anything for the story factor. I also wanted to be a vet.” Unfortunately, during her junior year at Foxcroft, she was diagnosed with allergies to most animals. Devastated but still trying to keep her love of animals as part of her path, she chose to major in biology. But, somewhere along that path, she “discovered a love for human behaviors … understanding who the person is” and decided that law might be the right path for her. 

“But I wanted to kick the tires first, so I got my paralegal certificate. I worked at a large law firm in DC; and that turned out to be a little too quiet for my personality. I loved the work that I did with a trial attorney. It was incredibly fascinating, just understanding why people behave the way they do. But I realized that criminal law wouldn't be my path. So again, I was searching for how to combine everything I loved — the things I was interested in — and I connected with the White House. One simple phone call turned into an interview … you have to be ready to accept the opportunities that come your way and then shape them.”

After six years at the White House, with roles at the U.S. Department of Education and the State Department as an Ambassador to Switzerland, honing her skills in managing complex communication tasks, she transitioned to the private sector, where she excelled in various leadership positions at Northrop Grumman, ascending to the position that she holds today. “You won't always like everything you try, but I encourage you to be brave enough to chart another path. You don't have to know exactly what you want to do. You just have to follow your passion. Be kind, be courageous, be authentic. Ask questions. You will find your next opportunity and have an amazing ride along the way.”

At one point during the presentation, Collins spoke about the people and experiences that shaped her life, from siblings and parents to her friends and time at Foxcroft. “What I gained at Foxcroft is sisters. I believe you learn differently from and with women. What I learned here is to use my voice, to speak with firmness and with kindness. I learned to share a little bit differently. I learned to negotiate with women who brought their own hearts and perspectives to the conversations. And most of all, I learned the value of deep connections. Wherever you go, you'll learn that relationships matter.”

In closing, she offered this advice to students, “I believe it's so important for us to nurture this special place that's given so much to all of us. I encourage you to stay connected with each other and the folks here this weekend. The theme of this year is ‘Design Your Future at Foxcroft.’ You should start right here, right now, today. This weekend gives you an amazing opportunity to connect with the great gifts of the incredible women who have come from this incredible place. Get to know them, be inspired by them, learn from them, and they will help you chart your path.”

Collins’ 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 1974 to 2014, hail from a variety of careers and included a civil engineer, a technology auditor, a public health analyst, a manufacturing engineer, a lead interior designer, a segment associate producer, a director of development, an editor-in-chief, a digital marketing specialist, a public servant, a media editor, and an executive assistant, sharing their college-to-working world stories.
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.