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Home / Special Feature / Vanessa Crossgrove Fry, assistant director, Idaho Policy Institute; assistant research professor, School of Public Service; doctoral candidate, Public Policy and Administration

Vanessa Crossgrove Fry, assistant director, Idaho Policy Institute; assistant research professor, School of Public Service; doctoral candidate, Public Policy and Administration

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Vanessa Crossgrove Fry came to Idaho because she decided she’d rather work with people than with birds.

Vanessa Crossgrove Fry. Photo by Pete Grady.

Vanessa Crossgrove Fry. Photo by Pete Grady.

After earning her undergraduate degree in biology from Wittenberg University, Crossgrove Fry began working in Cornell University’s renowned ornithology lab. “I thought that was my pathway, to be a biologist and do research that would be beneficial to people,” she says. But she came to realize that she was spending all her time in the lab or out in the eld, not with people. “I really love being around people, collaborating and problem-solving,” she says. “I started thinking: ‘How can I really get to work with other people?’”

Crossgrove Fry’s significant other at the time – now her husband – was finishing his master’s degree at Ithaca College, and suggested going out West for a year. They each ended up finding jobs in the nonprofit sector in the Sun Valley area. In her case, she worked at the Environmental Resource Center, followed by positions at a number of other nonprofit organizations.

In the process, Crossgrove Fry spotted a number of inefficiencies in the way that nonprofit organizations operated, and decided that business school would be a good next step. “I wanted to learn from the private sector how to address problems,” she says. At the same time, she wanted a business school with the ethos of being in service to others, so she chose the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, which offers an MBA with a focus on sustainable management. “It gave me a broader perspective on my work and how to work across the community and involve all the stakeholders in a problem-solving project,” she says.

Crossgrove Fry became particularly interested in financing – specifically, using capital markets to address social and environmental issues – and began teaching a class in it at Presidio. “I didn’t have the acumen of how the policy system worked to address these issues,” so she applied to policy programs across the country to work on a doctorate in that sort of research.

That led her to Boise State University, where she is assistant director of the Idaho Policy Institute and an assistant research professor in the School of Public Service. Led by Associate Professor Greg Hill, the Institute was launched in 2015 when the university recognized the need for public policy research across the state, such as the annual Idaho Public Policy Survey of citizens’ views. At BSU and the Institute, she has worked on issues related to homelessness, sustainable food systems, and policy management and decision-making, as well as serving as a mentor, particularly to female doctoral students.

Working on her doctoral degree also meant leaving her husband behind, temporarily, with his job in Sun Valley, and becoming essentially a single mom for three and a half years while he commuted each weekend. “It was a huge juggle,” she remembers. “Looking back on it, that was kind of intense. But I was so passionate about getting my Ph.D. that when we made the decision, it was worth the challenge. The reward was so great.”

About Sharon Fisher