SOLES Alumna Spotlight: Anjanette Maraya-Ramey '12 (MA), Nonprofit Leadership and Management

Anjanette Maraya-Ramey
begin quoteSOLES grew my network, but it also made my sphere of influences much tighter and closer. That is the most priceless gift. Its worth its weight in gold.

Tells us about your degree program and why you chose SOLES.

I have a BFA in Dance Performance from Cal Arts. I was a dancer, I’m an independent choreographer, and I teach dance. I was at a pivotal point in my career and thought “Oh my gosh, I can’t dance professionally for the rest of my life. What’s the next chapter in my life going to look like? How can I still support the arts community in a way that is sustainable?” I heard about the program through a fellow alumni who worked for Malashock Dance at the time. Malashock Dance, San Diego Ballet, and Jean Isaacs San Diego Dance Theatre hired me to help launch their summer workshop. I had no idea what I was doing; I didn’t understand how nonprofits work. I found SOLES and was looking at it for a few years before I actually attended.

It was very affordable for what I got in return. My return on investment is something that I feel is priceless. To go to SOLES and have the credibility—you know, when people say “Oh my gosh, you have a Master’s in Nonprofit Management and Leadership from USD? That’s such a good school!” And I thought, I want that street credibility. I wanted to get in the leadership pipeline and build my skills so that one day I could start my own company (which I’m doing), or serve other arts organizations in a way that is not just in front of the stage because I passed my performing expiration date. It’s just the practical realization as a dancer—you get old.

I wanted to go to USD and get the experience in nonprofit management and leadership because I knew those were skills that I was lacking to further advance my career--beyond just performing.

What was your favorite class at SOLES?

I would have to say it was Dr. Laura Deitrick and Fernando’s Research, Program Design, and Evaluation class. That was the hardest class; the hardest. It felt like a part-time job. I also liked Consensus Organizing with Dr. Jessica Robinson; I loved that class. I also really loved Liz Shear’s Board Development class. I really can’t pick a favorite because they were all sequential in my learning and all equally as important. They were building blocks on top of each other.

But the Program Design class, I still to this day teach and use in grant writing. People think in grant writing it’s fancy writing versus designing a program. A lot of times I’ll go to Dr. Deitrick with an idea for a program that I want to pitch, and she’ll ask for my logic model. And that forces me to go back to defining the need, and the issue I’m trying to solve, and the proposed solution. I can’t substantiate the ask if I haven’t done my research, and logic model prior. It’s going to make the writing that much easier if I’ve done the work ahead of time, and that’s the class that taught me that.    

Of course, I loved Leadership 550 with Dr. Terri Monroe and Dr. Zachary Green. That class changed my life. I would sit there and wonder what was going on…it used to drive me nuts! Dr. Monroe would sit there and say “how should we begin?” And I would think, I don’t know…why don’t you tell me? Aren’t you the teacher? I would get so frustrated. Now, I realize this is how you let people lead. Sometimes, you have to let others initiate, and let them be uncomfortable. There are still terms like “controlling the heat” and “servant leadership.” When I worked at the City of San Diego, there were many times that people were upset with the policies of the City. I would have to remember that I was a public servant who was working in service to my community. At times, I had to control the room and maintain the heat. All of those things still apply when I do trainings and public speaking engagements.

Are you able to pick a favorite professor?

I would say Dr. Zachary Green. He always does special workshops at the State of Nonprofits Governance Symposium, and I would go to see him because I’m a such a fan girl. He would come up with these amazing topics and really get you to think critically and reflect upon yourself and your life experiences, and how you live every day as a human.

Pat Libby, Laura Deitrick, and Liz Shear; they’re like my moms and mentors. I know I can pick up the phone anytime and call them if I have a hard issue I am dealing with. And then Dr. Green utilizes a singing bowl. I have one at home and every time I look at mine, it reminds me of him. When I get stressed out, I think about love and leadership and how these symbols remind me of my time with him. The deep internal reflections I discovered within myself as a leader are lessons that I will always take away from Dr. Green. He is also a man of color, which was really important for me to see in a predominantly white led institution.

What was your favorite portfolio project to work on?

It was the Research, Program Design and Evaluation project. A couple of my projects are on the best practices library, and that is one of them. Another one of my projects in the library is a board development manual that I created for San Diego Dance Theatre, and I believe they reference use it. When I do my nonprofit consulting, I go back to those projects; I’m constantly referencing to them. I recently taught a two-part series in Research, Program Design and Evaluation for RISE San Diego, and I pulled up the project that I did with three other NPLM team members.    

Where was your favorite place on campus?

The Harry Potter room in Copley Library, or The Immaculata. I also like  O’Toole’s at La Gran Terraza. They didn’t have it when I was a student, but I just started going there recently because a lot of SOLES parties are hosted there. I love that place because they have a great happy hour. When I was a student, we’d have to meet up in front of the cafeteria, at a Starbuck's, or someone’s house.

Where did you go to complete your international experience requirement?

I went to Mondragon, Spain, with Dr. David Herrera. My husband, Matt, was also able to come with us. Dr. Herrera actually let him sit in one or two of our classes, and then he would go out on his own while we were in session. I loved that experience because we were looking at the cooperative business model. A lot of what I learned there is what I’m doing now with my own company, Maraya Performing Arts.

I want to consider diverse stakeholder viewpoints (customers, employees, environment, and community) when making decisions on behalf of my organization. That’s something that I learned when I went to Spain. It was refreshing to see how their businesses are so successful, and their CEOs aren’t making a billion dollars all while entry level staff are making nothing. It was something Dr. Herrera said that I still resonate with. The cooperative business model was based on Catholic Social Thought (CST). A Catholic priest walked around Mondragon and wondered why there were so many homeless and hungry people, but there were also so many people who were rich. That’s the cooperative model; spreading wealth out to more people so that more get a piece of the pie and more people are invited to the table, so they have an equal say in the decision making. Experiencing that global perspective on how they do business, inspired me that we can do much better in capitalist America. How can we bring the social justice and the sharing, and the betterment of public good through seeing the ways in which other countries are succeeding or failing? Maybe more people need to learn this concept of sharing the wealth.

Tell us a little bit about your journey since graduating from SOLES.

I immediately landed a managing director role at a local arts nonprofit. When you’re in grad school, you do a lot of applied learning projects, but it’s not the same as real world experience. I would go back to my books to see how to take the knowledge and the tools that I learned in school and apply it in my position. I would reach out to my friends from the program, as well as my instructors, to share what I was going through and ask for advice.

I went on to work for a variety of different arts organizations, specifically in development and fundraising. Then I worked for the City of San Diego for a couple of years as the Senior Manager of the Arts and Culture Funding Programs. I called Pat Libby and Dr. Deitrick and told them I was going to the dark side…I was no longer working in the nonprofit sector, and I was going to be working for the government! They told me that it would be great experience and that I needed to be there to serve the nonprofit sector in a broader way. In my position there, I was tasked with overseeing a portfolio of 100 City contractors who received public funds, and I helped guide the policies and the procedures around 10 - 15 million dollars of public funding. It was a huge responsibility. I loved my job, but it was also very challenging, and very stressful. There were a lot of different personalities and political points of view to consider…and you’re working with the bureaucracy of government. There’s a lot of bureaucracy. It’s politics, and that I did not learn at SOLES. However, I did learn about adaptative leadership, which helped me navigate many challenging situations.

Then I got very sick. I had a brain hemorrhage while I worked at the City. I was on and off work, and at the same time I had a very heartbreaking miscarriage and then found out my husband and I could never have children. Since he’s a high school teacher and I teach arts to youth, we thought creating a performing arts company would be a great opportunity to cultivate the kids we cannot have. We are committed to teaching the next generation of leaders. After I left the City, I temporarily worked at the AJA Project as the Executive Director. The organization serves immigrant and refugee youth in City Heights, utilizing participatory photography as a method to improve language acquisitions skills, and preserve their own cultures.

A few months later, I got sick again and I was diagnosed with leukemia. I was diagnosed on 9-11-2018. I was admitted to the hospital for 45 days. During those days, I was on daily chemo and I had a picc line in my arm that was giving me blood platelets and red blood. All the people that donate blood, thank you; you saved my life. I had many, many different donors save my life. During those days I felt lifeless, but I fought extremely hard to live the life I always dreamed of. Dying wasn’t a choice for me; there’s no dying here. I had a huge community of supporters. My family kept everyone updated and random people would come visit me during my visiting hours. Students, friends, old co-workers, artists would come by, send me cards in the mail, or make me videos. The Lion King Broadway cast made me a get well video. It was this beautiful demonstration and outpouring of love that gave me the resilience and strength to want to fight and get out of the hospital.

Cancer changed my life completely. I am definitely not the same person I was before I was diagnosed. I finished my last chemo IV on March 1, 2019. On that day that I rang the bell, I thought, “well what do I want to be now?”

I reached out to RISE San Diego to see if they needed consulting help. Dwayne Crenshaw (Co-Founder) and Ronald Clark (SOLES Grad and RISE Fellow) had visited me in the hospital, as well as several other RISE members. And here I am, consulting for RISE as a nonprofit and small business development trainer. They’re keeping me employed, which I’m extremely grateful for. Since I’ve started my own company during COVID, it has been extremely challenging trying to keep my company thriving.

While I am in remission, I still have to take chemo pills every day for seven more months. It’s been a long process; my cancer treatment is a total of three long years. Each day seems to be getting better, but I just feel like chemo on top building a performing arts company during a global pandemic is a lot to handle. But these hardships are keeping me on my toes and challenging me in different ways that I never could have imagined.

My health issues have taught me to fight like there is no tomorrow. Tomorrow is never promised. I’m grateful every day that I get to wake up, take a breath, and move closer towards my dreams. With COVID, it’s been quite challenging. I’ve launched a campaign for my company on our Facebook page and our website. I’m trying to raise $75,000 by the end of the year. I know it’s a super ambitious goal, but I’m applying all the skills that I learned in school.

I’ve carved out one fundraising day each week. I’m going to make calls, identify those donors that have supported me throughout the years, and ask, ask, ask for their support. I’ve said this when I teach my RISE workshops, “I feel like I’m giving advice not only to you, but to myself…So I should take my own advice.” Because I say, “if you don’t ask, you don’t get.” So if I don’t ask, I don’t get.

I let my staff know that this is a time where nothing else should be scheduled, because I need to set time boundaries. And setting boundaries is a form of leadership, too. I used to always say ‘yes’ to everything, and I think that’s what made me sick. I promised myself to not be that person anymore, and to really reflect making time for self-care. Whether that’s diffusing essential oils, going for a walk, getting a massage or reiki--I must do those things. We cannot sustain in these times if we don’t take that time for ourselves.  

How would you say your SOLES education has impacted your career and career goals?

A lot of the things I’ve learned at SOLES and in the program applies to my daily life. I don’t even realize I’m doing it because it’s so engrained in me. SOLES has made me want to be the leader that I wished I had, or didn’t have access to. SOLES made me believe that I have the capacity to realize my dreams. SOLES gave me access to a network of people that I would never have had. I never would have met some of these people that are, and still to this day, some of my very best friends, and my mentors. I wouldn’t be the person that I am today without the program. I feel like I have the street credibility, and relevant knowledge to share with others.

How have you stayed in touch with SOLES since graduating?

A lot of people I still stay in touch with weren’t even in my cohort, we just somehow connected through the 6-degrees of SOLES separation. I even went to a SOLES wedding (the couple and the person that married them were all SOLES grads)…and I even choreographed the couple’s wedding dance! I see a lot of SOLES friends having babies and starting families, starting new careers, and businesses and organizations; SOLES did that for us. It grew my network, but it also made my sphere of influences much tighter and closer. That is the most priceless gift. It’s worth its weight in gold.  

The friendships I’ve made, and the conversations that I’ve had are the best. We talk about grants we’ve applied for, issues we’re having with our board; we can just hash it out. It’s therapeutic to have those friendships that last outside the USD walls and continue on for many, many years after we’ve left the building. It’s quite amazing how close we’ve become.

What advice would you give to a current NPLM student?

I would say to set those boundaries, carve out time for self-care, and look for a support network (maybe get a mentor through SOLES). It’s hard to manage your schedule, because you may be working full-time, going to grad school at night, and then doing applied learning projects. You’re working like 70 hours a week between work and school sometimes, so be ready to work hard.

I am extremely grateful for husband and his support. There were times that I would spend days at the computer, and my husband would bring me food, do the grocery shopping, and do the laundry. I had no time for myself or our household! It truly does take a village to get through this program. If I did not have my village of people surrounding me, I would not have made it. I would not, and I’m grateful for that.

My advice for working in a team on applied learning projects, learn to lead and learn when to step back. Understand the group dynamics and what everyone’s respective strengths and weaknesses are. I was doing a lot of listening and understanding others’ skills and adapting to those strengths and weaknesses.  


Amanda Gonzales
(619) 260-4539


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