Colleen Graber didn’t have a career path in mind when she applied for an editing position at PPA way back when. She had a master’s degree in history, focusing on U.S. social history with an emphasis on women’s experiences in the Victorian period. She tried office and museum work, and after returning to school, teaching.

The PPA job posting was intriguing. The job even had benefits.

“I was looking for an opportunity where I could use my skills and knowledge, but not in a classroom. The role at PPA appealed to me, and I was very interested in the work being done,” she recalled. “It was eye opening because I didn’t realize people could do program evaluation for a living.”

Her skills and passion for the work have propelled Ms. Graber to new roles and responsibilities, including her current position as Chief Operating Officer of the Lansing-based research firm with clients across the country. She recently celebrated her 20th anniversary with the company.

At the outset, Ms. Graber’s writing and editing skills were at the forefront. Soon she was intrigued by the research others were conducting and with her own research ability—along with organizational skills and a desire to meet new challenges—earned her a promotion to researcher.

“Instead of looking at the products, I was helping to create the products and collect information the products are based on,” she said. After serving as a researcher, she became a project manager, and, later the director of the Education and Workforce Development team.

She has led a wide range of projects, including preparing A Women’s Guide to Green Jobs for the U.S. Department of Labor, Michigan’s First Statewide Housing Plan, and numerous evaluations across the country. She has also spoken at national conferences about project results and methodology.
In the past few years, much of her work has centered on child care and early childhood education. They are issues that resonate in her own life experiences.

“I’m a mother myself. I’ve certainly seen the importance of the availability of child care for parents and how quality care and education contributes to the overall outcomes of children,” she said.

Ms. Graber said she enjoys working in different policy areas, while recognizing how they connect with each other. She embraces the challenges and opportunities of juggling projects and collaborating with talented colleagues to help clients. “I am fortunate to be able to work with really smart professionals on these complex projects.”

As she starts year 21, Ms. Graber says she still finds the work very rewarding and looks forward to helping the company grow, working with new staff, and taking on new projects that ultimately improve people’s lives.

“It’s a small company in some ways,” she said. “But it has a big scope.”