Susan Gentz met her husband on Capital Hill in a Senator’s office somewhat notorious for successful matchmaking. “It’s a true D.C. nerd love story,” said Susan. The office known for true love is none other than that of Iowa’s longstanding Senator Chuck Grassley—perhaps surprising as cupid. And the experience led to the happiest moment of her life.
“We held our wedding at Capital City Church in Des Moines and our reception at Adventureland. It was amazing!” Susan claims that she and her husband, also an Iowan and a state policy expert, are the “10th or 11th” couple since 1981 to get married after both working within the Senator’s office.
Susan is a political communications graduate of the University of Northern Iowa, and realized early in her career that the often unhealthy life-work balance and heated partisanship that characterizes so much of American politics was not for her. After a brief internship on a political campaign, Susan made her move into government service.
“The bonds formed in political work last forever, because you go through so many things together,” said Susan. “In the end those are entirely positive. Government policy work is just more satisfying to me.”
Susan worked for almost 18 months in the Senator’s office before taking a position at a large government relations firm in the D.C. area called Stateside Associates. She tracked state legislation with Stateside Associates before landing her current position as a policy manager at INACOL—the International Association for K-12 Online Learning. INACOL holds 501c3 tax status as a non-partisan, non-profit organization and is a pioneer in the advancement of online education.
What do you love most about Gravitate?
The thing I love the most about Gravitate is the diverse pathways that bring people there. Everybody seems to have at least a little knowledge on almost every subject you can imagine. I love that there is one single place to go that brings together a vast amount of knowledge.
What is your favorite restaurant within walking distance of Gravitate?
Jimmy's Gyros in the Des Moines Partnership building—so good.
Who’s your favorite startup hero?
I don't have a lot of authority to speak on this because I am new to the startup world, but I did find Brad Feld's Startup Communities and Steve Case's The Third Wave to be most helpful in ways to think about how my interests in policy can be of good use for startups.
What was the happiest experience of your life?
After living in DC and thinking owning a home was far out of reach, I think that, especially recently...buying a house and having a place to call ours is a lasting happy place.
How do you want to be remembered?
I want to be remembered as a selfless person. I want to serve God, the church, my family, and the community.
It is, also, a virtual organization with headquarters near D.C. and employees dispersed across several states. This allowed Susan to, eventually, make her return pilgrimage back to Iowa. After nearly five years of “inside the Beltway” policy experience, Susan decided it was time to put an end to expensive cross-country flights and18 hour journeys home. Susan said she is “beyond thrilled” to be back in Iowa. She enjoys the lower cost of living and the warm, friendly culture Iowan’s often embody. “It’s where my family is,” said Susan.
Susan now spends almost all of her time researching, analyzing and writing about the so-called Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA. ESSA will go into effect in 2017 to replace No Child Left Behind (NCLB). ESSA has numerous state and federal implications, and Susan finds herself on any given day contemplating both.
“No Child Left Behind led to a form of data poverty because most testing was only administered once per year—at the end of the year—with most data arriving after the student had already moved on to their next grade. It was an “autopsy” approach to data in that regard,” said Susan. “Personalized learning with more regular interim assessments is far more effective.”
ESSA allows more flexibility for states to innovate in education, and Susan feels that the flourishing innovation we are seeing in the digital world is reflected in some of the work she does with ESSA. This enhances the connection she feels with colleagues at Gravitate in the world of tech-enabled businesses—a world she personally appreciates. Susan wants to be a thought leader in education policy and tech-enabled business by helping policy makers connect to both worlds in order to past outdated thinking. “I want to help create the vision that facilitates partnerships between education and tech-enabled business in daily life,” said Susan.
“I’m really happy with the work I’m doing at INACOL. I want to see what ESSA can do to help transform education across the country. I want to see Iowa become the leader in education and tech-enabled businesses because people would be shocked if Iowans were first to enact policies that encourage the right kind of growth through this partnership. My job in education is, also, a way to serve all students—to help those who might otherwise be overlooked. It’s very rewarding.”
Moving back to Iowa was a big step, but it hasn’t always been easy. She adds, “Being away for so long takes you out of the social circles you once knew.” Some of her longtime Iowa-based friends have since moved away, as she once did, which is another of the reasons Susan chose to work within the innovation community at Gravitate.
“I like the connections I get to make here,” said Susan. “My favorite event is the potluck. It helps as a mixer and puts you in the midst of a fairly diverse group. It gets me out of the policy world because no one else is doing policy work at Gravitate. I really want to share my excitement. When they’re ready to dig deeper, I want people to think of me.”