Blue Devil of the Week: Classroom Lessons Translate to the Office

Tanya Exum-Coston’s first career as a teacher taught her about managing grants

Tanya Exum-Coston has worked at Duke for 20 years and says her previous experience as a teacher helps in her current role with the Social Science Research Institute.
Tanya Exum-Coston has worked at Duke for 20 years and says her previous experience as a teacher helps in her current role with the Social Science Research Institute.

“I was an art teacher before I came to Duke, and I think dealing with students helps me in my current job. You tend to find the same habits and personalities in kids as you do in adults. Knowing how to interact with lots of different personalities is a good skill to have. It also taught me to always have a plan and a backup plan, with people. Similar to teaching, you need to know how to motivate people to execute the plan, in order for everyone involved to be successful.

Photography has made me a better problem solver, too. I tend to tackle problems with a solution or ‘big picture’ in mind, rather than just seeing a problem. Being able to think creatively helps with this. Especially with large program project grants, developing budgets is almost like putting together a puzzle. You have to make sure all parts fit into the composite budget, in order to hit your overall target budget.

There’s nothing like the excitement of getting the news or notice of award when your principle investigator wins a grant. You know that they have put in hours of hard work and research to develop a great proposal, just as students work hard to excel and to earn good grades. You can’t help but feel some satisfaction in knowing that you contributed, in some small way, to that success.”

Tanya Exum-Coston
Grants and contracts administrator, Social Science Research Institute
20 years at Duke

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