Aracelis Gray

Aracelis Gray ’95

principal and senior manager

When power players don’t know what to do, they turn to consultants like Aracelis Gray ’95, who specializes in advising organizations on issues related to vulnerable children, youth and families. Gray has been developing solutions behind the scenes for more than 15 years, leading us to wonder:

Q: In your work consulting with school districts and education initiatives across the country, what are the most significant challenges?

A: “What I do is often defined by questions and finding answers, but one is consistently on the table: how do we begin to address the social, economic and emotional issues that students are confronted with on a day-to-day basis? These are multisystemic problems that can’t be addressed by just one agency. That is a big question in education, and there is an effort to look at education in a more holistic way. The reality is that school districts don’t have the resources to address students’ emotional learning needs. They have to work with students to make a difference all while we have all these issues with school safety, which is having this sort of spiraling effect on schools and entire communities.

Our clients are struggling with where to begin the conversation within the systems through which they are operating — whether it’s a question of policy, politics or more often both. I think once you start peeling back the layers at the federal level, the policy may happen there, but how does the policy play out on the ground? When doing research, certainly I like getting answers to questions, but what is interesting to me is understanding the work in practice — not so much the quantitative data, but rather looking at what the implementation looks like. What are the real-world implications of programs and how can we adapt to fill in the gaps not measured by data?

A few years ago, I evaluated a mentoring program for young people impacted by parental incarceration. We set out to find how effective mentoring is as an approach in supporting a child who has a parent incarcerated. How does it help a child feel connected to a working adult, do well in school and avoid cyclical patterns? That project was particularly rewarding because I actually could see those young people; I could talk to them and do focus groups with them, their mentors and families. I was able to see that work in action.

While I enjoy all the aspects and challenges of my work, what I enjoy the most is when I’m doing something tangible and making a difference that I can see. That is why when I am doing research, I am more excited by the implementation of those efforts and seeing how things work, for whom, where and in what conditions.”

In Pursuit Of Results

Aracelis Gray ’95 doesn’t take information at face value; curious by nature and by the demands of her work as a principal consultant and senior manager at ICF, Gray searches for answers in quests that span far beyond a single data set or field study. “I’ve always been inquisitive and that’s very much the consulting frame of mind,” Gray says from her office in ICF’s headquarters in Fairfax, Va. “There isn’t an average day, and that’s where the beauty lies. Every day is filled with new and interesting challenges putting out fires.”

In her 10 years at one of the world’s most influential firms, Gray has positioned herself as a key-player in efforts to tackle vital issues facing education across the United States. Specializing in policies and programs designed to aid at-risk students, Gray tackles everything from foster care and improving graduation rates to college readiness and upward mobility post-grad.

“What I find most rewarding is helping people think through problems and providing them with a different way to examine issues to connect the dots,” says Gray, who sees the ability to evaluate situations objectively is key to developing effective courses of action. “Some of our clients are siloed in many ways, so recognizing opportunities for growth and a need for support is sometimes challenging for organizations when they aren’t constantly evaluating their impact.”

Originally from the Bronx, Gray stepped onto the Capitol Hill consulting scene shortly after earning her master’s in public policy from University of Michigan just two years after graduating from William Smith. The work was only natural for someone who asks a lot of questions in a town like D.C., where “you either work for the government or you support the government.” Her earliest roles at consulting firms like James Bell Associates and The Finance Project positioned her to acquire research experience on the ground to develop financial solutions to problems impacting marginalized children, families and neighborhoods. At ICF, she now leads her own projects.

Gray had her first inside look at policymaking during an HWS semester program in Washington. An English major for whom “William Smith always felt like home,” Gray often found herself chatting with Professor of Public Policy Craig Rimmerman and other instructors during office hours, diving into questions and theory that branched beyond what was required.

“I had great professors who were open to having conversations with me about different topics and issues, which was something I craved,” says Gray, who lives outside D.C. now with her husband Anthony Gray ’94 and their daughter Mackenzie, age 10. “My curiosity was welcomed and I’m better for it. I loved the Colleges from the very beginning. I still do.” –Morgan Gilbard ’15


Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.