How familiarity, faith, and failing forward keep this planner grounded
Story: Alex Haederle and Ian Cohen | Photography: Melissa Blum
It’s hard to sneak anything past her. A seasoned event project manager and management consultant with certified credentials to boot, Kristin Ginnity has planned and overseen some of the biggest events for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) since she joined Ripple Effect nearly four years ago. She’s found a niche in which she excels in a place she loves, and that’s right where she wants to be: stable, organized, and in control of the details. But how did a perfectionist formerly on the path to elementary school teacher end up an expert government meeting planner and career manager? We took a stroll with Kristin around her local neighborhood to find out.
“I’m a MoCo girl for life,” she beams with pride as we stroll along a wooded boardwalk by the lake waterfront of the Rio dining and shopping complex. Born and raised, home and heart: Kristin Ginnity, walking billboard for Maryland’s lovely Montgomery County. “Gaithersburg is my little bubble. The familiarity is calming. Everything is ten minutes away—my work, my church, my family.” Some may argue it’s a big bubble, with Montgomery County’s some million-plus residents, yet places have a way of shrinking the longer one spends there. And for Kristin, that’s been a lifetime. The structure, safety, and comfort of her home have shaped the core of Kristin’s personality and values, which have guided her path through life.
Out of One Bubble and into Another
“My sister and I used to play teacher growing up,” Kristin says with a fond smile. “It’s the family job. My mom, grandma, and other family members were teachers.” Kristin naturally followed that path, from her youngest days of waving rulers and snapping chalk through her final days at Salisbury University, where she majored in Elementary Education. Prior to graduating, Kristin took the Praxis® exam—a test to measure academic skills and subject-specific knowledge needed for teaching—and, seeking a return to her roots, interviewed with the Montgomery County School System.
But, ever the planner, Kristin didn’t place of all her eggs into one metaphorical basket. While chasing teaching opportunities along the path she had plotted since childhood and hoping for a positive outcome, Kristin was also stepping out of her comfort zone and expanding her options. She had applied to a proposal coordinator position with Booz Allen Hamilton, a large management consulting firm, and as fate would have it, she received a call from a hiring manager that would reroute her course.
“I graduated [from Salisbury] on a Thursday, and joined Booz Allen as an intern the next Monday,” Kristin recalls. “It was a rush, and it was surreal. But it was a great opportunity with a great company, and I wanted to work right away, so I took it.” Stepping out of a comfort zone isn’t easy—daunting, even, especially with a large company in a new industry, beyond the MoCo bubble so near to her heart.
Leaning into Her Strengths
Kristin was immediately thrown into a new world at Booz Allen.
“I felt like a little fish in a big pond,” she explains, describing her feeling being at a company with more than 20,000 employees and innumerable divisions, teams, and clients to serve. “I was on proposal support, creating production schedules, cost estimates, managing workflows and learning more than I ever imagined about requirements, staffing, and process metrics,” she explains. Kristin quickly realized that her innate skills served her well in this role—keeping track of details big and small, communicating with teammates, and building strategic plans—as she gained exposure to new areas of business. But naturally, she had a bigger plan up her sleeve. While she was enjoying her work in the daytime, Kristin was hard at work outside of office hours, pursuing an MBA through a University of Maryland University of College (UMUC) online program.
“In my proposal coordinator role, I had started to get an idea of what business is, and how to apply it to project management. I wanted a greater understanding of everything that went into business—budgets, costs, process improvements, and more.” Immersed in the business development team, she started to touch on events, her first one supporting the planning and logistics for a large Symposium. “I really enjoyed that,” she reflects, “And found that I was good at it.” Two years into her career, Kristin received a security clearance; she relocated her base office to Herndon, VA and began supporting the National Reconnaissance Office ten miles up the road in Chantilly, in a communications role supporting executive operations.
“It was the coolest client I ever worked with during my time [at Booz Allen],” Kristin tells us. She helped facilitate external visitors for her client and coordinate meetings, while learning more about communicating and managing work within a business consulting environment. After completing her MBA program in 2014 and switching clients in 2015, Kristin began to feel a pull within her: she had learned new skills and succeeded over the course of two fast-paced years, but she wanted to be closer to home, closer to the community that shaped her. MoCo girl for life.
The Makings of a Regional Master
Winter had come, and Kristin found a position posted online that intrigued her: A Project Coordinator role with a small, women-owned business based in Rockville called Ripple Effect. She applied, and after interviewing, was excited by the prospects of joining a growing company where she could build on her skills. The best part? It was ten minutes up the road from her home in Gaithersburg. Kristin accepted, and immediately jumped into her role, eager to apply the business and event experience she gained during her time at Booz Allen.
Twice a year, NIH hosts a Regional Seminar, a large-scale event that aims to help grant administrators, researchers, and others applying for NIH grants better understand the federal regulations, NIH grant applications, and review process. Each Regional Seminar is a week-long affair (two-day event, with optional pre-seminar workshop, and prep), featuring hundreds of attendees, speakers, and federal staff mingling with one another amidst a full program of speaker sessions, workshops, and display booths. For those who attend, it’s an invaluable experience. For those who plan it, however, it’s a massive undertaking with countless logistics, and easy to drown in the minutiae.
A great event manager must maintain close control of myriad budget line items, invoices, labor costs, vendor relationships, hotel contract negotiations and reservations, timelines, reports, websites, and communications announcements, to name just a few. This would be a nightmare for the unorganized among us, but for Kristin, it’s an exciting organizational challenge in her sweet spot—structured, and in control of the details.
“I have a hard time leaving things unfinished,” Kristin tells us under the shade of a small pavilion. “I like seeing things to completion. It excites me when I’m on site and attendees say, ‘What a great event,’ and I get to give myself a pat on the back. It makes all of the long nights and headaches worth it.” Since 2016, Kristin has planned and executed six Regional Seminars, each featuring 600-900 attendees, and more than 50 meetings for NIH. Along with this, she has provided event support to the Health Care Payment Learning and Action Network (LAN), including five LAN Summits and five other small meetings. She has been so effective in her role that she worked with Ripple Effect’s leadership team last year to secure professional development hours and become a Certified Government Meeting Professional (CGMP), the highest designation for planners and suppliers whose support federal meetings and events.
Sharing What She’s Learned
How does one plan a great event? Sadly, you’ll have to put in the time like Kristin has to know firsthand. But she’s happy to share tips.
“Plan, plan, plan,” Kristin says, clapping her hands in time with the words as we approach a large ‘RIO’ installation by the water. “You can never be too prepared for an event. Meet with the client before the event to understand their goals and objectives so that you can use space, vendors, and onsite support to make the event successful.” She positions herself in between the ‘R’ and ‘O,’ raising her hands and breaking out into a big smile as she poses for a picture.
“Be flexible,” she continues, “So you know how I mentioned to have a plan? Well, sometimes that plan goes out the window. It’s important to be flexible, especially on the day of the event. Vendors might not have the right equipment, volunteers and staff might not show up, there might be window washing outside during a session. Whatever the case may be, remain calm and come up with a solution for the client.”
“Network and build relationships,” she closes, “I made great friends through CGMP, and I use these connections to bounce event ideas off and share best practices. It’s important, and helpful, to have a network of people that you trust and who are in the same boat as you.”
For Kristin, this advice comes from a place of strong self-awareness. “I’m always learning, and I strive to be perfect. But I understand that I won’t always achieve that. It took me a while to realize that failing forward is actually a strength and not a weakness.” Indeed, mistakes are bound to happen, and Kristin has learned to make the best of her mistakes and turn them into learning experiences for the future. “Leadership put me in my position for a reason, and they trust what I’m doing,” she explains. “I also need to trust myself and know that while the road ahead might be bumpy, it’s full of experience that will help me be successful throughout my career.”
A Community to Call Home
Today, Kristin is invaluable to the Ripple Effect team, not only overseeing successful NIH Regionals Seminars every year, but managing junior staff and helping them plot their own paths to success.
“I started directly supervising staff about a year ago,” Kristin explains, “I meet with each staff member every two weeks for about 30 minutes. I talk to them about their workload, provide feedback that I’ve heard from other project managers, and allow them to ask questions.” During these meetings, Kristin is present and focused because she knows that one-on-one time is important for their careers—and that, like a great teacher spending extra time with a student, it can be this personal attention that encourages someone to keep improving and chasing success. “I always want people to feel like I’m there to support them and help them grow. I enjoy creating a safe space for them, working through challenges, and seeing their success on the other side.”
This desire to give back extends beyond Ripple Effect’s walls. Outside of the office, Kristin is grounded by her Christian faith, one built on love, community, and self-improvement. At her church, she helps lead the worship team and co-leads a life group that brings together people of similar age and life experience. “We meet, find a book, read, and connect it to scripture,” Kristin explains. She strives to make this group a safe place to meet and discuss issues. “What I learn and experience there translates to the work world.”
What’s Kristin reading right now? As we sit down on a picnic table, she pulls out a large bag full of books—she was prepared for this, naturally—and spreads them across the table. She shows The Art of Gathering, Brave, Not Perfect, and Faithing It, explaining how each one has helped solidify her values of bringing people together around meaningful experiences, struggling with perfectionist ideals, and maintaining faith and optimism through challenges and storms in life.
Finding a Song and the Right Rock
Kristin, by her own admission, wouldn’t be able to navigate those challenges and storms without her support system. Her sister is her best friend, and her grandfather is her biggest role model. But it’s Kristin’s husband, Daniel, who provides the day-to-day foundation that she needs.
“Daniel and I met in our homeroom class in the seventh grade,” she tells us as we near the end of the loop around the Rio waterfront. Daniel and Kristin’s roots run deep—back to seventh grade, through their eighth-grade performance of Grease. “I was Sandy, of course,” she says with confidence. (Fun fact: Kristin is a talented singer, and carries around a treble clef-emblazoned notebook to jot down ideas.) “I can’t always find the words to explain what I mean,” Kristin reflects, “But I can always find a song.”
Kristin and Daniel reconnected years after their past days of song and dance, fell in love, and married in 2015. Today, they share a home in Gaithersburg and live with their two dogs, Oakley and Rey. Their bond means everything to Kristin, a bedrock that has helped her grow her family and faith and given her confidence to pursue perfection, fail, and learn to be her best.
Kristin places a small stone down on the picnic table we’re seated at. “Daniel gave me this rock for Valentine’s Day in 2009,” she says with a smile. She carries it with her to this day, the ‘Kristin + Danny 4ever’ inscription recalling tree-carved initials and romantic mementos fondly set in so many of our memories.
“I believe there’s a reason for everything,” she concludes with a smile, turning over the rock to reveal ‘Happy V-Day 2009. I love you!’ on the other a side. A small detail from Daniel, but one that means everything to Kristin. Hard to sneak anything past her.
Interested in events and project management? See yourself in Kristin? Or, just want to say hello? Reach out! Kristin loves to share advice and connect with curious minds. Connect with her on LinkedIn or drop her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.