Stories / Scholarships

Scholarship Winner Grace Schuler Is Living Her Childhood Dream

March 08, 2023


Shoulders-up image of Grace Schuler in a burgundy top

To celebrate Women's History Month, we're highlighting women in the food and beverage space who are making waves and supporting others. One of the many scholarship opportunities (applications are open until March 31!) the James Beard Foundation offers is the Debbie Lewis Women in Wine scholarship, which honors the life of its namesake and her passion for mastering the business of wine. We spoke with the 2022 recipient of this scholarship, Grace Schuler, to learn more about her studies in Drexel University's hospitality program, and the lifelong dream that drew her to the culinary world.


JBF: What first got you interested in working in hospitality?

Grace Schuler: Growing up, ours was always the house everyone came to for the holidays. Often, this not only included family and close friends, but an “extra or two” as well—meaning someone’s acquaintance, neighbor, or roommate with nowhere else to go. From an early age I was excited about and encouraged to host the class parties, Girl Scout backyard camp outs, and sports celebrations, so putting on events for a living became a natural career path for me.

JBF: Your scholarship application said you've wanted to open your own event planning firm since you were 7 years old. What inspired that dream?  

GS: When I was 7 years old, I helped plan my grandma’s 70th birthday party. I had my little hands all over it—sending invitations, hanging decorations, baking the cake, and entertaining the crowd—no task was too big or small. And it may seem crazy to know what you want to do from such a young age, but since that time, I have been working toward the goal of becoming a professional event planner. My interest and commitment have escalated from coordinating school events in my ‘tween years, to starting my first paid hospitality job at 14 scooping ice cream. Since then, I have taken on positions with more and more responsibility. This has included working in event planning roles at various organizations in my college town of Philadelphia to my upcoming six-month internship on the event planning team at the Ritz-Carlton in the U.S. Virgin Islands this summer. I am motivated by the idea of developing large-scale events that resolve hard issues and find solutions for those in need. Events like Live Aid, the Special Olympics and The Susan Komen Race for the Cure are just a few examples of how special events have the power to change the world, and I want to be part of that change.

JBF: How has receiving the JBF scholarship made an impact on your education? What are you currently studying?  

GS: Receiving the JBF scholarship has made a huge impact on my education and my career. To share some background, my family has been facing crushing debt since April 11, 2017. That was the day my older brother was hit by a car while riding his bicycle home from baseball practice.  A college-recruited athlete, he was a month away from graduating from high school and now had a 50% chance of surviving the initial brain surgery. He ultimately had four operations and went through years of extensive physical, speech, and occupational rehab. Much of this was not covered by insurance, but instead paid for with everything my parents had saved for our college educations and their retirement.

As a result, I spent much of my high school and college years writing scholarship essays to fund my education. Although I have been working in hospitality jobs since I was 14 and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, it will be scholarships such as this one that will allow me to complete my education without a huge burden of debt at the end.  

In addition to the much-needed financial support, this scholarship is special to me because it is truly an honor to be recognized and considered worthy by industry professionals.   

I hope one day I will be able to pay it forward and help other students achieve their goals by offering a scholarship like the one made available to me by JBF.

JBF: Can you tell us a bit more about “Speak Out!”? When did you first start it? What made you want to help others with public speaking?  

GS: Growing up, I was shy and didn’t like talking in public. There were many times I wanted to speak up, but I wasn’t always comfortable making my point in a crowd. However, I started practicing, conquered my fear, and realized I could help others conquer theirs, too.

As a result of this realization, and having a desire to give back, I developed a free public speaking training program, called “Speak Out!”, for low-income middle school students eight years ago, when I was 14.

I led “Speak Out!” for four years while I was in high school, devoting over 600 hours and training more than 100 middle-school participants, seven of whom ending up earning tuition scholarships. “Speak Out!” was promoted on schools’ web sites, newsletters, podcasts, and in the local media, reaching more than  200,000 people so far.  

Upon starting college and being faced with a global pandemic shortly thereafter that would make teaching middle school students in a face-to-face setting impossible, I decided to retool “Speak Out!” to an online event and offer it to adults to help them overcome their public speaking fears, too. I redesigned my curriculum to fit into a much shorter time frame and now offer it for free to my college peers as well as business organizations. Much like my event for ‘tweens, the requests keep coming.  

JBF: Why do you think it's important to have role models like Debbie Lewis as a woman coming up in the industry?  

GS: I am a big believer in the phrase “seeing is believing.” This is why I feel it is so important that young women coming up in the industry can network and learn from the legacy of a strong, smart woman like Debbie Lewis. Ms. Lewis showed us what is possible when you work hard and aim high. People just starting in their careers often find inspiration when they see the success of those who have come before them.  

In addition, role models provide an excellent road map for getting on the right path and teaching us what is expected later in terms of giving back as we make our way up. I’m so grateful to the Lewis family for lending me a hand and making it possible for me to achieve what I have to date.

Our 2023 Scholarship application period is open until March 31—learn more and apply now


Maggie Borden is director of marketing at the James Beard Foundation. Follow her on Instagram @maggbo.