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SPAA Grad Becomes First African American Leader of Girl Scouts Heart of NJ

When the CEO of the Girl Scouts of Central and Southern New Jersey announced her retirement in 2013, she urged her mentee Natasha Hemmings to apply for the position.

Hemmings was the highest-ranking chief marketing and communications executive for the Girl Scouts in New Jersey. She had a national reputation and a résumé that boasted more than 14 years of experience with the Girl Scouts. She seemed like a shoo-in.

Unfortunately for Hemmings, something was missing.

She was eliminated in the last round of the selection process, and told that the only thing separating her from the top two candidates was her lack of an advanced degree.

“That’s why I decided to go back to school, because I didn’t want that opportunity to be presented to me ever again, and for that to be the reason,” the Piscataway, New Jersey, resident said.

After three years, Hemmings graduated with a master of public administration degree from the School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA) at Rutgers University–Newark. She said she took every assignment seriously and maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout the program.

When she enrolled in graduate school, she was nervous about being among younger students, but quickly embraced her life and work experiences as academic strengths. Her employment with the Girl Scouts prompted her to select the degree concentration of nonprofit, public, and organizational management.

For her final research project, Southerland studied the nature of volunteerism in public organizations and concluded that volunteer satisfaction is crucial for organizations like the Girl Scouts that rely heavily on volunteers. She asserted that when volunteers report high levels of satisfaction, they not only continue to serve as volunteers, but encourage others to volunteer as well.

Hemmings used her findings to highlight the need for organizations to optimize the volunteer experience through methods like duty rotation to prevent volunteers from being overworked.

Her time spent in the master's program not only informs her current work with the Girl Scouts, but has established a stronger foundation for her larger goals.

“Ultimately, I would like to open my own nonprofit in Barbados – where my family is from – when I retire,” she said. Southerland’s dream is to be the executive director of a Bajan nonprofit that supports the arts, with the goal of stabilizing the arts industry so that it can thrive with the tourism industry. 

In April 2018, Hemmings made history as the first African American appointed as CEO of one of the largest Girl Scout councils in New Jersey. Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey (GSHNJ) serves more than 17,000 girls, ages 5-17, and 10,000 adult members in the counties of Hudson, Essex, Union, Somerset, Hunterdon, as well as sections of Warren and Middlesex.