Dawn Wilson joined Group Health Foundation as our investment operations director after spending two decades in accounting and investment operations for university endowments, first at University of Virginia and then more recently at Emory University.
Dawn, who lived on a farm in rural Ohio when she was a child, has a favorite analogy to describe the work of managing investment operations.
“With a horse corral—a limited space to keep animals—you can control the gate,” she explained, noting the horses represent investments. “You build the corral, control the gate, and manage what goes in and out of it. Sometimes you have to let the horses out, and other times you need to keep them in the corral.” In short, the role is to safeguard assets by building a strong corral, she said.
While horses have always been a personal passion of Dawn’s (she once thought she would become a horse trainer), it took her some time to figure out her professional interests.
“I didn’t finish college at a traditional age,” Dawn said. Her family relocated to Georgia while she was in high school. She met her spouse during her first year of college with the University of Georgia system, and they were married soon after. He was in the Navy and as a military family, they relocated frequently. The constant moving combined with raising children led to a few starts and pauses, but Dawn eventually earned a bachelor’s in accounting.
She described a formative time of her life when she volunteered on a military base as a financial counselor to families. “When you talk to people about their personal finances, sometimes you also hear about what else is going on in their lives,” she said. Dawn listened as people described to her what they were going through, and much of it was heavy.
Making a positive impact on people’s lives was a through line she wanted for her career, but she learned she lacked the fortitude and skills for direct service work. Taking inspiration from her experiences as a first-generation college student and military spouse who raised a family on a tight budget, Dawn began what ended up being a 17-year career working on the University of Virginia’s endowment.
Even though she didn’t directly work with students at the university, Dawn said she was involved indirectly. “What I helped build paid for the education of more students, especially those who did not have access to higher education because of their financial situation,” she said. “I was able to do what I was good at, while making a positive impact, from my own nerdy world of accounting.”
Dawn looks forward to being part of Group Health Foundation and working with the investment team to ensure more grantees are receiving meaningful funding for their work. She lives in a multigenerational household with her parents, husband, and adult son. In addition to being among loved ones, she enjoys spending time outside gardening and inside sewing.