When Mississippi became the last state in the country to require school districts to offer kindergarten in 1985, Dr. Grace led the kindergarten implementation as early childhood coordinator for the state Department of Education.
She went on to become founding director of the Early Childhood Institute at Mississippi State University, where she has led a variety of successful initiatives that have improved both the quality and quantity of early childhood education programs, especially in rural, underserved communities.
Dr. Grace's leadership, compassion and deep understanding of the complex issues in her field have been indispensable resources for Mississippi and the nation. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Dr. Grace spearheaded a major effort to rebuild and equip damaged and destroyed early childhood programs in storm-ravaged areas of Mississippi. In 2006, she was appointed by Gov. Haley Barbour to serve on the Mississippi Early Childhood Advisory Council.
At the time of the Winter-Reed Award presentation in September 2009, Dr. Grace was on sabbatical from MSU to serve as director of Early Childhood Development Policy for the Children's Defense Fund in Washington, D.C.