Dedication and Commitment Result in Funabiki Achieving Her Dreams

Former Bearcat Tennis Player Works for the Park City Education Foundation

By Katie Huber '13, Writer

SALEM, ORE. -- For Abby Funabiki ’09, the secret to success is simple: pursue whatever makes you happy.

As a college student, Funabiki put this idea into practice when she decided to learn American Sign Language — even though Willamette University didn’t teach the language on campus.

Undaunted, she worked with her advisors and Willamette University staff members to design a unique schedule at Washington State University and Western Oregon University — which allowed her American Sign Language summer courses to count toward Willamette’s language requirement.

Funabiki’s determination to learn sign language exemplifies the passion that has driven her in every aspect of her life — as a dedicated student and committed tennis player at Willamette, and in her career as the annual fund manager at the Park City Education Foundation in Park City, Utah.

Though her current job does not involve sign language, she doesn’t regret the extra effort she dedicated to learning the language.

“I always pursued what I cared about — even if it was off the beaten path — which allowed me to get to where I’m at today,” she says.

Commitment

In keeping with her positive outlook on life, Funabiki’s passion for tennis motivated her to continue playing in college.

After competing at the Division I level for one year at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, she transferred to Willamette University so she could devote more time to academics.

“When I was at Quinnipiac University it was all about tennis, so I really appreciated how much more well rounded I was at Willamette,” says Funabiki, who grew up in Pullman, Wash. “At a DIII school, you play your sport because you love it.”

During her three years at Willamette, Funabiki took advantage of a variety of extracurricular activities — joining the Women In Politics Club, interning in the Willamette Foundation and Corporate Relations Office and serving as the affinity chair of the Senior Fund Drive. She also spent a semester in Chicago, where she studied at Millikin University and worked as a journalism intern for the McCormick Tribune Foundation.

Women's tennis Head Coach Becky Roberts says Funabiki’s many commitments didn’t interfere with her dedication to the tennis team.

“Abby grew into a leadership role on the team — serving as team captain her senior year,” Roberts says. “She’s a natural in a group situation and she got along with everybody, which made her a great team player.”

In the classroom, Funabiki showed the same enthusiasm she displayed on the tennis court and in her extracurricular activities.

“I really appreciated Abby’s intellectual curiosity and that she wanted to be challenged in her classes,” says politics professor Melissa Michaux. “She wasn’t concerned about her GPA — she was concerned with what she was learning and what was interesting.”

Funabiki says balancing a variety of activities as a college student has directly contributed to her career success.

“When you work for nonprofits, you wear many different hats,” she says. “Being a student-athlete taught me to multi-task and prioritize, as well as how to deal with tough situations and emotional situations.”

Creating Change

Working for a nonprofit has been Funabiki’s dream job, ever since her college search brought her to New York City as a high school student.

“When I visited my uncle who worked at the Ford Foundation, I was drawn to the positive and inspiring environment,” she says. “The nonprofit and foundation community cares about innovation and impact, and they aren’t scared to take certain strategic risks in the hopes of finding new, radical ways to support their causes.”  

Through internships and coursework at Willamette, Funabiki actively pursued her goal of working with a foundation. She says majoring in politics trained her to think critically and strategically — skills necessary to nonprofit management.

“The assumption is that if you major in politics, you have to become a politician or somehow work in politics, but we have students who go on to get degrees in business or nonprofit management or a whole range of things,” says Michaux, who advised Funabiki on her politics thesis.

“Abby had a strong desire to pursue concerns of social justice through philanthropy, so she was able to focus her thesis and independent research on this topic.”

Armed with a politics degree, Funabiki’s dream to work at a nonprofit became a reality immediately after she graduated.

As the development coordinator for Spaulding for Children in Houston, Texas, Funabiki organized the inaugural Aces for Adoption tennis tournament — raising $53,000 to provide no-fee adoptions for children in the custody of family protective services.

In 2011, Funabiki moved to Utah to work as the annual fund and office manager at the Park City Education Foundation — a nonprofit that supports high-impact programs by raising capital and granting it to the public school district.

Through her role as the foundation’s annual fund manager, Funabiki takes on a wide range of responsibilities — including fundraising, accounting, graphic design and marketing. She is also working toward a master’s degree in public administration at the University of Utah, which she will complete in 2014.

Funabiki says she wants to continue learning about the public role in creating change, and she hopes to one day work in the administration of a foundation.

“Working for a foundation allows me to directly impact passionate people who want to change the world,” she says. “But I don’t just do this work because of what I accomplish and how I support people — I actually really enjoy the day-to-day nuts and bolts of my job.”

Abby Funabiki '09, who played tennis at Willamette while majoring in politics, is  the annual fund manager at the Park City Education Foundation.

Abby Funabiki '09, who played tennis at Willamette while majoring in politics, is the annual fund manager at the Park City Education Foundation.

During her three seasons at Willamette, Funabiki was a key member of the women's tennis team. She was the team's captain as a senior.

During her three seasons at Willamette, Funabiki was a key member of the women's tennis team. She was the team's captain as a senior.