UPDATED:  February 27, 2011 10:42 PM
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Grace Spence Chairs FAPAC Conference

By: Jennie L. Ilustre

Grace Li Spence manages multi-million dollar Information Technology (IT) projects as Project Manager at Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). DEA is under Department of Justice, which she joined in 2004. Grace is a Project Management Professional (PMP). 

This year, Grace also has her hands full as the Chair of the annual National Leadership Training Conference of the Federal Asian Pacific American Council (FAPAC).

The conference will be held on May 9-13 at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue Hotel in Seattle, Washington, some 3,000 miles away from the nation’s capital. FAPAC holds the conference in May, to coincide with the federal government’s observance of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

FAPAC is a non-profit, non-partisan organization representing the interests of over 153,000 Asian Pacific American employees in the federal government and the District of Columbia. It aims “to promote equal employment opportunity (EEO) and cultural diversity within the Federal and D.C. governments through education and recognition of outstanding performance.”

Grace helps the planning and implementation of FAPAC events throughout the year. The task entails planning and coordination of guests, accommodations, catering, publication of materials and administrative operations. She is also website liaison, helping in maintaining the website.

It must be stressful finding time to balance her job, volunteer work, and also her hobbies (which include hiking, travel, dancing and reading). “I do have a very challenging and time-demanding job,” she said in an interview. “I try to focus and give my best attention at work.”

She added: “In my spare time, I try to get involved in civic work. I have a very supportive family. They also get involved and help out when they can. I’m fortunate to do the job I like, and also give something back to the community.”

FAPAC Leaders

FAPAC President Kin Wong said her business experience has a lot to do with her successful balancing act. “Grace gets things done. She comes from the business background, having worked for a major hotel and also at Wall Street. She is an IT Manager with a perspective of the Big Picture. It also helps that she’s also friendly and approachable.”

”After a short stint as executive secretary, she has developed a keen grasp of the many issues facing FAPAC,” he added. “By combining her interpersonal skills with a clear sense of the Big Picture, she has become one of our fast-rising stars in the organization. As Conference Chair, she is doing a great job in the face of daunting challenges.”

Remarked Immediate FAPAC President Farook Sait: “Working for a multi-cultural, multi-linguist, multi-ethnic group that makes up FAPAC is an exhilarating challenge and one that Grace handles admirably. She brings a ready smile, a pleasant disposition, boundless energy, and a quick mind to work on the plans of FAPAC’s 26th annual Conference. 

“To coordinate the workshops, arrange the logistics, deal with almost daily crises, and the inordinate challenge posed by the budget crisis, is just another day for Grace.  Nothing fazes her,” he added. “She is truly symbolic of a swan–beautiful and composed above the water, while paddling furiously under water. She has just one rule: Get it Done.  I am proud to have the privilege of working with Grace.”

FAPAC Senior VP for Operations Peter M Nguyen noted her diligent, inspired leadership and collaborative approach. “After work and on weekends, Grace meets with FAPAC’s Executive Board and the conference planning committee, to insure it will be highly successful educational conference.”

“Last year, she played a key role in organizing the leadership conference at Washington’s National Harbor Resort, which involved coordinating several FAPAC working groups. This year, she’s the Conference Chair. She accepted the challenge without hesitation.”

“The conference brings together leaders from multi-faceted disciplines in government in a series of seminars and working groups,” he said. “It is focused on promoting leadership and development of Asian American and Pacific Islanders in the Federal government.”

Olivia Adrian, FAPAC VP for Committees 2010-2012, said: “As the VP for Committees, I selected Grace to be a role model for the organization and prepared the award for the ‘first ever’ Outstanding Committee Chairperson of the Quarter, for   October through December 2010.”

“This is a significant achievement, of which Grace should be proud. It is recognition of superior performance of duty and selfless dedication to the FAPAC mission. Moreover, it attests to her spirit of teamwork and her active participation in the Asian Pacific American community as a volunteer.” Grace served two terms as a Board member of Montgomery County’s Committee for Ethnic Affairs. 


Grace has come a long way. When she first came to U.S. 20 years ago, she spoke very little English. “I was on scholarship, so I had to maintain certain grades as a requirement,” she recalled. “Imagine sitting in a classroom, listening to lectures. All you know is the professor is speaking English beautifully, but you have no idea most of the time what he’s talking about, except catching a few words here and there.”

She added: “The choice was either to quit or face the challenge. Of course, I didn’t quit. I was never a quitter. I always believe a person can do anything if you set your mind to it and give it your best effort.” She completed an M.A. in International Affairs from Ohio University.

Before joining the government, Grace worked in the private sector. She was a project leader for a Wall Street firm in New York City. She was also a top executive for a Hong Kong investment firm, overseeing its entire operation in Mainland China in the late 80s and early 90s.

During the same period, she served as investment firm liaison to the Chinese government. She was the acting general manager for a three-star hotel joint venture in Southern China.  

Currently, at the DEA, Grace is also the Special Emphasis Committee Chair. Among other things, she assists the Equal Employment Opportunity Officer in implementing initiatives and addressing the concerns and needs of women, persons with disabilities and minorities in their respective organization.

Grace is the oldest of three children. A brother is a professor at the George Washington University. Her youngest brother is a doctor and still living in China.

Her role models are people who have overcome disparities and difficulties. Just like her, family and friends familiar with her life would say.

Elaborating, Grace said: “These people not only are mentally and emotionally strong, but also demonstrate their positive outlook in life. They not only love life, but also make it meaningful. They never give up hopes and dreams. They believe in themselves and they believe in the goodness of the people and the world, despite everything that would seem contrary. They and their stories teach me the value of love, kindness and unselfishness, the importance of family, friends, and giving back.”

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