September’s Extraordinary Leader: The Beauty of Dreaming Big

Enthusiastic as a sideline cheerleader, a smile spreading wide across her face, Hannah Grau stepped into Cathy Nowicki’s office and blurted out, “I’m here! I’m here!”

Nowicki, HPU’s assistant professor of interior design, looked up and remembered immediately the stellar high school senior from Kentucky, the one with the last name that sounds like growl – without the “l.”

Grau will tell you that and add, “Growl – like a tiger.” She talks fast, walks faster and has a bubbly personality no one can miss. But that day in her office, Nowicki remembered Grau’s infectious drive. That’s hard to miss, too.

Grau always wanted to be an interior designer ever since she was 7 and renovating her Barbie mansions. But she had planned to attend an interior design school closer to her home.

She didn’t. Instead, she came to High Point University. Nowicki convinced her.

During Grau’s campus visit, Nowicki gave her options and offered possibilities about minoring in whatever she wanted. The other school didn’t. Then, Nowicki mentioned the school’s secret weapon: the High Point Market.

That one conversation sealed it for Grau. She saw she could take classes from a professor she liked, and during her first weeks as a freshman, Grau had to tell her about it.

“I took your advice and came to High Point!” Grau told Nowicki.

“I’m so happy,” Nowicki told her. “I’m so glad we stole you away.”

Nowicki knew Grau would dive into campus life. And she has.

Now, two years later, Grau is a junior in interior design from Louisville, Kentucky. She has been selected as HPU’s Extraordinary Leader for the month of September.

Nowicki congratulated Grau last week. In an email, she wrote, “Now, aren’t you glad you didn’t go?”

Grau is.


Grau Finds Her Creative Eye

She is a Presidential Scholar who has made the dean’s list every semester. She is an honors scholar, recipient of the University Fellows Scholarship and a member of two honor societies: Alpha Lambda Delta and the Order of the Lighted Lamp.

She has tutored at Carson Stout, a federal housing community; played bingo with retirees at Piedmont Christian Home; taught programs on confidence building and stress reduction to local Girl Scouts; and mentored a little girl named Faith.

She is a member of Kappa Delta sorority and Alpha Phi Omega, a co-ed service fraternity, as well as the president of HPU’s Interior Design and Merchandising Club.

She interns at the High Point Market and does everything from setting up showrooms for Hooker Furniture to helping clients choose a style from Sam Moore Fabrics.

She has her own website,, and drives a black Acura she calls “Baby.” She likes nothing better than taking “Baby” around and looking for something free beside the road to feed her Do-It Yourself mindset.

Wherever she goes, she takes with a huge black leather bag that holds her tools: measuring tape, sketchbook, pens and a small triangle to draw straight lines.

With that in hand, her creativity shines. HPU has helped that to happen.

“I wasn’t confident before I came to High Point,” she says. “I would tone down my creative eye, and I’d always tell myself, ‘I need to be in AP statistics or AP physics. I’m not going to take art.’ But then I came here, and I learned how to draw.

“But I also found my confidence by being in this environment where everyone has a passion and drive for something,” she says. “My girlfriends would come see me at High Point and say, ‘I swear, every person I walk by has something cool about them.”

But then, they know Grau, the junior who talks fast and dreams big.


Finding Jesus, Finding Home

Grau and her father

Grau and her father

Grau has worked on Habitat for Humanity homes in seven different states, and she says she wants to open her own her own design firm that helps both the affluent and the down-and-out create a space they can call their own.

“We all want that, whether it’s a shelter down the road or a mansion on a hill,” she says. “Just some place they feel safe going home to find a little piece of themselves that they can afford.”

That sense of stewardship comes from her father, a financial consultant.

When she was little, she used to watch him give $20 bills to all the homeless people he met in New York City and say, “God bless you.” Grau always wondered why. So, did her younger sister and her mom. Her dad always had a ready answer.

“That person may not be Jesus,” he’d say. “But what if he was, and I didn’t provide?”

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