First Episode Aunt Bee 10101.JPG

When I was born, my Aunt Jean’ne started a college account for me like she did for each of my four brothers.  She provided seed money in the account and then we were encouraged by our parents to save money so we could go to college.  Birthday and Christmas money was put in our college accounts starting at a very young age.  When we got old enough to do something that paid real money, we saved as much as possible for college.  I had no idea what college would cost, but the goal was to save as much as possible so that we could go to college.

We were motivated to find work during the summers in high school to earn money.  Full time work was highly desirable since it resulted in more pay and thus more money could be saved for college.  So the summer after my junior year in high school, I applied for a job at the university in our town.  The university would hire high school kids each summer to work on the custodial or the grounds crews.  We all knew that getting a job on the grounds crew was the best job you could have as a 16 year old.  On the grounds crew, you got to work outside, enjoy the sun and hang out with friends.

I was a little disappointed, to say the least, when I was chosen for the custodial crew.  Once we were told what area we would work in, we were assigned to work with one of the custodial staff.  I was assigned to work with a women named Maryann.  Maryann looked somewhat like Aunt Bee from the show Mayberry RFD and her demeanor was equally friendly.  While I was really nervous going into my first real job, Maryann took me under her wing.  She took me to where we would do our work and began showing me the ropes.  She patiently showed me how to perform each of the tasks and made sure that I understood that it needed to be done well.  This job mattered – it was part of helping the university operate successfully.  We cleaned dozens of bathrooms each day including 250 toilets and 127 urinals.  I had never seen a urinal up close and personal but I did that summer.

I don’t really remember much about the work, but I remember Maryann and the important life and leadership lessons she taught me.  She would talk to me like I mattered and provided “motherly” support and advice.  When I shared that I was saving my money over the summer to go to college, she was adamant that I must get a college education even though she never had the opportunity.  We talked about normal things such as families, the future, current events and we spent a lot of time laughing.  Maryann taught me that what matters is your values.  She demonstrated these values on a daily basis.  She was always respectful – even to me, a snotty nose kid.  She trusted me implicitly from day one and taught me that the value of trust cannot be underestimated.  She taught me to work hard, take pride in your work and no matter what you do, do your best.  Finally, she taught me about the important secret weapon for success: laughter.  I was sad to leave Maryann that summer and, to this day, I still remember her as one of the best bosses I ever had.  I lucked out that summer by getting to work on the custodial crew and getting to know Maryann – an exceptional role model.

Rising to the Challenge

Welcome to practical leadership lessons in Academia.  This blog will describe some practical observations of leadership in today’s academic environment.  I am not an expert on the subject but a perpetual student.  I started my academic leadership education in second grade when my father became a professor of education.  Shortly after that, he moved into the role of department chair leading a department of 40 faculty for 25 years in the State of Washington.  Along with serving in his leadership role, he also taught education administration to teachers who were seeking credentials to become principals and superintendents.  My mom raised five children, supported my dad’s career and taught piano lessons for years before returning to teach middle school English.  Needless to say, discussions at the dinner table centered around educators and education.  We talked about who was doing student teaching or in their first year of teaching, who was going to be the next superintendent at various school districts around the state, what faculty were doing in my dad’s department, how the principal at my mom’s school interacted with the teachers and parents.  Of course, we also talked about the usual things including how the sports teams we were playing on were doing and the fact that one of my brothers hated green peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes so once he separated them out of the main dish he was left with plain hamburger.  I digress…

Growing up I had no idea I would become a professor and follow in my dad’s footsteps.  It was difficult to make a decision about my major and career path.  After trying chemical engineering and education, I finally settled on electrical engineering — having no idea where it would lead me.  I got married when I graduated and my husband was a year behind me so I got my master’s degree while he finished his senior year.  After working at Hewlett-Packard for two years, I realized that I was missing something.  My husband and I went back to graduate school and I found my calling in academia — they are my peeps!

I’ve spent 23 years in academia at this point – not counting my years in training.  I am so lucky to work with young people, to have opportunities to innovate on a daily basis, and to partner with faculty, industry, government and many other people from various entities.  I can’t think of a time in history when leadership in academia has been more critical than now.  With the corporatization of universities, risk adversity of academic institutions, and the opportunity for universities to impact the economic prosperity of the nation, innovative, creative, and high integrity leadership grounded in fundamental values is more important then ever.  This blog will touch on various aspects of academic leadership including the good, the bad and the bazaar.  It is meant to be a celebration of one of the greatest institutions in the United States: higher education.  I am so thankful to be a part of an amazing network of universities, researchers, educators and leaders.

The observations, thoughts and ideas in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the university.