I was lucky to have two different one-on-one opportunities to sit and chat with Andrea Welker, PhD, PE, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, College of Engineering and Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Villanova University (VU). We talked about a lot of topics including leadership, culture, change, motherhood, careers, aspirations and mentoring to name a few. Although I was never her student, I have closely worked with her over the last couple of years. Most recently, we were conversing a lot about diversity and inclusion (D&I) topics as we are both members of the newly formed D&I committee at the College of Engineering at VU. I always have such fun and insightful conversations with Andrea and am thankful to her for sharing some of her tips.
On leadership, culture and change
“Sometimes just by being there, you automatically change the culture!”
She said this in reference to her position as the first female faculty member in her department a couple of years ago. Although there are a few other female professors now, Andrea often found herself having discussions with her male colleagues trying to make them look at things from different perspectives. She was the first in her department to talk about maternity leave policies and negotiate terms that worked best for the department, her career and her new family. As the only female faculty member for quite some time in the department, Andrea had a huge responsibility of changing the systems, policies and expectations in favor of female employees. While she wasn’t exclusively focusing on women-centric issues, she knew she had an important role to level the playing field for the incoming female faculty members.
On setting priorities and managing schedules
Andrea is an active researcher and is the Principal Investigator (PI) of several grants, a full professor, a mom of two teenagers and of course the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs. How does she handle all these responsibilities while being so caring and even-tempered? I asked her if she could share some tips and without any pause, she said:
“To get the most out of your day, put everything on your calendar”
It’s all on her calendar. From exercise to meeting her students to taking her kids to the doctor’s office to blocking some time to work on important reports. One of her top priorities is health and she makes sure that at the beginning of the semester, she blocks time for the various activities on her calendar. “If I don’t block those hours on my calendar, I am pretty sure, there will be something else that will fill up those spots. Therefore, it is very important that I block it with ‘exercise’ before any other appointments take precedence over it. Everything else builds around that.”
Advice for students and aspiring leaders
Being self-aware is really important; know your strengths and weaknesses and blind spots. You should try to find people that can help you fill in those gaps for you because you’re never going to be all that. It’s just not humanly possible but there are enough people in the world that if you ally yourself with the right people, you can make things work.
Also, know the big picture. While it is good to pursue several different paths, it helps a bit if they all align with your overarching goal. Take some time to figure it out and then focus your efforts in that direction.
Finally, be persistent. That is the key to success. Everybody fails but you just can’t let it completely bring you down. You should learn something from it but you can’t just let it destroy you.