Chem Department Mother Wins 1997 Staff Award

November 1, 1997

Judith Zwolak

Nancy Brady, executive secretary in the chemistry department and winner of the 1997 Liberal Arts and Sciences Outstanding Staff Member Award, isn't one to toot her own horn or bask in self-indulgent introspection.

When asked what her job entails, she says, "Oh, I just do whatever comes along." Whatever comes along can run the gamut from cajoling student workers to sign their time sheets to writing financial reports for the department. Late one recent Friday afternoon, during a 30-minute interview with a visitor in her office, things continue to "come along" for Brady.

Nearly every five minutes, someone comes into her office with a question or concern. A work-study student, wearing lab gloves and an abashed expression, apologizes for turning in her time sheet late. Brady gently admonishes her and reminds her that the only way to get paid is to sign her time sheet before it's due. A visiting professor walks in and hands Brady some campus mail he's received.

"This is nothing, ignore it," she says about one piece of mail. "This is important, turn this in," she tells him about another. A faculty member runs into her office with papers for the grants and contracts office. "Where is it?" he wants to know. Brady patiently directs him to an office just across the street.

Juggling the work involved in dealing with faculty members, graduate students, post-docs and undergrads is the most challenging part of her job, Brady says. "I'm kind of a mother to the department," she says. Brady started working in the chemistry department in 1979 as a technical typist, where she typed chemical manuscripts and grant proposals on the upper floors of Percival Stern.

"In that job, I could actually listen to the radio once in awhile," she says. In 1989, she transferred to the executive secretary's position and moved her office to the second floor of Stern. Here, she supervises an administrative staff of four and works with nearly 50 graduate students and 17 faculty members. "I have never had a dull moment since I came downstairs," she says. Brady says her favorite part of the job is interacting with her coworkers in the department. "We've got such a wonderful faculty and staff," she says. "There's good in every single member of the department."

Still, the demands of the faculty can be challenging, say two of the professors who nominated Brady. "Nancy takes it upon herself to keep the office running smoothly," says Michael Herman, professor of chemistry and chair of the department from 1991-94. "And she does it with a lot of charm and good humor despite dealing with a lot of chemists."

William Alworth, professor of chemistry and current department chair, writes in his letter nominating Brady for the award, "She works effectively with 17 different faculty members, each of whom naturally believes that his or her own immediate needs for staff help should be given the highest possible priority and most immediate attention."

Both Alworth and Herman also praise Brady's willingness to go beyond the call of duty to take on projects for the benefit of the department. Says Alworth, "She probably does the work of three people in terms of being in charge of the rest of the staff, helping undergraduates and dealing with the faculty's administrative issues."

In Brady's office, the plaque accompanying the award is prominently displayed on the wall. The $500 that accompanies the award will help pay for a vacation with her husband, she says.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000