Fall 2013 | Article By Benjamin Morris
The first thing you see when you walk into Sandra Parker’s office on the second floor of the Boggs building isn’t quite what you would expect: you might expect to see it in a classroom, instead of an administrative office. “That?” Parker points to her lectern and laughs. “That’s where I do most of my work.” Standing? “Oh yes,” she says. “Absolutely.” Citing studies that show the health benefits of standing rather than sitting at a desk, she even admits to not keeping a printer in her office. “It keeps me moving,” Parker says.
Keeping moving is an apt description for Parker’s work. As Assistant Dean for Finance and Personnel, Parker’s job is to keep the School of Science and Engineering fiscally fit. She comes to this work from an active background: a double alum, she earned both her bachelor’s (in Psychology) and MBA at Tulane, then went on to spend over a decade at IBM in Boca Raton, White Plains, and New Orleans working in financial planning, project management, and marketing. Though she freely admits the corporate world was a very different work environment than her current position—“At IBM,” she laughs, “We rounded to the millions”—it was there she honed her skills in handling multiple aspects of the company’s business: complex systems, future planning, and financial accounting. “It was an exciting time to be at IBM,” she says.
Parker returned to Tulane in 2002 to the School of Engineering, prior to the post-Katrina reorganization—and has been in the SSE ever since. Finding the right word to describe her work is tricky: professional cat-herder comes first to mind, given the number of people, interests, projects, and initiatives that pass through her door. Or librarian: her office is, after all, decorated with piles of papers, folders, and reports—all of which are, as befits someone with training as a financial analyst, meticulously organized.
More accurate, however, may be the image of the watchmaker: with so many parts to the machine, Parker’s job is to make sure they all stay active, in good condition, and synchronized to the point of perfect functionality. For a school as large as the SSE, with ten departments and several centers, these moving parts include personnel matters, inter-departmental activities, hiring practices, resource provision, purchasing approvals, and the navigation of a new human resources system which integrates many of these aspects.
Not to mention that minor matter, the budget. According to Parker, a healthy budget is composed of three main pillars: the operating pillar, which supports regular activities, the gifts pillar, which includes endowments, and the research pillar, which brings in funding from outside sources. A central part of her work involves coordination with other university departments, including the Budget Office, Sponsored Projects, and Development.
“There are obviously many financial challenges for academia in today’s economy,” she says. “For example, we definitely depend on development, and their successes allow us more opportunities to bring new experiences and encounters to the students.” With the University preparing for a full budget reorganization next year, the challenges are clear. Though Parker acknowledges the scale and complexity of the task, it is clear that her prior training has prepared her well.
Asked what she loves about working in the Dean’s office, Parker responds immediately: “The people, unquestionably.” She describes the staff as a well-coordinated team, and lights up when she speaks of students coming to visit the office, seeking funding for special projects or maintaining the organizations that promote science and engineering within the student body. “The students just keeping getting better and better,” she says. She particularly admires her boss, the Dean of the School, Nicholas J. Altiero. “Nick is accessible, energetic, and committed to advancing the school. He is very supportive of the faculty and staff and is an effective, engaging communicator. You should hear some of his many stories!”
The admiration is mutual. “We at the School have gotten more and more complex,” Altiero says. “Sandy is masterful: she keeps it all under control. Even after Katrina, with all the transitions we had to make, Sandy took it all in stride.” And looking forward, to the new budget? Not a problem for such a seasoned hand, Altiero says. “The budget is never stagnant,” he observes. “There are always different factors that impact it. [But] Sandy understands it better than anybody – whenever I go to these budget meetings, she goes with me. She’s a key player: I don’t know what I’d do without her.”
Despite such praise, Parker remains humble about her work. “The core of our school is teaching and research,” she is quick to insist. “We serve in a support role, and want to do the best we can to provide the resources for our departments.” That Parker says we and our rather than I and my speaks not just to her gracious character, but also to her background as an athlete. Formerly captain of the Tulane women’s volleyball team, she credits her athletic experience with teaching her much of what she needed to know about teamwork: “I hope for a collaborative leadership style,” she says. “I prefer to take input before implementing decisions.”
It’s a role Parker has clearly taken to heart, as she keeps the School of Science and Engineering moving. No wonder, then, that all its clocks are perfectly on time.
School of Science and Engineering, 201 Lindy Boggs Center, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5764 firstname.lastname@example.org