January 11, 2023
When did you join UTHealth Houston? What brought you here?
I joined UTHealth December 16, 1991 as a research assistant I in the Department of Pharmacology. This was my first job out of college and was my opportunity to use my general biology undergraduate degree.
Tell me about your work history here.
I joined the university as an RAI in Pharmacology in the lab of Dr. Thomas Burks, who was also the executive vice president of Research and Academic Affairs. Dr. Burks was hiring two positions to staff his lab and said that he hired me and my counterpart (Gabriella Bowden) because we both came from a retail background in addition to our science credentials so he thought we would get along, which we did. After about five years in the lab, I realized that I was a better technician than scientist and had developed an allergy to the animals, so I started a part-time MBA program at Sam Houston State University, with a focus on process improvement and service quality. My plan was to leave the university and work at one of the corporations headquartered in Houston (i.e., Continental Airlines). I finally completed my MBA in 1998, nine months pregnant with my second child, so the timing was bad for jumping careers. My mentor at SHSU asked me if I might be able to make a move within UTHealth to gain experience while letting my kids get a little older and then venture out (he was brilliant by the way!). I talked to Dr. Burks (who was always my biggest cheerleader) about the idea, and he said, “Cindy, you will rise like a cork in this institution.” He introduced me around to several areas in central administration and allowed me to assist on some administrative projects within Pharmacology for a few months to gain exposure and see what I might like doing. I eventually accepted a position as Administrative Assistant II at the School of Nursing in the Center for Nursing Research (CNR) under Dr. Sandra Hanneman. (Funny story, my mom was furious that I accepted a secretarial role with an MBA! She never has understood UTHealth titles.) The CNR is where I really learned most of what I know about UTHealth processes under the very watchful eye of Dr. Nancy McNiel, who was the associate dean for management at SON at the time (and continues to be a career mentor for me). We were a very small staff in the CNR, and I had the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with pre-award; post-award; purchasing; travel; effort; timekeeping; HR; and it is also where I got my first exposure to management. The CNR was growing, and my position grew with it. I was promoted to the role of administrative director, CNR. After 8 years of managing a center, I made the next logical move and accepted the role of DMO in Biochemistry. Being a department manager gave me an opportunity to expand my skillset with a larger research base, larger group of faculty, more direct reports, etc. It was in this role that I realized that research was my motivation. I am not a scientist, but I respect what scientists do and wanted to do whatever I could to help them be successful in their discoveries. So, I made the business of science my focus and implemented processes and procedures within the department with the primary purpose of supporting the faculty and their labs. My mantra with my staff was “keep them in their zone,” meaning buffer them from administrative processes that get in the way of creative thought processes. If we can fill out three quarters of a form, then we should fill out three quarters of the form and ask the faculty member to provide the information for the quarter that we can’t. I feel like I came into my own in Biochemistry, but after 7 years, I felt it was time for a change. I actually left UTHealth and accepted a job offer from Pete Davies (former provost at UTHealth) as the associate director for administration at the Texas A&M Health Science Center, Institute of Biosciences and Technology. Shortly after I left, the DMO of the Institute of Molecular Medicine (IMM) retired, and I was asked to apply for the position. This was basically a lateral from the IBT position and a logical next step within UTHealth and an opportunity to return home, so I applied and was hired back to UTHealth. Managing the IMM was a great opportunity to further enhance my skillset by adding centers and a building into the mix, and I was still able to keep basic science research as my focus. It was at IMM that I was able to use some of what I learned and enjoyed in my MBA program, which was process improvement and reengineering. I enjoy learning the ins and outs of processes and asking “why?” I like learning how internal processes fit into external processes and maximizing the efficiencies and minimizing the redundancies in them. Some would say that I like to “blow things up (processes)” and then put them back together (hopefully) better. After about 5 years and several blown up and reengineered processes, I was asked to take on the interim role of Associate Dean for Management at the School of Public Health. I was getting a little stale at IMM and welcomed the new challenge but had no intention of permanently serving in the role, thinking it would take me too far from the research world. After serving as interim at SPH, in addition to IMM, for two years I was burning out and needed to go back to only one job. SPH had proven to me that there was plenty of research to keep me happy (particularly given the pandemic) and a lot of opportunities to improve processes and learn about budgeting from the school perspective among many other new opportunities to experience (programming a new building, establishing a new state agency, etc.), so I decided that if offered, I would accept the position and let go of my IMM role. Fortunately for me, I was offered the position and have been in the permanent role for a little over a year.
What are you most proud of accomplishing?
My kids are my greatest accomplishment outside of work. Inside work, I guess I am most proud of others considering me worthy of being a “go to” person.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
The people. I have had the honor and privilege of working with and for some of the most amazing people. I truly enjoy my job family.
Why have you stayed?
I can’t think of anything I would rather do, and I am too young to do nothing! As long as I have something positive to offer, and reasonable challenges, I hope to continue to hang out with my job family.
When you are not at work, how do you spend your time?
I enjoy working out; doing yard work, spending time by the pool (note- “by” not “in”); and enjoying family time when I can get them all together.