Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained: Why You Must Apply

A combination of personal circumstance, qualifications, and a desire for personal and professional growth brought board opportunities and clarity toward my new career path.

By Anne Lucietto, Ph.D., F.SWE

After graduating with my bachelor’s degree and getting married, my husband and I moved to a community that was centrally located to my possible work places. He didn’t want to move from one community to another anymore and made me promise we’d stay put for a long time. So, knowing that we would be living in that community for a while, when I heard the city library board had openings, I applied and was quickly invited to join that board. Once I saw what was going on, I volunteered to become the secretary/treasurer. I found the challenge of working on the books in a municipal system far different from corporate accounting. After some time, having felt I had made a contribution, I wanted other challenges; I began looking for my next opportunity.

An unexpected 21-year commitment

My husband, a well-respected civil engineer, was doing land development work in a rapidly growing region, which spiked my interest in land planning. I spoke to the city’s mayor and expressed an interest in moving to the city plan commission. He asked why, and I told him I thought the commission would benefit from my knowledge and background as an engineer.

He obviously agreed because, while my husband and I were listening to the radio one morning, they announced that I was now on the plan commission. It was an exciting transition, but welcome, and it lasted for 21 years! For most of the time leading up to the last four years on this commission, I was the deputy chair, and, for the last four years, I was the chair.

During my time on the plan commission, we made changes, worked with the city council, county, and regional planning organizations to improve the lives of those living in our areas. I was involved in several initiatives, including rewriting the planning document for the city twice. We also had a group I started that brought communities together. This group discussed and enacted change for the betterment of the county. Communities began to trust one another and worked to better their mutual borders.

We did have some contentious meetings, however… At one, I had to ask the police to intervene. Other meetings were quite the opposite and rather pleasant.

Some discussions ran late; some were done on time. Many of those on the commission got to know one another and worked well together. My background in various industrial settings and positions provided a great learning environment for conducting meetings and dealing with a large variety of situations that arose in this position.

Also, during this time, I found the opportunity to support the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) through finance. Not-for-profit finance is very different from corporate or municipal finance. I’d received my MBA in finance and began my journey to the board of directors as treasurer through the finance committee, first as a member, then chair, and then board of directors treasurer. My husband was very supportive, despite the increased time commitments, as he felt that some opportunities only come once, and they do not usually present themselves again.

A divergent path

It was then that I saw a massive change in my career path quickly approaching. Not one to move quickly, it took a little while for me to lay out the new plan. I decided to go to graduate school full time to earn a Ph.D. in engineering so that I could work at the collegiate level to help students to transition into the working world while I also was teaching and researching. I chose to go full time as I could not imagine how long it would take to earn a Ph.D. when an MBA took me six years part time! I began my search and, with my friends’ help, found the perfect program.

I began my commute to Purdue University (160 miles one way) and drove weekly while pursuing my Ph.D. At the end of my last semester of full-time classes, my husband had a stroke, and life changed in an instant. I figured out a way to complete the degree and then began looking for an academic position. There were none near where I lived.

Through a variety of networking opportunities, I found a great position at Purdue University. This required a move, away from our friends, and major adjustments. For example, no one in the new place knew anything of what either of us had done or accomplished. Still, we moved and forged forward.

While looking for opportunities, I found that the local science center was searching for board members, and I ultimately ended up on that board. Not-for-profit accounting and interaction with municipal counterparts were all things I’d done in the past. Accounting methods may be different, but all boards are a body of like-minded individuals working toward a positive outcome for the entity they are serving.

My advice: Define your interests; investigate what boards/commissions are available in local governments or agencies that align with those interests, education, and experiences; check for vacancies on their websites; and apply. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Anne M. Lucietto, Ph.D., F.SWE, is an associate professor at Purdue University, Purdue Polytechnic Institute’s School of Engineering Technology. She’s held progressively responsible positions in industry focusing on maintenance, construction, and facility engineering in nuclear power, federal research laboratory, and a variety of manufacturing/process corporations of varying sizes while teaching as an adjunct instructor. After obtaining a Ph.D. in engineering, she moved into a full-time position teaching and researching STEM students, often more specifically, engineering technology students.