IT Staff News

Reflection on My Journey at Washington University

Submitted by Denise Hirschbeck

Reflection on My Journey at Washington University – June 9, 1971 through January 2, 2020

I want to thank all of you for coming together in to help me celebrate my retirement. A special thanks to Amy Walter, Maria Moyer, Kara Paul and Monique Tumbleson for pulling together a spectacular event! I truly appreciate everyone’s well wishes at the reception and beyond for sharing memories of our time together. WashU is a special place because of people like you.

Thanks to my family for their love and support over the years. And to Rick, my husband and best friend, for his never ending encouragement and motivation by continually inspiring me to try new things, to recognize opportunities and deal to with challenges in ways that are beyond my level of comfort. Rick introduced me to WashU and the surrounding area as he was planning to attend WashU’s Archaeology Program in the fall of 1971.  Cemented in my memory are experiences such as the free concert at Steinberg Hall – Mozart’s clarinet quintet in A Major performed by members of the St. Louis Symphony – this was a place I wanted to be.

My journey at WashU started, yes, 48.5 years ago, and what a great journey it has been. Some people ask “how could you stay at one place for so long”? My answer is simple, it has been the people and ever changing variety of opportunities that kept things interesting. Some people called it luck but looking back I recall intentionally repeating the things that worked well along the way including:

  • Build trust:
    • Be nice and helpful to everyone. Be especially nice to those who want to be cranky; they probably have a good reason. Demonstrating genuine concern about resolving the issue defuses irate behavior and builds trust.
    • Follow through on commitments.
  • Relationships are important
    • Reach out to new community members and offer to be a resource before there is a need.
    • Act as an informal or formal mentor to peers and staff.
    • Be a team player.
  • Recognize and embrace opportunities
    • Don’t wait for permission to seek stretch opportunities.
    • Volunteer for activities outside job description and follow through.
    • Don’t be a victim – break through barriers by demonstrating how to get things done and get them done.
    • Self-investment through University Education and Training benefits (BS ’85, MIM ’89)
  • Positive reinforcement is a motivator
    • When someone compliments a job well-done, double down on meeting or exceeding expectations.
    • Recognize the good work of others – say thank you!
    • Congratulate colleagues on reaching important milestones.
  • Rise above disappointments and don’t let them be a distraction.

There are so many who have been an important part of my “university family”! However, at the risk of leaving someone out, I would like to take this opportunity to thank some of the people who were important in helping me reach key milestones on the journey by validating my ideas and approach, providing constructive guidance and support and being fun to work with! I see them all as colleagues, champions, mentors and friends:

  • Harry Riedmeyer (Old Sarge)-hired me for my first job at WashU and remained a champion for me until his retirement.
  • Hardy Fuchs -hired me as a programmer in Data Processing 1980. Demonstrated his faith in me for as long as we worked together.
  • Bill Smith –our programmer when I joined the University; became my boss, mentor and friend for many years after I joined “Data Processing”. Bill groomed me as his successor prior to his retirement in 2006.
  • John Berg– mentor, colleague, friend and partner in the ascent of WashU’s admissions process. His sense of humor always made hard work fun.
  • Jim McLeod-awe inspiring partner and mentor. Gave clues about what needed to be done and left the actions to my imagination.
  • Gloria White – an inspiration who always kept me, and many of us, on our toes.
  • David Blasingame – His care and stewardship for the university was contagious and his trust in me was prized as I succeeded Bill Smith as head of Administrative Computing.
  • Erle Craig-my second boss in data processing; peer and colleague for many years. I learned so much from him about standards, process, customer service and commitment to excellence and the importance of being a nice person.
  • Ann Prenatt – supported me at every step of the way and never let title or rank get in the way of a great working relationship.
  • Amy Walter –my successor who has demonstrated that the department is good hands as she continues to care for and build the department making it her own.

Again, many thanks to all of you who have made my time in the Washington University Community rewarding and fulfilling! Friday, January 2 was my last official day but I’ll be around on Tuesdays and Thursdays working on projects for Enterprise Applications. Don’t be a stranger!