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Ellen Newell knew a lot about plants before embarking on a career in maintenance and engineering management at Utah State University.
What she did not know about the profession early on was how to deal with people.
"As I've advanced in my career I work less and less with plants and more and more with personnel issues, motivating the crews, and communication," says Newell, the associate director of facilities management at Arizona State University in Tempe.
During her 40 years in the profession - 28 at her alma mater and the last 12 at Arizona State - Newell accumulated the communication skills she needed to help move up in the profession. We discuss her career moves in this month’s Management Track podcast.
Associate Director of Facilities Maintenance
Arizona State University - Tempe
Question: When and where did you begin your career in maintenance and engineering management?
Answer: I started working at Utah State University a few days before I graduated with a BS in Horticulture.
Question: What credentials, certifications, licenses or other professional designations have you earned?
Answer: I am a Certified Grounds Manager from the Professional Grounds Management Society. I also completed APPA's Institute for Facilities Management and have one segment left in the APPA's Leadership Academy.
Question: Do you see more opportunities for women in the field of maintenance and engineering management?
Answer: Yes, here where I work at Arizona State University (ASU), we have a number of women working in the shops and as project managers. My last boss, an Executive Director for Facilities Management who just retired, is a woman.
Question: Were there any challenges you faced while moving up in the profession?
Answer: Not really. I feel because I started as an hourly employee and worked up through the ranks performing all the same tasks as the men on the crews and had a college degree, I was viewed as totally qualified and never felt discriminated against.
Question: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Answer: I really like plants and landscape maintenance, so I love it when the grounds are looking great as a result of the crew’s efforts. I am also proud of our sustainability efforts including our campus harvest, green waste/compost, and B99 programs.
Question: What is the most challenging?
Answer: The speed at which ASU moves - we now have more 70,000 students on campus. We also have lots of construction, difficulties hiring from a very small applicant pool, low wages and stagnant budgets, and still keeping the grounds looking great in spite of everything going on around and on them.
Question: What is the best piece of advice you have received about your career?
Answer: I had a boss at Utah State who really mentored me as I went from a crew member to a supervisor. He really helped with that transition, keeping the empathy for and understanding of the crew while becoming a part of facilities administration and representing and supporting their desires and goals.
Question: What do you wish they had told you about the profession before you started?
Answer: I took all sorts of plant and botanical classes in college but none dealing with psychology. As I've advanced in my career I work less and less with plants and more and more with personnel issues, motivating the crews, and communication. I've been fortunate and worked at facilities that are generous with training but I probably would have made fewer mistakes if I'd known more to start with.