Office of Culture and Experience

The Impact of Developing Talent Goes Far Beyond the Workplace

September 27, 2017 • Leadership

As reinforced in the HSC Fellows meeting last month, leadership is about producing change and movement. This includes the ability to establish direction, align people, and to motivate and inspire. We discussed that as a coach we provide challenge and support to get team members to get outside of their comfort zone.

Each year, around her birthday on September 25. I think of Angie. I knew Angie from a former life in a previous institution.  What I remember most about Angie is the transformation she made to become an adopter for change. In this former life, my goal was to consolidate some physically separated departments to make a more cohesive Enrollment Management team, and while we were at it, we were given the opportunity to create a Welcome Center. And while we were creating this center, the new working environment, which for most people had been private offices, was to be an open space plan. That is a lot of change at one time.

In the beginning, Angie was unsure about the plan. It was from her concerns that I learned how important communication was to both planning and progress. Angie had a lot to say about the Welcome Center and she was well qualified to give her opinion, since she started in the organization on the front line, answering the admission phones, responding to e-mail inquiries, and greeting guests.  Additionally, the institution was her alma mater, not only for her undergraduate degree, but a graduate degree as well. She was one of those people who is so committed to the institution that it is the only place they want to be.

Angie ended up taking on a position of more responsibility as a result.  This was a step that would take her out of her comfort zone. She became an Assistant Director of Admission, in charge of the Welcome Center, with her own staff, and I could immediately see her employ the skills of a leader, establishing direction, aligning people, motivating and inspiring.

And then Angie had some setbacks with health issues.  Her well guided team continued to operate flawlessly, despite her prolonged absences.  She would get better, return to work, but then have a relapse.  At one point, she could only walk with the assistance of a walker, and yet, she had not even celebrated her 30th birthday. From her desire to get back to work, Angie persevered.

One day, however, I got a call that Angie had fallen in one of the hallways and was unable to get up. An ambulance had been called. I rushed over to find her, lying flat on the floor. Being one of the main hallways, a crowd began to develop. Angie was conscious, but I could see that she was beginning to get embarrassed. So I laid down on the floor next to her and said, “Don’t worry, no one can tell which one of us needs help.”  She began to shiver, and so I held her hand. I rode in the ambulance with her and stayed at the hospital until her parents could arrive.

It was another long recovery period. When she had been transferred to a rehab center, I went to visit her.  She was sitting very quietly in the bed with her parents by her side.  This was not the outgoing, bubbly Angie that I had known. I would venture to guess there was some serious depression going on.  We got to talking however. I shared everything that was going on and she got interested in the conversation.  A short time later, she was able to return to work.

In April of 2011, I left that institution to come here. In my going away party.  Angie was front and center of the crowd.  I was given some mementos by the institution, which I cherish. Angie had written me a poem and framed it. I opened it in front of everyone, but quickly realized that either I or Angie, or others may become emotional, so I did not read it aloud. I keep this memento in my office too, but not in plain sight. To my surprise, Angie’s Dad was also there. I didn’t know he was coming.  Angie must have shared with him that I was leaving. He stepped forward and handed me a card and I obliged by opening it. Inside the card were two $20 bills. “I wish it could be more” he said. I felt immediately sheepish, knowing that he did not need to do that. More than the money, however, the real gift is what followed. “You saved my daughter. When she was at the lowest point of her recovery, you were there to challenge her to get back to work and supported her by working around her recovery schedule.” “Thank you,” he said, and thus this was one of the most rewarding and humbling moments of my life.  Sometimes, perhaps we don’t know the impact developing talent has on the lives of those whom we work with that go far beyond the workplace.

About two years after my start at the UNTHSC I got an e-mail. It informed me that Angie had lost her valiant battle with her health issue and had passed away. She was 32 years old. I consider myself blessed for having been a part of her life.


Matt Nolan Adrignola

Senior Associate Dean of Administration & Student Services, School of Public Health

HSC Fellows Candidate 2017