From a young age, Kim Dight practiced and performed as a gymnast with a specialty in the vault. Although a back injury when she was a high school senior prevented her from college competition, she continues to draw on those early experiences 25 years later.
In her opinion, the characteristics—discipline, flexibility, and hard work—required to excel as a gymnast aren’t so different from those required to succeed in her career today as the director of special projects, fiscal services, George Mason University, Fairfax, Va.
What kind of special projects do you lead?
It really runs the gamut. One of the things I love most about my job is the variety—from writing policies to cost accounting for service centers, and from running ethics training to assisting with audits.
Can you name a project that was especially interesting or fun?
A couple of years ago, we were moving our offices onto the campus. The controller and I wanted the transition day to involve interactive team building and to familiarize folks with the campus. I developed a scavenger hunt in which people broke up into teams and explored their new environment. People really enjoyed the day.
When you chair the search committees for high-level finance positions, what skills do you seek?
George Mason is a dynamic, growing university. Right now, we need people who are willing and able to deal with change, because we recently developed a strategic plan that shifts some of our priorities. With so much going on, we look for experienced people who are nimble and flexible.
How did your three-year stint at NACUBO prepare you for this role?
It was a wonderful prep-aration and endeared the industry to me. While working with controllers across the country, I talked to people who enjoyed and were challenged by their work. I thought to myself: That’s where I want to end up—on a college campus.
How does working for George Mason compare to your experience at NACUBO?
They are so different. My perspective at NACUBO was the industry as a whole; now my focus is George Mason. While working at NACUBO, I felt like I was on the outside, looking in. Now I’m on the campus. I’m into the details and the nitty-gritty.
Tell us about a challenging situation you faced.
Recently, with budgets so tight, we were looking for ways to be more efficient. We decided to transition to a cell phone stipend, because the university has been paying for a large number of state-provided phones. We thought the stipend policy would be a cost savings to the university and eliminate the need for employees to carry two phones. As with any change, there was a lot of pushback.
To communicate the new process, we developed FAQs and set up a town hall meeting so we could get the word out about how it could benefit the university and individuals. We focused on the positives, trying not to get too distracted by the initial negative feedback.
What’s the most important professional lesson you have learned?
To think about the other person’s perspective. Whether I’m writing an e-mail or planning a training session, I try to think about the audience—where they are coming from and what their points of view are—and to show empathy.
Do you have a family?
My husband, Don, and I have two young boys who are in first and fourth grades. One of the great things about working here is that George Mason puts a premium on work-life balance. I’ve been able to meet my kids’ bus at the end of the day. I really value that afternoon time with them.
MARGO VANOVER PORTER, Locust Grove, Va., covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.