Since 1972, seven chancellors have led the University and nine deans have headed up the College of Liberal Arts and Science. The University’s enrollment has grown from just over 20,000 students to just over 28,000. And Deb Teeter has been here through it all: nearly 45 years of working with top administration in one of the University’s most little-known offices.
As an MBA student in 1972, Teeter was offered a chance to work with one of her advisors to start a new office on campus: the Office of Institutional Research and Planning. OIRP, as it’s now known, collects all sorts of data from all over the University, compiles it, analyzes it and suggests ways to use it.
“We can see all sorts of interesting things in the data, to say, 'Hey, you might not be aware of this, but this might be something you want to look at,’” Teeter, now OIRP’s director, said. “It's how to create an awareness, a mindfulness, of what is happening and where we might want to put some time and attention.”
In her time, Teeter has seen OIRP data play a major part in decisions like state funding requests, affirmative action policies, expanded advising services, tuition changes and curriculum requirements. Students themselves have even used the data in efforts like the 2003 bond issue to fund the Ambler Recreation Center and in the 2007 implementation of the tuition compact.
“The opportunity students have to influence things here is tremendous,” Teeter said. “Students who can and choose to get active, they really can have a pretty significant voice. We're helping them give voice to some of those things.”
But putting the data into action is not only about putting the numbers together, Teeter says. Working with so many top administrators, including provosts, chancellors, deans and vice provosts, means getting to know them and tailoring the data to fit their preferences.
“People say, ‘How can you do the same thing for 45 years?’ Well, I don't do the same thing for 45 years," She said. "What keeps it most interesting for me is all the different people I've worked with over the years."
Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little is always informed by her extensive administration experience when she looks at statistics she’s presented, Teeter said. Provost Neeli Bendapudi is extremely analytical of the data, preferring to spend her time trying to understand where numbers come from.
“Dealing with an economist versus dealing with someone out of the humanities versus someone who is a physical scientist or chemist, they all approached things really differently," Teeter said. "And that's what’s made it tremendous fun."
One of Teeter’s former employees in OIRP, Richard McKinney, said he’s always been impressed with her ability to read people.
“She has a very astute sense of reading people, figuring out what their needs might be,” he said. “What they're saying as well as what they're not saying. What they're really trying to ask as opposed to the words that they're using to ask it.”
Though she’s always seen people as central to her job, Teeter said the people around her have become even more important to her in the last ten years or so. She’s made an effort to reach out to her former mentors to thank them and tried to make sure she’s serving as a mentor to others.
McKinney, who now serves as the University’s budget director, is one of these people. He started working at the University almost 35 years ago in OIRP. He said he never planned to spend so much of his career at the University, but he loved what he was doing so much that he stayed, in part because of Teeter.
“She saw something in me that she wanted me to stay at the University and gave me opportunities and there have been folks subsequent to me that she has done that for,” he said. “And when you have that credibility that spills over, that's worked to my advantage and certainly other folks as well.”
Because of the effort Teeter’s put into mentorship in recent years, she said she feels confident that when she chooses to retire, the department she’s brought from the ground up will be in good hands.
But, for now, she’s sticking around. It’s the same thing she’s done for 45 years for one simple reason: “It’s fun.”
— Edited by Sean Collins