Asst. Director of Sponsored Programs
Becky White knows that coordinating a network of 14 research sites can be daunting — especially when those sites are scattered across the country.
In the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) field office at Purdue, White handles her job's logistical difficulties with ease. White's responsibilities include overseeing the budgets and administration of NEES research sites; she makes sure the federal money funding them is distributed carefully and responsibly.
What is the NEES program, and how does your role fit into it?
NEES' research sites examine possible ways to improve building design and construction techniques. The goal is to create structures that can better weather earthquakes and tsunamis.
In 2009, Purdue received a $105 million National Science Foundation award — the biggest in the University's history — to oversee the administration of this federal program. Here at Purdue, we have a NEES Community and Communications team, or NEEScomm, which facilitates NEES' global operations. We also have a Sponsored Program Services field office, in which I'm the only staff member.
I participate in site visits of NEES' research labs to review budgets, assess field risks, make sure multimillion-dollar research equipment is being handled properly and investigate similar concerns. Basically, it's my job to make sure the federal money used in this project is being used properly and efficiently.
What all is involved in your research site visits?
NEES involves 14 labs that support several types of experimental work. These labs are located all across the country, everywhere from California to Texas to Pennsylvania and New York. I participate in visits of three different sites each year. Each site visit actually involves two trips — the first involves NEEScomm staff and myself, and the second involves National Science Foundation officials accompanying those same folks to the site as a follow-up.
Part of my job is to gain the trust of each site operations manager and the project's principal investigators. Throughout my time working with them, including during my trips to see them, I always try to show them that I have their best interests at heart. I'm really a liaison between their sites and the federal officials who are inspecting their work.
What's the most interesting part of your job?
It's very interesting to witness some of the experiments going on at our research sites. The work is very broad-based and includes everything from geotechnical centrifuge research to shake table tests to tsunami wave basin experiments.
In San Diego, the scientists conducted a really fascinating experiment that I was able to watch online. The researchers there had built a five-story building on a giant shake table. The building actually simulated a hospital — they were trying to find better, stronger ways to build hospitals to resist earthquakes. Those kinds of moments make it clear that what NEES is doing is really important in the real world.
You've worked at Purdue for 23 years and have mentored many employees along the way. What led you down that path?
After I graduated from Purdue with a bachelor's degree in general management with a concentration in finance, I quickly learned that I enjoy interpreting rules and regulations and making management decisions. For me, the combination of logistics and personal interactions really makes my job enjoyable.
I'd say I've been mentoring other employees for almost 20 years, first as an employee in Sponsored Program Services, then as a business manager for the College of Engineering, and now again in Sponsored Program Services. Recently, I've also conducted a training session with Discovery Park's clerical staff.
It's just very rewarding to be able to help my colleagues and others at the University develop professionally. I view mentoring as similar to sports coaching — it's all about that "light bulb" moment. If I can help Purdue's employees figure out better and more efficient ways to do their jobs, then I feel very successful.