When she was a youngster, she dreamed of becoming a pediatrician or a coach who worked with an Olympic track team.
“I was very athletic in high school, participating in track, volleyball, and gymnastics,” explains Debbie Muller Walker, who is now the associate vice president, business affairs, finance and accounting, Midlands Technical College, West Columbia, S.C.
The college, with more than 18,000 credit students and more than 30,000 continuing education students, offers two-year degrees and certificate programs. “We provide hope to students coming straight out of high school and to nontraditional, older students who need training or a single course,” she says.
Married for 33 years, Walker explains that her husband Fletcher handles all the cooking. “When the kids were little—we have two daughters Felicia and Courtney—I found myself doing everything: taking them to school, gymnastics, dance, and softball. Finally, I said, ‘Hey, mister, you’re going to have to help me out.’ He decided he would cook and clean, and I would help with the homework and run the girls around.”
How do you find the time to serve at SACUBO and the Government Finance Officers Association of South Carolina?
You’ve got to have really, really good time management skills, or you will be snowed under. Also, having a great team and family support is really helpful. I grew up in a family that provided community service. I feel it’s important to give back.
What challenges have you overcome in your career?
I spent 13 years at a bank, working as an international trade representative. After my bank was bought out, the decision was made to move the international division to North Carolina, so I was out of a job. A friend told me about a part-time position that was open in the file room of student financial services at Midlands Technical College.
Working in the file room that summer, I didn’t have to think about making any major decisions, but just making sure that everything was filed correctly. Some people may think it was demeaning, but it was one of the best summers I ever had.
What one thing would you like to do differently?
I received a bachelor’s degree in business administration back in 1981, but did not work on my master’s until 2002, when an event made me realize how short life is. My sister-in-law was pregnant. The baby died, and she died. Although I had wanted to go back to school and work on a master’s degree, I hadn’t done it.
I learned then that you need to do whatever it is you have in your heart, because life is so short.
When you were promoted to associate vice president for business affairs, did you make any changes?
I created a finance and accounting training team to present and implement training for the office. One of the first things we did was to study the mission statement, so that our office could see how we fit into the college’s mission. We have 35 employees with different personalities and work ethics. I wanted to bring them together and get them excited about what they do, so that we could work as a team and be accountable.
How does working for a bank compare to working for a college finance office?
At the bank, my responsibility was to ensure that we provided excellent service to international customers who imported and exported goods. Here at the college, I provide leadership to a service unit, and it is important that we provide excellent customer service to our students, faculty, staff, and vendors. That’s something I really pride myself on. I feel the customer is right, even when the customer is not. It’s all about having an attitude to serve.
MARGO VANOVER PORTER, Locust Grove, Va., covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.