A second chance at a first-choice career

Daniela Lehmann had entered the wrong profession.

Lehmann, who describes herself as fascinated by human relationships, earned a degree in mechatronics engineering in her native country of Germany. After being hired as a systems engineer at Siemens, an international electronics and engineering company, she found herself designing and perfecting the detailed workings of automated processes at plants throughout the United States.

Daniela Lehmann, in Gallup’s London office, stands next to an old photograph that shows the way the opinion research company began collecting data: by interviewing people on the street. In March, Lehmann accepted a position as operations manager at the Berlin office of Gallup Consulting.

Someone who loved working with people was spending most of her time behind a computer.

“Pursuing a career in engineering was mostly a matter of prudence and future planning more than anything else,” Lehmann says. “I based my decision on that rather than whether I really was interested in the subject.

“I prefer to work with people more than machines,” she says. “Worrying about technical details is just not me.”

So Lehmann, who was based in St. Louis, enrolled in University College in Arts & Sciences and took classes until she found subjects and a career about which she could feel passionate. Lehmann graduates May 15 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology and a master’s degree in international affairs.

“Psychology is very people-focused, and industrial and organizational psychology looks at people as an organization’s most important asset, which is consistent with my view,” Lehmann says. “I also was interested in the bigger picture of how international economies work together.”

Seven years of studies paid off for Lehmann in March, when she accepted a new position as operations manager at the Berlin office of Gallup Consulting, an international research-based consulting company specializing in employee and customer engagement. The people person will finally work on perfecting relationships rather than machinery.

Lehmann, who grew up in a small town of 500 about 40 miles outside of Berlin — “I’d tell you where, but nobody will have heard of it,” she laughs — is excited to be returning to Germany, but she doesn’t regret her time in the United States or the opportunities found here — opportunities that don’t exist in Berlin.

“Germany doesn’t have a developed evening-school culture or continuing-education system,” Lehmann says. “You’re stuck with what you’ve done. It was a great opportunity to be able to attend Washington University.”

Stephan Schindler, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures in Arts & Sciences, taught Lehmann in two classes and also served as her thesis adviser. He was impressed by Lehmann’s broad knowledge and courage to challenge her professors with intellectually stimulating questions.

University College

“She is the kind of student professors look for,” Schindler says. “I could always call on her during class because I knew she would follow my train of thought and would contribute in a way that would move forward the idea I put out there.

“In a classroom, especially continuing education, almost everyone comes from work, they’re sitting, tired, and then they have to work for two more hours,” Schindler says. “It can be a challenging environment. Daniela was a prime example for her classmates for how to manage time and be productive.”

Time management was an important part of Lehmann’s success. During her final year and a half, Lehmann took a full course load in addition to her full-time job as an engineer.

“The hardest part was not losing sight of the goal of getting that degree,” Lehmann says. “Sometimes that was really difficult with so many things to do and never enough time.

“People were telling me I was crazy for taking so many classes while also working,” she laughs, “but I just wanted to get started on my new career!”

Lehmann, whose family is flying in from Germany for Commencement, says that her education at WUSTL made her an attractive candidate to Gallup. Lehmann interviewed with Gallup several times with different people before being offered the job.

“At Washington University, I’ve learned a very people-centered approach to business, and this is very much in accordance with Gallup’s philosophy,” Lehmann says.

“My background will definitely help me best interact with people and get the best results for Gallup’s clients,” she says.