Before settling in St. Louis in 2000, Lisa Chaffee, her husband, Daniel, and their four children, moved 17 times, courtesy of Daniel’s U.S. Army career. But for most of the past decade, Daniel has been deployed at various places around the world, so the family stayed put, charging Lisa with managing the family on her own.
“Every place we went, one of the first things I did was to buy the kids local sports team shirts so we’d blend in as quickly as possible,” says Chaffee, an Ohio native who has donned Cardinals and Rams’ regalia throughout this century.
Multitasking became essential in both the nomadic existence and in managing life as a single parent. Those skills came in handy the past few years as Chaffee — working full time and raising four kids who now are teenagers — will receive a master’s in information management degree May 21 through the Sever Institute of Continuing Studies in the School of Engineering & Applied Science.
Education has been paramount to Chaffee as a mom and a student. Because her family moved so much, Chaffee first home-schooled her three oldest children, Jordan (18), Adalee (17) and Jonathan (14).
“I attended home-schooling conventions and was overwhelmed by all the different curricula choices,” she says. “But I thought to myself, ‘How badly can I screw up kindergarten?’”
She didn’t. Jordan was reading at the second-grade level by the end of kindergarten. She home-schooled Adalee and Jonathan, too.
But by the time her youngest child Clare (13) was ready for school, the family was established in St. Louis. Chaffee enrolled her children in a local parochial school, where she dove in as president of the PTO and helped with fundraisers.
When Clare entered kindergarten in 2002, Lisa accepted a position at Laclede Gas Co. to restart a systems analysis career put on hiatus for seven years for her children.
In 2004, she discovered WUSTL’s Center for the Application of Information Technology (CAIT). Given her ability to juggle, plan and execute complex family matters, it’s no surprise Chaffee was interested in project management.
She took an initial course in the fall of 2004 taught by CAIT’s James C. Blair, PhD, director of graduate studies in project management, and found out she could get a graduate certificate in project management, which she obtained last year. When she earns that master’s degree she’ll be able to put it to work immediately at Laclede, where she serves as director of project management.
“I can attribute a lot of my career progression at Laclede to the fact that I’ve been involved in these programs at Washington University,” Chaffee says. “It’s complemented my more technical-based experience to become a more productive ‘business-minded’ manager.”
She says her company is embracing the project management concept. “I’m helping to support various functional line managers who have been asked to lead these teams spread across five different program areas,” Chaffee says.
“We plan to do a better job of realizing projected return on investment from our projects,” she says. “I know the pain of getting something started that never existed before, but there’s great satisfaction in getting things done right.”
Classes that Chaffee say especially have helped include “Technology Change Management,” taught by Thomas Browdy, PhD, director of masters of information management programs; “Seminar in Information Management and Enterprise Transformation,” taught by Jack Zaloudek, adjunct instructor in the Sever Institute; and Blair’s “Project Management Foundations” class.
“Lisa was able to connect abstract ideas to real practice,” Browdy says. “This, along with her no-nonsense attitude about class, was an inspiration to all who attended.”
“The time and expense of pursuing the degree over nearly six years has definitely been worth it,” Chaffee says. “Resource agents I have worked with at Laclede recognize the Washington University program as outstanding.”
With an advanced degree in hand, she will have more time to devote to her biggest project management concern of all – raising four teenagers.