In this special series for Women’s History Month, UA Little Rock is profiling women leaders who are making a difference at the university. As president of the UA Little Rock Staff Senate, Melody Weigel, admissions and records specialist for the William H. Bowen School of Law, is responsible for representing the issues and concerns of staff members at the university.
Q. Tell me about yourself.
I graduated from the University of Virginia and grew up in Virginia in a rural, industrial community. My first career was as an archeologist in South Carolina. I focused on how enslaved Africans and African Americans lived, and I tried to tell their story based on what they left behind, rather than on what people had written in the historical record. Then, I got married and lived in Alaska for four years. My husband is a disabled veteran who is a master’s student in the UA Little Rock applied communication program.
Q. How did you arrive at UA Little Rock?
During my last job in Arkansas, I was a policy analyst for the Arkansas Department of Health. I reviewed every single tobacco policy across the state and managed $1.2 million in grants. I wanted to work with people again, and no one likes people who work in tobacco control. It was a good experience, but I needed a change. UA Little Rock was hiring, and Bowen Law School seemed like an excellent place to work. I started here in 2016.
Q. What is your current position at UA Little Rock? What are your duties?
I am the admissions and records specialist at Bowen and filling in for the dean of admissions, scholarship, and enrollment data during the search to fill the position. I’m also the advisor for Outlaw Legal Society and the president of Staff Senate. I am trying to bring in a diverse and qualified class, award scholarships to current students, and work with the fantastic folks who are members of Outlaw. They are the Bowen Student Organization of the Year, and I’m a proud mama bear.
As Staff Senate president, I coordinate the staff at UA Little Rock and try to represent the staff to the best of my ability in a time when the need for representation is high. I think that we’ve been heard more than in the past and that’s good. We’ve had a lot of accomplishments this year. We’re working on a monthly employee recognition program, broken our personal records for blood drive donations and Helping Hands Committee fundraising, and doubled the amount of money we’re able to give for Staff Achievement Awards. We are able to communicate with university leadership about the needs of staff and have advocated for transition assistance during reorganization. We just have an excellent leadership team in place this year. None of this is done in a vacuum.
Q. How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe a strong team is the key to success, along with gratitude. Everyone is busy, so being thankful for help and support is important to building that team. It’s about making sure there is a balance between what needs to get done and the other responsibilities of the team. As a leader, I try to be as collaborative as possible. I don’t like to micromanage people. They are on my team because I trust them. I believe in empowering folks to do their best work, and I’m here to help and support them and make decisions when needed.
Q. What woman has inspired you the most and why?
My grandmother was one of 8 sisters and 4 brothers. They were raised on a tobacco farm during the Great Depression. They were all very book smart and went on to work in factories during World War II, or “da waar” as it was referred to by my grandmother. They also stayed in these positions after the boys came back. They were early feminists. They were sassy and spoke their minds and expected you to do the same. I feel like if the time was different my grandmother and great-aunts all would have gone off to college, but they were successful in each of their professions. Grandma said they didn’t know it was the depression because everyone was so self-sufficient, but hard work builds opportunities. Sometimes, you have to leave home to find your adventure.
Q. What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?
It’s like my grandma always said, dissent is patriotic. She was always civically engaged. She and my great-aunts told me that you can be respectful while still speaking up and disagreeing. You don’t have to sit in meetings and agree with everyone. You can disagree, but you don’t have to be a jerk about it.
Q. Name something about yourself that most people would be surprised to learn.
I’ve had people tell me that I’m unhireable because my resume is so diverse. Admittedly, I have had a lot of different jobs. I worked in a pharmacy. I got to play with a founding father’s trash when I worked at Monticello (the home of President Thomas Jefferson). I worked for the park service as an archaeologist with the bonus job of park ranger. I’ve been a substitute teacher in Alaska. I’ve worked in tobacco policy for the health department.
I’m also very good with tools. My grandfather was my babysitter, and he managed a hardware store. After preschool, my Papa would sit me up at the workbench with a block of wood in the vice and let me use hand tools to my heart’s content. I don’t think I ever owned a doll. It came in handy when I worked for the park service because I built my own lab.
Q. What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career?