At Home with Noel

May 30, 2012
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Noel Schulz seems to have a life that comes in twos. Two sons. Two jobs. Two years of living in Manhattan. Mrs. Schulz, a mother to college student Tim and highschooler Andrew Schulz, is also a professor in electrical engineering and famously known as the First Lady of K-State. Here, she talks about balancing a life with a teenage son, two jobs and now a professional organization.

Most wives, when their husbands have a high position, chose not to work. What made you want to keep your job?

You’re probably going to see that change overtime. In past generations, a lot of women chose to stay at home because it was more of an expectation in society. But again, you’re probably going to see that change.
When Kirk and I met in college, we were both very interested in being professors. At the time, he also talked about being a university administrator. As Kirk moved along in his career, from department head to a dean to vice-president, I continued to work. When we moved to K-State, it was important that there were things that I could do to continue my 15-year career. It was a couple’s decision kind of on my interests and Kirk’s interest.

At hectic times, do you ever wish you were a stay-at-home mom?

No. I’m happier when I’m working with college students. And when I’m happy working with college students, the family is happy. But sometimes, there’s an issue of how do we find time for family activities, you know? It’s a balance and we have to work with that balance. But there are opportunities that my family gets when I work than if I didn’t work. For instance, my youngest son, Andrew, who is in high school, got to spend 10 days in New Zealand attending meetings with me. He wouldn’t have had that opportunity if I didn’t work outside the home. It’s all about your interests and your family unit.

Do you enjoy being the first lady of K-State?

I do. I do. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s fun because I get to have all the fun and not have to make all the hard decisions. I get to meet alumni all over the world. Working with great faculty and staff and administrators at K-State has been a lot of fun. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like work because we’re having so much fun.

How did you adjust to taking on the role as first lady? Did you have any fears?

I was kind of worried. But everyone at K-State was very warm and welcome. Jon Wefald and Mrs. Wefald have been here for 23 years, so there were some pretty big shoes to fill.

I think it’s a combination of the university and the military base. People are used to people coming in and out. People here are not like, “Oh, you’re new.”

What about your youngest son, Andrew? How did he adjust to a new school and social environment?

I think Andrew is a pretty social butterfly. Both of our boys have been exposed to college students and adults all their lives. Kirk and I were both college professors and we had our students over at our house all the time. I think the biggest thing for Andrew coming to Manhattan was that everybody knew who he was but he didn’t know who they were. He was a ninth-grader and walking into a school where everyone knew his name and who his dad was scared him. And everyone thinks that you have four noses and three eyes just because you’re the president’s son. In the first six months, it was people were learning that he’s just a normal ninth-grader. I think that was an adjustment. But being in band and Boy Scouts, he now has his own sets of friends outside of K-State.

In your opinion, were you prepared to be the first lady?

I do have to say it was a little scary. There was a lot of responsibility and you worry if you’re up to the challenge. I don’t think any of us knew what we were getting ourselves into. I use this analogy: it’s kind of like reading a book about having a baby and then having the baby. It’s like bringing the baby home from the hospital (and you read the book all nine months) thinking you know what’s going to happen. But it’s totally different. It’s not good or bad. It’s just different. It’s a great experience, but it’s been a little crazy at times.

What is your biggest achievement while being first lady?

The Women of K-State. It’s an umbrella organization that tries to help women network and do professional developments on campus. We have social meetings where women get together and discuss problems that they might have and learn from each other what works best. The reason I started The Women of K-State was because I work in the electrical engineering department and there aren’t many women working there. At every university I’ve been through, I’ve started a women’s organization.

What is your job as a faculty member in the Electrical Engineering Department?

My area is electric power systems. I work with computers to model and improve power systems. We might model a car’s power systems to get better gas mileage, or if something’s broken we can reroute the power. Say, if a part of campus is out of power, we use computers to reroute the power.

Why did you choose to become an
electrical engineer?

My dad was an electrical engineer. When I was little, my dad and I used to put together science kits and I really liked it. My mom on the other hand, was an elementary school teacher. I did some tutoring with her students and I really liked working with people. So teaching electrical engineering was kind of a match of the two.

Which job do you put first? First Lady or electrical engineering?

It depends. If I have to teach class in 30 minutes, then I put engineering first. But I think it’s kind of evolving. When the first year I got here, it was probably first lady first and electrical engineer second. Last year, it was more electrical engineering than first lady. But it kind of depends on time. A lot of the time between 8 and 5, I’m working in electrical engineering and after 5 and on the weekends is when I’m first lady. It’s not necessarily a choice between the two; I try to balance my time between them both.

Why did you both choose K-State?

Kirk was really interested in being a president of a university. We really like the heritage, engineering and agriculture of K-State. We also wanted a place that had Division-I athletics s because we enjoy sports and small college towns. K-state fit all of those. Plus, purple is my favorite color.

Was your husband planning on applying for President of K-State, or was it spontaneous?

I think it was a little bit of both. It was spontaneous when Kirk decided to say yes to the K-State president opportunity, so it was kind of a quick decision to say, “Let’s apply.” Then we pulled together the materials and learned about K-State so that when we sent his application in, he represented himself well. After we sent the applications in, he had an airport interview. In December of 2008, we flew to Kansas City and interviewed with the committee. Then, in mid- January we came to Manhattan for two days. We did it as a couple. It was a packaged deal. We visited with the community and had dinner with the search committee. It was spontaneous abut it also required some planning.

How did you help your husband prepare for the application process?

I helped him edit his application and paperwork. Before interviews, we would come up with possible questions that the committee might ask and try to answer them. Pretty much, Kirk and I work as team and whenever one of us is going for something, the other is there for support.

You Facebook friend some of your students. Do you think the law recently passed by Missouri stating that teachers cannot Facebook students should be applied at K-State?

No I don’t. The student’s I have are adults. They’re 18. But I do think it’s important for the student and faculty relationship to professional. But I also think that today’s college students include Facebook and Twitter as part of their communication culture. That’s an interesting issue. That issue comes out of problems where people misuse that. That misuse comes out of high school where the students are not adults. I mean it’s one thing if you’re following someone on Twitter, but it’s another to message back and forth. I would be okay with Andrew friending his teachers but I also think that we’ve also talked to him some about cyber-bullying and the outside dangers.

You are a big advocate when it comes to women, would you ever consider changing roles with your husband?

I’m comfortable in the roles that we have now. Kirk is really calm, thoughtful and really good at coming up with good solutions in conflict. I’m a little more excitable. Right now, as a team, we work very well together because he under reacts and I overreact so we balance each other out. Someday I might want to be department head or some other leadership role on campus. But right now, I’m enjoying what I’m doing, and I think Kirk’s skills are a better match right now to president of K-State.

How would your life be different if you had a female presence in your family besides yourself – a daughter perhaps?

Well I joke with people that work is just like home: it’s all guys. I have a niece who is 10 and I enjoy talking to her about electrical engineering and careers. Some people asked when Andrew was born if I wished I had a girl, I said it would have been nice, but either way is fine.
What is your next big goal?
My big goal is to help my professional organization (Women of K-State) on how women can balance their personal and professional life. We can create a network where the women are supporting each other.

What is most important to you?

My most important job is to be a mom. One of the things that Kirk and I do is that we set aside time to see our oldest son, Timothy, in Mississippi. We go to Disney World every Thanksgiving as a family and we try to take of one weekend off a month to spend time as a family. Kirk and I try to have two nights a week that we don’t have functions so we can have a family dinner and relax. But having a teenager is a little different because they don’t necessarily want to be around mom and dad as much anymore. Andrew can drive and he has friends he goes to dinner with or has a function. He is performing in the play or the marching band. So now it’s a balance with his activities and our activities. And in some ways, I have the opportunity to be a mom to the students in K-State community as being the first lady. I have the one son here and one son in Mississippi, but I also have the 20 some thousand sons and daughters at K-State plus the community.

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