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Teresa Gaffey: Transformations

Teresa Gaffey celebrated her 20th employment anniversary at IIHR in 2014.

Teresa Gaffey celebrated her 20th employment anniversary at IIHR in 2014.

When Teresa Gaffey was a graduate student at the University of Iowa School of Social Work, she studied something known as the “foot-in-the-door” technique. Just like it sounds, this persuasion strategy begins with a request for something small and insignificant. After an initial “yes,” it becomes easier and easier to get agreement to larger, more significant requests.

A Foot in the Door

Gaffey got her foot in the door at IIHR in 1994 with a half-time position as editorial assistant to IIHR Research Engineer Jacob Odgaard. Odgaard was editor of the ASCE Journal of Hydraulic Engineering; Gaffey’s half-time position involved managing the submitted manuscripts, sending them out for review, and keeping the process running smoothly. She did the same for the next editor, IIHR Research Engineer Rob Ettema. As time went by, she assumed more duties and responsibilities, including half-time accounting work.

Accounting had not been part of Gaffey’s plan in 1988, when she began her freshman year at Central College in Pella, Iowa. The North Liberty, Iowa, native majored in psychology, with minors in sociology, German, and Spanish. Gaffey completed her degree at Central in a bit more than three years — “I was very studious,” she says, “and not interested in paying tuition any longer than I had to.” Gaffey went on to earn a master of social work degree at the University of Iowa.

How do you go from psychology and social work to accounting, you might ask? “I’m interested in everything,” Gaffey explains. By 2010, she was named director of finance for the institute.

Gaffey still has the ability to focus very intently. She can do a tremendous amount of work in a short period of time, and her memory is phenomenal. For example, she can recite the eight-digit grant numbers for IIHR’s 100-plus current sponsored research projects, which come and go on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

Finding Her Voice

You wouldn’t think that she has time for anything else, but Gaffey is also a regular volunteer at the North Liberty Food Pantry, sings in her church choir, and even finds time to crochet. When Gaffey isn’t focusing on work or volunteer projects, she’s most likely with her four children: James, 19; Alyson, 14; Michael, 12; and Rachael, 8. “I have been a mom for a very long time,” Gaffey says with a smile. Like their mother, the children also have musical talents. James plays all instruments; Alyson plays the clarinet; and Michael the trombone. And Rachael sings “all the time!” Gaffey says.

The Stuff of Legends

Gaffey’s 19 years at IIHR have given her a front-row seat to the institute’s amazing growth. She has known some of the great names of the institute, including former Director John F. Kennedy; she also witnessed some legendary holiday parties.

Watching the institute’s transformation has been her greatest reward, Gaffey says. She has also watched as graduate students became researchers and eventually leaders in their fields. “That’s just incredible,” she says.

From the moment when she first got a foot in the door at IIHR, Gaffey herself has been transformed, from a part-time editorial assistant into a leader whose work sustains the institute, its people, and its mission of research, education, and service.

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Last modified on June 25th, 2015
Posted on May 20th, 2014

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