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Walden Magazine // Jan 01, 2015

Broadening My Horizons: The Problem-Solver

Dr. Krista K. Laursen shares how her DBA has furthered her work as a project manager

Dr. Krista K. Laursen.

Dr. Krista K. Laursen.

At first glance, it’s hard to calculate why someone with a bachelor’s in physics and a master’s in atmospheric sciences took a sharp left turn and pursued a DBA. When you meet Dr. Krista K. Laursen ’13, though, it becomes quite clear: She’s a born problem-solver.

Laursen has dedicated her career to the sciences, first as an associate scientist and project manager at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), where she managed the $80 million NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center project; later as the COO and project manager at the National Ecological Observatory Network. Now she is a project manager at the University of Wyoming, where she oversees the construction of the approximately $30 million High Bay Research Facility and the $110 million Engineering Building.

Laursen loves a challenge and tackling new subjects; she researched Medicaid fraud and abuse in her doctoral study. After interviewing 10 leaders in the healthcare field, she came up with more than a dozen recommendations to simplify Medicaid, reduce abuse, and save taxpayers millions of dollars (“every year, the U.S. spends $2 trillion on healthcare and 3–10% is lost due to fraud, abuse, and waste,” she says).

How did Laursen land so far afield of science? Faculty member Dr. Jon M. Corey, who later became part of her DBA doctoral study committee, suggested she look into the topic. “The more I read about Medicaid, the more interested I became,” she explains. “I like challenging myself to step into a field where I haven’t done a lot of work.”

Laursen says there are more parallels between her Walden doctoral study—how she approached and wrote it—and her work in Wyoming. “My doctoral study helped me develop a laser focus,” she shares. “I acquired deep listening skills, an ability to be objective, and assimilate other people’s perspectives,” she explains. “I really had to listen for the nuances and learn how to interpret them, which has helped me manage major construction projects successfully.”

When she leads projects at the University of Wyoming, she may not directly manage a team, but she acts as a conductor by stimulating and providing direction to her colleagues. During her day-to-day work, she may consult with the university president or vice presidents, facilities managers, and faculty members, as well as general contractors while she builds schedules, maps out the team’s progress, and, most important, hosts design meetings, where she acts as the conduit.

“Design meetings are kind of like qualitative research. You gather a lot of data, synthesize it, and try to get consensus,” Laursen says. “One of the most important things I can do is help others land on a solution. Letting people talk in a constructive fashion is one of the most rewarding things I do, and it involves a lot of the same listening, research, and synthesizing skills I fine-tuned at Walden.

“Completing the DBA program changed my life,” she continues. “It broadened my perspective and my willingness to learn new things. It’s also given me a lot of confidence. Now I know I can take on a new subject area, master it, and work with a team to produce a project we’re proud of.”