VILLANOVA, Pa. – Sue Franz ’89 PhD, has been advocating for women in leadership in manufacturing throughout her successful career. In recognition of that, Dr. Franz was awarded the 2017 Graduate Alumni Medallion by Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. While Dr. Franz could not participate in the Alumni Medallion celebration on October 4 because of a prior speaking engagement, she was able to attend another special event this fall at her alma mater.
On her recent visit to Villanova, Dr. Franz experienced her first Villanova Homecoming and attended the launch of the University’s Ann Welsh McNulty Institute for Women’s Leadership and the 2017 Villanova University Leadership Summit, which focused on “Women Igniting Change,” on October 26. The McNulty Institute, which will foster women’s advancement through education, advocacy, the collaborative creation of new knowledge and community building, serves a key focus of Dr. Franz’s professional life.
“I am so proud of Villanova for establishing the McNulty Institute. Women are still fighting for inclusion in leadership, especially in manufacturing,” she said, noting that of the 11 vice presidents at her company, she is the only woman.
Dr. Franz is vice president of chemistry at Gentex Corporation, a global, high technology electronics company in Michigan, where she manages chemistry research in electrochromic application and product development. She has been with the firm for 20 years, holding positions of increasing responsibility and impact.
The weekend of the Alumni Medallion celebration, Dr. Franz was serving as the keynote speaker at the Western Michigan Women’s Leadership in Manufacturing Forum.
Her work to advance women in leadership earned her a 2017 Science Technology Engineering and Manufacturing STEP Ahead Award by the Women in Manufacturing and the Manufacturing Institute. She was lauded for her professional success, her commitment to mentorship, and for her promotion of diversity at all levels, the organizations citing that Dr. Franz often serves as the voice of the rank-and-file at Leadership Team meetings at Gentex. Throughout her career, Dr. Franz has worked to learn new skills to better lead her employees. She earned a master’s degree in Management from Aquinas College and a Six Sigma Black Belt certification from Villanova.
“It was an honor to welcome Dr. Franz back to Villanova, and recognize her distinguished career with this year’s Graduate Alumni award,” said Adele Lindenmeyr, PhD, Dean of College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Dr. Franz’s life story, from her arrival at Villanova as an international graduate student to her current position as a female leader in U.S. manufacturing, serves as an inspiration to all of us.”
Dr. Franz’s personal life has also been dedicated to service. Dr. Franz and her husband, Berthold, have four children, two of whom they adopted from China. The Franz family established an endowed college scholarship fund for internationally adopted children. Dr. Franz is a board member for Ready for School, an organization based in Holland, Mich., dedicated to ensuring children enter kindergarten prepared to succeed, and vice president of the advisory board for Kids Food Basket, an organization based in Holland that provides free dinner to children in low-income families. She is also an active member of International Rotary Club.
Dr. Franz’ life journey has been filled with taking risks and embracing new challenges. After receiving her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Analytical Chemistry from Jilin University in Changchun, China, Dr. Franz was accepted to Villanova’s PhD program in Chemistry with a full scholarship. (Villanova stopped accepting applications for the PhD program in 1992, but current students at the time were able to finish their degrees. The MS in Chemistry remains a successful program in the College.) In 1985, Dr. Franz boarded a plane for the first time and made her way to the United States. She had to borrow money for her airfare, and she packed enough toothpaste to last four years because she didn’t think that she would be able to afford it, she recalled.
Nervous and in a foreign country for the first time, Dr. Franz found comfort in the Villanova community, particularly in her advisor, the late Peter Keliher, PhD, Professor of Analytical Chemistry, and his wife, Bonnie.
“I met so many wonderful people here,” Dr. Franz said. “Peter was like a father to me. His wife, Bonnie, gave me the American name ‘Sue’ which has been my new identity for more than 32 years.”
Franz formed close relationships with her fellow PhD students, including Walter Boyko ’85 PhD, Villanova’s Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Laboratory Director, and her biochemistry professor, Barry Selinsky, PhD, Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development and Professor of Chemistry, both of whom she was able to reconnect with during her visit.
Dr. Selinsky, Dr. Lindenmeyr and Christine Palus, PhD, Dean of Graduate Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, presented Dr. Franz with her Alumni Medallion after brief get-together the morning of October 27. Then, Dr. Franz met with a small group of chemistry faculty and graduate students for lunch. This lunch was another highlight of the trip for Dr. Franz, as she was able to learn about the current research being conducted (She was delighted to learn that the hands-on approach for student research still exists at Villanova.) and share some advice with the students as they navigate their academic and professional careers.
“What you learn in school is not who you are going to be in industry,” she told the students. “You have to continue to learn. I cannot thank Villanova enough because we were taught how to learn in our PhD program.”
Dr. Franz also remarked that she is encouraged to see that students enjoy great relationships with their professors at Villanova, just as she did, and was impressed with the level of independence that the students enjoy in their research.
Before taking a tour of Mendel Science Center and sitting in on a graduate class, Dr. Franz left the students with one last bit of advice. “You have to be adaptable,” she said. “Take what life throws at you and find the positive in it.”