“I don’t speak math,” said Daria Lawrence, the graduate program administrator for computational and applied mathematics at Rice University.
Surrounded by mathematicians, Lawrence gets along just fine with English and what her supervisor, Fran Moshiri, calls Lawrence’s “grace and strength of character.” After 26 years at Rice, Lawrence will retire on June 30.
“I honestly believe we have the finest faculty on campus,” she said. “These people are smart, and I have never been made to feel intimidated by them.” Lawrence has served under five deans of engineering and five CAAM departmental chairs.
The year Lawrence joined the staff in 1992, the Department of Mathematical Sciences was renamed CAAM. She was hired as the administrative assistant to Mary F. Wheeler, who in 1971 had become only the second woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics from Rice. Since 1995, Wheeler has held the Ernest and Virginia Cockrell Chair in Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.
Before going to work for Rice, Lawrence had been an executive assistant and travel agent, and for five years served as the office manager and bookkeeper for F&K Systems, a construction company she co-owned with her husband.
“I had prepared project bids and invoices, and manually prepared weekly payroll for 35 to 50 hourly employees. I was in charge of the books,” she said.
After working for Wheeler for three years, Lawrence moved to her present position. As graduate coordinator, she recruits, advises and helps grad students arrange to finance their studies.
“Daria’s interest in grad students starts from before they arrive at Rice to well after they leave with their degrees in hand. Many alumni invite her to their weddings and send her pictures of their children,” said Moshiri, CAAM’s senior department administrator.
In 1999, Lawrence and Moshiri shared the Distinguished Service Award given by Rice Human Resources for going “above and beyond their job descriptions to the benefit of the Rice community.”
In 2012, Lawrence received the Hardy M. Bourland Staff Award for Distinguished Service. The honor goes to a member of the School of Engineering staff whose contributions “significantly improve his or her department, the school of engineering or the university as a whole.” While working for Rice, Lawrence earned her B.A. in general studies from the University of St. Thomas in 1996.
“Daria has had a tremendous impact on the departmental culture and the graduate student body,” said Béatrice Rivière, the Noah G. Harding Chair and Professor. “She is committed to the academic success of the graduate students. Every year, she welcomes incoming students. She takes care of them during their time at Rice. Many keep in touch with her. We will miss her very much.”
Lawrence has already begun to pack the mementos – especially dolls and photographs – given to her by grateful graduate students from around the world. She has two children and two grandchildren. Her house was damaged in Hurricane Harvey, and while it’s being repaired she has lived with her son and his family.
“I never lack for something to do. I’m going to miss this place and these people,” she said. “Twenty-six years is a long time.”