Acclaimed Colombian hydrologist speaks on leadership at Weidman Center lecture

Angelica Gutierrez-Magness has led projects for NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Group on Earth Observations

On Thursday, October 20, students and faculty gathered in the Crabtree auditorium to hear Colombian hydrologist Angelica Gutierrez-Magness speak of the life experiences that have formed her perspective on being a leader. In the first Weidman Center Leadership Lecture of the semester, Gutierrez-Magness detailed her more than two decades of experience in the fields of hydrological water quality modeling and uncertainty analyses and recounted how lessons from her past have influenced her professional career.

Her lecture titled “My Faithful Journey,” Gutierrez-Magness spoke of the principles that have guided both her professional career and personal life. “I have been faithful to two things in my life,” she said. “First, to God and second, to what I have learned from my ancestors and my roots.” 

First, she relayed a story of growing up in rural Colombia and watching her grandfather stand up to a local drug lord who wanted to purchase some of his land. A young Gutierrez-Magness was astonished at her grandfather’s boldness and questioned him later about whether he was afraid of the drug lord’s reaction to being turned down. In that moment, her grandfather gave her a piece of advice she has never forgotten: as long as she put God first in her life, there’s no need to fear the judgement of anyone else. 

Gutierrez-Magness also looked to the example of her father for lessons on leadership. A judge who eventually became chief of the Colombian Supreme Court, her father consistently made difficult decisions with compassion. Once when she was a teen, her father was visited by a man whom had recently been released from prison. Surprisingly this man had actually come to thank her father, who had sentenced him to 15 years in prison—far less than the maximum possible sentence of 50 years. 

“My father taught me that leadership is not a position or a title,” Gutierrez-Magness said, “it’s an action of example.”

While discussing her wide-reaching work with both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Group on Earth Observations (GEO), the acclaimed hydrologist counseled engineering and technology students to actively cultivate foundational principles of leadership, including the following:

  • Integrity
  • A sound sense of self-worth
  • Awareness of others
  • Service through collaboration
  • Responsibility and commitment
  • Willingness to take risks and
  • Decisiveness, especially in the face of complexity and uncertainty.

Gutierrez-Magness closed her lecture by reminding students to be grateful for the opportunities they are given and always remain open to learning. 

“This is your moment,” she said. “Today is the time to participate [and] to exercise moral leadership so that you can leave a legacy in this time.”

For more on Gutierrez-Magness’ work with NOAA and GEO, see the video above.

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