VCU’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations (DAR) newsletter selected Kendra Gerlach, director of marketing and communications in the School of Engineering, as its “DAR-ling.” In her interview with DAR, Gerlach reveals why she chose VCU Engineering, where you might find her on the weekend — and an art form she has been practicing since age three.
Tell us about your path to the VCU School of Engineering.
I have been in communications and marketing for more than 20 years, first as a reporter and newspaper editor but from then on, in health care and large hospital systems. Before coming to VCU, I served as director of communications for North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services, a political appointment of the North Carolina governor’s office. After an election in which my boss was defeated, I learned a cold, hard reality of politics: The new boss, sight unseen, dismisses all of the old boss’s people.
I was suddenly on the market and not quite sure what to do. My job-searching experience up until that point was minimal and the process now is very different. This began a journey that was a real eye-opener with different organizations and how each one conducts an interview process. No two did it the same way and very few have a solid plan or process. At the end of an exhausting road, I had six offers on the table, including two from the White House.
What sold me on VCU, above all the great things the school has to offer, was the professionalism, collegial nature and genuine warmth of the search committee members during the interview process. From the first video conference through the onsite visits, I immediately liked this group and could see myself being part of this team. The people I met during the process are what sold me. I have a great boss, Franklin Bost, and he and John Leonard, the co-chairs of the search committee, made me feel valued. I wanted to get there as soon as I could to be a part of their team and help them build something great.
I am convinced that I will look back one day and see that choosing VCU was one of the great decisions of my life.
Describe a perfect weekend.
The perfect weekend for me is not extravagant. It revolves around relaxing and spending time with my family.
I love to start the weekend Friday night with a good dinner at home with my husband, eaten on the couch in front of a good movie.
Saturday morning, after caffeinating, my husband and I will often grab our gear and head out for a morning hike through a park, around a lake or up a mountain. After the exercise, we head to a local cafe for breakfast. In the afternoon, I want to do something fun and relaxing. We love to kayak so we may load up the boats, or because we are new to the Richmond area, we might go sightseeing or visit a museum. I’m usually up for just about anything that will help me recharge after the work week. Saturday evening is time to wind down with a great meal. How fortunate I am that my husband is a great cook! A good meal with good people is just what the doctor ordered.
Sunday is a spiritual day for my family and me, so the day starts with church. In the afternoon, I just want to do something easy like read, play piano or watch Chip and Joanna do a cool renovation on “Fixer Upper.” The evening meal has to be something special – a big spread, laid out on a big table with our whole family sitting together laughing, eating and telling stories.
No big deal, just a regular weekend – only perfect.
If we’re fortunate each year, we’ll get to have a couple of those perfect weekends way up in the mountains of upstate New York. We have a family cabin in the Adirondacks and love to spend as much time there as possible.
The photo is me in a yoga class taking place on top of Whiteface Mountain outside Lake Placid, New York. Whiteface was the site of the 1980 Olympic downhill skiing event and Lake Placid is in the background. It’s hard to get any more perfect than relaxing in that most beautiful setting.
What would we be surprised to learn about you?
I am an established pianist and have been playing piano in front of audiences since I was 10 years old. I don’t really know how or why, but playing piano came naturally for me since I was about 3 years old and I learned it quickly. My father was a church pastor, and as soon as he noticed I had musical ability, he had me playing in front of the church. At 10 years old, I became the full-time church pianist and kept on learning.
I love all music and generally can’t walk past any piano without sitting down to get acquainted. I have two pianos and a room dedicated to them in our home. They call out to me when I walk by, and it’s only on rare occasion that I don’t answer the call.