Operational Excellence: Meet Deb Strachan

Deb Strachan along with her family, after this presentation of artwork for her dedication to AFAR. “It’s the story of my life in hieroglyphs - it includes my parents, my marriage, my children’s births and concludes on the day it was presented to me. It is a piece of art by the amazingly talented epigrapher, Marc Zender.”

Deb Strachan along with her family, after this presentation of artwork for her dedication to AFAR. “It’s the story of my life in hieroglyphs - it includes my parents, my marriage, my children’s births and concludes on the day it was presented to me. It is a piece of art by the amazingly talented epigrapher, Marc Zender.”

Deb Strachan is a mother of four, former financial analyst, friend to many and for the past 8 years, Operations Manager for AFAR.  She never set out to be point-person for an archaeological non-profit.  The job simply found her – by way of her children. 

Rewind to nearly a decade ago, to a time when Mat Saunders, executive director of AFAR, joined the faculty at Davidson Day School and was first introducing the AFAR program to families.  Deb’s oldest son, Howard (known as H.), was in 8th grade at the time and was one of the first to sign up.  Deb and her husband, Steve, also opted in for the parent portion and found themselves amazed by the program and the valuable experience it was giving their oldest son.  As each of her children became eligible, they too joined the program.

 “I saw how busy Mat was and I offered to help in any way, at first sending emails to parents and helping with logistics – you know, little things,” said Deb.  “Then it just kept growing from there,” she laughs.

 With so many moving parts, running operations and logistics for AFAR requires a strong grip on all the details.  In addition to managing the finances, two annual conferences, summer programs where hundreds of students travel to four countries, she’s also the go-to for testimonials when new families seek information.  Deb attributes patience and organizational skills as key qualities required for the job.

 “I’m not sure where we’d be without Deb’s involvement and the skillset she brings to AFAR,” said Mat, who recently initiated a scholarship in her name to honor her contributions over the years.  “The program grows stronger every year because of her efforts.”

 Deb is quick to shrug off the accolades and counts the program benefits as blessings.  She named leadership, confidence, global travel, hard work and dedication as factors that have deeply influenced her children – H., a Senior at Brown University; Jack, a Junior at MIT and McCarthy, a senior at Davidson Day School, who is planning to explore archaeology as career.  Deb’s daughter, Gaby, found passion in other pursuits.

 “For parent who can’t get their kids to mow the lawn or clean their rooms, they would be amazed to see their children working so hard – up every day at 6am, putting in long days and attending lectures at night.”  “And they still sign-up every year,” she smiles.

 She also added, that having multiple years of AFAR experiences, and presenting findings at conferences to archaeology experts, separated her sons in the college process by differentiating them in a unique way.  As an example, she told how Jack’s telephone interview with MIT was largely spent talking about his experiences in Cahal Pech – which has nothing to do with engineering and everything to do with his preparedness for college and life.

 “Because it’s benefitted my kids, I know it benefits all kids,” said Deb.  “For me, this is not a job, it’s something I’ve invested in and I live the benefits of this program every day.”

Sherri Johnson