Bridging Academia and Occupation: Flex MBA 2020 Graduate Andrew Gilstrap Excels as Director of Building Services

Director of Building Services for the Raymond A. Mason School of Business Andrew Gilstrap MBA ’20 manages all the ins and outs of Miller Hall. From monitoring the HVAC and electrical systems to fulfilling classroom furniture needs and directing event setup, Gilstrap oversees all sorts of daily building operations.

Before becoming Director of Building Services for the Mason School in November 2019, Gilstrap was an Associate Director of Building Services for the main William & Mary campus. In addition to working full-time and raising a family with his wife in Williamsburg, Gilstrap’s time at the university has also been defined by his enrollment in the William & Mary Flex MBA Program. Gilstrap’s final MBA course ended in August.

Four and a half years after his arrival at William & Mary, Gilstrap is now in charge of Building Services for the Mason School and has earned his MBA, all while maintaining an active presence in his community.

Gilstrap’s day-to-day at the business school varies, but that is one of the aspects of the job that he said he loves. He enjoys both working with the physical components of Miller Hall, as well as closely collaborating with the staff and students who use the building.

“So, each day is a little different,” Gilstrap said. “I may come in one day and I’m fixing a door or changing lightbulbs, and that afternoon we’re setting up for a meeting with the president. And the next day I may be fixing a toilet and then repainting an office and all in between that we may be working with contractors to repair the roof or replace the carpeting. There’s a lot of variety in and it’s a fun mix of being able to work hands-on with things, with contractors and then with the actual users of the building to make sure it fits their needs as well.”

Gilstrap thinks quite fondly of his job responsibilities.

“A little bit of everything, and it is quite wonderful,” he said.

Journey at W&M

Prior to his work at William & Mary, Gilstrap began his career working in hazardous materials and disaster restoration in central California where he grew up and in Arizona at a university there. His wife is from the East Coast, and so he said they jumped at the chance to return when the opportunity with William & Mary arose in 2016.

Gilstrap recalled how his experience working for Building Services for the main campus, before moving to direct operations at the Mason School, allowed him to glean a unique view and understanding of the intricacies of campus.

“I felt we were very lucky and unique that we had the opportunity to touch every piece of this campus,” Gilstrap said. “Every program, every major, every building we interacted with in one way or another. Which really gave me this great sense of William & Mary itself in general, that I don’t know that everybody gets to see or be a part of.”

Gilstrap underscored the sense of community he immediately felt from all corners of campus.

“Our dynamics of William & Mary are wonderful and they’re second to none,” Gilstrap said. “Everywhere you go, there is somebody who is willing to invite you in and welcome you to the team and welcome you to William & Mary. It’s fun to have this thread of awesomeness that runs through our students and runs through our faculty and staff.”

Navigating COVID

When the COVID-19 pandemic began to affect the university in late February and March, Gilstrap had only been in his new role as Director of Building Services for several months. He said that he felt like he was still adjusting to the position when COVID began to complicate daily life.

“I had only been in the position a few months when the pandemic hit,” Gilstrap said. “I definitely felt like I was behind the eight ball, still trying to learn people and programs and figure out all the ins and outs of the business school when COVID kind of bared its ugly teeth. I had to quickly learn and figure things out and meet people as rapidly as I could. Whether that was online or what little in-person impact we could have at that point.”

The pandemic has transformed how Gilstrap and his team approach their jobs. Gilstrap explained that each decision made about operations within Miller Hall must face a new level of scrutiny. Cleaning practices is one particular area that is discussed regularly. Additionally, the Building Services team must speculate how people will interact with pieces of furniture and other material items in the classrooms and common spaces and assess the assumed risks of having those items in the building. Gilstrap said the strategic conversations also include how to mitigate those risks and maximize safety inside, including brainstorming the best arrangement of desks and chairs to comply with COVID safety measures.

For Gilstrap, the most important factor at all times is the safety of the staff and students in the building.

“The building and building materials I like to think of as stuff and things,” Gilstrap said. “I can replace them, I can rebuild them, I can fix them, I can repair them. It is stuff and things that can all be repaired. But if somebody gets hurt, that’s something I can’t fix or repair or paint or patch those things. And so very much my thought process has turned to what’s most important is the people who are here, the people who use the space and environment.”

During the current uncertainty of the pandemic, Gilstrap and the Building Services team must be ready to quickly adapt to the introduction of new information about the Coronavirus that may alter plans.

“I try hard to plan and I am very task-oriented at getting things accomplished, and it frequently just gets flipped upside down because new information is learned, new processes are developed,” Gilstrap said. “I got to roll with the punches.”

Gilstrap continued, emphasizing the crucial role of the custodial staff in times of turmoil.

“My custodial staff is still here,” Gilstrap said. “Those are the true heroes. Our facilities, teams, our trades, our custodians, they still come in and help me do everything in this building. It would fall off the rails if it weren’t for them. They’re the stalwarts that take care of the day-to-day, nitty-gritty, every day in and out, and I’m very, very thankful for them because I would fail if it weren’t for their help.”

Navigating Grad School while Working Full time

Gilstrap graduated this spring with his MBA from the Raymond A. Mason School of Business. He began the four-year program in 2016 when he first moved to Williamsburg for the job at the University.

Gilstrap said he always held aspirations for a higher education and described the community where he grew up in central California.

“The entire economy revolved around farming and farmers,” Gilstrap said. “It was very much the sentiment of the area I grew up in that the only people that went to college are those who couldn’t get a job. When I was a junior in high school, I realized I really wanted to go to college. I remember being relentlessly teased and made fun of that, ‘Oh, you don’t really want to work, you just want to go to school. Oh, you’re one of those guys.’”

Gilstrap attended Idaho State University, and for a while he wanted to be a doctor and was even preparing to apply to medical schools. However, after an internship at a hospital, he realized, with the guidance of a supervisor, that he rather pursue a different career path. He changed his major and graduated with a degree in accounting and business management.

When Gilstrap came to W&M, he was confronted with the option of enrolling in the Flex MBA program.

“I’ve always wanted to get my MBA, but I didn’t pursue it hard enough,” Gilstrap said. “The opportunities were hard to come by. When I took the job of William & Mary, I wanted to enroll in the MBA program and do that simultaneously.”

Gilstrap recalled the vast outpour of support and encouragement from his colleagues and family.

“I wish I would have done this 10 years ago,” Gilstrap exclaimed.

Gilstrap described how meaningful it was to have his wife and children accompany him on his education journey at the university. He hopes his graduation will inspire his children.

“My graduation is my example to my children,” Gilstrap said. “Hopefully it will change my family tree. I was the first person in my family to ever go to college. It’s almost emotional, this is a big deal for me, and it’s great because it sets a new precedence for my family.”

He continued and detailed how grateful he is for his support system.

“My kids are thrilled, my wife is thrilled, and I know I couldn’t have done this program, worked full time, raised kids, and volunteered in the community if I didn’t have the support of my family and my employers,” Gilstrap said. “Good people helped me get to where I am, and all I had to do was put forth the effort and want it. ... I feel like my kids earned their MBA right along with me.”

Being a Student and an Employee of W&M

Gilstrap explained that his time as both a student and employee of the University has offered him a unique perspective and has deepened his appreciation for the W&M community.

Gilstrap said that upon arrival, he realized that there were many individuals on campus who worked while also attending school and that he was not alone in his endeavor.

“Whereas I was nervous about that at first and I had some reservations of how I was going to make that work, I realized that I had an enormous support team of other people that were doing the same thing I was,” Gilstrap said. “...When you feel like you’re going to pull your hair out, lose your mind, you’ve always got somebody you can reach out to and say, ‘How did you get through this? How did you do this?’ They help build you up. They help you see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

He boasted about the strength and depth of the resources and community at the University.

“Everywhere I’ve turned around, either as a student or as an employee, there has been a support group and a team and a willingness to help you want to reach your goals, Gilstrap said. “And if you’re willing to put forth the effort, the framework is there for you to succeed, whether you’re an employee or a student.”

Looking Forward

Elated about his recent graduation, Gilstrap is excited to apply the knowledge and skills garnered from the MBA program to his current position as Director of Building Services. He detailed how robotic process automation and statistical analysis software can be implemented to automate mundane tasks and maximize efficiency in his department. He also mentioned exploring energy savings methods, emphasizing that the opportunities are everywhere.

“There are a lot of things that I can do with my department right now to help us not only get through this pandemic but prepare for the future,” Gilstrap said. “A lot of technology can be further incorporated into the things I’m doing right now.

He is grateful for the MBA program’s focus on innovative thinking, and how his degree has prepared him to navigate the ever-evolving world with a critical thinking lens.

“To put you in a mindset where you can think creatively, think innovatively, and not get stuck in the past,” Gilstrap said. “That’s one thing, if you think it’s always going to be the way it’s been, then you’ll get left behind very quickly. I’m excited to continue to put the knowledge I’ve gained to practice here at William & Mary.”