Ana M. Franco-Watkins

Interim Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Auburn University
HERS Institute Alumna, Class of 2021 (Online)

Ana M. Franco-Watkins is currently serving as interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) at Auburn University. Beforehand, she served as chair of the Department of Psychological Sciences at Auburn University for almost four years. She participated in the SEC Academic Leadership Development Program, is a 2021 HERS Leadership Institute alum, and chaired the steering committee for Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) at Auburn University.  She is a strong proponent of working collaboratively and building relationships. She co-led and co-facilitated a leadership series for department heads and chairs across all colleges and schools at Auburn University as well as served on varied university committees, workgroups, and task forces. She has experience working with faculty, staff, students, and advisory boards in strategic planning including steering the development of the strategic plan for the College of Liberal Arts.

Her research focuses on decision-making and behavioral economics with applications to organizations and industry. She has received external funding support from the National Science Foundation, defense agencies, and the Federal Aviation Administration Center of Excellence for interdisciplinary research team projects. She taught courses in decision making, behavioral game theory, and decision-making in organizations and industry.

Ana holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Maryland, College Park, a M.A. in Psychology from the College of William and Mary, and a B.A in Psychology from St. Mary’s College of Maryland.


What brought you to the HERS Leadership Institute? What was your role or title when you attended, and did anyone encourage or support your attendance?

My interest in participating in HERS Leadership stemmed from hearing from a colleague who recently participated in the institute how much they enjoyed and benefited from the experience. I always look for leadership and professional development opportunities and was intrigued by HERS as it emphasized supporting and advancing women in academia. During my attendance of HERS Institute, I held the role of department chair.


What do you value most from your Leadership Institute Experience?

 One of the most valuable aspects of the Leadership Institute Experience is the connection with my fellow HERS sisters and building lasting and meaningful relationships with one another through a common experience of participating in the Leadership Institute.


What from the curriculum and experience at HERS did you immediately bring back to your institution and colleagues? 

The curriculum emphasized all aspects of inclusive excellence (IDEA: inclusion, diversity, equity, and access). This central tenet that was interwoven into most of the curriculum really resonated with me and allowed me to think about how best to interweave these aspects at my institution and my role as chair. It has carried through into my current role as interim dean.


How did HERS impact your leadership trajectory? HERS was instrumental in allowing me to think broadly about opportunities and reflect on possibilities for my own leadership trajectory. My own HERS sisters really were critical to me pursuing my current leadership role.


How relevant and important have the insights gained from Leadership Institute continued to be to your leadership development?

I continue to take the insights and knowledge gained from the Leadership Institute and apply it daily in my role.


How did the HERS experience different than other leadership development organizations (or activities) you’ve participated in?  

The uniqueness of the HERS experience is the focus on women in academia which is more customized than general leadership development opportunities that I have participated in the past.


What advice would you give to a woman who wants to advance their higher education career but is uncertain as to when and how to do it?

I would advise women to seek out others who are in strong leaders in roles that are intriguing or they aspire to reach. This allows an opportunity to learn about the career trajectory for a specific role as well as it enables the possibility to connect with the person as a possible mentor in one’s own journey.


How would you describe your cohort? 

My cohort consisted of strong and inspiring women who are also humble and vulnerable. My cohort are fierce champions for one another. The HERS sisterhood bond is quite strong despite not always being able to connect as often as we did during the HERS experience.


Has the HERS network continued to be valuable in your professional or personal life? If so, please share how you’re still connected to HERS, your cohort, or the network.

My HERS cohort continues to be valuable in my life and was instrumental in me taking the leap to apply for my current role.  A group of us connected together as a HERS Bookclub during and after the Institute. We still try to connect at least once a month to catch up on our lives. Additionally, we are comfortable seeking out one another whenever an opportunity or an issue arises. We aim to support and uplift one another.


Have you participated in other HERS programs? If so, please share which ones and why you chose to register for each offering. 

A few months prior to participating in the HERS Leadership Institute, I participated in the Next Stages Next Steps program because of my interest in learning how to best position myself for the next opportunity in my career.