“To my parents, who probably never imagined this day would come, back when I was a high school dropout who only wanted to ride racehorses.” — Dissertation dedication, Greta Polites.
“I actually dropped out of high school two or three times,” says Greta Polites. “I wanted to be a jockey, but I was too tall. I was a pretty rebellious kid.” Her parents pushed her hard “because they knew I was capable,” she says. But the last thing in the world that interested her was following their career paths — her father was a math professor, her mother a junior high art teacher. “It was, ‘I’ll show you! I won’t graduate!’”
Polites still follows a different drummer — in fact, several. In addition to her MIS work, she studies paleontology, publishing two papers on the subject. Two fossil mollusk species are named for her. From very early on, even in her first clerical jobs, “I ended up in roles where I got to dig through data. I’ve always had that research interest.” In the end, the field that offered her the most independence to follow her interests was academia. As a single parent with two sons, being a college professor offered a family-friendly schedule, but the intellectual attraction was “to be able to study what you’re interested in, instead of being told what you want to do from 9 to 5.”
Polites chose UGA from the top schools she applied to, working in data warehousing. “Hugh Watson was really known for his work in business intelligencing,” she says. “My first semester, my advisor, Elena Karahanna, did some Jedi mind work on me. She was starting to do this psychological work. That’s what got me interested.”
“My first semester, she about killed us all,” Polites says of her advisor, the same one she and her colleagues all called Mother. “She’s like that with everyone who has her as an advisor. She pushes you academically like no one else, but she’s also just a great person. I still talk to her.”
Polites laughs at the suggestion that she actually studies two kinds of fossils — the literal kind, and the ones she focuses on in her MIS research: “reluctant adapters” who hinder everyone at an organization from adopting more advanced technology. This theme, which Polites has returned to often, is an idea she “just latched onto,” she says. But her first dissertation won paper of the year. “I used to just sit there and document their accomplishments,” she says of her esteemed Terry dissertation committee. “It was high-level leadership. I couldn’t have wanted a stronger commitment.”
That first paper launched Polites on an arc of award-winning studies, one that has carried her from her first teaching post at Bucknell to research-oriented Kent State, where she began working in 2012.
“I’ve got several degrees, been in a number of schools. Everyone at Terry was always collegial, always supportive of us. It’s something I haven’t seen often in my experience.”
“It was a great place to be, an exciting place to be. I was proud to get up in the morning and know you were working at one of the best MIS departments in the country. Without them,” she says, “I would not be here.”