Behind the CScenes: Lena Sifuentes, Accountant and Financial Analyst

At 6:20 a.m., Lena Sifuentes emerges out of the lamplight, swipes her ID badge at the front door of Duncan Hall and begins her day in Rice University’s Computer Science department. “I like every part of my job,” she said. “There are no parts of my job that are difficult or hard, maybe because everyone here is so supportive.”

Sifuentes, the CS Accountant and Financial Analyst, first began working in higher education when she moved to Houston in 1980. “I applied at the University of Houston and got a job in the Sponsored Research office, closing out grants and final invoicing.” Sifuentes enjoyed her colleagues and the work at UH, but eventually followed some of her closest work friends to Rice. She said her learning curve at Rice was steep but exciting, “I learned so much in the two years I worked in Research Accounting. It really helped me here in CS, still helps me every day.”

She would probably still be working in administration if a colleague hadn’t called her about an opening in an academic department. “I’d worked with Darnell Price at UH,” said Sifuentes, “and she’d been working as the Department Administrator for CS for a few years, when she called me up to say one of her accountants had just left.”

Sifuentes was intrigued. “I’d never worked in an academic department before, and I wanted to see what it was like working with faculty and students.” She thought the role sounded very appealing, and it retained her accountant title, so she took the chance to make a change and quickly discovered she loved the new environment.

Lena Sifuentes and Moshe VardiAlthough she was very nervous about working with faculty, she quickly found out how supportive everyone was. “I got to meet with all the faculty — to discuss their funding and to manage their reports– and they were so easy to work with! Moshe [Vardi] was the chair then; I enjoyed very much working for him.”

Sifuentes’ work ethic and easy-going demeanor were praised by several the CS faculty members. Vardi, the Karen Ostrum George Distinguished Service Professor of Computer Engineering, appreciates Sifuentes’ contributions to the department. He said, “Lena is not only a super-accountant, but she is also a pleasure to work with. I can always count on being able to work out with her any accounting issue in a calm and professional way. She is a huge asset to CS!”

The Associate Chair of the department, Luay Nakhleh, agrees with Vardi. “Lena is one of the most professional people with whom I’ve had the privilege of working,” he said. “She manages all the grants and expenditures perfectly, which allows us to focus exclusively on our research and teaching. And, equally important, she is very easy to work with.”

Sifuentes and her friends from UH who moved to Rice thoroughly embraced their new roles but stayed in touch, even though some have now retired. Comparing the two workplaces, she said, “There is a huge difference between the two schools. Rice feels more family-oriented because of our size.”

And, like a family, members handle a wide variety of tasks. Sifuentes said a typical day is non-stop. “My day can go from working on research fund projections, to approving documents, to processing payroll to anything goes. There’s always something different, every day. That’s what I like about it.”

Lydia Kavraki, the Noah Harding Professor of Computer Science, appreciates Sifuentes’ reliability and expertise. “Lena is so quick in understanding what we need, so efficient in processing grant accounts, so thorough, and so reliable that I do not know what I would have done without her help. She is wonderful to work with and a person we can always count on.”

Sifuentes with CS Accounting Assistants

Lena Sifuentes (left) with CS Accounting Assistants Deedra McFadden and Sherry Nassar

Sifuentes is quick to give credit to accounting assistants Sherry Nassar and Deedra McFadden, who help her stay on top of all of the accounting duties all year long.

Although her primary focus is accounting, she also enjoys visiting with students. She said, “I love when the students drop in for guidance. To be able to help them in any way is so rewarding.  Many of them are so far away from home, so whatever I can do to help them navigate their questions, whether on reimbursements, or whatever, I love that!  I guess that is the mom (and grand-mom) in me.”

Lena Sifuentes began working in the CS department in 2001 and was recognized with the Distinguished Employee Award in 2008.