by Claire Miller
Sandra Coffey Hofmann was only 12 years old when she created her first business plan and taught her first class.
She wanted to teach art lessons to the neighborhood children in her garage, and her father asked her to put together the curriculum and business plan before she could begin.
“I told my dad that I didn’t like the way our garage looked and that I wanted to get a rug to put down on the floor, and he said, ‘Well, you need to show me that you’re going to make a profit and can afford to buy a rug,’” Hofmann explained. “So I basically had to put together a return on investment (ROI). At the time I didn’t know it was an ROI, but today I really understand it.”
As the eldest child in her family, Hofmann was used to instructing those younger than her. But the experience she had teaching her neighbors was something that really stuck with her.
“I experienced what it was like to have a room full of students who were all eager to hear what I had to say, and to be able to watch them transform even beyond what I had asked of them – that is a heady feeling,” she said. “I walked away with a desire to be a part of learning and teaching.”
She applied that desire to her studies in the College of Education at Georgia State, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in education in 1974. She also spent time working for a friend’s tutoring service, which specialized in working with children with learning disabilities.
With her degree from GSU and her experiences at the tutoring service under her belt, Hofmann and her husband moved to Fort Polk, La., where she talked to the superintendent about setting up a program for children with learning disabilities in his school system.
“Very few recent graduates would have that opportunity to start something from scratch,” she said. “It was a fabulous opportunity – a great way for any teacher to get started. It reaffirmed that I really could help influence what children thought of school and learning.”
The lessons she learned as a student in the College of Education and as a teacher also applied to the corporate world.
Hofmann made the switch from education to working in the technology industry in the late 1970s. She started working for IBM, but she still found that her new career path required her to employ the same tactics teachers use to keep their students engaged.
“As a manager, I was very cognizant of how similar the experience was to standing in front of a classroom and trying to get a group of children excited about something,” Hofmann explained. “Adults, I’ve found, want to be excited about what they’re doing and want to learn and be challenged. And the best leaders I had were the ones who did that for me.”
Throughout her career, Hofmann provided leadership to professionals at companies such as Simplex and Closets and More. Her efforts earned her numerous awards over the years, including the Georgia CIO Leadership Association’s Georgia CIO of the Year and its inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award.
Currently, Hofmann serves as the president and board director of Women in Technology, a networking, career building and leadership development organization for women in the technology field, and the CIO-in-Residence at the Advanced Technology Development Center, a nationally-recognized science and technology incubator housed at the Georgia Institute of Technology that helps Georgia entrepreneurs launch and build successful companies.
Her work reflects her passion for giving people the confidence and skills they need to be successful in their industries. For example, Women in Technology’s Girls Get IT program gives middle school-aged girls opportunities to shadow women who work in math and science careers.
And it’s that passion and hard work that has earned Hofmann the College of Education’s Distinguished Alumnus Award for 2011. This award is given annually to the COE alumnus who has distinguished oneself in his/her profession and community and has brought credit to the college.
Hofmann was recently honored at the college’s 2011 Honors Day ceremony on April 21, where she credited her success to her teachers in the COE and the others who helped her along the way.
“At the end of the day, it’s not just recognition of me – it’s recognition of all the people who have contributed to me and made me who I am,” she said. “We are all so dependent on one another for encouragement and support.”
She also sees this award as an opportunity to stress the importance of getting a quality education and the impact it can have on one’s life.
“I am conscious every day of the legacy I am creating and the role model I can be for others,” Hofmann said. “Drawing attention to the value of a good education is important to me and I am proud to be a GSU graduate. I believe being selected as a Distinguished Alumnus provides me a platform to advocate for the outstanding development provided by GSU and highlight the value of the University System of Georgia.”