Meet ERPi’s Empowered Women

Meet ERPi’s Empowered Women

Meet ERPi’s Empowered Women


Each month, ERPi’s Empower Her initiative highlights the success and impact of one of our empowered and enriched women. This month features ERPi manager Madison Sandy, PhD.

Madison is intensely curious and loves to learn. Her interest in questions of power in society led her to pursue both a master’s degree and a doctorate in sociology. Madison worked full-time while earning her degrees, honing the dedication and diligence that has contributed to her success at ERPi.

Madison’s work experiences share a common theme: she solves complex problems for the benefit of others. As president of the University of Virginia Sociology Graduate Student Association, Madison helped to secure increased student funding during a restructuring of the College of Arts and Sciences. Later, her PhD research on national identity development in times of conflict led her to Australia, where she lived for two years. Serving as Associate Dean of the Queen’s College of the University of Melbourne, Madison advocated for changes that measurably improved student experience, wellness, and satisfaction. She also supported student success as director of the mentoring program, which sparked an ongoing interest in mentoring others and seeking mentors.

After completing her PhD, Madison accepted a fellowship with the President’s Office at Arizona State University, the largest and most innovative university in the United States. She helped secure a $22 million grant that strengthened ASU’s partnerships in Africa while expanding opportunities for talented young students. Also at ASU, Madison drafted the redesign blueprint for the sociology program to align with national best practices and infuse sociological approaches across ASU’s interdisciplinary academic units.

Madison joined ERPi in 2017 eager to apply her experiences in research and program design to healthcare. At ERPi, Madison supports the efforts of VHA’s Office of Regulatory and Administrative Affairs to evaluate, revise, and recertify the policies that govern VHA operations. Her background serves her well in the role: the high standards of academia taught Madison to emphasize attention to every detail. This unique perspective helps her evaluate a policy at multiple levels— the technical accuracy of a national program office’s guidance is just as important as the placement of a comma! Madison is gratified and humbled that the policy work she supports directly enables VHA to provide Veterans with high-quality healthcare.

Her academic experiences also guide Madison’s approach to project management. When teaching, she noticed that students’ challenges in the classroom often stemmed from problems beyond their schoolwork. Similarly, when something goes wrong on a project, she knows that the root of the problem may lie beyond the work itself.

Consistent with her love of learning, Madison enjoys reading and listening to podcasts in her free time. She also enjoys meandering walks as exercise and stress relief.

ERPi consultant Elaine Markovich interviewed Madison to explore her professional and personal passions:

What professional or personal accomplishment are you most proud of?

Personally, so far I take great pride in earning my education. Surmounting five academic hurdles in six years to earn a Master of Arts and Doctorate in Sociology took extreme focus and sacrifice. I worked full-time throughout, holding two or three jobs constantly, and moved overseas to complete my research – whatever it took to stay in and finish. I forged some of the strongest friendships of my life during that period, which I still treasure. Many of the lessons learned, such as resilience, diligence, critical thinking, and self-motivation, continue to serve me well today.

Which leaders and books have molded your leadership style? What stands out to you about their approaches?

I’m spoiled for choice regarding role models and books. One helpful and accessible read is Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility by Patty McCord. We don’t all run major tech companies, yet her management advice is clear: problem finders are cheap. The best teams comprise people who know their role in solving a problem and will do everything they can to get there. One leader I admire is Pat Summit, head coach for the University of Tennessee’s Lady Vols basketball team. She was often the only woman included on “Greatest Coaches of All Time” lists, and she built her basketball program from the ground up. She was tough when needed, and her teams dominated – and all of her players graduated with college degrees. Though she passed away too young in 2016, she lives forever as a leadership legend.

What is the best professional advice you’ve received?

You can’t lead the pack if you run with it. I translate this as needing to be confident in myself, even if I’m an outlier, and needing to care for my team and lead by example. Sometimes I’m the rear guard and other times I’m forging the path ahead. I might not be liked all the time, but I always protect the team. I strive to do the best I can with what I have and to keep improving.

You’ve focused your energy on women-centric initiatives in recent years. What have you learned through those projects? What have you been working on recently?

Immediately prior to joining ERPi, my work included designing solutions to accelerate gender equity among faculty at the nation’s largest university. When I moved to Washington, DC, I made a commitment to myself to continue that effort in any context. My current initiatives include serving as an alumni advisor for a collegiate organization dedicated to building strong female leaders, being an active member of two professional women’s support circles, and completing a national leadership development cohort designed to find pathways to politics for women. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that if I can navigate the professional world successfully, good for me; if I can help other women find success, good for us; if I can dismantle institutional barriers to equity, good for humanity! Everyone knows a woman trailblazer – and we honor them by never giving up on our goals.