Professors are People Too: Dr. Ganthner

Despite his background and extensive experience in civil engineering and architecture, Dr. Jeffrey W. Ganthner’s current role as an adjunct professor at Regent University is all about leadership, focusing on innovation, free thought and entrepreneurship. The Virginia Tech (VT) graduate holds a Doctor of Strategic Leadership (DSL) degree from Regent University, a Master of Science in Civil Engineering with a concentration in Construction Management from VT, a Bachelor of Architecture (5-Year Professional Degree with Thesis) from VT and a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from VT. He often tells his students, “If I can teach you to think better 24/7, you’ll be unstoppable.” 

It is often a surprise to many students that their down-to-earth leadership professor is also the full-time Vice President and General Manager of Burns & McDonnell for the Mid-Atlantic Region, an industry-leading company in design and critical infrastructure. Although his excellence in civil engineering and architecture certainly played a part in his selection for this prestigious position, his leadership skills and character have kept him in the position as a respected leader of the industry and admired by both his coworkers and employees.  Here is a closer look at the personal life and philosophy of Dr. Ganthner. 

Dr. Ganthner with his family

What do you look for when hiring new employees at Burns & McDonnell?

I tend to look at life as an opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of those on my team and as a chance to learn from others. When I am interviewing someone, I want to see that they have high moral character, like integrity, loyalty and compassion. However, I find it to be a really difficult matter to find talented people that also have high character. 

From there, I really want to see the desire a person has to learn. I will, and have, hired multiple individuals that didn’t yet have the skills to excel in a particular position in my company but had moral standing and a heart that was cultivated to learn. I would much rather have someone like this than someone with all the skills in the world but no character who thinks they have all the answers in life. This is really the reason why I interview far more people than I bring on. Finding the right balance between skill and character remains a challenging task. However, by prioritizing character and fostering a culture of continuous learning, I feel as though I have mostly overcome this challenge and built a team that embodies both professional excellence and strong moral character.

What motivated you to pursue a  career in teaching?

From the world’s perspective, it doesn’t make sense [to become a professor]. It takes time, energy and commitment.  Furthermore, financially, it just doesn’t add up. But nevertheless, God spoke to me in the year 2017, and He told me to start teaching. Having never taught in an academic setting before, I really did not know what to expect. Teaching was not something I would have woken up one day and decided was my passion. But I trusted in the Lord and went through with it. I started teaching a high school design class at Atlantic Shores Christian School and the kids loved it. My first class was only fifteen students, yet I enjoyed every minute of it. It was then I realized  that I loved teaching, and I decided  I wanted to pursue it at a collegiate level. I wanted students that were a little older, had been through the wringer a little more and were more invested in the learning material since they were paying to attend. 

With this in mind, I started going to Regent University for my Doctor of Strategic Leadership (DSL) in 2018 and finished it in 2021. My thesis was actually the curriculum I still teach in my MGMT 475 class here at Regent! That’s a fun class, full of challenges to help my students grow. Teaching is really a ministry for me because I love seeing what the students are capable of. It is a joy watching them improve over the course of the class and getting the opportunity to pour into their lives, both academically and spiritually.

How has your corporate experience influenced your university teaching style?

The most relevant and significant influence has been my employment with Burns & McDonnell. The corporate world is a dog-eat-dog world, and with that, there are some things that won’t be tolerated. In the real world, there are real consequences that, unlike at the university, you may very well be unable to recover from. That’s why I have such a high standard for my students in terms of late work and not paying attention. I am training my students for what will be expected of them when they graduate. I stand against the stigma of ‘protecting’ the student and support what I believe to be the far more mindful concept of ‘enabling’ them. Of course, I am always understanding when life gets in the way when it comes to assignments. The main idea is to instill internal responsibility in my students so they can reach their full potential as people.

What hobbies do you enjoy participating in when you are not working or teaching?

I’m a big family guy, so I’m constantly trying to be the fun dad. I’m always trying to do something crazy with my son when he’s home from college. I love surprising people by doing something I don’t normally do. I love playing with my two dogs—they’re really crazy. I love physical activity, specifically weightlifting, which has become a significant pastime for me. 

I am always reading and asking others what they are reading. One of my favorite categories is military history, and, of course, leadership. I think you can learn a lot through military history, more than you would first expect. Of course, I am very passionate about the Word of God. I love studying the Word with other men, especially my mentors. I also love investing. Around the time of the dot-com boom, I was doing a lot of paper-based investing in stocks and that was really when I started becoming passionate about it. I am really excited to get involved with the Regent Investment Club this upcoming fall!