Prof. Dr. Daniela Wenzel: Inspiring and enthusiastic

Portrait of a passionate scientist

 © Manuel Fröhlich

As dean of the Faculty of Plastics Engineering and Surveying at FHWS in Würzburg, Prof. Dr. Daniela Wenzel passes on her passion for geodesy and geoinformatics to students. A look at a woman who loves to wow her audience – no matter what the stage.

Thunderous applause. Shining eyes. The audience never stops applauding. What would be the result of an outstanding lecture at most for a normal university teacher, Prof. Dr. Daniela Wenzel also encounters in other places. During the applause, she beams with the just setting sun. As she does so, her smile nearly covers her entire face, which is framed by shoulder-length, dark blonde hair. After the end of the performance, all the tension falls away from her. Her first open-air performance is done, and even the passing siren of an ambulance could not distract her. Her eyes behind her distinctive dark glasses are still shining long after she has stepped down from the stage of Würzburg's Chambinzky Theatre.

Acting is one of her favourite hobbies, Wenzel emphasises. She has been passionately performing with the Chambinzky ensemble for seven years now. The Covid-19 pandemic added her first outdoor appearance this year, in which she played Peppone's wife in Don Camillo and Peppone. "She just loves being the centre of attention, but in a positive way," says Sabine Hüther-Bräutigam, a staff member in the Faculty of Plastics Engineering and Surveying. The faculty – Wenzel's faculty – is her second big stage. The dean walks quickly through the courtyard in front of the faculty building. She passes a small group of students skilfully handling a tachymeter, a surveying instrument. As she passes, she greets the students by name. Not without pride in her voice, she notes: "That's very important to me, to really know the students. Creating that personal level is my high standard for myself.”

Quote by Prof. Dr. Daniela Wenzel: "That's very important to me, to really know the students. Creating that personal level is my high standard for myself.”
Portrait photo of Prof. Dr. Daniela Wenzel
The passionate actor during a performance by Chambinzky Theatre ensemble in Würzburg (Source: Prof. Dr. Daniela Wenzel)

When she relates something, she speaks in a calm and clear voice. Only when listening closely does a minimal dialect become noticeable: Wenzel was born in Poland and came to Hesse as a child in 1988. Growing up in a family of surveyors, she had an interest in science from a very early age. "Since I grew up in the profession, it was an easy decision for me to choose this degree programme." Her path led her to TU Darmstadt and the study of geodesy – the science of measuring and mapping the surface of the earth.

A circuitous route to becoming a professor

Today, the 45-year-old is back at a higher education institution – albeit in a different role. As a dean at FHWS in Würzburg, her workplace is an office on the first floor of the faculty building. Her desk offers plenty of space, but she hardly uses it. Two screens, one keyboard. Loose documents are stacked on top of each other in an orderly fashion, the whiteboard is completely empty except for two plans attached with magnets. "I mostly work digitally. My goal is a paperless office." She sits in her chair with a straight back, fixing her counterpart with a direct gaze. What she finds particularly exciting about her subject area is that spatial information is used in almost all areas of life. She quickly brushes aside questions about negative experiences in this supposedly male domain: "I wish in today's world you didn't have to ask questions like that." She is a woman working in a scientific field. No more, no less.

At first, she didn’t have the idea of passing on her passion in teaching at all. Instead, she worked at the Institut für Kommunale Geoinformationssysteme e. V. in Darmstadt after her studies. Here too, one thing was important for Wenzel: "I was able to work very independently and implement my own ideas." In addition to her professional activities, she completed her doctorate under her now deceased doctoral supervisor Prof. Dr. Harald Schlemmer, who was also her favourite professor during her own studies. "I was impressed not only by his enormous expertise, but also by how he encouraged students by challenging them." She had not yet thought about one day emulating him.

Because even after her doctorate, her path did not lead her in a straight line to teaching: in 2007, she embarked on a civil service career. First as a trainee at the State Office for Surveying and Geoinformation in Munich, then from 2009 as a surveyor in Würzburg. Instead of continuing in research, she dealt with the strict procedures of administrative law. A challenge that she learned a lot from. "The experience in public service also greatly benefits my current job as a professor and dean." Away from her job, she has become a real Würzburg fan in recent years and raves about the city on the Main: "For me, Würzburg is a perfect mix of urban and rural life". She can often be found in the Lusamgärtchen or in the Residenzgarten, her favourite places in the city.

Quote by Prof. Dr. Daniela Wenzel: "I was in the right place at the right time."

Getting a first taste and getting lucky

She began to work with students in the field of geodesy and geoinformatics for the first time as a result of a teaching assignment at FHWS. She first got a taste for it when she noticed how much she enjoyed working with young people – and then got lucky: "A professorship was advertised at FHWS that matched my professional profile. I was in the right place at the right time." Wenzel used this opportunity to switch back to research and teaching – and says she hasn't regretted it to this day. With a grin, she says that she would like to study at her own faculty. She tries to sprinkle the demands and encouragement of her role model Prof. Dr. Schlemmer with her own pinch of humour. And she doesn't spare herself in the process: "Her self-mockery is extraordinary," says Sabine Hüther-Bräutigam. "With this easy-going nature, it's easy for her to inspire both students and colleagues."

Portrait photo of Manuel Fröhlich

Manuel Fröhlich