Andrea Biklen: Simpson’s bossy older sister


Andrea Biklen serves as director of Simpson’s continuing and graduate programs in West Des Moines since 2007. Photo from Biklen’s profile page on the college website.

by Zoe Seiler, News Editor

Andrea Biklen advised thousands of students at the West Des Moines campus of Simpson College. She was an academic adviser and the Director of the Continuing and Graduate Programs West Des Moines Campus. Her colleagues and students describe her as bright, funny and supportive.

Andrea died unexpectedly on Sept. 30 in Des Moines. Chaplain Mara Bailey emailed all of campus later that morning notifying campus of her death.

This news is a shock to all of us, and we are deeply saddened by this sudden loss,” Bailey said in the email. “Andrea was an incredibly gifted advisor with contagious joy who advocated passionately for her students and our college.”

Andrea graduated from Simpson in 1993 with a degree in English. She was a member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority and the opinion editor for the Simpsonian, among other activities.

Chair of the Multimedia Communications Department Brian Steffen had Andrea in class 27 years ago as an undergraduate student and recently in his online classes.

As the Continuing and Graduate program moved to online classes Andrea felt the needed to experience the classes herself so she could better advise her students, Steffen said.

Steffen remembers when Andrea enrolled in his online class, COMM 101, one year ago. She was focused and attentive in class and was the editor he needed to keep an eye on the small intricacies of an online class.

“About three times a day Andrea would say ‘you know you have the wrong due date for this?’ I wanted to be right. I was glad she was there to pick it up. She was always the eagle eye on that. She was the editor I needed to have,” he said.

The obituary describes a story of when Andrea met a student’s family during commencement. The student introduced Andrea as his Simpson mom, to which Andrea said “Oh no. I’m your Simpson Bossy Older Sister.”

“We always talk about her as the bossy older sister, because she always knew what was right and what wasn’t afraid to say it and wasn’t afraid to advocate really strongly for her students because she worked with more nontraditional students,” Dean of Continuing, Graduate and Online Programs Amy Gieseke said.

Throughout her career as an academic adviser, she worked with thousands of students and many students say they would not have finished their degree without Andrea.

Courtney Conlin worked closely with Andrea to finish her degree and graduated in April 2018.  

“She just had a way of guiding you. It was never a pushy way of guiding,” Conlin said. “It’s the best big sister you could have. It was more about pushing you as far as ‘hey, you can do this’ or ‘you got this.’ But she had such a neat way because she didn’t have to exactly come out and say those words, you just knew what she was communicating and what she wished for me and so many others were success and happiness.”

Conlin’s journey to graduation was not easy due to personal and family health issues that caused some bumps in the road, but Andrea was there to help her through the tough times.

“It was so amazing the level of support that she had and the way she handled all of that was so amazing,” Conlin said. “You knew that she really, really cared about you and it was through those really, really tough times that you not only knew it, but you learned it all the more. I always say I would’ve never gotten through. When I wanted to give up, she was the reason I kept going.”

Andrea sat at her desk in the main office waiting to greet students each night before class and during breaks.

“At the West Des Moines campus, she was that campus,” Gieseke said. “They would pop in before class or at break to just chat, see how she’s doing, deal with whatever problems were arising. Many students have said she was the Simpson experience for them. She was an important, integral part of that experience. They said she was always smiling, a warm welcome, always had her door open for students and faculty.”

Her colleagues and students knew Andrea as a bright personality who made everything ok. She was there to pick students up and make people laugh.

“Andrea’s the kind of person who would light up a room,” Steffen said. “You would always know she was there, but in the way that she could make everything seem ok, no matter how crabby you were or what kind of a bad day you were having, or you were stressed out. You’d run into Andrea and she’d have a joke.”

The visitation was held on Friday, Oct. 5 and the funeral was on Saturday, Oct. 6 at Immanuel United Methodist Church, in which Andrea was a member of the congregation. Hundreds of friends, family and members of the Simpson community attended both services.

“I think that in the C&G community it is a very profound and deep sense of loss,” Steffen said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do the next time I go to the West Des Moines office and see her office and she’s not there. We’ll get over this. We’ll remember her appropriately. I hope she’ll also be part of the scene at Simpson College. The loss is a gut punch.”