When Meggan Schilkie was a young girl growing up in Bethlehem, PA, her grandfather was an inspiration. For years, he had toiled in a Bethlehem Steel mill plant. When the place closed down, he had a family of three daughters and no job. But he reinvented himself, finding a job with a non-profit agency that helps the disabled find employment.
Schilkie has gone through her own reinvention as well. She had initially pursued a career in the theater, graduating from Fordham University in 2002 with a degree in the subject and a focus on directing. Broadway didn’t pan out, so like her grandfather before her, she has ended up doing similar work–on a larger scale– helping people in need.
As deputy director of New York City’s Department of the Bureau of Mental Health, Schilkie oversees the bureau’s finance and data entry operations, as well as five offices with a staff of some 30 people. And now she’s enrolled in Columbia University’s new Saturday Executive MBA program.
She decided to go for her MBA because, as she saw it, the New York City government did not have enough people with hard business skills. However, she didn’t want to leave her job with the Department of Mental Health to pursue an MBA full time, so she chose the Saturday option.
I came to New York to study theatre. Actually, the training I got as a director at Fordham was some of the best leadership and management training I’ve ever gotten. Being a director is very, very similar to being a manager in an office. It was a very hands-on education. I would be the director and get a budget and would manage every aspect of the show, from casting to promotion. I find that the training I got there is applicable to what I do today.
I directed a litany of shows at Fordham, but am probably most proud of my two productions of The Vagina Monologues. Fordham is a Catholic Jesuit University, so we met with some resistance. However, we raised money through ticket prices to donate to rape crisis centers in New York City. It was also done with a combination of actors and non-actors, so it was an amazing opportunity to work with strong, powerful women and to tell brilliant stories of other women that had an element of political advocacy and feminist philosophy. It was daring, sexually charged and inspiring.
Eventually, I discovered the world of non-profit and government, the field I currently work in. I realized I needed a job, and so my speech coach recommended I intern for the Coalition for Behavioral Health Agencies. I started doing data entry, filing, working on the website, taking minutes at meetings and I was so inspired by their work. Having personal experience with friends and family who had struggled with mental illness, I was galvanized by their cause.
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