After more than a decade of living and working in Los Angeles, Liam Gillen was ready to spend more time with family and take stock of his career during the pandemic.
“I started thinking about what I am going to do next,” he said. “I have a master’s degree in higher education administration, which is great. I will probably continue working in higher education, but I wanted to explore and see what else is out there.”
So, Gillen came home to Massachusetts and enrolled in the online Master of Business Administration in Human Resources Management program at Fitchburg State University in August 2020.
“I love working with people and making an impact on whatever they’re doing, so HR seemed to fit best with my experience and my skill sets,” he said. “Plus, I can do HR within higher education. The timeline and the affordability drew me to the program.”
Before Gillen started his first course, he became the second recipient of the Academic Partnerships Joseph McAloon Memorial Scholarship in honor of the late Fitchburg State business professor.
“It was a complete shock,” he said. “After I was admitted to the program, I got an email about the scholarship. I said, ‘Why not? I am going to go for it.’
“I went into it with zero expectations. I looked at the application and the questions they were asking, and I knew that I had to write a personal statement.”
Being awarded the scholarship sweetened Gillen’s pursuit of an MBA.
“When I got the news, it was a reaffirming moment that made me glad I made the decision that I did,” he said. “I found out a couple of weeks before I started classes. It’s life-changing, for sure.”
Gillen grew up in the South Shore area of Massachusetts. A couple of years after he completed an undergraduate degree in family and consumer sciences from UMass Amherst in 1998, he headed west.
“I wanted to try something different and fell in love with Los Angeles,” he said. “I was a performer in the Gay Men’s Chorus for seven or eight years. Then, I did a few other small acting roles. I love singing and being on the stage and all that comes with it.”
As Gillen stood in the spotlight by night, he built a career in higher education by day. He earned a master’s in postsecondary administration and student affairs. Upon graduation, his 11-year career arc included various roles – assistant director of admissions and financial aid, then director of student services at USC Law, followed by program manager at the USC Price School of Public Policy.
“High school was an experience that I would never want to repeat, but college changed everything in my life,” he said. “It was a point in my life when I discovered who I really was. I had such strong mentorship from two titular advisers who guided me through it.
“That made me want to get back and be part of an experience that was beneficial to me and have an impact on somebody like those advisers did for me.”
The flexibility of the online format allows Gillen to have plenty of time to think about his future while gaining valuable skills and experience in the MBA program.
“It’s even more manageable than I thought it would be,” he said. “It was one of the things that drew me to it. The in-person classes were what I grew up knowing.
“It would have been hard to make those worlds work together as a working professional. This is a great format that I enjoy. The convenience and affordability of the program also grabbed me.”
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Gillen is on track to complete the online MBA program in August 2021 after which he plans to make the next big move of his life.
“I would like to land back in higher education to pursue either admissions/recruiting or career development. These areas relate most to what I am learning about in my MBA program,” he said. “I would like to continue the experience I have and take it to the next level.”
He’s keeping his options open, and he might very well end up back in L.A. once he graduates.
Even though Gillen’s family and friends were surprised when he moved home and enrolled in a master’s degree program, they have been supportive of his decision.
“They thought since I got a master’s degree in Los Angeles, I wouldn’t need to get another one — especially in the middle of a pandemic.” he said.
A close aunt encouraged him to follow through on his goal of earning a graduate business degree.
“My aunt said this is the perfect time to stay inside, reflect and take advantage of this time,” said Gillen.
He is taking online courses for the first time as a student, but he made the adjustment quickly and hit the ground running in the online MBA in HR Management program.
“I have worked in programs at schools that had online programs, so I was somewhat familiar from an administrative standpoint,” he said. “I am taking one class right now. I will have two total classes in the fall. Then, I’ll do four in the spring and four in the summer.”
Although Gillen is in the early stages of the program, he believes that he is right where he should be at Fitchburg State. He plans to make the most of the Academic Partnerships Joseph McAloon Memorial Scholarship.
“The flexibility of the program is a huge draw,” he said. “You have to take advantage of the resources and talk to as many people as you can so you can make the right decisions going forward.
“I know there are a lot of higher education professionals with multiple types of degrees, but most of my colleagues have a master’s degree in education or a doctorate in education. The MBA will set me apart.”
Learn more about Fitchburg State’s online MBA in HR Management program.