Michelle M. McGrath, Class of 2011
IB is celebrating 20 years of the 40 Under 40 in 2020, and will be catching up with past recipients to see what they’ve been up to since they were honored. This week features Michelle M. McGrath, executive director, Wisconsin Association of School Councils.
What have you accomplished in your professional life/career since your 40 Under 40 selection?
In my work as an educational leadership expert and executive director for the WASC, I have achieved the following: I was elected president for the National Association of Educational Executive Directors and helped capture the bid to host the National Conference on Student Activities in Madison — the first time ever Wisconsin won the bid. As a community leader, I was elected president of the Madison Downtown Rotary Club — the fifth largest Rotary Club in the world — leading a variety of community and worldwide initiatives. I also am the co-creator of ZENith, a science-based platform that includes content and experiences to reach your highest potential.
What accomplishments, milestones, or endeavors have you attained in your personal life since your 40 Under 40 selection?
Since 40 Under 40, I completed my doctorate in educational policy and administration. I also completed my first book, which launched in May 2020, Dropping the “F” Bomb — Strategies to Live a Fearless, Fulfilled, Forward Life. And I got married! My husband and I blended our two families and moved to Waunakee, and I launched my first child into college at UW–Madison.
If you were to “do it all over again,” what (if anything) would you do differently throughout your career?
As I say in my book, I really feel it’s all the twists, turns, ups, downs, lovely, and lonely moments that lead us to where we need to be. I am grateful for all that life has thrown at me to get me in a place to lead from the heart and with grace. I wouldn’t change a thing.
How did your 40 Under 40 selection help your career?
It helped me a great deal. I still use those credentials today when I speak across the country to young people. Having this honor also connected me with community leaders and allowed me to use the honor as a launching pad for Rotary and other community initiatives I’ve been a part of. Winning the award also gave me the opportunity to encourage other young professionals to work diligently toward reaching their potential and in the process I have written several letters of recommendation for those pursuing this honor.
What is something that you have a new passion for since the time of your induction — either professionally or personally?
My current passion is to share what I’ve learned on my journey. I began my journey in leadership as a young woman in a male-dominated field. This is what inspired me to write my book in the first place. Most often as leaders, we don’t share the flaws, failures, and fears experienced along the way. My hope is to use my journey to inspire other young professionals, especially women, to reach their potential and gather a tribe to support them on their journey.
Based on your experience, do you have any advice for today’s young professionals (under 40)?
I would share this with them: Owning your story is difficult. There are many roads to travel before you get there. Embrace your fears, flaws, and failures. You need to set some targets — the right ones. Get your backside into the arena and do the hard work because no one is about to do it for you. Get cool with the chaos and fuel your mind, body, and soul to achieve that. And above all, with all of your might, find yourself that dream team of a tribe. Life is about the relationships you build and nurture.
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