By TAYLOR ROBINSON
A thinker, an intellectual, a modest man, an athlete. These are just a few of the ways one could describe Washtenaw Community College trustee Stephen Gill.
From his early college years, attending the University of Minnesota and majoring in psychology, Gill knew that he would have a career focused on students, higher education and, most of all, learning.
As Gill reminisced about when his passion began, he recalled being active in student life. Maybe even a little too involved, he revealed.
“My grades suffered because of it,” Gill said. “It taught me a lot about what students go through in terms of balancing work and social life and campus activities with studies. That whole experience was very interesting to me.”
After finishing his degree at the University of Minnesota, Gill relocated to a mental health state hospital in the Chicago area where he held his first job out of college. Although he was continuing to pursue his love for psychology, he missed higher education.
Wanting to combine his two areas of interest, Gill always desired to work in college counseling services. He enrolled at Northwestern University and pursued a Ph.D. in counseling psychology.
The degree concentrated on college experiences, focusing on psychological and mental health needs in different crisis situations, especially in a university-based setting. This area of expertise led Gill to the University of Michigan, where he taught in the school of education for seven years, specializing in college counseling services.
Outside of the university, Gill directed a small counseling service for a couple years. After leaving Michigan, Gill’s set his eyes on another position.
“I joined a consulting group that was doing program evaluation work, which is actually a lot of my skills,” Gill said. “It had to do with interviewing, small group facilitation and helping organizational improvement.”
Being a consultant allowed Gill to intertwine his interests of psychology and counseling. He worked for the firm for about 10 years, and during his time, he became a partner in the business. After leaving, we worked for another firm for a couple years. Then Gill decided he wanted one of his own.
With the experience he had gained, that dream became a reality about four years ago. He is assisted by long-time best friend and business partner, James Stilwell.
“I’ve known Steve for north of 20 years,” Stilwell said. “We’ve done some consulting work together, and about three or four years ago, we formed this business, Learning to Be Great.”
Stilwell explained the business is used as an online tool to obtain materials for training, learning, organization and development.
“I think what’s really important with working with Steve and the business is he has, as do I, a strong and passionate desire to help organizations create sustained learning cultures,” Stilwell said. “I think what captures who he is just how important the concept of learning and continuous learning is to him.”
Not only have Gill and Stilwell shared a business, they’ve shared a strong friendship. One of the most meaningful aspects of their bond is their ability to be honest, even when faced with opposing viewpoints, Stilwell said.
“It’s a very important partnership and relationship for me. It allows us to have very different perspectives on things and to be able to talk about that, and for me, that’s what really makes this partnership rich,” Stilwell commented. “Although we share the overarching belief in the power of learning, we have very different approaches to it, and that’s a great value. I really appreciate that about him.”
When the two aren’t busy running a business, the friends find themselves spending time outdoors and in the community. Gill and Stilwell go biking during the warmer months and spend the cooler months cross-country skiing when they get the chance. Stilwell’s also recognized Gill’s involvement and care for Washtenaw County.
“He very much gives back to the community, and, of course, all of his work at WCC is great example of that,” Stilwell said.
Board of trustees Treasurer Pam Horiszny was elected to the board at the same time as Gill and can attest to the great impact he has had.
“We always joke that we’re the best class,” Horiszny said. “He has a totally different background than I do, so we complement each other in terms of expertise. We have great conversations, and I very much respect him.”
WCC President Rose Bellanca couldn’t agree more. Although the two haven’t known each other for a long period of time, it’s no doubt that his noticeable qualities shine through in and outside of the boardroom, she said.
“He’s an excellent trustee. He’s very open-minded and thoughtful. He allows different viewpoints and is very careful in making sure he doesn’t steal the stage so that others can speak,” Bellanca added.
While Gill finds time between writing his blogs and books, and fulfilling board duties, he frequents WCC’s Health and Fitness Center about two to three times per week. Gill has been on the board of trustees for about 10 years, and the HFC was built during that time. He added, the HFC has around 6,500 members, including 1,500 WCC student members and receives a lot of praise from those who attend.
“It’s a community center,” he said. “It’s a great mix of people, and I know some who go just to be there. That’s where they see their friends. That’s where they have time to socialize, which is great. I think it’s terrific.”
Gill stays busy between being a board member, a writer and a business partner. But among all of his involvements, there is a principle standing true throughout.
“I enjoy trying to build a business and enjoy continuing to write. I write a lot about learning in organizations and how to make organizations a learning environment,” Gill said. “That’s what I think we need to continually make businesses, nonprofits and government agencies successful. I consult and write about how to create a work environment where people continue to work, grow and develop.”