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Leaving a legacy of sustainable impact, Millesen reflects on career and prepares for new position

Daniel Kington
May 3, 2018

Judy Millesen speaks with friends, colleagues, and students at a reception honoring her 18 years at the Voinovich School.After 18 years at Ohio University, Judy Millesen, a professor at the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, has accepted a new position as the director of the Master of Public Administration program at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. Throughout her time at the School, Millesen has provided outstanding student education and expertise in nonprofit organization leadership.

Millesen first became interested in nonprofits when she began working for one after completing a bachelor of science in business studies at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

“I didn’t even know there was a nonprofit sector and I certainly didn’t realize that working in the nonprofit sector was a viable career path,” Millesen said. “Nevertheless, when I started the job, I quickly felt like I had found where I was supposed to be.”

Millesen’s job was with The Arc, which advocates on behalf of and provides services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Millesen said she loved the feeling of working for something greater than herself.

“At The Arc, I felt such purpose in my work, and it was a purpose beyond making money: it was about changing people’s lives and making our communities better places to live,” Millesen said.

The only advanced degree programs that allowed Millesen to delve more deeply into the nonprofit world were in public administration. Millesen went on to earn both a master and a PhD in the field, at the University of Hartford and the State University of New York at Albany, respectively. Millesen loved this period in her life, as she was surrounded by likeminded individuals.

“For the first time, I recognized that there were huge bodies of work and a population of people who thought the same way that I did, and who found the same kind of joy and meaning in advancing the public good,” Millesen said.

This collaborative environment encouraged her to stay in the academy. As she was completing her PhD, she applied for a position at Ohio University. Although Millesen didn’t feel entirely ready to jumpstart her career in academia, she felt she could not refuse the opportunity to make a bigger impact.

Early in her career at Ohio University, Millesen and her colleagues developed the now-defunct Regional Nonprofit Alliance, dedicated to building the capacity of nonprofit organizations in the area. Millesen continues to cite her work on the project as one of her greatest professional achievements.

A cake and coffee celebration recently honored Millesen for her 18 years of impact at the Voinovich School.“Working on the Regional Nonprofit Alliance was an opportunity for me to marry my academic interests with my professional experience and my belief in strengthening the nonprofit sector,” Millesen said. “I was able to work with an extraordinarily talented group of professional staff and students, which made the project a tremendous experience.”

In addition to her project work and teaching, Millesen’s time at the Voinovich School gave her ample opportunity to continue her research in nonprofit and community foundation board governance as well as community philanthropy directed toward community change. Millesen also is co-author of Participatory Partnerships for Social Action and Research.

“Community-based, participatory research is a way for community members, participating organizations and the academy to come together in support of a shared goal,” Millesen said. “The book gives some solid examples of how that process takes place and offers suggestions to academicians and practitioners seeking to engage their communities. The book is an important contribution, because it draws specific attention to the fact that when we engage the very people we expect to serve in the process of social change, we have a much better chance at sustainable outcomes.”

Millesen’s work at Ohio University also connected her to a number of international institutions, including Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in South Africa, where Millesen has taught and collaborated with other faculty over the years.

“Every person comes to the table with a unique set of talents and gifts, and to freely share my own knowledge and skills with those abroad who were interested was pretty awesome,” Millesen said. “Additionally, whenever I have an opportunity to travel for work or teach in another environment, my perspective broadens, and that enhances my teaching. My travel experiences have particularly enhanced my work with international students, as I have experienced how people discuss my field in other contexts.”

Millesen said her love and passion for the new is partially what drove her to seek and accept her new position at the College of Charleston.

“Both of my kids are graduating from high school this year, so it seemed like an optimal time to investigate whether it might be time for a change in my own life,” Millesen said. “I’m excited about bringing my experiences and my knowledge to a new place, and I’m excited to start a new chapter.”

Although Millesen is ready to move on, she said her transformative experiences at the Voinovich School have made leaving bittersweet.

“The Voinovich School stimulates and trusts innovation in a way that allows faculty and staff to explore and experiment with the things that they care about, and I am forever grateful for that,” Millesen said. “Because of my affiliation with the Voinovich School, I have been afforded incredible opportunities, and I’ve been able to work with an amazing set of colleagues. I have both shared what I know and learned from others in the field; it’s been a fantastic, mutually beneficial relationship.”