Michelle Conley loves a good inspirational quote.
As a student recruitment and event coordinator for UTMB’s School of Health Professions, her office walls are covered with motivational messages to remind students, colleagues—and herself—that success can be achieved with a positive attitude and hard work.
“Sometimes all a person needs in the morning is a little inspiration,” she says as she points to a sign saying Have Courage
. “It helps me, but I also like that it’s the first thing students and staff see when they come to my office.”
It’s a Wednesday morning in January, and Conley energetically explains her docket for the day while checking four separate SHP email accounts. As I sit in her office on the second floor of the School of Nursing/School of Health Professions building on the Galveston Campus, I quickly realize that she does much more than her job title lets on.
In addition to student recruitment (for six academic programs including clinical laboratory sciences, occupational therapy, nutrition and metabolism, physical therapy, physician assistant studies and respiratory care) and planning all SHP events (such as commencement and an annual fundraising fun run), she is also heavily involved with the school’s social media, marketing and development efforts, academic affairs, student scholarships and more.
Her nickname around the office is fittingly “Jill-of-All-Trades.”
“My role has grown over the years, so I’m used to wearing many hats,” says Conley, who first joined UTMB in 2003.
Her detail-oriented personality is key to juggling the many responsibilities that come with her role—color-coded calendars, priority lists and neatly labeled binders are immaculately organized on her desk.
“I’ve always been pretty compulsive when it comes to keeping everything neat and organized,” she says. “My father was a Marine and my mother was a nurse at UTMB, so I do hospital corners when making my bed—I like things a certain way.”
I observe her organizational skills in play as she puts together informational packets for the first meeting of the SHP Causeway FunD Run logistics committee.
“Coordinating the FunD Run can be a challenge, but it’s really rewarding because I know the money raised will be used to give scholarships to our very deserving students,” says Conley, who serves as lead for the event that raises $80,000 a year. “Plus, the race gives participants the rare chance to run or walk across the Galveston Causeway—it’s a worthwhile event all around.”
We head to the dean’s conference room, where Conley takes a seat at the head of
the table and greets faculty and student FunD Run committee members as they filter in. She moves through the agenda quickly and efficiently, but takes her time listening to suggestions that could make the event better than the year before. She jots down notes about adding water bottle recycling and creating a “selfie” photo station before adjourning the meeting.
On our way out, we run into SHP Dean Elizabeth Protas, who has worked with Conley for more than 10 years. Conley offers a quick status update on the graphic for SHP’s 50th anniversary and Protas smiles, exclaiming, “Isn’t she great? She does everything!”
With the SHP ’s 50th anniversary coming up in 2018, Conley says she will start creating a committee to help plan that event as soon as the FunD Run is done in March.
“This anniversary is so important since our 40th celebration got cancelled because of Hurricane Ike,” she says. “So, we are going to have a big gala to celebrate the 50th anniversary during homecoming weekend—it’s essential for it to be fabulous!”
But before she delves into those event details, it’s time for Conley to switch hats—she’s in charge of greeting prospective students at an open house that afternoon in the lobby of the SON/SHP building. She enjoys holding events at UTMB or traveling to universities across Texas to recruit the best and brightest future health professionals.
“I don’t think young people get enough credit for how awesome they are,” she says. “We have amazing, intelligent, wonderfully interesting, competent students in our world—and especially at UTMB.”
Conley says the physician assistant program is one of the most competitive SHP programs—they receive more than a thousand applications for a class size of 90. February is a big recruiting month, so she will be on the road talking to students at University of Houston, Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas A&M in College Station, Baylor in Waco, Texas State in San Marcos, UT San Antonio and UT Austin.
“The students I talk to have the opportunity to help define the future of health care,” she says. “I’m a real recruiter—when someone comes and wants to apply for one of our programs, I ask them, ‘What’s your GPA? How many shadowing hours do you have?’ I like having honest conversations and letting them know what they can work on to improve their chances of being accepted—I think they appreciate that.”
Despite her busy schedule, Conley says she has actually slowed down a bit. After a medical emergency and life-saving surgery a few years ago, she had an “aha!” moment.
“It really made me realize how important it is to spend more time with my 14-year old son,” she says. “I lost my wonderful mom to Alzheimer’s when I was pretty young, but I have the opportunity to be more present in my son’s life. I have learned to say ‘no’ when I need to, although I still volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Association in honor of my mother. Three years ago, I wasn’t at every one of my son’s basketball or football games—but I am now.”
I accompany Conley to the open house, where she sets up a table with marketing materials and easily connects with prospective students as they walk in the door. I say ‘goodbye’ after she provides some inspiration to an interested student who is nervous about applying to one of the programs. The student leaves with a smile on his face and a plan to proceed with the application process with confidence.
If there was ever an inspirational mantra to describe Michelle Conley, it would be “Stay positive, work hard and make it happen.”