Gillian Sharkey works with students during The 1742 Experience, an optional week of volunteering for new students prior to orientation.

I grew up in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, about an hour southwest from Bethlehem. My parents still live in my childhood home, and I see them every week. Lansdale is a large suburban area, with every big chain company and restaurant you can imagine. It made me very appreciative of the little town of Bethlehem with its unique shops, restaurants, and history.

What drew you to your profession, and what do you enjoy most about what you do?

Looking back over my 20-plus-year career, I’ve been consistently connected to community engagement, volunteering, and advocacy. I just didn’t realize it was a theme. As an undergrad at Temple University, I was an AmeriCorps member and served more than 450 hours in a local preschool during my senior year. My service experience was transformative. It shaped who I am and what I value, it brought my career goals into focus, it introduced me to the world of nonprofit, and most importantly it forced me to consider the root causes of issues in my own neighborhood. I knew I wanted to help, I just needed to figure out how. My passion for community engagement and service has taken me all over the United States, including Puerto Rico, and internationally to Ghana, Paris, Scotland, London, Madrid, and several locations in Guatemala over the years. I take great pride in working with students who find their place at Moravian through service experiences. I know that there can be a true sense of belonging discovered through service, and I’m so grateful to see and experience that every year with my students.

Of your accomplishments thus far in that role, which is/are most meaningful to you?

Gillian Sharkey and her students pick coffee beans during their Alternative Break immersion in Guatemala.

Without hesitation, it’s a tie between The 1742 Experience and Alternative Break experiences. I am so proud of our students for stepping out of their comfort zone and seeking opportunities to contribute to change. The pre-orientation freshmen who participate in The 1742 Experience are so brave! I’m always in awe of their resilience and willingness to get started. Alternative Break offers an immersive opportunity to mix social justice, travel, and meaningful action with like-minded peers. Alternative Break can change perspectives, and I feel humbled and honored when I get to be part of a student’s service journey.

Share something about yourself that people may not know.

I’m a first-generation college student and didn’t truly start my undergrad degree until I was 26. I started college like most do at 18, and I absolutely hated it. I got terrible grades, I didn’t make any friends, and I quit to work full time after my freshman year. When I was 25, I interviewed for a job that I really, really wanted, and when I got to the final round, the interviewer said he noticed I forgot to include where I went to college on my resume. I explained (rather well or so I thought) that I had learned everything hands on, I was a worker bee, and I didn’t need a degree. Needless to say, I didn’t get that job. That rejection, and knowing I couldn’t advance in my career, sparked my bruised ego to reconsider the college journey. At 26, I started at Bucks County Community College and transferred into Temple University. It was the best decision I ever made. From Temple, I went straight to the University of Pennsylvania for my masters. Now, after a break for family, I’m in the final dissertation phase of my doctoral degree from Widener University. I never thought I had what it took to even attend, nevermind persist, in college. I just needed to do it when the time was right for me.

What is your favorite space on campus and why?

I love the cobblestone path between Main Hall and Brethren’s House that ends at the Benigna statue. I love the energy in that hallway and thinking about Benigna’s history. I love knowing that she walked the same paths that we do.

What is your favorite Moravian tradition and why?

I have a few. I really like celebrating Benigna and Mo’s birthdays with cake and hotdogs. Haha! I also really like the lovely celebration for Arbor Day. It’s so small and intimate. I truly appreciate how deeply Randy Haffling cares about the history of the trees. Every tree has a purpose and meaning, and I really like seeing the dedication of a new life on campus.

What is your favorite thing to do with your free time and why?

We have a lot of houseplants—almost 100—and I love to garden. We have a new baby girl now, and I daydream about having her help in our garden in the future.

What book, film, song, or piece of art has so touched you that you find it enduring/unforgettable?

It’s going to sound silly, but I love the movie Titanic. I can’t even guess how many times I’ve watched it, and it’s one of my go-to movies to play when I’m cleaning. But before anyone asks, Jack wasn’t supposed to fit on the door! He loved Rose, and it would have been out of character (he was the epitome of chivalry) to do anything other than put her safety first.

I can never resist a good _____.

Crisp cobb salad with Thousand Island dressing.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

My mom always says, when you’re about to do something big or have a hard conversation, “You can only break the ice once.” So just do it and then you can move past it. Similarly, Kristina Scesa says, “Eat the frog!” meaning choose your most difficult task and just get it done.

Share something that makes you happy.

Very early mornings in the summer. I love the sunrise and a cup of coffee in the quiet of my garden when the birds and insects are busy.