Each Friday this summer, the Daniels Newsroom is telling the stories of the behind-the-scenes staff who empower students, faculty and the College at large.

Megan Reilly creates memorable, life-changing experiences for MBA students

Megan Reilly, in her office, poses with a map of the countries she's visited

Megan Reilly holds a map that shows the countries to which she has traveled.

She still has the DVD somewhere, stashed away in some drawer or closet or cardboard box. Dig it up, pop it in, press play, and you’ll see the 18 minutes that changed Megan Reilly’s life.

From the moment she watched the disc someone handed her at a college study abroad fair, the 19-year-old was sold on Semester at Sea—a four-month maritime excursion that drops anchor in Africa, Asia and Europe.

“I had never been out of the country and I thought, ‘Ten countries sounds better than one!’” said Reilly, the director of MBA global and experiential learning at the Daniels College of Business.

It wasn’t long after she disembarked back in the United States that Reilly changed course: She switched her major from literature to comparative politics and set sail on a career of travel and first-person learning.

Now, at Daniels, she coordinates trips and activities that give MBA students the same life-changing experience she had between her sophomore and junior years of college.

“I have a lot more comfort sending our students out in the world, knowing I took them somewhere and gave them a different perspective.” Reilly said. “Hopefully they can run with that, take something really valuable and make their businesses better because of it.”

Reilly grew up in California’s central valley but knew early on that she wanted to see more of the country. At UC-San Diego, she stretched her comfort zone, interning and later moving to Washington D.C., where she aspired to become a diplomat.

But the transition to the nation’s capital wasn’t as smooth as she had hoped.

Reilly twice sailed the world with Semester at Sea—once as a student and once, in 2018, as a member of the staff. (Photo courtesy of Megan Reilly)

“I didn’t have the demeanor for life that would send me to a different country every two years,” she said. “It wasn’t the discomfort I was afraid of as much as the constantly uprooting what you have built and starting over.”

So she stayed stateside, working instead in higher education. At George Washington University (where she earned her master’s in education and human development), she managed the logistics of academic programs. Later, at the Catholic University of America, she advised more than 100 student organizations and led out-of-state service trips.

In 2017, her life in Washington, D.C. took a turn, so Reilly, on a whim, applied to a job at the place that had given her stability and direction a decade earlier. Her second voyage with Semester at Sea—this time as the assistant director of faculty-led programs—gave her the latitude to design and manage a wide swath of programming.

Plus, it gave her the time to think about what she valued—about Semester at Sea and about her career.

“There was this community around gratitude and awareness,” in which everyone played a part, Reilly said. She got the same feeling as she took the job at Daniels. “We’re all here for the student experience. In the MBA program that’s always something we come back to: We’re making changes, we’re making decisions, we’re moving really fast. But how is it going to affect the students? How is it going to affect their experience in this program that we recognize they’re paying a lot of money for?”

A map of the world with colors indicating the places Megan Reilly has been

Reilly has visited “45ish” countries, as shown on the scratch-off world map she displays in her office.

Those questions, broadly speaking, guide her work at the College.

Reilly’s job is multifaceted. She is responsible for all of the logistics surrounding MBA experiential learning (identifying destinations, assessing risk, booking flights, finding interesting on-the-ground experiences, etc.)—the things you can’t replicate in a classroom. Even during the height of the COVID pandemic, not long after she started the job, she coordinated a virtual tea ceremony and consulting sessions for the cohort that was supposed to travel to Japan.

It’s a sort of dream job for someone who reads geopolitical history for fun and has been to “45ish” countries (Does the Vatican count as a country? What about microstates?). She says it never gets old seeing the face of a student whose world view just changed.

But her position is also one of relationships. Doing Reilly’s job well means earning the trust of each MBA student in the cohort—whether that’s offering advice for navigating the program or suggesting a sip of water on a trip to The Nature Place, elevation: 8,192 feet.

“I don’t belong in a classroom, but I care deeply about education, and I care a lot about the growth that happens over time when you’re put in different experiences, especially the cohort experience of going through it together,” she said. “That changes people and it’s very fulfilling to see how much they’ve grown by the end of the program. Even if I have a small part in that, it’s fulfilling.”

Foreground shows a carabiner on a rope while a student in the background talks to his classmates about his experience in the program

MBA students “clip out” from their cohort before moving on to the next stage of their careers.

It’s why she stood in a circle with MBA students and faculty on a recent trip to the Kennedy Mountain Campus. Years after “clipping in” and committing to their program and their peers, the “clip-out” ceremony signifies the summit of a challenging climb to a graduate degree.

One by one, students reflected on their Daniels experience, said goodbye and symbolically unclipped from the group, ready to start the next phase of their careers.

Reilly kept her carabiner in her hand, attached to the rope that represented their journey.

No matter where their lives took them, she said, Daniels would be there to support them, to catch them if they fall.

“So I’m going to stay clipped in.”