Stitching together the tenets of education
A dinner party forever changed a seamstress’s life’s trajectory and solidified her love of learning
By Rowena Tchao
Michelle Bagley dreamed of being a fashion designer or a magazine editor because she was fascinated with period clothing, especially from the 1950s and 1960s. She came from a long line of tailors and seamstresses and was taught to sew at an early age. In high school, Bagley sewed costumes for drama productions and even crafted her senior prom dress. Though she enjoyed sewing, she realized her drawing skills were not strong enough for design school; so instead, she pursued a career in magazine editing with a focus on fashion. While starting down that career track, Bagley took a job at a local bookstore. What started as a way to pay the bills forever changed her life’s trajectory and solidified her love of learning.
While working at B. Dalton Bookseller, a colleague suggested that Bagley would make an exceptional librarian and urged her to go to library school. The colleague volunteered for First Book, a literacy nonprofit organization, and was quick to notice people with leadership skills and good interpersonal communication skills. Bagley also exhibited a personal commitment to the value of literacy, libraries and education.
Bagley rejected the idea at first, but her colleague was persistent, finally getting Bagley to agree to dinner with a group of librarians. To Bagley’s surprise, all of the librarians at the table shared fascinating stories about higher education, piquing her interest. Following the gathering, she remained intrigued, but still was not completely convinced that being a librarian was the right path for her.
Over time, Bagley thought more about what she wanted to do for a career and discovered that library science was something she wanted to pursue. She enrolled in a program and eventually received a graduate degree. She has been a librarian for 11 years.
This year marks the seventh year Bagley has worked at Clark College. Today, she is the dean of Clark Libraries and Academic Success Services. She oversees the libraries, e-learning, tutoring and faculty development. She’s gotten to where she is today; in part, from professional development courses she’s taken while on the job at Clark and particularly as a member of a nine-month Leadership Academy cohort in 2008-2009. The academy builds leadership capacity from within the college through a series of skill-building workshops, group and individual sessions.
“It taught me how to be a strategic risk taker, while exploring my strengths and weaknesses,” she said.
So when she discovered that Clark College’s Teaching and Learning Center had sustained heavy budget cuts and was without a leader, she decided it was time to give back. Bagley went on a mission in 2011 to revive the center. The program has become near and dear to her heart. Because of her ardent belief that professional development is the key to success in a person’s career—and the fact that she’s personally gained from such experiences—she went to the mat to save the program.
“Everyone should have the opportunity to participate in and benefit from professional development,” she said.
It took resources to bring the Teaching and Learning Center back to life and now to sustain it. Thanks to the fundraising efforts of Clark College Foundation, the center is thriving and is a great resource for Clark’s faculty and staff.
Bagley donates in support of the center and other areas because she believes in the power of education.
“I support the common good and the power of education in the community. For some students, community colleges are the first step into higher education and for others, they are returning for additional skill training. No matter what the reason is, community colleges are a great resource to explore one’s personal and professional education,” she said.
Gifts to programs, scholarships, technology and other areas mean students and employees can reap rewards and discover success in their lives, like Bagley has done.