Bouncing forward: a new OCL instructor’s unique career path

Michael Sullivan

Ever since Michael Sullivan took a high school history class, he has been passionate about education. After earning his Doctor of Philosophy in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Sullivan taught Global Politics and American National Government at UW-Milwaukee and Milwaukee Area Technical College. He then spent two decades working in leadership development and change management for Fortune 100 companies. 

On the surface it may seem like a surprising career path; however, all of his roles have been closely tied to education and helping others improve.  

“I trained in leadership and performance development in the professional sphere. Starting as a team member and working into consulting and leadership roles, I’ve been involved in change management through mergers, downsizing, and culture changes. I love teaching. It has always been a part of my work,” Sullivan said. 

In 2015, with a book on personal change in the works, Sullivan’s career took another jolting shift; while training for an IRONMAN®, he was hit by a car. He was left with life-threatening injuries as well as nine broken ribs. Shortly thereafter, he found himself out of work due to company layoffs. “This was the lowest point of my life. Interestingly as I confronted my trauma, I gained a perspective on change that led to a reassessment of my personal and professional lives,” he said. 

During this challenging period, Sullivan noticed a LinkedIn® advertisement featuring the Organizational Change Leadership certificate; he called UW-Platteville that day. “As I took our dog for a short walk around a lake, I made the decision to get the certificate,” he said. “Through the certificate, I rediscovered my passion for academics and the importance of organizational change leadership.” 

The certificate led to Sullivan earning his Master of Science in Organizational Change Leadership in 2017. “What I enjoyed most about the program was meeting instructors and classmates from other industries and learning about issues they encounter around change management. It is so critical that students come into the program with the idea of paying it forward in their organizations and communities they work. Any change leader can’t do it alone. We have a lifelong commitment to share our know-how to help others navigate through change successfully.” 

In addition to teaching online at UW-Platteville for the MSOCL program, Sullivan owns a business, which guides clients in their organizational development, change management, and talent advancement. His work involves research, writing, and public speaking. Sullivan has also worked as a change leader, internal consultant, and program manager, and volunteered helping the unemployed with their career transitions in the Houston, Texas, area. 

Sullivan still feels some effects of his injuries, but in many ways his personal trauma steered him to new possibilities. “So many people go through trauma, and I am just plum lucky to be alive. I cherish the opportunity to gain an MSOCL degree and to apply it to our profession and educate others on how to lead others with the people-side of change.”