Before attending Columbia University School of General Studies, Associate Director of the GS Annual Fund, Sheila Brogan-Testa had already had an extensive career in government. She served under former Governor Mario Cuomo in the office of Program Planning and Employee Development based in Albany, NY. “I was having the time of my life professionally, traveling extensively throughout the state training employees in new state initiatives and serving as part of a group of young professionals. But eventually I hit the glass ceiling.”
Having had taken classes in the SUNY system on a part-time basis, Brogan-Testa knew that completing her bachelor's degree would be the solution to strengthening her career path. “I applied to only two New York City schools, NYU and Columbia. I was familiar with the Village and decided I wasn’t even going to visit Columbia because of its location. Can you imagine? I called from a pay phone to tell GS I decided to accept NYU, but the admissions officer managed to persuade me to come up and visit. I walked through the gates and thought ‘Oh my God, this is where I want to be’”.
Testa continued to work part-time while studying full-time, until the governor’s office closed the New York City satellite office; she was offered the option to return to work in Albany, but decided to remain in the city and take a severance in order to continue at GS. Although initially she planned to go to law school, after a summer-session course in psychology, she realized that she wanted to work with people and psychology was the field to pursue.
After graduating from GS, she went on to earn a master’s degree in Developmental Psychology at Teachers College. “I knew I wanted to work in the community, and I always thought I was going to do clinical work in some capacity. A month out of Teachers College, she started at Bellevue Hospital, running the family support services program for the methadone maintenance clinic. With her background in state government, she quickly became adept at interfacing with various agencies and began to take on increasingly complicated roles, eventually becoming a NYC Early Intervention Official Designee.
During this time, she also established a private psychotherapy practice, seeing patients in the evenings and on weekends. After a few years in that capacity, Brogan-Testa launched her own consulting firm, but the desire to relocate to a warmer climate inspired her to accept a position in Los Angeles, where she managed early-intervention coverage regionally and supervised a large case management staff.
While in California she became actively involved in the Columbia Alumni Association. After a neighbor, a fellow Columbia alumna of the Graduate School of Business, suggested she attend a board meeting, “The rest was history,” she said. And for the next six years participating in activities of the Columbia Alumni Association of Southern California became an important part of her life. She served on the board of directors and as events chairperson, organized such events as Columbia West, a one-day symposium featuring Columbia professors speaking on a variety of topics. But, of course, she had no idea that the 2004 event, which featured a talk by School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) Civil Engineering Professor Rene Testa on the collapse of the World Trade Center, would change her life. The room was full — everyone wanted to know what happened structurally to the twin towers. “As event chairperson, I had the opportunity to chat more in depth with our speakers at the host table. Prof. Testa and I exchanged cards and over the next several months saw each other socially. He then made me an offer that I just couldn’t refuse.” Moving back to New York to marry Prof. Testa changed more than just her zip code. “I had always been sort of a fast-track professional, type-A workaholic, always looking for a balance between my professional and personal lives but never really finding it,” she said. “My new focus became developing that other end of my life. I married into a family with 10 grandchildren, and I took time to integrate myself into their lives.” She began frequently volunteering for the University, serving on alumni panels, and finally, drawing on the fundraising experience she had accumulated in her previous careers, she became the Associate Director of the GS Annual Fund in October 2007, focusing on the Fund’s million-dollar goal — with increasing financial aid the first priority — while also planning a reunion in the spring for Class Day. Recounting her story, Brogan-Testa concludes, “I can absolutely say, that GS changed my life.”
For more information on donating to the GS Annual Fund, and how you too can give back to GS and Columbia, visit http://www.gs.columbia.edu/give-gs