This story is a part of our ‘A Day in the Life’ series that highlights the career journeys of 2U employees across the world. While many of our features showcase 2Utes during heritage months, this article celebrates one of our 2020 No Back Row Award winners—an employee recognized for embracing one of 2U’s nine Guiding Principles. Maxie Bilyeu was one of two 2Utes selected as the winners of the Give a Damn award.
In order to really be heard, understood, and respected by those in your chosen profession, you must be a subject matter expert. Maxie Bilyeu's parents shared this lesson with her at a young age, and it has guided her throughout her life. That’s why she was the first in her family to attend college and the only one (so far) to obtain a graduate degree. And it’s the reason why a career in higher education has always been a part of Maxie’s life plan.
After a more than decade-long career as a stage/production manager for local and regional theaters in Texas and Colorado, Maxie was ready for a life of stability. It was time to set her plan into action. So in 2013, she sought out a job as an admissions counselor at a for-profit graduate school in Denver.
Maxie had already realized her passion for higher education well before this role, but what she hadn’t known was the incredible impact she could have on the lives of others. As an admissions counselor, she was able to talk to different people every day who were doing what she had done—achieving their academic dreams—but came from completely different walks of life. Single moms, active duty military, Ph.D. students, they all had stories that proved for every negative remark about online higher education you come across, there are 10 stories of how it has changed someone’s life for the better.
Personally, Maxie found immense value in what she was doing and was consistently successful in her position. But in 2016, she realized she was getting a little too comfortable. Everything was coming easily to her, and she wasn’t learning on the job. She wanted more. She wanted to be that subject matter expert her parents told her to be. She wanted to learn more than one side of the online higher education business.
As fate would have it, a friend was visiting from out of town when Maxie was at this challenging career crossroad. They were out to dinner and her friend brought up a company, 2U, that a mutual friend recently joined. Intrigued by the rave reviews and after doing some research, Maxie quickly determined that 2U had to be the next step in her career. She landed a job with the Nursing@Simmons Placement team, and the rest is history.
Read on to learn about Maxie’s journey at 2U and what being a No Back Row award-winner means to her.
Why did you join 2U? What is it about the company that sparked your interest?
I trust people who have been in this industry to be real about it. There are aspects of online education that can be incredibly negative, and until you actually work in the space, you can't really know what the experience will be like. Having two friends speak so highly of the company was the initial spark of interest.
The job/culture research I conducted after my first conversation fueled that fire. The diversity of opportunities to learn a different approach to online education and be impactful in, frankly, a more thoughtful way was a huge motivator as well.
The home run was my in-person interview. Sitting across from people who were clearly experts in what they were doing and listening to them talk about the job in a way that was real and genuinely showed true excitement for the work to be done was refreshing. I found immediate support and interest in projects and ideas that I had, which was different than what I had experienced at my job at the time (and this was just in the INTERVIEW!).
So was it the mission, culture, people? It was all of them that brought me to 2U.
How would you describe your role at 2U?
I am a senior placement specialist and regional team lead for the Nursing@Simmons Placement team. I have a unique role, one that is truly the best of all worlds.
My job is to connect with healthcare facilities to secure clinical placements in order to fulfill program requirements and competencies so that Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) students leave the 2U-powered Nursing@Simmons program with a well-rounded clinical experience, pass their boards, and enter the healthcare systems as a board-certified professional. Whew...that was a sentence.
I also have the opportunity to step back from the placement side of things and support my peers through mentorship, process evaluation and improvement, team and cross-team training, and generally anything that can help a placement specialist have a better day.
I honestly love it.
What do you find most rewarding and challenging about your job?
The most rewarding thing about my job is getting to find ways to improve processes for my team, seeing the ideas and plans to fill those gaps come to fruition, and then see how they positively impact the team as a whole. I thrive on finding ways to make the job of a placement specialist easier because I know what it takes to do the job. Placement specialists wear many hats, sometimes in the same minute of the day, and, to me, there is no greater reward than doing anything possible to find a way to fully support and advocate for them to have the best processes and resources available.
The most challenging thing about my job is realizing that my immediate response to most things is, “how can I fix this right now.” The reality is that some things do not need to be fixed—they just need space to be. I think if this job, and frankly this past year, has taught me anything, it is that sometimes things are going to be challenging, and there is no amount of evaluation or process improvement that can change that.
When it comes to the people side of this job, this same concept has been a hard-learned lesson. I’ve learned, especially in the past year, that there is value in creating spaces where people can be angry, frightened, sad, frustrated, nonsensical because those are the spaces where we are real; those are the spaces where true connections are made. This is so counterintuitive to my nature as a fixer and has been such a personal challenge to remind myself to do, but it’s definitely been an incredibly rewarding one.
Out of everything you’ve done at 2U so far, what gives you the most pride?
There are a ton of things I am proud of, but I think it all boils down to relationships. I am truly proud of the relationships I have cultivated while here—both personally and professionally.
It may sound cheesy, but I could not have done half of the things I have gotten to do here at 2U unless there were trust and an understanding of who I am—and that doesn't happen without a solid relationship. I’ve been able to overhaul team training processes, train other placement teams outside of Nursing@Simmons, participate in admitted student webinars and immersion weekends, create resources that have been adopted by other verticals, and more. All of these have been super cool experiences that would not be possible without strong foundational relationships.
I can’t move past this question without mentioning my team—my smaller regional team and my larger team. I can 100% say that I would not have made it through this past year without the seven people I work with daily on my regional team. They are not only amazing co-workers but humans that are some of the best people I know. My larger team has put a lot of trust into just me this past year, and it does not go unnoticed. We have all rolled through this pandemic together, supporting each other in ways that we didn't know we needed, and for 25 people to do that remotely, in all time zones, only trusted relationships allow that kind of magic to happen.
2U recently announced its 2020 No Back Row Award winners, all of whom were recognized for their commitment to one of the company’s nine Guiding Principles. What does this honor mean to you?
After the win, our Co-Founder and CEO Chip Paucek said something that really stuck with me: “This is yours. Own it.” It is incredibly easy to attribute your success to others, but it’s even easier, at least for me, to erase yourself from being attached to that success. I find it too easy to deflect and redirect these types of things away from me mainly because I find it overwhelming to accept the feelings that come with recognition like this.
Since my little chat with Chip, I have taken time to reflect on the enormity of being honored in such a way, and while it is still incredibly overwhelming, I have allowed myself to be proud. I’m proud to know that there are people in this company who think of me when imagining someone who Gives a Damn. That’s huge, and something that I will take with me, as mine.
In your own words, how would you describe the guiding principle you epitomize: Give a Damn?
Giving a damn, to me, is incredibly individualistic. It may be time, advice, knowledge, action, a verb of some kind, but I think an important component of Give a Damn is meeting each person when and where they are regardless of the circumstances. It means showing up and showing out for others in whatever ways that are needed—both easy and uncomfortable. It means putting in the work without any expectations beyond the quiet knowledge that someone benefited in some way. It means taking care of each other. To me, there is no bigger honor than to take care of someone that once took care of you.
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