Sue Michalowski’s road to becoming the SJC Librarian was anything but straight and narrow. After graduating from Georgetown with a Masters in English, she took a job as a 7th and 8th grade Language Arts teacher at a school in the Bronx, NY. In many ways this was her dream job – teaching kids living in difficult circumstances that reading and writing could be a ticket to a better life. But in spring 1992, when the school burned down in a massive storm, that dream derailed.
She took a detour that summer, to visit a friend in London and figure out her next move. That move turned out to be working for another friend who was starting a tech company and needed someone to open a European sales and marketing office in the UK. Sue took a risk and took the job. Six years later, she had turned her home office with a fax machine and a 32bit modem, into a thriving e-commerce business with 70 employees and four offices throughout Europe. Sue’s talents seemed to be more in running a business than running a classroom. In 2000, after a merger with Getty Images, she and her growing family relocated to Arizona.
Back in the US, she wanted to return to her roots and work with children. She started volunteering at St. Maria Goretti, her kids’ preschool, where she found the next bend in her road. One day shortly after 9/11, another mom invited her to work at a non-profit start-up in Scottsdale called The Welcome to America Project. WTAP collected donations of household items and delivered them every Saturdayto new refugee families arriving from war-torn countries around the world. Over the next 7 years, Sue and her team built WTAP into an award-winning charity that has welcomed thousands of refugee families to Arizona.
In 2008, however, when Sue’s husband took a job in Chicago, her path turned again. Now in Western Springs, she became the development director at Beds Plus, but after two years she decided she wanted a job that allowed her to be home for her kids after school.
As luck would have it, while surfing the SJC website for uniform information, she spotted a notice – the school was looking for a new librarian. She knew that this was a radical change from the work she had done so far. She also felt sure that she was being called to do this job. She asked her family and former colleagues what they thought. They all agreed that this was her destiny.
Sue started her eighth year as the SJC Librarian this fall. She has loved every minute. “It took me a few years to get comfortable calling myself a librarian,” she says. “It was such a massive shift in my identity. But the work is so rewarding – I think I may have the greatest job in the world.”
Sue says she now has one goal that drives her work: to inspire every single student to love reading. That goal has helped her build programs like One School One Book, the summer reading and writing challenge, the Caudill Awards challenge, Accelerated Reader, and the famed “treasure box” in the library. It also led her to focus most on those kids who don’t enjoy reading. In 2015, she joined the SRS team to work with small groups in 6th and 7th language arts, and she recently became a certified instructor in the Wilson Reading Program for dyslexia. She credits the Holy Spirit with guiding her journey, and thanks the students for keeping her young and happy along the way.