Helen Antoniou McGowan knows the importance of a great mentor. She’s been lucky to have had a few throughout her career. As an assistant professor of business at Caldwell, McGowan assumes that mantle for her own young scholars.
“I say to my students, ‘You’re most likely not going to graduate and immediately land your dream job, and that’s okay. I think having the experience of working in different capacities and seeing what you like and don’t like helps shape you and builds character. Take those experiences, learn from them and find what brings you joy,’” she says.
McGowan often points to her own experience as an example. A native of New Jersey, she attended the University of Maryland for her undergraduate studies and earned a double degree in international business and government and politics. Her passion for politics runs deep and she wanted to be at the center of it, which is partially why she chose an institution in close proximity to Washington, D.C. She admits her father encouraged her to take business classes, and these complemented her studies in a practical way. “You can never go wrong with a business background. It will serve you well,” McGowan says.
She went on to Seton Hall University School of Law, earning a juris doctor. From there, she served as a judicial law clerk and then a licensed attorney at a law firm for the next decade. “I liked it a lot. It was an intense experience. I worked very hard for those 10 years,” McGowan says. “I learned a lot about myself and the practice of law.”
However, she recalls some of the challenges that came with the job, such as being a woman in a predominantly male environment. One time at a deposition, she was mistaken for a court reporter. McGowan also had two children along the way and often couldn’t attend happy hours or golf outings, if she was even invited. That’s where the inspiring female mentors came into significant play and helped show her how to balance quality of life. “That’s how I found my voice and figured it out.”
The working mom added to her already full plate the position of adjunct professor of business at Caldwell University. McGowan knew the job would be a lot of hard work, but she couldn’t let the opportunity pass. “I knew I wanted to teach. I love mentoring. I love the law. I was getting tired of the grind,” she recalls. “It just felt like everything was falling into place.” Two years later, she left the law firm. “I’m taking what I know about the law and teaching it. This is better.”
McGowan has now been part of the Caldwell community for almost eight years and says this is her dream job. “I love being a part of [the students’] journey and encouraging them to be their best selves,” she says.
She helps her students do that by drawing from the work of the Sisters of St. Dominic. “I connect with their mission of social justice and climate change. They are the real deal. I love that,” McGowan says. “I teach law classes and ethics classes. A major theme is corporate social responsibility. When you’re in the business world, are you living it? Are you acting in a way that’s responsible? Are you using your powers for good? The Sisters are doing that. They’re inspiring, and I connect with it deeply.”
McGowan says corporate social responsibility and business ethics are some of the most important goals in the School of Business and Computer Science, calling them integral to the mission of the institution and the work of the Dominican Sisters. In fact, McGowan helped develop material for the graduate course “Business Law, Ethical Behavior, and Social Responsibility.” “It’s that tie-in, when we talk about law and ethics. They’re two distinct things. The law says you need to do this. But if you’re going to be living out in an ethical manner, you need to do more than the law dictates. It’s one of my favorite classes to teach,” she says. “We talk about how we can develop our moral
character so we’re doing the right thing.”
As the chair of the School of Business and Computer Science Assessment Committee, she is helping the University improve its courses and programs to ensure students are learning. “It means you’re measuring what you’re doing and improving on it,” says McGowan. “It’s exciting to be part of that process. We come up with new courses and new programs.”
One accomplishment the assistant professor is particularly proud of is helping co-found and advise Caldwell’s Women’s Leadership Initiative. “We hope to support our female students as they navigate the unique challenges that women face in the business world,” McGowan says.
The initiative brings in strong, influential women as guest speakers. These women take part in networking events and share their experiences of being the only female in the room. McGowan challenges the female students to think, “How do you navigate that? How can women look out for each other in those situations? If we can’t find a seat at the table, how do we build our own table?”
McGowan, who has lived this reality, says it’s crucial for women to know what to expect and discuss how to address it. “Those conversations are important. I don’t have all the answers, but it’s a start.”
She believes the earlier these discussions occur, the better. When she’s not busy dedicating time to her students, McGowan serves as a troop leader for her daughter’s Girl Scout troop. She says she considers them the Young Women’s Leadership Initiative. “All the things I do
at the university level I hope to impart on [these] young 9- and 10-year-old girls. They are our future leaders.”
Her job of mentoring, teaching, supporting and guiding others never ends, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. I love my job. I love our students. I love the people I work with. I love the institution and feel deeply connected to it.”