Executive VP MJ McMahon announces retirement plans

MJ McMahon
MJ McMahon
MJ McMahon

While one long career comes to a close as a top adviser to President John Haeger at Northern Arizona University, another enters a new phase by filling that leadership role.

MJ McMahon, executive vice president and chief of staff at NAU for the past 10 years, will leave her position at the end of June 2013 and fully retire by the end of that year. Sarah Bickel, who has worked at NAU more than 20 years, will become vice president in July 2013.

In a letter to faculty and staff, Haeger wrote that executive vice president McMahon had “extended NAU’s reach nationally, maintained a close collaboration with the Arizona Board of Regents and built closer ties to the Flagstaff community. I have relied on her insights and am grateful for her continual support.”

Haeger said that Bickel, who is currently associate vice president for Student Affairs, “is a trusted member of NAU’s senior staff and her long academic career has prepared her well for this important duty.”

Bickel, who came to NAU in 1991, said, “At no other point in my career would I have considered leaving student affairs, but this is a great time to take on a challenge. I am excited for the opportunity to experience the university from a new perspective.”

Sarah Bickel
Sarah Bickel

Bickel joined the NAU community as associate director of Educational Support Programs and in 1994 was promoted to chief student affairs officer. In 2002 she helped create the division of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs and served as interim vice president during the transition. Bickel has continued to lead the student affairs departments within the division since 2003.

McMahon, meanwhile, expressed satisfaction with drawing her 41-year career to a close at NAU.

“I think I’ve done everything I can in higher education,” McMahon said. Of the past 10 years, she said, “My role in supporting President Haeger with his initiatives has been satisfying for me, so I’m ending my career at a high point.”

McMahon earned a bachelor’s degree from DePaul University in Chicago, a master’s degree with honors in health education from Indiana University, an advanced graduate specialist certificate in administration and higher education from the University of Maryland, College Park and a doctoral degree in higher education from Nova Southeastern University.

An academic career that began in health sciences and evolved into administration took McMahon from the Midwest to Maryland, Mississippi then Arizona.

“My career has evolved based on what the institution needed and what I could offer,” McMahon said. “If you don’t step up when you can, you can’t really understand your own abilities and their importance at the institution.”

McMahon said she intends to bring her full skill set to an active retirement in Flagstaff, where she plans to volunteer extensively while spending plenty of time outdoors.

And then there are the bears.

“Everyone’s curious about that,” McMahon said of her affiliation with the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minn. She explained that bears have been a lifelong fascination rooted in her own name: McMahon in Gaelic means “great bear.” She eventually became interested in supporting education and research on black bears, and now will be part of a new speaker’s bureau at the North American Bear Center.

“It has helped me redirect my thinking to something that’s completely different from what I do at work,” McMahon said. “These last three to four years that I’ve worked with the bear center online have helped me bring balance to my life as well as working to improve life in our environment.”