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Faculty, alumnus Mark Bilkey on why Adler is ‘the gift that keeps giving’

Stories | 05.10.23

Changemaker logoEditor’s Note: Adler is hosting its first-ever Giving Day on May 10-11, an opportunity for the community to support the changemakers and visionaries of tomorrow by donating to the Adler Fund or one of its scholarship funds.

Mark Bilkey, Psy.D., never considered returning to Adler University for a career in higher education. After all, he’d been a practicing clinician in Southern California for more than a decade.

Dr. Bilkey, who earned a master’s degree in 1992 and a doctorate in clinical psychology in 1997 from the Chicago Campus, remembers when he once tried teaching. It was a class for older adults in Palm Springs, California.

Photo of Dr. Bilkey

Photo of Dr. Bilkey in 1990 as a student worker helping Adler University move campus locations.

“I was so nervous that one of the students asked me, ‘Are you feeling OK, Dr. Bilkey?’” he said. “I was sweating so profusely. I told myself, this is not for me.”

But in 2009, when he was offered an opportunity to return to Adler to start a graduate program focused on gerontological counseling, which offers mental health assistance to older adults, he took it.

“The University always brought me joy,” said Dr. Bilkey, who today is the associate chair of the Department of Counseling and Integrated Programs. “I believe that the time I spent at Adler as a student has impacted every hour and every day of my career and life.”

Dr. Bilkey saw his return as a faculty member as a way to return the favor.

“I’m now sharing the education I received by training the next generation of social justice-focused practitioners,” he said. “What I enjoy most now is giving the gift that keeps giving.”

Second career

Prior to his time as an Adler student, Dr. Bilkey worked in the emerging field of artificial intelligence in robotics and machine vision technology in the manufacturing industry in Detroit.

“It was the ‘80s and the early days of AI,” he said. “It was exciting, yet I was very unfulfilled.”

He took a Strong Interest Inventory test at his undergraduate alma mater — Wayne State University — that found he should work in a field that helps individuals, specifically older individuals.

With the help of a mentor, Gisela Labouvie-Vief, Ph.D., who was a gerontologist focused on issues within aging, he chose to become a gerontological counselor. In his quest for finding the right graduate school, Dr. Bilkey chose the one that aligned the best with his goals and values, Adler.

“I was attracted to what Alfred Adler taught, wrote and spoke about,” he said. “He was a man of the people, a doctor of the people. The key for me was the focus on social connectedness, community, and its direct connection to health and wellness.”

Dr. Bilkey conducted his internship in Santa Monica, California, at Senior Health and Peer Counseling. He then migrated to Palm Springs where he met his Adlerian mentor Adele K. Davidson, Ed.D., who was inspirational and encouraging in getting his Psy.D. degree finished.

In 2009, while attending the Society on Aging Conference, he learned that Adler was looking to start a program to help train graduate students on the mental health needs of older individuals. He’s been at Adler ever since.

Staying connected

After his return to Adler, Dr. Bilkey took on another role — this time, as president of the University’s Alumni Association in 2010.

“I didn’t just get my education and go away,” he said. “Adler is a place that gives the gift that keeps on giving, which helps create health and well-being through education.”

It’s important for alums, like himself, to stay connected with the University and the greater Adler community.

“I go back to what my grandmother used to say, ‘Two heads are better than one,’” Dr. Bilkey said. “I didn’t know what that meant as an 8-year-old. But I learned it was important to let things out, that two people were stronger than one. It’s important for us as individuals to stay connected and that’s what Adler teaches.”

Dr. Bilkey has since grown to enjoy teaching and excelling in it. He received the 2021 Adler University Excellence in Teaching Award.

But helping Adler University train future mental health practitioners doesn’t have to involve returning as a faculty member either. It can be as simple as making a small donation or mentoring to current students.

“We have a lot of alums in the Chicagoland area who are practicing in the field or in administrative roles who can mentor interns or practicum students and help the next generation of mental health providers,” he said. “Please stay connected.”

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