Alumna Shannon Maher promotes professional opportunities and inclusion for people with disabilities.
When she was younger, Shannon (Webster) Maher, Comm ’14, did not take ownership of the power of her disability.
“As someone with cerebral palsy, I was born with my disability. It’s just part of who I am,” she says. As she entered the job market after graduating from Marquette, she hoped employers “would overlook the fact that I have a hard time walking or that I use a wheelchair.”
However, once she got to work, she realized how navigating life with a disability has sharpened her communication skills, critical thinking and adaptability.
“I’ve learned critical skills that maybe other people don’t develop,” she says. “All of these things that come naturally to me don’t come naturally to everybody else.”
Maher has put those skills to use over the course of her career, starting with her first job out of college at ComEd, the power company serving northern Illinois, as a recruiting coordinator.
“It really was a crash course in recruiting, and I loved it,” she says. “I loved making the connection with people and connecting people to a job that was the right fit for them.”
At ComEd, Maher was involved with the Chicagoland chapter of Disability:IN, a nonprofit that works with the business community to advance disability inclusion. She persuaded ComEd’s leadership team to become a Disability:IN corporate partner. As she continued to promote disability inclusion at work, she also took her message to the Ms. Wheelchair Illinois pageant — and she won the title in 2017, advocating for her platform of increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
Maher’s knack for recruiting and passion for inclusion have come together in her latest career move. In 2022, she left the corporate world to start a new role as manager of Disability:IN’s NextGen Leader Initiatives. The NextGen program serves more than 300 college students and recent graduates who identify as having a disability. Participants get matched with mentors from Fortune 1000 companies and attend job-shadowing events and career-focused webinars.
“We provide mentors for these students to see themselves as professionals in the working community, contributing to society, and not just sitting on the sidelines of their life,” Maher says. “I really wish I had something like this when I was a young college student.”
These days, Maher says her path has come full circle from her start in corporate recruiting to her current role that connects students with disabilities to career resources.
“I’m helping this group of young talent see themselves as the next influencers in the boardroom, in the classroom or in whatever field that they choose. I want them to see that they can use their disabilities to their advantage,” she says.