By Tiffany Lu
It isn’t a glamorous name, but today’s “sewerage commission” is essential to the workings of government as a means to improve the environment and routinely clean up polluted waterways. Its partners are schools and environmental groups. Its outreach involves not only the media but every resident who lives within its service area.
In Northern New Jersey, the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (PVSC) is responsible for the environmental health and livelihood of more than 1.4 million residents in 48 different municipalities. Hollie A. Gilroy, J/MS 1985, is public affairs director for the agency.
At times one can find her in the office in Newark, but often she is out on the Passaic River and tributaries and in Newark Bay, making sure community-based river restoration programs are in place and showing the media how the PVSC’s surface skimmer vessel removes debris and litter from the water. Gilroy has had an illustrious career in the world of public communications.
Before beginning work for PVSC last year, Gilroy served New Jersey government for three years, holding chief communications jobs at the Department of Community Affairs and the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. At PVSC, she draws from all her past experience as she writes aggressive press releases that support the PVSC policy and reforms agenda. She also communicates with a variety of people, including elected officials, key stakeholders, educational groups and internal employees.
“Each day is different, ranging from writing press releases to conducting tours to administrative work.” Gilroy said.
She also administers the commission’s award-winning outreach program for schools district-wide that teaches students about environmental awareness. This allows Gilroy to work with local schools as well as environmental groups.
Gilroy has come a long way since she attended J/MS and worked as a part-time writer for the Courier News in Bridgewater, and even farther since she was the managing editor of her community college paper.
Yet Gilroy still uses the skills she learned from her stint in newspaper reporting and time in J/MS to keep on her toes in the world of public affairs.
“Having worked on newspapers, you learn how to research a subject, identify opinion leaders and synthesize a story or argument,” she said. “From reporting, my strengths in the field include meeting tight deadlines and compiling and writing succinctly to highlight the most important facts and themes.”
These skills are what helped Gilroy win numerous professional awards. They include “Communicator of the Year Award” in 1998 from the National Council for Marketing and Public Relations, and “Woman of Influence in Communications” in 2006 from the Women’s Fund of New Jersey. After J/MS, Gilroy’s interest in the field and the financial incentives led her to pursue a master’s degree from Seton Hall University in Public and Corporate Communications. “I was able to put my strategic communications skills and my government relations skills to good use,” Gilroy said. “Because I have both skill sets, I’ve been able to craft some unusual and exciting job opportunities.”
She began her career by working at Rutgers, a trade association, and two prominent lobbying firms, later serving eight years as the director of communications for the HealthCare Institute of New Jersey, a trade association for the research-based biopharmaceutical and medical technology industry. There she worked with the late Congressman from New Jersey, Bob Franks, who had become the institute’s president.
Whenever she is asked how to break into the public communications field, her advice for prospective graduate students is to “go get some real world experience first.” A higher degree is costly and time consuming, so it is better first to go into a field and know the inner-workings of it, according to Gilroy.
“Some valid work experience makes you better prepared to tackle the rigors of graduate study — with passion and commitment,” she said.
Her particular passion — in addition to being a public spokeswoman for government — is horses. Off the job, Gilroy is a frequent lecturer and experienced horse racer. She is also an American Sailing Association-certified sailor, having earned her USCG license by sailing a Hunter 36 yacht around the Caribbean in 2001. She lives in Edison with her husband, Michael Skowronski, and her son Max.