Transported by education
Despite significant roadblocks, this alumna reached her destination: Today, she’s the CFO of RTD.
By Dan Vaccaro
If you’ve ridden the bus or light rail in Denver, then you know Heather McKillop’s work.
While she doesn’t drive the vehicles, she is a driving force behind the scenes at Denver’s Regional Transportation District, or RTD, as it’s known locally.
As the chief financial officer and assistant general manager of finance and administration, McKillop is responsible for the financial sustainability and administrative functioning of metro Denver’s rapidly expanding public transit system.
And while RTD has a reputation for smooth service, McKillop’s own trip to the C-suite hasn’t come without its share of roadblocks.
McKillop had a child at 17, shortly after graduating from high school in 1984. Despite stellar grades and big ambitions, the small-town Wyoming native recalls feeling lost.
“When I got pregnant, I felt like my life was kind of over,” she said. “I was close to becoming a statistic. I can honestly say that college saved me.”
McKillop moved to Denver a few months later with a clear goal: to get a bachelor’s degree in accounting.
She enrolled in a suburban community college, in large part because she was intimidated to study downtown. A year later, she transferred to MSU Denver. To make ends meet, she took a temp job at the Colorado Department of Transportation.
In the end, it took her 11 years to get that bachelor’s degree. She got married during that time, became the mother of three stepchildren and continued to work full time for the state.
“I picked classes based on the skills I needed to move up at my job,” she said. “I kept getting promoted, and those responsibilities, plus being a mother of four, made me move slower than most students. But MSU Denver never gave up on me. It was the only school for me.”
McKillop graduated in 1996. Two years later, the young woman who started as a temp worker, intimidated by the big city, became the CFO of CDOT. She was only 31 years old.
McKillop has worked for multiple organizations since, for the most part in the transportation sector. She started at RTD in 2015.
The best part of her current job: “I get to go out every day and see buses run, trains run, and know that I’m a part of providing a good service. I take a lot of pride in that.”
As someone who has arrived at her destination, McKillop is often asked by young people for advice on reaching their career goals.
She always tells them the same thing: “Education is the key. That’s what saved me. Finish high school, then college. Give yourself a goal, take it step by step, class by class, and never give up.”