"It's not just about my kid."
Evergreen parent Janis Mercker created the Les Purce Scholarship Fund to help make education possible for lots of people’s kids.
Janis Mercker and her family have a long history with higher education in Washington state. She was the third generation to attend Washington State University, and each of her three children attended a state college, including her son Michael, who graduated from Evergreen in 2004. “The variety among public colleges in Washington is great,” she says. “For Michael, Evergreen’s emphasis on studying across disciplines, smaller class sizes and seminars offered the kind of engagement he needed.”
Mercker earned her bachelor’s degree in science at WSU, then went to Yale for graduate school in physiology and biophysics. Realizing that she wanted more person-to-person contact than she would get from lab work, she went to medical school at the University of Washington. “I looked at a lot of different specialties, but I found radiology most intriguing because it encompasses so many different areas,” she says.
She completed her fellowship training in pediatric radiology at Seattle Children’s Hospital, spending 10 years there before moving into the field of breast imaging, which was still in its infancy. “I found such a great connection working with women patients, looking for cancer or reassuring and educating, feeling it was worthwhile,” she says about her more than 20 years in the field. Semi-retired now, she works part-time as a radiologist at Northwest Hospital’s Seattle Breast Center.
Evergreen’s focus on flexible and lifelong learning resonates with Mercker, who did a lot of independent study in medical school and faces constant change in her career. “Everything I do now didn’t exist when I was in training,” she says. “The basic science is still there, but our understanding and application of it has increased and the technology has changed remarkably. With how fast things are changing, one must be flexible and know how to learn and gain knowledge. There’s a need for open, innovative people who can bridge disciplines. In today’s complex world ongoing learning is critical, and when you’re more engaged in your learning like is emphasized at Evergreen, you are more likely to be self directed and feel rewarded.”
Mercker is a passionate advocate for education, and for Evergreen. “I went through a learning process myself when Michael started at Evergreen,” she says. “Even growing up here in western Washington, I hadn’t realized what a special place was just down the road.” She got involved with the college’s parents committee, and joined the Foundation Board of Governors in 2002.
In 2011, she established the Les Purce Scholarship Fund, honoring Evergreen President Thomas L. “Les” Purce’s service and dedication to the college. Donations to the fund will be matched by the new Gates Matching Challenge scholarship program. The scholarship will benefit a wide range of students who are at risk of not entering or staying in college, and need financial support to finish their degrees. Mercker recognizes how fortunate she was to come from a family that supported education, and wants to meet the needs of students who don’t have the same advantage and need financial support and encouragement to reach their potential.
And as a parent of an Evergreen alumnus, her commitment goes beyond simply paying tuition for her own student. She believes that supporting education is an investment that improves all other aspects of society and decreases future costs of problems that arise when education isn’t available. “It’s not just about my kid. The more engaged and productive everyone is, the better off we all are. With continuing economic challenges and cuts to higher education,” she stresses, “the burden on students keeps growing, and private funding becomes even more important.
“There are so many promising leaders and innovators who just haven’t had the opportunity to find and pursue rewarding goals,” she says. “I’m amazed at those who do overcome all these obstacles to education. Where do they get the strength and motivation to do it? It often takes just a special interaction with one person to spark that interest and confidence and allow those opportunities.”
Donate to the Les Purce Scholarship Fund today!