The Evergreen State College

A Family Legacy of Giving

Marcia Mueller MES ’94 knows what it’s like to worry about not having the money to finish your college degree. The scholarship funds she’s donated make it one less thing Evergreen students have to worry about.

Marcia MuellerMarcia Mueller has incorporated her interest in the environment into her passion for photography. She’s had shows of her landscape, nature and wildlife photographs in Seattle and in Munich, Germany, and won the People’s Choice award at the Seattle Japanese Gardens first photography show. Photo credit: Janis Clark

“It took me 11 years to finish my undergraduate degree,” says Marcia Mueller. When she graduated from high school, her older brother was already in college, and her family didn’t have the means to have two kids in college at the same time. So the Green Bay native went to work for Wisconsin Bell as a telephone operator.

With money she saved working, and a small scholarship, she quit her job to start college. She studied for two years, working for the phone company in the summer. “But I decided things were moving too slowly so I quit school and went back to work,” she says. Mueller was promoted several times, eventually becoming the youngest Chief Operator in the Bell System without a degree. She managed an office of 65 people. “I soon realized I wouldn’t get much further without my degree,” she says. She returned to working fulltime as an operator at night, and earned her degree in Spanish with honors at the University of Wisconsin—Oshkosh.

Creating a scholarship at Evergreen with the matching challenge fund, provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is one way Mueller hopes to keep students in school who might otherwise drop out. “Education is important to me, and the matching grant means my gift goes twice as far,” she says. “Both my brother and I dropped out more than once to stop and work so we had enough money to finish college. If I can help someone so they don’t have to drop out to earn money for tuition, that’s what I want to do.”

Mueller’s brother has always been an inspiration to her. “My brother was also my best friend,” she says. “If he had 50 cents and someone needed it, he’d give it.” Capt. Craig Mueller, a commercial airline pilot, was nearly killed in a horrific accident in 1998 when he was run down on the tarmac by ground equipment while waiting for a crew bus. He was never able to fly again, but he became a philanthropist, making significant donations to his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. After his death in 2007, Marcia has been honored to present his scholar- ships to more than 100 students so far, and it’s inspired her to give as well.

Mueller earned her Master’s in Environmental Studies from Evergreen at age 50. “And it changed my life,” she says. “I loved Evergreen! I was able to do fantastic internships where I could earn credit for doing meaningful work.” She focused on water resource policy, working with the State Association of Counties, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and the state health department. After graduating, she took a job with the health department, managing the state’s surveillance program to prevent lead poisoning in children. After 10 years, she started her own environmental consulting business and also worked with EPA’s Region 10 Lead Program.

Because of her career and interests in environmental studies, and because she sees so many career opportunities for today’s students, that’s the field she chose for her scholarship. “It’s limitless,” she says. “People are finally getting the picture that global warming is real, and there is so much environmental research, planning and action that needs to be done to help prevent or reverse it. The opportunities are there.”

In addition to her scholarship gifts, Mueller also has included Evergreen in her will, so more students will benefit after she is gone. Education was extremely important to her family—her father, an Air Force veteran, was only 16 credits shy of finishing college when WWII interrupted. “Even though he had a very successful life, I know he regretted that,” she says. “I don’t have children of my own, so why not help someone else? Too many families struggle to put their kids through college. My brother recognized that need. What a legacy he left—a college education for kids in perpetuity. It’s important to give back to institutions that have made a significant difference in your life.”

For Mueller, it’s also important to give where the need is greatest. “We need to give where we can really make a difference,” she says. “I know that Evergreen is a young institution and doesn’t have a substantial scholarship fund yet. Only a small percentage of students receive scholarships because there isn’t money available. It’s up to alumni to change that and pay it forward. Evergreen is such a quality institution, with so many leaders in their fields. The more we can give, the more world changers we’ll gain.”