Paying it Forward

Dec 19, 2022

A Critical Thinker Whose Thirst for Learning is Unquenchable

Marcia Mueller’s life can be described as a continuous curiosity to learn new things. She has held many different jobs over the years. She worked as a telephone operator to pay for college tuition before rising through the ranks to become the youngest Chief Operator at the Wisconsin Bell.

During college, she spent two summers working in Glacier National Park, where a childhood love of the mountains blossomed into a concern for the environment that would help shape her professional and personal path. She also worked for a major airline, drafted legislation, trained Forest Service staff to conduct wolf howling surveys, and started a wildlife conservation non-profit. She is even a certified travel consultant and internationally exhibited photographer.

When alumnus Marcia Mueller MES ’94 considered making a planned scholarship gift to The Evergreen State College, the fate of the earth was top of mind.

Paying it Forward, Marcia Mueller MES ’94

But Marcia’s true-life calling can be summed up in three short words: Pay it forward. “It was a family thing,” says Marcia. “We were always taught by my parents to help other people and ‘pay it forward’.” It’s easy to imagine that those three words were on Marcia’s mind when a search for a more meaningful career brought her to Olympia and The Evergreen State College in the early nineties. Captivated immediately by the welcoming, open-minded campus community, she enrolled in the Master of Environmental Studies (MES) program—a decision that would allow her to pay it forward in more ways than she could have imagined.

Even though she was the oldest student in her cohort, Marcia recalls that she never felt out of place. Instead, she felt embraced by a learning and teaching culture that places importance on the power of critical thinking and prepares students to live in the real world.

“Evergreen is so unique,” says Marcia. “It teaches you how to learn and to listen. It focuses on you as an individual to make sure you are learning and are successful. When I think of Evergreen, I always think of professors and students who are world changers—who are working to make the world a better place—to sustain it.”

Marcia credits off-campus internships as essential parts of her education, allowing her to translate different disciplines into real-world impact. Internships with the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and the Washington State Association of Counties opened doors to opportunities for a career in environmental health at the Washington State Department of Health and prepared her to launch her own environmental consulting firm, in addition to serving as a consultant to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Through all her learning experiences, Marcia never forgot the most important lesson of her life—pay it forward. Naturally, when the time came to give back, she turned to her family for inspiration. She found a role model in her beloved brother, who had established scholarships at his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay before succumbing to his battle with cancer.

“My brother and I both struggled to afford college and dropped out several times to work and save money for tuition. We decided to make it easier for students with financial need who are at risk of dropping out. By making a scholarship legacy gift of $1.5 million to The Evergreen State College, I can support students who demonstrate an academic focus on environmental studies and indigenous arts and governance as a way to help them change the world and pay it forward themselves someday.”

We offer our gratitude to Marcia for her generosity which will sustain the passion for learning she Evergreen students for generations to come share.