August 31, 2018
We asked Jill Leauber Marsteller ’78 to reminisce on her time as a student, alumna and faculty/staff member, and share with us her insight for the future.
Jill Leauber Marsteller ’78 is not your average Ursinus Bear; albeit she is one of many who have gone on to do the incredible. In her roughly 45 years associated with Ursinus College—as student, alumna and professional—Marsteller has helped change the Advancement industry while immersing herself in the college’s liberal arts academic and alumni communities. Twenty-eighteen is also a special year for Marsteller. The 40th reunion of her graduating Class of 1978 at Homecoming as well as her semi-retirement from her successful career in college advancement and leadership are approaching. With these incredible milestones within arm’s reach, we asked Marsteller to reminisce on her time as a student, alumna and faculty/staff member, and share with us her insight for the future.
A Brief History:
As a high school senior, Marsteller had believed that she had found her dream role–playing a nightclub singer in her senior class play. Between sets at rehearsal the gal playing the lead, Carol Nistok, told her about Ursinus College. Marsteller knew that she wanted to be a teacher since she was four years old. Knowing that her high school Geometry teacher Toni Potter was an alumna (and former Bear mascot at football games), she decided to look into Ursinus. “Miss Potter was a great teacher, so I figured if Ursinus had a strong English program and turned out teachers like her, I should go visit,” explained Marsteller. Although she looked at other schools, the moment Marsteller stepped onto Ursinus’s campus and looked around, she knew the college was it. About four years later, she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English, cum laude, with honors in English and her teaching degree.
While at Ursinus, the academic dean and some of Marsteller’s professors, especially Dr. Peter Perreten, who taught English, urged her to become a professor herself. She seriously considered it, even taking the time to work with the academic dean to map out her future. Her first attempt to become a professor did not go as planned, but Marsteller approached her dreams from a different angle and chose to complete her Master of English at Villanova University in 1980.
After the birth of her first child in 1983, Marsteller volunteered with the Ursinus English department. This work actually gave her the opportunity to learn how to use a computer! Several months later, the academic dean who had once pushed her to be a professor in the first place died and, ironically, Marsteller was asked to take over his English Composition courses. She was instead directed towards spearheading the college’s Annual Fund and quickly accepted the position, and thus began her new career path.
When she found it difficult to explain her profession to her children, she told them she was a modern day Robin Hood. She spent the next eleven years doing various aspects of advancement work. She created and ran the first young alumni program as well as the now trademark annual event UC By the Sea, and played an essential role in two comprehensive fundraising campaigns. She left Ursinus for fourteen years before returning to the college in 2009 to serve as the Senior Vice President of Advancement, and has been in the position since. When asked about why she continues to choose Ursinus, Marsteller wrote: “Ursinus has remained true to its core of the liberal arts, while being agile enough to adapt to a changing world. We walk the walk and we have turned out happy, high-achieving alumni–especially in the last couple of decades. Who wouldn’t choose that? In addition, I love helping students and seeing the impact philanthropy can have on people, programs and places,” she said.
A Journey to the Past:
Homecoming 2018 is rapidly approaching and as Marsteller works hard with the rest of the Advancement team to host another successful weekend, she is looking forward to reuniting with others from the Class of 1978. Looking back on past Homecomings, she thought fondly of the many memories she had as a student. “Homecoming was a very exciting and unifying time,” said Marsteller, “and there were many activities that went on. Banners supporting Homecoming Queen candidates hung in Wismer, cars with candidates and representatives of the fraternity that nominated them would be driven right on the football field!” Marsteller added that alumni visited former professors, sororities hosted alumni luncheons, fraternities hosted black-tie “dinner dances” and sold “Mums for Moms” for mothers of student-athletes to wear, and students and alumni would fill the stands for the huge football and field hockey Homecoming games.
Marsteller herself was an honorary member of the sorority Omega Chi and enjoyed sharing Homecoming with the many alumnae that returned to tour their old houses and spend time with their sisters. What she looked forward to most, however, was reuniting with friends, peers and old professors each year at the return of fall. Marsteller explained, “I always thought that Homecoming would be a ‘Welcome Back Home’ for alumni… and since college did not start until September, I thought we would always associate the turning of the leaves, the mum display at Ott’s on Route 29 and the crisp air of the season with the memories of Ursinus around Homecoming.”
Ursinus’s Homecoming has evolved since those of the 1970s–no longer do cars drive onto Patterson Field; “dinner dances” have since turned into dance parties; sorority luncheons have turned into campfires, BBQs and brunch on the lawns of houses on Main Street. Homecoming and Family Weekend have also been combined for the first time this year. However, the Class of 1978 looks forward to celebrating together like many of the other reunion classes returning to campus on September 21. Marsteller particularly enjoyed planning this reunion, stating that “the Class of 1978 has a very enthusiastic reunion committee–all of us were friends on campus, making it special from the start.” As noted by Marsteller, the population of the student body in the 1970s was between 900 and 1100, making it even more likely that an undergraduate would know everyone on campus, so classes were more tightknit than they are now. When asked what the Class of 1978 was planning to do on Homecoming Weekend, Marsteller shared that they would be participating in typical events like the Grizzly Gala, the reunion brunch, checking out the new Innovation and Discovery Center and sporting events. However, the Class of 1978 plans to enjoy time alone at the Bay Pony Inn for a dance party with songs from their era and time with close friends.
Looking Forward to Today:
Ursinus is an exceedingly special place to be and Marsteller could not agree more. Looking at the status of the college and the future, she thinks that the extended Ursinus community has a lot to look forward to, with new buildings, a new generation of committed professors and a continued effort to engage with alumni, particularly GOLDs. She is also specifically excited about the future of the student body.
“Every year, the students are more impressive–bright, genuine, committed to doing good in the world, and extremely entrepreneurial and innovative,” exclaimed Marsteller. She sees students becoming actively engaged with their own learning with the help of strong student-professor interactions and a new Core curriculum. For example, with construction completed on the Innovation and Discovery Center, a connector between Pfahler and Thomas Halls, students and professors will further be able to take the liberal arts to the next degree by utilizing state-of–the-art-labs, shifting classrooms, study areas and beyond to constantly create and engage with each other to envision new and improved ideas. The Innovation and Discovery Center, endearingly known as the IDC, would not have been possible without funds from the Keep the Promise campaign, a large-scale, multi-year fundraising effort spearheaded by Marsteller and her team and contributed to by many, including alumni.
As an alumna, Marsteller wishes for all other alumni to have a deep connection to Ursinus and its commitment to liberal arts academia. She also hopes to see alumni, especially GOLDs, continue to pay their experiences forward both philanthropically and through Ursinus community engagement. However, Marsteller also wishes to see what departments like Advancement can do in return for alumni to keep them coming back to the place they once called home. “I would love for younger alums especially to boldly proclaim that they went to Ursinus,” Marsteller discussed. “I think Ursinus alumni wish to be treated as they were as students, which is in a very personal way, so the college is listening to our alumni in all regions nationally, and through programs like GOLD to try to provide the opportunities that they want.”
As Marsteller wraps up this chapter in her Ursinus career, she moves on to consulting for the college, continuing her work with Keep the Promise, among other projects, such as preparing for the college’s upcoming Sesquicentennial celebration. “I plan on being engaged a lot–no matter what, I’m a Bear for Life!” exclaimed Marsteller.
After going through Ursinus as student, alumna, parent and professional, Marsteller has one thing to say; “At the time I stepped on campus as a student, I had no idea that I would spend twenty plus years as a professional at Ursinus, but I knew I would always be very connected to the college that changed my life.”
By: Emily Cooper ’15