Alum Helps SDSU Through Newly-Developed Talent
As a kid growing up in the Midwest, Mary Lawlor (’83) had always enjoyed sports, so when it came time to choose a field of study at the University of Wisconsin, recreation resource management seemed like a good fit. But after an internship working in parks through the department of forestry, she made an honest admission to herself.
Mary Lawlor ('83) volunteers with SDSU's College of Education and Compact for Success.
“I didn’t like working outside, especially in bad weather,” she says. “I wanted to stay indoors.”
After graduating, she moved to San Diego and sought work with the city, but times were tough and jobs were scarce.
“So my backup plan was to get into education,” she recalls. “I came to State and the closest thing I could get my credential in was physical education because of the classes I had taken as an undergraduate, so I took the physical education practicum classes and passed a couple of tests and got my credential and that's how I got into education."
BEING THE BOSS
And once Lawlor was in the field, that’s where she remained, moving through a series of positions from teaching to administration.
"I found I really liked working in schools and being with young people,” she says. “I was happy I stayed in education.
"When I started out being a teacher I knew I wanted to get into management because I was always interested in being in charge. You know, I want to be the boss in whatever I do," she laughs.
That’s how she eventually found her way to the position of principal at Chula Vista’s Eastlake High School in the Sweetwater Union district. It was a job in a school and a district she loved, so when faced with the task of cutting more programs or people due to a shrinking budget, she decided it was time to move on.
"Everybody's wondering what's going to happen and what's going to be sustainable and what's not,” she explains. “That's one of the reasons I retired when I did was because I knew that the schools were not going to be able to be sustained the way they have been and so I didn't really want to have to dismantle my school.”
Alumni Association Lifetime Member Mary Lawler checks out the paver she sponsored in the rotunda of the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center.
SOMETHING TOTALLY DIFFERENT
With an impressive list of accomplishments and without the demands of a full-time career, Lawlor reached out to SDSU. As a lifetime member of the Alumni Association, she had stayed connected to the university and had always been a generous donor to different campus entities, but now she had time to support San Diego State in a different way.
"I said, 'I'll volunteer. I don't have anything I'm working on,'” Lawlor recalls. “So I started writing stories about College of Education students.”
Lawlor began interviewing students and creating profiles that appear in the “Dean’s Update.”
“What's exciting for me is that I get to talk to these young people and hear their backgrounds,” she says. “They all have a different background or a different path that they've chosen and it's kind of interesting to me to see how life leads them in a direction.”
Lawlor says she never really thought of herself as a writer or realized she possessed the skill, but was inspired by a friend and former colleague who wrote a book and became a blogger after he retired from teaching.
“I saw that he did something totally different that totally changed his life for the better and so I thought, 'Well, I could do something like that, too,’” she says. “Then I was thinking about being a freelance writer, but I don't know.
"I think the stories are interesting, but I don't know if anybody else does because so many times you wonder if anybody reads anything you write. When I was a teacher I was a yearbook adviser for about seven or eight years and I chose to do the yearbook because I knew people kept the yearbook and looked at it whereas with the newspaper, you don't even know if they read it. It’s a question that's always been of interest to me: You write, but who reads?"
In addition to her work with the College of Education, Lawlor writes similar stories for SDSU’s Compact for Success
, a program under which qualified students from the Sweetwater Union High School District are guaranteed admission to SDSU. Her profiles appear on the program’s website and she also writes grants seeking funding for the Compact.
Compact for Success Director Lou Murillo describes volunteer Mary Lawlor as "exceptional."
“When Mary called and said, ‘I want to volunteer,’ our prayers were answered,” says Compact for Success Director Lou Murillo. “She’s been invaluable for us. She allows us to tell our story in a much more colorful and effective way, so that when we catch the attention of a foundation that might be interested in funding us, they’re more apt to give us a second look.
“She’s exceptional. She’s a very good writer who pays attention to detail. It doesn’t take very long to see that she has a passion for helping students. I’m blessed that she found us.”
Between the College of Education, the Compact for Success and similar work she does for the Sweetwater District, it might seem the former principal is constantly busy. But she says the work is a stroll in the park compared to her old job.
“I stay busy, but it’s not like I was accustomed to working as a high school principal 24-7,” Lawlor explains. “That’s day and night, night and day.”
THE MODEL ALUMNA
At SDSU, no one is demanding that kind of commitment from a volunteer. If Lawlor accomplishes more than most, it’s because she’s capable and dedicated.
College of Education Dean Ric Hovda says Mary Lawlor is a "model of an active and engaged alumna."
"We're so grateful for Mary's generosity,” says College of Education Dean Ric Hovda. “She supports the College of Education both monetarily and with her time and considerable talent. She is the very model of an active and engaged alumna."
For Lawlor, who is all in when it comes to San Diego State, the question is why there aren’t legions of alumni just like her.
"It's very interesting that I know a lot of people who have degrees from San Diego State who have no desire to be involved or donate or anything like that,” she marvels. “To me that's kind of odd because where I grew up, when you go to college, that's your college for life. You have to make sure you give back for what they've given you - your education, your future, things like that."
To other Aztec alumni who find themselves with time on their hands, Lawlor offers this advice:
"I would say, 'Get involved,' she advises. “For me it was making that connection with the College of Education and the Compact for Success that was my entryway to having a sense like I belonged and could contribute something.
“I don't know, I guess that's just part of my nature that I wanted to help out."
Make an on-line gift to SDSU today!