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All about the Students

Written by Mike Thee
April 8, 2015

If you're looking for a reason to support this year's Faculty and Staff Giving Campaign, Mary Sepulveda and Bernie Liang offer nearly 7,300 of them. When Sepulveda, associate librarian, and Liang, director of student activities, talk about why they love working at Seattle University or why they agreed to serve as campaign co-chairs, it's the students who are always front and center. Here are some excerpts from a recent conversation with Sepulveda and Liang. 

The Commons:  So aside from not being able to say no, why did you agree to serve as co-chairs?    

Bernie Liang: I care about this community. I care about the experience of students, primarily, and also the faculty and staff. I think we offer something really unique here and I think it's something we should be proud of. I think because we live in Seattle the way we show our pride is sort of a little more subdued, but I am proud to be part of this community and proud of what we are able to accomplish and the type of education the students get here, the camaraderie among the staff. We have this mentality that we're all in this together. I appreciate that. It doesn't exist everywhere.   

Mary Sepulveda: It was a little hard for me to say "yes" because I'm not good at asking people for something but like Bernie, I care deeply about our community.  For thirty years I've engaged with colleagues- both Jesuit and lay people- at all levels of university life and felt enriched by the relationships I formed.   My three children and husband are Seattle U alumnae and all had positive educational experiences here with amazing faculty members. I appreciate working with all my library colleagues and I especially enjoy time spent with students - whether diving into a research topic or the last minute frazzle of identifying a citation for a term paper - even those crazy moments - is a life-giving part of my job.  Participating in our university life is personally fulfilling to me.  I choose to give back to the university because giving is part of community life - and it's part of who I am.   

The Commons: Why should a faculty or staff person contribute to the campaign? 

Mary Sepulveda: For me, there is a desire to help students now and for the future. A student speaker (whose name I cannot recall) once suggested to us - as faculty - that we should strive to "be memorable" to at least one student. I never forgot that invitation.  I think all staff and faculty can touch the life of a student - be memorable - by making a contribution- large or small-  to an area of the campaign that feels right for them.   

Bernie Liang: In a lot of ways we say that things are all about the students and I think this is our way of putting our money where our mouth is. I think this is one way to say, "This is how I want to support our students." For me, it's that extra bump to say my small contribution helps me feel like I'm making that difference. (By directing my gift to a particular purpose), I can see or feel connected to something that I know makes a difference to the students. I like that option-that we can say I'd like my gift to go to the library or scholarships, or something else. That way I know it's going to something I believe in.   

Mary Sepulveda: I think people always feel better about contributing when they can name something that means something to them. This really is not about the dollar amount you contribute. The dollar amount is not the point. The point is participation. The point is saying yes to our students in whatever way you want to support them and in whatever arena you want to choose, whether it's the library or the choir or scholarships or athletics. You can specify where your donation goes. For me it's scholarships.   

The Commons: What drew you to Seattle University in the first place? 

Mary Sepulveda: I have a family legacy here. It started with my aunt, Dr. Davies, who was an economics professor in Albers, and we had a very close family relationship with her. Oftentimes she would bring me and my sisters to campus which was pretty minimal in those days!  My favorite story is being in Pigott, and I think I was seven. The building had just opened in 1957 and I wrote my initials in the corner of the blackboard and I'd ask my aunt, "Did you go back to that classroom on Monday and see my initials?" My brother was an SU graduate. My sister worked in the Library for a while and when she left her position in 1970 I was hired. The "new" Lemieux Library building was only five years old at that time!  The librarians that I worked with encouraged me to pursue a master's degree in librarianship - which launched a fulfilling professional career for me.  I was nurtured at Seattle University and I grew up here -- and the University grew up and changed too - in becoming more visible in Seattle, in the beauty of the campus and in the growth of programs and faculty. This place means family to me.  This is a real home for me. It sounds corny but it really is. 

Bernie Liang: I went here as a graduate student in the Student Development Administration program as 1999. I'm originally from New Jersey. I was working in admissions at a small Lutheran liberal arts college in Pennsylvania (Susquehanna University). (Because the schools represented at the fair were grouped alphabetically), I was right next to Seattle University. So I started speaking with an alum, Megan Diefenbach. I got a lot of Seattle University energy from Megan and I got latched in early. So I came up here. I didn't know it was Jesuit. The person I interviewed with asked, "How would you feel being at a Catholic, Jesuit university?" And I said, "'Jesuit'-I don't really know what that means, but you said 'Catholic' and I was raised Catholic so I can at least understand it from that perspective." But I've really grown to love the Jesuit pedagogy of education. In my second year of grad school, I got a full-time job as hall director of Xavier, so I was here for three years as a hall director. 

Then after four years at SU, I left and worked at other institutions for eight years before coming back. I've seen a lot of changes at SU since I first got here as a student and it's been a pleasure to watch Seattle University sort of grow into itself.   

The Commons: What is it about this place that gets you out of bed in the morning? 

Mary Sepulveda: That's easy for me. Coming to this building (Lemieux Library and Learning Commons) gets me out of bed in the morning. I had the privilege of working with library colleagues for several years on designing this new building. I love this building and more importantly the students love this building. It is a place that makes a visible contribution to academics at the university. It brings students together with learning resources and their own colleagues and faculty and it's a vibrant, technology-rich learning environment that reflects the best of university academic life.  It's a great place to be every day.   

Bernie Liang: I like that we-at least in my office in Student Activities-are really in it with the students. I love that environment because they see us as colleagues sometimes-that we're not sort up here and they're down here and we're saying, "Do this!" We build good relationships with the students and I think that makes a difference. I think that's what the students are hungry for-someone to kind of walk with them as opposed to telling them what to do. And I think we do that throughout the campus. It's a reciprocal relationship. I learn a lot about the world through our students' eyes, and they teach me lessons on how to be more effective. I feel enriched by that experience. And I love that every day is a different day here. We've created an environment of challenge and support. We're not afraid to ask the tough questions of ourselves and we've encouraged the students to ask the tough questions.   

Mary Sepulveda: I like that. I learn something new every day and that is a wonderful environment to be in because you're learning with the students. Everyone has the potential to be a student and a teacher at the same time. 

Bernie Liang: A lot of people outside of higher ed, when I tell them what I do they say, "Oh, that's fun." And I say, yes, it is fun, but there's a lot of challenge that comes with this role and I like the challenge. I like that we're creating an environment that's going to be better for the students. I feel like every day I'm asking myself the question how can we make this better, or how can we help students navigate this system better or feel more like they're part of a community. 

The Commons: It's clear that you both care a lot about Seattle U. What's your hope for the future of this university? 

Mary Sepulveda: One thing that I would hope is that the university is able to maintain an economic framework that allows  accessibility for a variety of students for all genders, ages, races, creeds, because as we know in higher education, people are getting priced out. We need to keep student scholarships funded because we need to keep this university alive and vibrant into the next decades. 

Bernie Liang: I'd like to see more people recognizing SU for the great place that it is. I don't get what people don't get about Seattle U. This is a great school in the middle of Seattle. We produce awesome graduates-everyone says that all the time. They have a great experience. They experience both campus life and the city life and they come out being extraordinary social justice-minded people in our society. 

The Commons: What do you like to do in your free time? 

Mary Sepulveda: What free time? (Laughs)  

Bernie Liang: It's a hard question right now because the spring quarter is always like watching a tidal wave from the shore. It's coming and I can't do anything about it. 

Mary Sepulveda: Free time means planning and looking forward to my next best trip!  This spring my husband and I will be off for a quick trip to New York City for a Broadway play and the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon - kind of a crazy itinerary that might surprise my colleagues. 

Bernie Liang: Well, I'd have to say that I'm just coming off of Emerald City Comicon so I guess I'm embracing my inner geek. I loved that experience even though it was totally overwhelming at times. There's a lot of things I used to do. Like I used to practice a lot more yoga than I do now and I used to sail a lot more than I do now. 

Mary Sepulveda: I used to be able to say that I play soccer, and people would say, "Wow, really?" 

Bernie Liang: You still can! 

Mary Sepulveda: Well, with my bad knees I'm a little past it now.