Fall 2011 | Article by Robert M. Morris
One year ago, during the School of Science and Engineering's Advisory Board reception (homecoming weekend), Bill and Marta Marko found themselves deeply and unexpectedly moved as they listened to a young Cell and Molecular Biology student describe the world of opportunity that a Tulane scholarship had opened for her.
In October, the Markos will be in attendance at the same Board reception again – this time, as benefactors of one of the School of Science and Engineering's newest scholarships.
After graduating from Tulane in 1981 with a Mechanical Engineering degree and marrying Marta, his high-school sweetheart, Bill took night classes at Tulane to earn a Master's in Petroleum Engineering in 1983 and went to work in the oil industry. Over the years, the young engineer became what he calls an “accidental investment banker” as he specialized in the acquisition of oil-and-gas properties, a career path that led him to his present role as managing director at Jefferies, a firm with one of the largest oil-and-gas investment banking practices in the world.
The reorganization of Tulane's science and engineering curriculum in 2006 and the dissolution of his old major left Bill “disgruntled,” he said, but then two events changed his outlook. The first was President Scott Cowen describing the efforts necessary to rebuild Tulane Post-Katrina. The second was Kat Engleman, Senior Director of Development for the School of Science and Engineering, who introduced the Markos to Dean Nick Altiero on a trip to Houston. They were taken by Altiero's blend of academic brilliance and down-to-earth charm, and they were won over by his infectious enthusiasm for the school and its mission.
“We've been really impressed with what Tulane has done post-Katrina. By any measure you talk about, the school is just outstanding,” Bill said. “We love New Orleans. It's in our soul, and Tulane is one of the really important elements of the city's recovery.”
Gradually, the Markos became more involved in the school, with Bill eventually joining the Dean's Advisory Board, and it was in that capacity that they attended the Board and Distinguished Benefactors Reception at the 2010 Homecoming and heard a presentation by scholarship recipient Carrie Malcom (who has since graduated summa cum laude with a Master's in Cell and Molecular Biology).
“We were completely impressed by this young lady,” Marta recollected in a recent phone conversation, “How poised she was, how much she really valued her education, and how much she valued that she was a recipient of a scholarship.”
“What came through with her is the quality that the school has been putting out,” Bill added. “If people like her are able to get an opportunity like this, they can contribute in multiples back to society and back to the school.”
The Markos decided to name the scholarship in memory of Bill's father and his brother, a computer engineer who died in the late 1990s. Like Bill, his father earned his own engineering degrees through night classes, becoming the first in his family to attend college. He spent a long career with Chevron, teaching classes at Tulane for about four years, and passed away the same year Markos began considering the scholarship.
“It was just like, 'This is what we need to do,'” Marta recalled.
The Marko scholarship and others are crucial to the school, Altiero said, because they allow the school to recruit a stronger student body and build a corps of future leaders who will give back – regardless of their financial circumstances when they are at Tulane.
“We don't want money to stand in the way of a really top-notch student coming to Tulane,” Altiero said. "A lot of students couldn't come to Tulane without these scholarships.”
After their initial gift establishing the scholarship and providing for the first year's award, the couple said they hope to build on it as they can. Though the Markos demurely call it a "small scholarship, in the grand scheme of things," Engleman said their gift represents precisely the kind of generosity that allows the school to grow.
“I was impressed by the amount of thought that Bill and Marta gave to wanting to help someone who has the smarts to go to Tulane but maybe didn't have the family resources,” Engleman said. “It's not the Vanderbilts or the Rockefellers, who the person on the sidewalk thinks of as traditional philanthropists who create a lot of scholarships. It's in fact generous people like the Markos.”
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