Marian Steinberg ’75 grew up on the 13th floor in a public housing complex in New York City. She recalls how, when she was small, she couldn’t reach the elevator button for her floor. Instead, she’d go to the sixth floor — the highest button she could reach — and walk the rest of the way up.
But from the projects sprang a strong, determined, intelligent woman who built a career and a life that many would envy. Sure, there were setbacks along the way. Any good success story has those. Like the time she dropped out of college as a freshman. Or when she ran away with her boyfriend, got married, and worked in doughnut shop. There was also her battle with depression. And her divorce.
Had you asked her at the time, Steinberg would have never guessed that she’d hold three college degrees, much less one day be in a position to give generously, and in perpetuity, to a college foundation.
But then there was the day Steinberg rode the subway and spotted an advertisement for a course in stenoscript, a form of shorthand. In stenoscript, it read, “If you can read this, you can get a good job.” Steinberg signed up. And she did get a good job.
She landed a position as a faculty secretary at SUNY Stony Brook’s Marine Sciences Research Center. The director of the center was a gentleman named Don Squires who would, over time, become her colleague, best friend and, many years later, her husband. At Stony Brook, Steinberg said she started to realize that others thought she was bright — and that they just might be right.
When SUNY Stony Brook was admitted to the National Sea Grant College Program, the university needed an administrative assistant to help run it. Steinberg approached Squires and proposed a deal.
“I said, ‘How about I work for you for six months. If after six months you’re not happy with me, I’ll go back to my job,’” Steinberg recalls. “I did not go back to my old job.”
As part of the new job with Stony Brook’s sea grant initiative, Steinberg traveled the state speaking to faculty at other SUNY institutions and putting on a “dog and pony show.” To bridge the upstate/downstate distance, Steinberg and Squires set up an office in Albany, where Steinberg eventually met a professor from University at Albany. He asked why she never finished her degree.
“I told him I barely had any courses and was doing a lot of traveling,” Steinberg says. “I didn’t think I had time for a degree.”
The professor told her about a new college called SUNY Empire State College, where she could work and earn a degree at the same time. Steinberg was intrigued. She applied. She was accepted. And she was astonished to find that her prior knowledge and experience were worth two full years of college credit.
“I thought I’d get one semester of credit. When I found out I was halfway to a degree, it was so exciting,” Steinberg says.
In her 30s, Steinberg earned her SUNY Empire degree in interdisciplinary social sciences while working full time. It was 1975 — the same year she married Squires. She went on to earn a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in public administration from the University at Albany, moved with Squires to Connecticut, and ultimately landed at Eastern Connecticut State University, where she retired in the mid-1990s as director of institutional research.
The newly retired couple decided to travel the world and ultimately decided to pull up stakes in the U.S. and settle in Australia. Then, almost on a whim, they moved to Tasmania, an island state off Australia’s south coast. They lived there together for 12 years, volunteering at a local museum and continuing to pursue their passion for travel. Her husband passed away at the age of 90 in 2017, but Steinberg still calls Tasmania home.
“Tasmania … that was Donald’s fault,” she says with a mixture of amusement and affection. “We never expected we were going to move here, but we became enthralled with it. It was the best decision we ever made.”
These days, she finds pleasure in, well, just about everything. She lives in a villa overlooking the River Derwent, a half hour from the ocean. She gardens. She quilts. She knits. She makes leather shoes. And she takes care of her cat, Fred.
And from halfway across the world, Steinberg’s long, beautiful road circles back to SUNY Empire year after year.
While she was still living in the United States, Steinberg established the Marian Steinberg ’75 Scholarship, which provides support to female students living in the Capital Region who are pursuing an undergraduate degree in public affairs. In addition to the scholarship, she has included the college in her estate plans, promising to expand her scholarship endowment with a gift beyond her lifetime. In appreciation for this commitment, the college has recognized her as a member of the Boyer Legacy Society.
“SUNY Empire changed my life, and I would like others to have their lives changed,” Steinberg says. “I grew up in the projects. My family never had a lot of money. I have great empathy for women who, often with families and working full time, wonder when they can ever get a degree so they can support themselves better.”
Steinberg says people might assume that only alumni from universities like Harvard or Yale endow scholarships or give legacy gifts, that they think of themselves as “ordinary” and don’t think of themselves as someone who could make a donation.
“If you put aside a little bit and add a bit every year, you will be building something for someone in the future, and you’ll be building your legacy at the same time,” Steinberg advises. “It doesn’t have to be a lot. A small amount can make a really big difference.”
She says if it hadn’t been for SUNY Empire, she likely wouldn’t have completed a bachelor’s degree. She also says her time with SUNY Empire gave her confidence in her abilities and paved the way toward her master’s degree and Ph.D. — achievements she previously thought “weren’t for someone like me.”
“When you go to SUNY Empire, you never know how your life is going to develop. It’s been one surprise after another. It’s literally opened the entire world to me,” Steinberg says. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d have the life I have, and much of that is thanks to SUNY Empire.”
Visit our website to learn more about building your legacy at SUNY Empire State College, or call the SUNY Empire State College Foundation at 800-847-3000.