The Gift of a Lasting Legacy

Dr. Nancy Marcus at graduation

A gift from two Florida State University alumnae ensures vision and influence of late dean continues for years to come.

A native of New York, Dr. Nancy Marcus didn’t plan to stay in Tallahassee for long after arriving in 1987. A few years, maybe, but not much longer.
“I said, ‘Hey, I’ll give it five years and go somewhere else,’” she told FSU News in a 2017 interview.

But Marcus stayed, devoting the next 30 years of her life to making Florida State University a better institution of higher education for students and faculty alike, and putting FSU on the path of becoming a preeminent university for post-graduate education.

“She really set [FSU] up to be one of the top graduate schools in the country, and has helped us, as a university, achieve many of our initiatives and goals,” said Ashley Jarvis, deputy director for business operations of The Graduate School.

A pioneer in the field of oceanography with an already-impressive resume, Marcus quickly became a key figure among the Florida State faculty, first as director of the FSU Marine Laboratory from 1989-2001 and later as dean of The Graduate School from 2005-2017. She was named the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor in 2001, the highest honor the university awards to faculty members.

As dean of The Graduate School, Marcus didn’t just oversee graduate education at FSU, she helped to define the modern-day graduate education and experience. Whereas graduate schools have traditionally trained students for careers in academia, Marcus placed a great deal of focus on workforce development and preparing students for opportunities in the arts, research, government and the private sector.

“When she came to The Graduate School, she simply transformed how things were done,” said Dr. Mark Riley, current dean of The Graduate School. “What Nancy achieved at FSU and what she’s done for The Graduate School is beyond epic. She also created many new institutions within the university.”

Marcus established programs that helped recruit a diverse student body to Florida State. She secured financial resources for students who otherwise would not be able to afford a graduate education. In 2008, she launched the Fellows Society, which promotes interdisciplinary communication and the exchange of ideas within The Graduate School. Marcus’ vision ultimately helped significantly increase the number of graduate degrees awarded annually at FSU and raised external funding for university graduate students exponentially.

Marcus retired in 2017, and within a year, passed away following an aggressive battle with Uveal Melanoma. However, her legacy lives on beneath the oak trees and Spanish moss that span across the Florida State campus.

It’s hard to walk across campus today and not be reminded of Dr. Nancy Marcus. There’s the brick bearing her name on Westcott Plaza and the commemorative bench her colleagues placed near the Honors, Scholars and Fellows House, a building that likely wouldn’t be on the campus if not for her efforts.
In that building, the Great Hall is named on her behalf. At her memorial, former FSU President Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte remarked that it should be named the “Great Nancy H. Marcus Hall” rather than the “Nancy H. Marcus Great Hall.”

Great is just one way to describe Marcus. Brilliant, extraordinary and amazing are others. Her friends and colleagues remember her as a talented magician, a skilled golfer, an expert chef and an avid boater. She loved fishing, FSU athletics, and her students and colleagues. She was a champion for women in STEM and an advocate for underrepresented students on campus from day one.

“She was truly a Renaissance woman in that she was a brilliant scientist and loved the arts,” longtime colleague and friend Judith Devine, senior associate dean of The Graduate School, said of Marcus.

In 2003, FSU established the Nancy Marcus Professorship, which supports and recognizes a faculty member from the College of Arts & Sciences who is professionally known as a superior researcher and who has demonstrated extraordinary effort and commitment in service to students from underrepresented groups in math and science and attracts them to advance their careers in these fields.

Marcus leaves behind a long list of accolades and publications, numerous national committees on which she served and millions in grants and funding she earned for the university. Wanting to ensure that Marcus’ vibrant legacy would continue to provide a lasting gift to the university and its graduate students, FSU alumnae and longtime supporters Alicia Crew and Janet Stoner collectively donated $100,000 to establish the Nancy H. Marcus Endowment for Graduate Student Excellence shortly following her passing.

The endowment supports current FSU graduate students who are active in the Fellows Society. It provides access to funding for expenses related to scholarly activity not covered by grants and other funds, such as travel, presentations and research stipends. It’s meant to help close the gap between grant funding and students funding portions of their own research.

“Funding is not easy,” Crew said. “It’s sometimes easy to get a significant gift for some of the very popular projects, but some of the things that may not be noticed often need the most money. Our intent was to make sure there was funding available for those needs as well.”

The endowment also honors Marcus and serves as a tribute to her work at FSU, as well as her innovative approach to graduate education and her passion for setting up her students for success.

The first recipient of the endowment will likely be named in the 2019 spring semester. Dean Riley says he’s looking forward to distributing money to FSU graduate students.

“Nancy was an amazingly creative person, and if a student comes up with creative ways to receive funds, we always have open ears and open minds on how to use these funds,” Riley said. “We’re just eager to start distributing the endowment to worthy candidates, making it possible for more young people to go to national or regional conferences. It’s a real eye opener for them.”

Nancy Marcus forever changed Florida State University, and the effects of her influence on the school won’t diminish any time soon. Crew and Stoner’s gift ensures that The Graduate School at Florida State University continues on the path that Nancy Marcus set for it more than a decade ago.