Kellogg World Alumni Magazine Spring 2005Kellogg School of Management
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  Julie Tolan '96 (EMP-33)

Alumni Profile: Julie Tolan '96 (EMP-33)

'We'll find a way'
Philanthropy helps Julie Tolan keep the faith

by Deborah Leigh Wood

Some people talk about philanthropy. Julie Tolan '96 lives it.

As vice president of university advancement at Marquette University in her hometown of Milwaukee, Tolan works with alumni to "help them make a difference in students' lives." As is the custom in her family, she volunteers at a number of local not-for-profit organizations.

"Philanthropy is not only a way of life, it is my life," says the Kellogg Executive MBA graduate (EMP-33). Engaging with Marquette's board of trustees and alumni who want to give back is "the best work there is," she says. "It allows me to commit my life to helping people realize their dreams. Our office works on creating relationships and connecting alumni to a place they care about."

Tolan says the trick to managing a staff of 80 is to "get the right people (employees) on the bus and give them the tools to succeed. I help them take risks, even if it means they fail. Falling down isn't the problem," she says, "it's how you pick yourself up that counts."

Tolan says she's not a Pollyanna, but feels strongly that "cynicism is one of the worst characteristics of today's culture." She says she's grateful that her work gives her the chance to "underscore optimism and help others find ways to be positive. There's more right in this world than there is wrong."

Philanthropy "is one of the most optimistic expressions of our democracy," Tolan believes. "It says, 'We can do it; we'll find a way.' It's our responsibility as managers and executives in the philanthropic arena to work with people in the business community in a way that tells them that we're their peers and not merely beneficiaries."

As a member of Marquette's leadership team, Tolan collaborates with the university's president, provost and deans, and with the school's board of trustees, to see that the university fulfills its mission of giving students a solid Jesuit education based on service, excellence, leadership and faith.

"Marquette is an environment that cherishes faith, which is an extension of our humanity," Tolan says. "Through a curriculum that includes community service, we try to give students a transformational experience that's spiritual, emotional and intellectual. As a result, they leave as better human beings. We have student nurses who work in Africa, student engineers who work in Guatemala and students in other fields who help out anywhere there's an underserved population, including Milwaukee. We're a place with a soul."

Tolan says she started doing volunteer and advocacy work while earning her bachelor's of arts degree in English at the University of Michigan. "It's probably why I have a lot of empathy for 18-to-22-year-olds," she says. "At Marquette they find a lively, dynamic environment in which to flourish."

Before coming to the university 2 ½ years ago, Tolan served as president for three years of Milwaukee's United Performing Art Fund (UPAF), one of the nation's largest united arts funds. While there, she helped raise approximately $10 million a year.

Tolan says that the Kellogg School, where she met her husband, Mark Wiesman '96, gave her the quantitative skills to accomplish that goal and many others in her philanthropic mission.

"I learned the nuts and bolts of management and how to use resources while at Kellogg," she says. "And I learned skills that are particularly useful in talking with donors and prospective donors about their investments.

"I can help them view giving back as a personal investment as well as a gift to higher education."

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University