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June 13, 2013

Persistence Pays Off

Staff Member Earns Degree After Decade of Study

By Heidi Opdyke

lundeenIt took classmates a while to realize that Marilú Lundeen wasn't the teacher but rather a fellow student.

"The students received me well after their initial surprise," she said. "And then they treated me like any of their other classmates."

Lundeen, an administrative coordinator at the Information Networking Institute (INI), is not only a May graduate with a bachelor's degree in Hispanic Studies and an additional major in European studies, she's also a grandmother.

She started taking classes in 2003 while working as the coordinator of Latin American Activities for the late Paul Goodman at the Tepper School of Business.

He encouraged Lundeen, a native Portuguese speaker, to take classes in Spanish because he needed some help with international education projects. So, she started taking one or two a semester, and then kept going.

She joined the INI in 2008. Her current supervisor, Dena Haritos Tsamitis, also encouraged her to continue her studies.

"Both of my bosses were wonderful," she said.

Prior to earning her CMU degree, Lundeen earned an associate's degree in applied science in 1989. She spent time working for different universities including the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Universities run in her family. Her two daughters, who came to see their mother receive her diploma, work at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chicago. It wasn't until her son and daughters were grown that she started taking classes.

"I loved the contact with people and classes that were creative, such as 'Political Drama in Spain' and 'Acting for Nonmajors' as well as art classes such as 'Picasso' and the 'Ballets Russes.' It was a fresh breath to do something so different and self-fulfilling in my life," she said. "Of course I've taken all the requirements. I've been very happy with all the courses I've taken at CMU. It's been challenging, but very fun."

Susan Polansky, head of Modern Languages, said that Lundeen has been a joy to know and brought energy into group work.

"In my classes she did excellent work. I would say she was an extremely enthusiastic and engaged participant and really conscious of community. She really bonded with the other students in the class and was a great team member," Polansky said. "She has a very positive, can-do attitude, and she has a confidence in what she is doing."

Polansky also has directed two independent study courses for Lundeen on Spanish writers of the 19th and 20th century. She said Lundeen has a special relationship with the Modern Language faculty, who see her wearing different hats as a staff member and a student.

"She has become one of us in our department," Polansky said.

Lundeen credits teachers such as Polansky, Kenya Dworkin and Therese Tardio for helping her along the way.

"They were wonderful and always encouraged me to continue my studies," she said. "The teachers in Modern Languages have been wonderful. They're like my family."

Lundeen said she also is grateful for the times her husband, Lester, took charge of cooking, doing laundry and driving her to night classes so that she could devote herself to studying during the past 10 years.

Part of Marilú Lundeen's family were on hand to help celebrate her bachelor's degree. Attending family members with Lundeen (second from left) included: (from left) daughters Lesley Lundeen and Jessica Lundeen and Marilú's husband of 40 years, Lester.