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Remembering a generous supporter of Arizona students, communities

Marilyn Schmidlin's long life of teaching, volunteering and awarding scholarships had a wide impact

Jim and Marilyn Schmidlin standing outside a brick building.

Jim Schmidlin and Marilyn Schmidlin on the Arizona State University Tempe campus. The Marilyn and James A. Schmidlin Endowed Scholarship for Engineering was one small part of the spirit of giving and dedication to science education in Marilyn Schmidlin’s life before her passing. Photo by Hayden Taylor/ASU

August 12, 2022

A great teacher leaves a lasting impact on his or her students. Marilyn Schmidlin was one of those teachers, impacting countless lives across the Valley.

Until her passing earlier this year, Schmidlin spent most of her 90 years as a dedicated educator and a steadfast volunteer, establishing a scholarship with her husband, Jim Schmidlin, for students in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University in 2012.

Since then, the Marilyn and James A. Schmidlin Endowed Scholarship for Engineering has supported more than 35 incoming first-year students studying computer science and engineering disciplines with yearly funding.

The Schmidlins’ generosity has helped these students dedicate themselves to education, scientific discovery and community service, just as Marilyn Schmidlin herself did throughout her life.

Lifelong dedication to education

Marilyn Schmidlin was always passionate about fostering children’s love for science. Her teaching career brought her to elementary school science classrooms in Ohio, Washington, California and Arizona.

“She loved science,” Jim says, “the teaching of it, the physical aspect of it and the children learning it. She made it so interesting for them, they couldn’t wait to go to school and they hated to leave. I think she was really born to be a teacher.”

For many years, her and Jim supported extracurricular science education through the Arizona Science and Engineering Fair, where they served as volunteer judges for student projects. 

“She liked speaking to each individual participant,” Jim says, noting that Marilyn loved interacting with the fourth and fifth grade participants. “She had all the right questions to ask.”

In Arizona, she also served as a principal in the Scottsdale Unified School District. Her excellence in education earned her many awards, including the Phi Delta Kappa Outstanding Teacher of the Year, the Arizona-Nevada Outstanding Science Teacher of the Year and the city of Scottsdale Quiet Hero Award.

Marilyn’s teaching career eventually led her down a path of training new teachers. She taught education at the University of Phoenix and Grand Canyon University and supervised student teachers across the Valley, often traveling 100 miles per day to visit them in their classrooms.

“It’s difficult to figure out how many students’ lives she enriched,” Jim says. 

Building on an ASU connection 

Around 10 years ago, Marilyn and Jim found a way to help students embarking on their college careers by establishing their scholarship. This fulfilled their shared desire to give back to the community they had lived in for so long. The idea was initially built on Jim’s connection to ASU.

Jim and Marilyn met in college, but Jim eventually left school, getting a job as a laborer in Marilyn’s father’s steel company. His dedication to his work led him to become a self-taught electrician and job foreman, overseeing projects like installing an emergency system at a hospital on Alameda Island in the Bay Area.

When they moved to Arizona around 1960, Jim got a job at Motorola. After working his way up in the company, Jim realized he needed a degree to progress further in his career. He chose to attend ASU to earn a bachelor’s degree in management in the late 1970s — and, he recalls, like many students today, his fair share of parking tickets. Jim’s hard work attending school and working full time enabled him to become a chief electrical engineer at Motorola.

Later, Jim wanted to give back to ASU and support hard-working student engineers, particularly those pursuing degrees in computer science, electrical engineering, industrial engineering, biomedical engineering, civil engineering, structural engineering or mechanical engineering. The scholarship requires incoming students, who must be U.S. citizens and Arizona residents, to have at least a 3.5 grade point average in high school and to maintain a 3.0 GPA as an ASU student to continue to receive funding that can be renewed each year as long as they are eligible.

“I was the instigator, but Marilyn became the driver” of their scholarship, Jim says. “She wanted to meet the students and get to know them.”

Advocacy outside of the classroom

In addition to teaching, Marilyn also spent countless hours volunteering in ways that allowed her to make a positive impact on her community. 

Her volunteering activities in Arizona included 35 years serving on foster care review boards, as well as serving on the Arizona Supreme Court Disciplinary Panel and getting involved in her church’s packathon to feed hungry children.

In 2020, Marilyn was recognized by Honor Health for 55 years of service at the information desk at the Scottsdale Medical Center, where she used her excellent sense of direction.

“She was great at giving directions, but she liked being alongside visitors walking them to their rooms,” Jim says. “She didn’t have to do that, but she liked working with people.” 

Alongside all of these activities, Marilyn loved traveling with Jim. Together they visited all seven continents, including traveling to Antarctica and the Arctic as passengers on the first large commercial cruise through the Northwest Passage. She also performed around the world as a singer with the Scottsdale Sweet Adelines. 

Marilyn was also generous in sharing her love for adventure, taking her students and their parents on trips to Lake Pleasant and the beach in Southern California.

A legacy of helping others

Always humble, Marilyn never bragged about her work; it was simply something she did. However, she would often be recognized by those whose lives she touched, with her former students recognizing her in grocery stores and the organizations for which she volunteered often thanking her for her service.

Her legacy is in the lives she impacted, Jim says, and especially in the students she taught and their effect on their own children and those around them.

“She got a lot of students out the door into their careers,” he says.

Here are some students who have been impacted by Marilyn's contributions:

“My mom has taught me how important it is to get a college education, and by giving me this scholarship, it is helping me accomplish my dreams of achieving that college degree. I would be the first in my family to receive a college education. I am working hard in school to achieve this dream.”
— George Hopkins, biomedical engineering major

“Thank you so much for supporting me and other engineers like me. Your generosity will help so many people achieve their goals and dreams. I hope that someday I am able to return the favor and give back to my community in a way such as you have.”
— Maya Muir, graduated in May 2022 with bachelor’s degrees in computer science and mathematics, current computer science graduate student  

“I have wanted to be an engineer since seventh grade when my science teacher introduced me to the field. This scholarship will enable me to attend Arizona State University to pursue my mechanical engineering degree. My major excites me because it challenges me, and I am learning to solve real-world problems.”
— Ariana Anderson, mechanical engineering major

“Coming from a low-income family, this award is substantial to my success as I can better focus on internships, volunteering and research instead of working only to maintain financial stability. As a Barrett, The Honors College student, I also intend to hold myself to a high academic standard, and this award will help me focus on upholding this level of excellence. More importantly, I believe that I can also devote more free time toward actively helping my community, which is my main goal.”
— Aydin-Kane T. Vo, biomedical engineering major

“Your family’s award will allow me to continue to succeed academically, continue to volunteer as both a School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering Student Ambassador and Barrett, The Honors College Peer Mentor for first-year students, master my remaining coursework and pursue further career enhancement opportunities before graduation. I am incredibly interested in the opportunities that lie ahead, and I wouldn’t be in the position I find myself in without your support.”
— Alexander Witthus, graduated in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, current electrical engineering graduate student