Education as an Equalizer

Mary Ellen Atkins ’68 attributes the confidence she gained as a Salve student as the foundation for her professional career and personal life. These lessons played a vital role in shaping the person she is today and encouraged her decision to give back to her alma mater with a planned gift.

“I have a firm belief in education,” she said. “I believe that it is a great equalizer allowing for upward mobility. There are many students at Salve in need and the bequest I made will help somebody be able to afford their education.”

Atkins grew up in Newport with parents who encouraged her to pursue her college degree despite the limited options available to her and her family at the time. Salve offered the ideal solution, allowing her to commute to school while working to pay her tuition. When Atkins attended Salve in the late 1960s, there were many commuter students, which made her feel welcome and provided a sense of togetherness and camaraderie.

Atkins studied chemistry and mathematics, but she had not always seen herself taking that path. As a freshman, she took chemistry with Sister Mary Philemon, who approached her about becoming a chemistry major. At the time, Atkins was not confident in her skills to do the required math, but Sister Philemon said, “Oh yes you can!” The confidence she gained from the Sisters of Mercy while attending Salve followed her for the rest of her life, and she attributes it as one of the most important things she carried away from Salve.

In addition to studying chemistry and math and being a part of the Commuters Club, Atkins was a member of the basketball team through the Women’s Recreation Association on campus. She recalls wonderful memories of traveling to away games with her teammates, sometimes driving as far as New Hampshire.

After her time at Salve, Atkins entered a career in education, teaching math for one year in Virginia and then working in the Newport Public Schools for 33 years, eventually becoming the head of the science department at Rogers High School. Her career brought her full circle when she started working as an adjunct professor at Salve, teaching physical science.

When Atkins thought about the legacy she wanted to leave, she decided to include Salve in her estate plans. She has made a bequest to express her appreciation for what the University has provided her in terms of education, encouragement, self-confidence and the amazing friendships she formed that she still cherishes.

“I have a special place in my heart for Salve and I think as you get older, you start thinking about those things,” she said. “I would encourage other alumni to consider what Salve has helped them to realize throughout their lives.”