Mary Newburn ’97 recognizes new alumni opportunities

Mary Newburn '97

When Mary Newburn ’97 visited the Princeton campus in early May for the first time since COVID-19 struck, the pandemic protocols couldn’t dampen her excitement. “Spring in Princeton is just beautiful, and everything was in bloom,” said Newburn, who grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin. “It was stunning and for me there is a genuine happiness when stepping foot on campus. It felt like coming home.”

For Newburn, every return to Princeton recalls how excited she felt opening her admission letter years ago and seeing a bold “Yes!” stamped at the top that announced her acceptance. “In that moment, Princeton said yes,” Newburn said. “When I look back at my alumni journey, when Princeton has called and I’ve said yes, it has led me on the most incredible adventure.”

After graduating with a major in politics and moving to Chicago, Newburn began her career in telecommunications at AmeriTech but maintained an interest in education. She led an effort at her company to partner with a local school to teach keyboarding and computer skills, and the program ended up winning an education award from the state of Illinois. “It was funny because somebody said to me, ‘You clearly have a passion for education. Why aren’t you working in education?’” Newburn said. “It was sort of an a-ha moment.”

She shifted career course and went to Harvard, where she worked in the Office of the President and Provost and earned a master’s degree in education. In 2007, she founded Vista Educational Consulting, working with individual students and nonprofits. She retired from Vista in 2019 to devote more time to her own two sons. “To me, working in the field of education is just working in the currency of hope,” she said. “It’s inspiring and exciting.”

It also dovetails with her passion for Princeton and the University’s mission: In the nation’s service and the service of humanity. “I do feel like in all sorts of different ways, we all try to live that informal motto out,” she says. “That makes Princeton very special.”

Sometimes, the call to service arrives at inconvenient times. In 2006, Newburn was resettling in Chicago and had recently become a new mom when her phone rang. The president of the local Princeton Club, Charlene Huang Olson ’88, had noticed Newburn at a few alumni events and was calling to invite Newburn to become more involved in the regional association.

“At the time that she called, I had a baby and I was not exactly sure how Princeton was going to fit into my life,” Newburn says. “But I said yes. And I’m so glad I did.”

Time and time again, Princeton alumni have said yes right back. Last year, after 20 years in Chicago, Newburn, her husband, Jade, and their two sons moved to northern Virginia in the middle of the pandemic. “One of the comforting things about relocating was having the Princeton community because I felt like it traveled with us,” she said. “Princeton alumni are a group that respond, and I leaned on a number of Princeton alumni to help build a local network once we arrived. For that, I’m so grateful.”

This July, Newburn will become chair of the Alumni Council after two years of serving as vice chair alongside Rich Holland ’96. She hopes to build upon the last year, which presented unprecedented challenges as well as opportunities. “One of the things that we all took away during this period was just how quickly and easily, thanks to technology, some of the barriers came down on event planning,” Newburn said. “I attended many virtual events, and the number of new faces I saw really provided me with so much hope and inspiration. Alumni were able to see the variety of ways you could engage as well as the variety in programming, and that’s something, moving forward, we really hope to leverage.”

Whether alumni activities remain virtual or resume as in-person events, Newburn is excited to promote what she half-jokingly calls Tigetherness. “Regardless of your experience on campus, I hope that alumni will really feel that we are one Princeton, that we all belong, and that we would love for all alumni to take part in some aspect of the alumni experience,” she said. “I was lucky enough to have a call from Charlene inviting me to join. And when you say yes to Princeton, it really has the power to positively transform your friendships, your learning and your experience. Princeton is such a powerful engine for hope and inspiration and change in the world, which is why I love it, and that is why I continue to engage as much as I do.”