First-Generation Student Ellen Strebar, '88, Strives to Be a Servant Leader
By Eva Richards
As director of marketing and program development for Inte Q in Oak Brook, Illinois, Ellen Strebar, '88, works every day to cultivate partnerships and build lasting relationships across a variety of industries. Her specialized knowledge in marketing planning and execution of targeted marketing campaigns make her a frontrunner in her field, but she credits NIU with making her career possible. These days, Strebar volunteers on campus mentoring students and giving back to her alma mater.
NIUAA: Tell us about your experience choosing NIU.
Strebar: I was not just a first-generation student; I was the first person in my entire extended family to receive a bachelor’s degree. I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep an open mind about the Illinois’ regional universities. So many people were pushing me to the large flagship university, but it is just not the right fit for everyone. Visiting a campus is one of the most important elements of selecting an institution of higher education. I was overwhelmed by the size of the University of Illinois and felt uneasy about living in a big city, but when I stepped on the campus of NIU, I knew I had found MY home. It was perfect. The beauty and tranquility of the East Lagoon, Altgeld Hall, and Swen Parson Hall, contrasted with the bustling Martin Luther King Commons and the dorms, were exactly what I was searching for in a campus environment. I also knew the reputation of NIU’s College of Business and that students’ acceptance into the finance major was competitive, but I wanted that challenge. The business and economics professors I met were welcoming and eager to help me meet my goals. Once I interacted with the faculty, staff and students, there was no question that I wanted to be a Huskie.
NIUAA: In a few sentences, please share the impact NIU has had on your life.
Strebar: My finance degree from NIU has opened so many doors. I cannot even begin to express my gratitude for the education I received from Northern and how my experiences there have impacted my life. I am currently finishing my master of arts in educational administration at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, with a focus on leadership and international students. Every professor I interact with tells me that my work is that of a doctoral student, and I tell them that I credit that to the education I received at Northern. NIU also has had a tremendous impact on my social life. I met so many people there with whom I have maintained close friendships with for over 30 years, plus I keep meeting more amazing people through the alumni association! My best friend and I met in the dorms, and we still meet up at football games. It really is wonderful to live close enough to my alma mater to attend sporting events, to volunteer with the alumni association and, of course, get those wonderful kisses from Mission and Mini Mish!
NIUAA: How did NIU prepare you for your current profession?
Strebar: NIU has always been a forward-thinking university. Our motto is so appropriate! Northern prepared me to speak, write, and critically think across multiple disciplines, which has helped me tremendously over the years as my career progressed. But, more importantly, my time at NIU helped me grow and mature as a human being. The most important lesson NIU imparted to me was to dig deep and give back whenever possible. Northern taught me that no one gets to where they are alone. It gave me the foundation to succeed throughout my career and taught me to help those around me become the best they can be. Becoming a servant leader lets you put your head down on the pillow every night knowing you have done your best to do good in this world.
NIUAA: What are you most proud of in your professional career?
Strebar: That's an easy one! I am most proud of being a mentor. I know that I have had a hand in making sure the world will be a better place after I leave it because I have passed those lessons of servant leadership on to others.
NIUAA: Did anyone from NIU have a significant impact on you?
Strebar: There were so many professors that impacted my life in a positive manner that it is hard to choose, but there is one... I had tough schedules, and I always took a dance class as an elective to keep me fit and to keep my sanity so I wouldn’t stress out. Randy Newsome was the professor who taught my ballet class. I was really struggling with everything at one point. It was just such a period of change in my life. He pulled me aside and said, “You need to believe that you can make something beautiful out of every thought, every movement. If you do that, if you believe, you will soar." I have never forgotten those words. They have come back to lift me up many times throughout my life. The alumni have also had an impact on me. Just keeping in touch through the various social media channels made me realize that we really are a family at NIU. I'm currently trying to keep their spirits up with funny Huskie joke memes during our Illinois sheltering-in-place period. That’s what you do for family!
NIUAA: What would you want to tell current and prospective students about NIU?
Strebar: I not only want to tell current and prospective students this, I DO tell them this—NIU is a true gem in education. I want people to know what a wonderful institution and unbelievable educational opportunity is in their own backyard! Dr. Lisa Freeman is a formidable and visionary leader for Northern. I have the utmost confidence in her. The College of Business under Dean Rajagopalan is a state-of-the-art learning environment with faculty that are empowered to make the differences that are necessary to allow the students to graduate with skills that translate into immediate and impactful contributions in the workplace. I could go on and on about the various degrees available, the fantastic faculty, the Division 1 Huskie teams, and the number of successful NIU graduates that are ready and waiting to help them once they graduate. I’d tell them to take advantage of everything this great institution of higher learning has to offer, and they will become an even better version of the person they imagine they can be!
NIUAA: What do you enjoy most about volunteering?
Strebar: Volunteering for NIU these past years has been amazing! I love interacting with prospective students, their parents and the NIU staff. Being a part of a team of people who believe in what they are doing and what they are selling—and, yes, we are selling NIU—is fulfilling and exciting. Volunteering for the college fairs connects me with the university at a different level. I get to learn what's new and exciting on campus, and then I get to pass that information on to help make my alma mater shine. I am looking forward to the time when I can do even more volunteer events for Northern.
If you are looking for other ways to be an NIU volunteer, please check out NIU Nexus, or contact Liz McKee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 815-753-7400.