Mabel Freeman: Unparalleled dedication to students

January 15, 2013

Mabel Freeman

Mabel Freeman is grateful to be a Buckeye. After losing her parents while a high school student in Philadelphia, she came to Columbus to live with an aunt and uncle. With campus nearby, she became an undergraduate and completed her bachelor’s degree in 1966. After teaching high school English for a time, she returned to her alma mater and earned her master’s and doctoral degrees. During her 27 years with the university, Mabel was central to the University Honors Center, undergraduate admissions, Freshman Orientation, and the First Year Experience (FYE) programs she created with the talented staff she formed over time. Upon her retirement as assistant vice president of undergraduate admissions and FYE, colleagues and friends honored her by establishing the Mabel G. Freeman Student Support Fund.

Watch Mabel share her But for Ohio State story. Give now to the Freeman Challenge.

Here, Mabel provides insight into her years as a student and administrator on campus.

What was your freshman year like at Ohio State?

I literally came to Ohio State with little awareness of the university because of my unusual life circumstances. I remember going to orientation and meeting students and sitting in a meeting with an academic advisor. Then we were pretty much on our own. My freshman year consisted primarily of going to class, going home since I was a commuter student, and studying. During my sophomore year, a student, Jane Fawcett, invited me to go with her to a student government association meeting and, from then on, I became more involved and felt connected to the university. My memories of my sophomore, junior, and senior years are much sharper than those of my freshman year. This is what has motivated much of what I’ve done in my career. I’ve worked to make the freshman year as distinctive a connection for students as the other years.

What do you think distinguishes Ohio State?

Ohio State students have tremendous pride in their university. I have seen the growth of the academic programs and the strength of the university in creating successful pathways for students from many backgrounds. I believe in Midwestern values and think there’s something to the fact that many professional and business leaders come from this area. Ohio State does not prepare students for the real world; it is the real world. This type of education gives graduates so many advantages.

What has Ohio State meant to you?

But for Ohio State, I would not have met my husband, Brian. He was a law student and I was involved in undergraduate government. When I think about Ohio State, I think about the people and relationships. The friendships I have had for 50 years go back to the students I knew as an undergraduate. There was an opportunity to know such an incredibly diverse group of individuals both as a student and a staff member. Having a network around the world is a major benefit for Ohio State students as it has been for me. I especially like the feeling of being connected to an institution that will remain long after we are gone.

Who made a lasting impact on you?

Jane Fawcett’s invitation to a women’s student government association meeting resulted in a lifelong friendship. Through student groups, I met Ruth Weimer, who became Ohio State’s first Dean of Students. She made a huge difference in my undergraduate experience. Ruth was approachable and warm and encouraged me to return to Ohio State. I’ve spent much of my life trying to be as good a person and administrator as she was. Professor Albert Kuhn, the former provost who became the director of the university’s first Honors Center, became my supervisor and was an incredibly supportive academic influence as well.

How did the First Year Experience come about?

In 2000, we were given the chance and the challenge to expand the programming and support that we had been giving to honors students to all 6,000 freshmen and transfer students. As a result, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and First Year Experience was launched. Through our admissions work, we were able to learn a lot about students before they arrived at Ohio State; and, thus, we were able to create more personalized programming to help them make the most of their first year. FYE has helped new students get comfortable on campus, connect with the university, and start to think of Ohio State as home through programs such as University Orientation, President's Convocation, Buckeye Book Community, and a Distinguished Speaker Series.

Were you surprised by the announcement of the Freeman Fund and its impact for future students?

When I learned about the Freeman Fund at my retirement celebration, it couldn’t have felt any better. Although programs and majors may change over time, students will always have needs and hopes and want to be supported. We need their talents to solve the world’s problems and make contributions for the future. The fund will be able to support current student program initiatives and provide need-based scholarships for the growing population of students who are transferring to the Columbus campus of Ohio State, having earned an associate’s degree at a community college. I selfishly want to live a long life and see what all these students accomplish. I want them to do well and be able to say Ohio State made a difference. But for Ohio State, I would not have had the opportunity to know and work with thousands of bright undergraduate students whose talents and creativity will positively impact the future of our global community.