In 2023, Marisa Berlinger established an LSSU endowment builder scholarship in support of LSSU Business students entering into their sophomore year. A 2013 LSSU graduate, Marisa earned a degree in Business Administration Management with a minor in Pre-Law, and went on to earn a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Michigan in 2016. Through her generosity she will fund an annual scholarship for five years, while building a named endowment to perpetuity. We sat down with her to hear her Laker Story and why she chose Lake Superior State University as a first generation student and now making a transformative impact as a scholarship benefactor.
Why did you choose LSSU?
At first I wanted to leave Sault Ste. Marie to attend college, because I saw it was an opportunity to see the world–but it did not make sense financially once I saw the scholarship opportunities that Lake State offered me. In the end, attending LSSU worked to my advantage because I had the support of my family nearby, and was also able to be involved in school activities and the Greek community. I was also working close to full-time, and was able to take care of any expenses that were not covered by LSSU scholarships, so when I graduated I was debt free.
What scholarships did you receive while attending LSSU?
During my time at LSSU, I was honored and grateful to receive the LSSU Board of Trustees Distinguished Scholarship, the Sault Loretto High School Scholarship, Lukenda School of Business/Lambda Sigma Beta Scholarship, Laker Spirit Scholarship, Judson Bucky Swart Soo Lions Business Scholarship, and the Warren Parker Family Business Scholarship,
What impact did your educational experience have on you while attending LSSU?
The professors make LSSU what it is because they work one on one with their students. My first year was a bit harder because I was in bigger classes and felt a little lost in the crowd, but then as I progressed the class sizes were somewhat smaller and the students were more interested in the subject matter and dedicated and focused on succeeding in their chosen fields. I found that the ability to have one-on-one discussions with my professors was incredibly helpful–not only did it help with my understanding of the subject matter, but I felt seen and like I had a voice.
What faculty member or members made an impact on your life?
The main person at LSSU who impacted my life is Dr. Madan Saluja. He’s the reason I went to law school! I also liked Professor Valerie Philips’ classes, because she encouraged her students to be creative, which is something you don’t necessarily think about in a traditional business class setting. Economics was not my forte, but I had Chris Brunt for micro and macroeconomics and his sense of humor made classes interesting. I also had Professor Mindy McCready for accounting, and she was able to explain the subject matter in a straightforward way. (Can you tell that math is not my strong suit?!) Debbie Jones, who was then in the Financial Aid Office, and
Carol Schmitigal, Campus Life and Housing Coordinator at that time, were both always there to help answer questions that may have seemed minor, but which were incredibly important in my day-to-day student life, like parking and payments for the semester.
What inspires you?
This feels like a broad question, so I’m going to give you several different answers! My inspiration has changed over the years. While as a student, it was my family and the commitment to succeed for them. Since my parents didn’t graduate from college, I was a first generation student who was trying to navigate things that I didn’t know how to do, like how to fill out a FAFSA (or even, “What is FAFSA?”). At the time, I didn’t know how much I didn’t know, but I knew I wanted to try to achieve the most success that I could. After I went through law school, I was no longer on a set timeline (i.e., school for 4 years, more school for 3 years, get a job), so I tried to find new inspiration, or “purpose,” that I could take forward for the rest of my life. I’m still working on that, but right now it comes back to asking myself: “What gives you joy?” And in a career sense, that is reading, writing, and researching. I try to treat every research question or legal brief like a puzzle, or a mystery that I’m trying to solve, and to express why I think I have the right solution. It’s like a game and that keeps it fun. When I’m not reading case law or reviewing documents for work, I still enjoy reading–mainly mysteries, thrillers, or fiction novels that keep you on the edge of your seat. Outside of work, I’m also inspired by nature–in particular, being by the water allows me to get outside of my head and just ‘be.’
Why did you choose Business as your major at LSSU?
It goes all the way back to 8th grade, when I had a class rotation at Sault Area High School. The rotation included a business course, among others, and I took a business management class with Mrs. Diane Harrington, who would become a tremendous mentor to me. (I think I took every class she ever offered.) Through Mrs. Harrington, I became involved in the Business Professionals Association (BPA). I liked competing in the regional and state competitions. I qualified for state a few different years, but never went to the state competition until my senior year because of conflicts–I was also involved in the Hiawatha Skating Club and the ice shows were always held on the same weekend. However, in my senior year, I decided to forego the ice show, competed in the BPA state competition, and qualified for the national competition in Texas. Long story short: It became a natural progression to choose business from 8th grade to college.
Did pursuing a degree in Business meet your expectations?
Some of my favorite courses were marketing and human resources management, because I found the psychology aspect about why people are motivated to do what they do, or buy what they buy, incredibly interesting. In my classes, I also learned about corporate structure and labor law, which was helpful later on when I studied for the bar and now primarily have businesses as clients. Most importantly, I took Business Law because it was one of the required classes, but it really changed the trajectory of my education and career. I found it to be analytical and fun, and once you got over the fact that Dr. Madan Saluja’s exams were hard, and he rarely awarded A
grades, you could enjoy it for what it was–which was both interesting and challenging. Taking that class sparked my interest in the law, and I decided to minor in Pre-Law. Most of my Pre- Law courses were with Professor Carol Andary, and one especially–her research and writing course–gave me a leg up in law school, because legal writing requires an entirely different writing structure and way of thinking. Although the first year of law school can be really hard, I felt that taking Pre-Law classes at LSSU gave me an advantage over my peers. And because I had this foundation going in to my first year of law school, I achieved the highest grade in each of my classes. This achievement was a really significant step that helped me transfer from the school at which I started to the University of Michigan Law School.
What is your proudest accomplishment to date?
One of my proudest accomplishments is getting accepted to the University of Michigan Law School because I knew it was going to be such a longshot. When I first began applying to law schools I asked Dr. Saluja for advice, and he made it clear how hard I’d have to work to get into Michigan. Again, at the time, I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so I didn’t get accepted the first time, but was accepted as a transfer student for my second year. That became one of the things in my life that opened up so many other doors. One of my other proudest accomplishments was having the opportunity to clerk for the Honorable Beverly B. Martin (ret.), of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, GA. I was Judge Martin’s death penalty clerk for two years, and we were able to accomplish a lot of good in those two years! Her philosophy is that every person matters and you should give them
the respect they deserve, which is a recurring theme across all of her opinions and dissents. I feel truly proud to have been a part of her Chambers.
Why did you establish a scholarship at LSSU?
The scholarships I received while attending LSSU made a huge impact on me, so I know firsthand how much it can help students, and I am now in a position to give back. At a small school like LSSU, there aren’t as many resources as there are at some of the other larger public universities. This is a worthy community and I want to help people recognize that Lake Superior State University is a great school that provides a unique opportunity for non-traditional students, first generation students, and students who simply want hands-on experience that other undergraduate schools don’t provide.
What advice do you have for current Lakers?
For incoming students, my first piece of advice is to get involved. College is a big change; it’s different than high school, and it might be lonely–but it doesn’t have to be. Just take one step to make one friend or one connection with a professor or someone else from our community here in the Soo. If you are at LSSU, you already know you’re ready for the academic side of things. By getting involved on campus and in the community, you can grow a support system to put yourself in the best headspace to succeed from a mental, emotional, and interpersonal perspective.
For those who are about to graduate, my advice is that you don’t have to have it all figured out (even if it feels like you do). You have the tools, but if you feel the pressure or anxiety about what to do next – take a deep breath and you will figure it out. And remember, you don’t have to know everything. You can do the research to figure out what you need to do to put yourself in a position to set yourself up for success.
To learn more on how you can make a transformative gift that will ignite the potential and possibilities of LSSU students, please visit lssu.giftlegacy.com or contact Sharon Dorrity -Donor Relations and Gift Planning – 906-635-2665; [email protected] to begin the conversation!