Beth (Wierzbieniec) Nolan ’99 majored in economics and sociology at Union College before earning an M.A.T. from Johns Hopkins University School of Education in 2001. Beth has spent more than two decades in the education arena. She started as a teacher through the Teach for America program, and went on to be mentor teacher, school administrator and district-level administrator. In each role, she saw the need to lift the voice of the family. In spring of 2019, she and a colleague launched Education Team Allies (ETA). ETA was born from the realization that parents in their local community – and beyond – want assistance developing meaningful education strategies for their children through Individualized Education Plans and 504 plans. Through ETA, she now supports families so that they are active participants in designing supportive plans for their children’s futures. She was active on the Union campus and has always wanted to give back to her community. Most recently, she was appointed to the St. John the Evangelist School Board. She has also served as a coach through Severna Park Green Hornets and served on the Anne Arundel County Schools Community Advisory Council. She has been an active leader in her neighborhood and region.
What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your career or volunteer activities?
Finding the balance is the most challenging aspect of both work and volunteering. I have recently taken the philosophy of only saying yes to projects and opportunities that resonate the most with me. I have always wanted to engage in community activities, but I am at a point in my life where I commit fully to projects that are aligned with my areas of interest and my passions. This is not easy, but it does allow me to focus my time and growth around areas I am passionate about – like giving voice to those who are not always heard. The rewards I have seen both from my professional and volunteer roles have come when the groundwork I have laid or structures I have created produce outcomes.
Who inspired and/or inspires you, professionally and personally?
I wish I could say that there was one person or two who inspire me, but the reality is that there are many. I read and listen to a number of authors and professionals who keep me thinking and growing. They inspire me to focus on the future as well as being present in the day to day.
What advice would you offer today’s women students, not just at Union, but across the country?
My advice is to look at every opportunity as a learning opportunity and an opportunity to grow. I’ve also found that we learn the most about how resilient we are, and what we can achieve, during the times when we are struggling or facing challenges and don’t know what the outcome will be. In those times we grow.
What was your most formative experience at Union?
During my senior year I served as the Student Forum president and while I think of all my years at Union as formative, this experience was the most influential. Over the course of that year, I was tasked not only with leading a group, but with representing the student body as a whole. I had many lessons learned that year, but paramount was the importance of listening and seeking to understand. I found that it is so important to be comfortable enough to say, “I don’t know, but I will work with you to find out.” I find now that I am more effective at navigating situations for families because I listen and gain a greater understanding before advocating on their behalf. I honed these skills at Union as Student Forum president.