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Mary Ellen Wuellner

Mary Ellen Wuellner

Executive director | Champaign County Forest Preserve District

Mary Ellen Wuellner’s original plan was to parlay her bachelor’s degree in political science/government into a career on Capitol Hill.

Just one problem: the longtime state representative she was set to assist as a congressional aide — Eugenia Chapman — came up short in her 1982 bid to join the U.S. House of Representatives.

“My congressional aide career plans derailed, I found myself in search of a new path,” Wuellner says. “The year-long campaign only stoked my love of politics and government, so I returned to Urbana from the Chicago area to pursue graduate school and a master’s degree in political science.

“It was there that I had the good fortune to meet Jim Nowlan and Sam Gove. Their wise counsel led me instead to the master of arts curriculum in public administration.

“Political theory was fascinating, but I wanted something more hands-on that could make a difference in my community, and a career in public administration seemed like a better means to that end. When I made that pivotal academic change, it opened more and more doors.

“So after nearly 35 years in local government — in community development with the cities of Urbana and Champaign, and the last dozen at the Champaign County Forest Preserve District — I look back at my time at UI with much gratitude.

“I cannot thank those professors enough. I would add to the list the FredsGiertz and Gottheil — for giving me even more of the valuable skills I would need to launch a public service career that has been nothing but fulfilling and has, hopefully, made at least a small difference.”