Marla Esser, a 1984 Washington University in St. Louis alumna from the School of Engineering, was selected for this award for her work organizing and mentoring students to run the Washington University Marrow Registry, WUMR.
In the winter of 2001, the children of Marla’s best friend, Diane Pearl, were both diagnosed with Fanconi Anemia, a rare, life-threatening blood disorder, which requires a bone marrow transplant to prolong life. The Pearls launched the Million Donor March with a goal of registering one million new donors with the National Marrow Donor Program. Marla assisted the Pearls with their first drive, which added 2,500 donors to the registry. Marla also helped the Pearls found B Positive, Inc., an organization that works to host drives, educate the public and aid in research needed to find a cure for Fanconi Anemia.
When Marla was approached by Laura Seger, her nominator and then-WUSTL sophomore, in the summer of 2001 at the School of Engineering ‘s LeaderShape Retreat, the two embarked on plans to host bone marrow registry drives on the WUSTL campus. In three months, Marla, Laura, and a few other students raised over $13,000 to host the first campus drive in November 2001, in which they added 184 donors to the registry.
Through Marla’s guidance, the students founded WUMR in 2002 and have since hosted 3 more campus drives, adding a total of 964 people to the national registry.
Marla travels from Eureka, Missouri to WUSTL almost daily to meet with students regarding WUMR drives, funding and public education outreach, while maintaining a full-time job as Web Coordinator for Pi Beta Phi. Marla is an active member of the WUSTL Engineering Alumni and Development program, and she volunteers her time to host networking, resume writing and job search seminars for the Engineering Career Services office. Marla and her husband, Joe Esser, have two children, Nicole and Trenton.
Laura wrote in Marla’s nomination, “My career goal is to become a college professor, but what I look forward to most is working with students to start a marrow registry program, just as Marla has worked with us. Although it sounds cliché, Marla has taught me that with work, dedication and passion, you can accomplish anything. Four years ago, I thought it was impossible for one person to change the world. Then I met Marla.”