Former public servant, health care exec creates fund in School of Public Policy

Susan Burlingame
May 20, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Mary Ellen McMillen, retired vice president for government affairs for Independence Blue Cross and former executive director of House Republicans for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, has committed $30,000 to endow the Mary Ellen McMillen Director's Fund in the School of Public Policy in Penn State’s College of the Liberal Arts.  

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Penn State Liberal Arts class of 1965 alumna Mary Ellen McMillen, who recently endowed a director’s fund in the School of Public Policy.

IMAGE: Anne McMillen

McMillen graduated from Penn State in 1965 with a degree in arts and letters. She is a member of the College of the Liberal Arts Alumni Society Board and is a lifelong benefactor of the college, most recently establishing an undergraduate scholarship in 2016.

“I was thinking about establishing another scholarship when I heard about the new School of Public Policy,” said McMillen. “Public policy reflects the background I had, and because it was exciting to have a new school in the college, I wanted to support it. I am very hopeful that it succeeds in creating more interest in the University and in the whole concept of public policy.”

McMillen said she grew up at a time when women were expected to get married and have children, a formula she followed after graduating from Penn State. Rather than going to work, she volunteered for a not-for-profit mental health association in Berks County — an endeavor that would eventually lead to her running the association as a volunteer, serving on its board of directors, and eventually being hired as director.

“In those days, people with mental illnesses didn’t have the rights they have today,” said McMillen. “It took a Supreme Court decision to give them any rights. Knowing this and spending a lot of time with patients and staff, we set up an ombudsman program, and of course, I became the ombudsman.”

McMillen said participating in hearings and testifying on behalf of patients gave her “a taste for state government and what it had to do with people’s lives.”

Years later, McMillen became executive director for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Health and Welfare Committee and served in that capacity for nearly a decade. She then moved to the state senate, working for Senator James Greenwood until he was elected to Congress. Not interested in relocating to Washington, D.C., McMillen took a job with a healthcare consulting firm and was eventually hired by Independence Blue Cross, serving as vice president of government affairs until her retirement in 2015.

McMillen said her years at Penn State prepared her well for her eventual career.

“My four years at Penn State were exciting and energizing in many ways,” she said. “My education was very diverse. There were students and faculty members from all over, and I had terrific experiences with terrific professors.”

McMillen said she got involved as a first-year student by auditioning and being cast in “Can Can,” a Penn State Thespians musical production. She loved attending football games, became one of the last “Froth Girls” for “Penn State Froth” — a humor magazine founded in 1909 that went through several ups and downs before finally stopping production in 1969 — and she was a finalist for the Miss Penn State competition.

“I also was dedicated to my academics, which led to a very successful career,” she said.

“As a new school in the college, Public Policy has many needs,” said Lilliard Richardson, professor of public policy and director of the School of Public Policy. “With Mary Ellen McMillen’s generous endowment, we will be able to expand our programming, bring in guest speakers, host conferences, and engage with practitioners in the field. We are so grateful for her support.”  

“I am a proud Penn State graduate, and I am hopeful that the new endowment will encourage people to learn more about public policy itself, which goes beyond what we see on television and what you read in the newspapers,” McMillen concluded. “I want people to understand the nuts and bolts that must be considered as we change and enhance and improve the public policy decisions that are being made in Pennsylvania, and to think about how policy gets churned and drafted and redrafted and amended before it becomes law. I hope that people who study public policy at Penn State will end up participating in it and making it better.”

To contribute to the Mary Ellen McMillen Director's Fund in the School of Public Policy, or to learn more about the School of Public Policy and how to support it, contact Geoff Halberstadt, senior director of development in the College of the Liberal Arts, at glh5028@psu.edu.

The Mary Ellen McMillen Director's Fund in the School of Public Policy helps to advance "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With support from devoted alumni like Mary Ellen McMillen, who believe in Penn State and its mission, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu.

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Last Updated June 24, 2020