Shining Light Along Their College Path
As a student in the 1950s, Franklin & Marshall College stirred his interest in the world of ideas. A government major, he took courses in a wide array of other topics. Throughout his career, he benefited from the liberal arts education he received from F&M.
Nearly five decades later, after a societal-changing terrorist attack on the United States, Ralph Mueller '59 wanted to ensure that students had the opportunity to investigate and understand the culture of the Middle East.
"We need a deeper and clearer understanding of the Middle East. Simply put, what will motivate people when they get up in the morning and start their day? How does this influence their view of the West?" he says. "The idea of creating an endowment came to me after 9/11 , at the height of the tension between the West and the Middle East."
This year, the former government major who built a career in public service, added to the Laura and Ralph R. Mueller '59 Endowment for Middle East and Islamic Studies, established in 2008 to support activities that enable students to learn about, and gain an appreciation of, Islamic cultures.
Through Mueller and his late wife's generous giving, visiting scholars interact with students and faculty, sharing ideas on the complex religious, cultural and political issues of the region, which has complemented F&M's formal studies of the Arabic language and Islam.
An avid reader of everything from biography to history to science, Mueller explains his thinking about the endowment.
"In a small way I wanted to provide students with the opportunity to get a deep understanding of the of the Middle East — its diverse cultures, religions, and people," he says. "In total it contains more than a billion people and we better learn how to build better understanding between the various cultures."
Mueller's background helped direct his career choice and his giving. He is a first generation college graduate born in Germany of an American mother and a German father. He came to America in 1946 as a 9 year old.
After earning a master's degree in public administration with honors at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, Mueller's career took him into the federal government. He started at the Office of Management and Budget, was recruited to serve on the White House staff for a year as a speechwriter, served as deputy director of planning at the US Department of Transportation, and concluded his government service as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for policy and analysis.
"Thanks in part to my liberal arts education from F&M, I had the ability to undertake fairly senior and diverse positions as a young person," he says.
While at the Transportation Department, Mueller led the congressionally ordered consolidation of the country's passenger rail services.
"The Secretary of Transportation said, 'We didn't ask for this piece of legislation, Ralph; sort it out and see what we can do with it,'" Mueller recalls of the highly challenging task.
It was a natural transition for him to go to work for Conrail after leaving the government.
"All of the passenger trains in the Northeast corridor fell under my scope, as well as providing commuter service to all of New York City and Philadelphia," Mueller says.
After Conrail, he joined the 10th-largest bank in the country at that time, First Chicago, which later merged into Chase.
"Some people couldn't keep a job; I couldn't keep a career," he jokes.
His career spanned government, railroading and, for the last 20 years, banking.
When he considers his successful life, Mueller speaks gratefully about F&M.
"F&M opened the door to a world of ideas and unlocked the door to a successful career; F&M just created opportunity for me," he says. "I love F&M and I want it to succeed; I want it to be here for many more centuries."
I love F&M and I want it to succeed; I want it to be here for many more centuries.
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