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Alum Finds a Way to 'EAPay' It Forward

July 2007

A desire to care for people kept Barbara Marsden '83 from getting overwhelmed-and led her to become a pioneer in the fledgling profession of employee assistance services, helping others from becoming overwhelmed by the personal and workplace pressures everyone faces at one time or another.

For Marsden, it was a divorce in 1969 that left her with three young children to raise on her own. She was able to secure an administrative assistant job that allowed her to support her family. Two years later she'd risen to an upper-level secretary position at Deere and Company, where she remained until 1985.

While working for Deere, Marsden was able to take courses at St. Ambrose that fit into her schedule, allowing her to earned her bachelor's degree in psychology. "If it wasn't for St. Ambrose working with me," she says, "I wouldn't have been able to earn my degree."

Most significantly, her studies would provide her with the direction for the next half of her professional career, that of developing the new Employee Assistance Program for Genesis Health System.

By the time Marsden retired in March after 20 years as director of workplace services with Genesis, she had been responsible for growing the program into an EAP model for companies around the world.

The Genesis program also was the first to become accredited by the Employee Assistance Society of North America, and Marsden's staff literally wrote the book on accreditation for EASNA, for which she was recognized in 2006 with the society's lifetime achievement award.

Integral to her success, she says, was the encouragement and support she received from her professors at St. Ambrose and in particular from a personal friend, Dr. Richard Whittlesey, who became Marsden's mentor in 1980. Whittlesey was the one to counsel her to further her career with a master's degree in social work.

Her experience in business helped her manage Genesis' EAP, and her MSW provided her with the background to develop support services and help companies see how they would benefit from offering these services at no charge to their employees.

"The health of employees is vital to the health of a company," she says. It's a simple yet profound concept, and one that is now considered mainstream much as a result of Marsden's desire to work with and care for people in a new way.

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