Welcome Wanda

Photo Credit: Janson Media

There is a piece of advice shared by those who move frequently, “To figure out what stuff you don’t need, find all unopened boxes one year after you move and throw them away.” Although Wanda Urbanska, ISE’s new Director of Development, might agree with the first half of that statement, she certainly has a better solution for the second half. In fact, she has quite a few thoughts on “stuff.”

As a child, Urbanska was a nomadic “fac brat.” It’s like an Army brat, but with universities. Both of her parents were professors, so she moved from one university town to the next as a child. “I practically lived on a number of college campuses,” recalled Urbanska. “When you move, you realize you don’t need all ‘the stuff’ – that what matters most is the relationships you develop and maintain.” Even at an early age, she was concerned about the waste generated and its impact on wildlife, the health of our living space and the climate. It led her to commit herself to an eco-friendly lifestyle.

A photo of Wanda Urbanska from her PBS tv show Simple Living with Wanda Urbanska
Wanda Urbanska hosted her own PBS tv show called Simple Living with Wanda Urbanska.

She started as a newspaper reporter and editor. Still, her passion for sustainability led her to publish nine books and create America’s first national TV series, Simple Living with Wanda Urbanska, promoting sustainable living back in the 2000s. The mantra from her television series was: “Nothing’s too small to make a difference.” It’s a concept she continues to urge people to embrace. 

“It’s not necessarily about making some radical change like living off the grid (though some may want to do so), but it’s about bringing consciousness to your life,” said Urbanska. “For instance, little things you can do daily are: picking up litter and recyclables and depositing them in their proper place; reusing items or borrowing things rather than buying them, taking better care of the things you do own. Take the steps rather than the elevator. Plant a tree. I love the trash receptacles in Fitts-Woolard Hall: where the biggest bin is for recycling and the small bins are for compost and trash,” she said. “It makes you empty the receptacles more frequently, which forces you to confront your personal waste stream.” 

Urbanska plans to bring that same level of passion to ISE. “I am delighted to join the ISE department and community as it provides the opportunity for me to be of service to faculty, students and alumni to further the mission of this great university,” she explained. “My passion is for people and for making our world a better place.” As a development officer, she plans to marry these two values and skillsets to raise the profile and capacity of the department. “I feel as if I’m coming home in my service to NC State.”

Wanda Urbanska shopping at an open-air market as part of her PBS tv show.

She isn’t the only one happy about joining the department. Julie Swann, ISE department head, is also enthusiastic about Urbanska’s arrival. “I am so excited that Wanda is coming to work with the ISE alumni community, she said. “She brings knowledge of NC State, and she also brings her experiences from the College of Textiles in working with alumni. I am sure she will find exciting ways to learn about and tell the stories of alumni as well.”

This is the first time the department has had a full-time officer with the foundation supporting ISE. Urbanska’s goal is to share the department’s excitement with alums who may have been disengaged from their alma mater while also learning about the varied career paths of ISE alumni. “This is a great time for it,” said Swann. “She will be able to meet people in person and use technology to support remote visits. Swann and Urbanska will be working on a strategic plan around alumni development that supports the department’s short, medium and long-term goals. They will continue to innovate in how they connect with alumni and learn about their experiences and passions. “It’s also about good news: sharing the ascendancy of NC State’s College of Engineering on the national and global stage and how they can engage in this exciting trajectory,” added Urbanska.

While Urbanska focuses on ISE’s future, Swann reflects on ISE’s past and present. “I am so grateful for the support of alumni and friends of ISE,” she said. The support enabled scholarships for ISE’s K12 summer camps, supported students for merit and need, and helped the department build community during these trying times. “I am also grateful for the time and talents of our alumni, who have assisted us in so many ways,” Swann explained. “This year, we have rolled out some new resources for alumni; visit https://www.ise.ncsu.edu/engagement/ webpage for more information.”

Contact Wanda

If you would like to welcome, meet or talk with Wanda, please contact her at wmurbans@ncsu.edu.

The Jan Karski Educational Foundation

In 2009, Urbanska took a sabbatical to my father’s native country, Poland. While there, she met several important people (including the late president and first lady of Poland). After that seven-month trip, she moved to Raleigh. The Poles reached out to her, asking her to lead a campaign to raise the profile of Jan Karski, a great Polish Catholic hero from World War II. “To that end, I led a committee and placed Karski’s name in nomination for a Presidential Medal of Freedom in December 2011,” explained Urbanska. In 2012, she had the honor of meeting President Obama twice. The first time was at the Holocaust Museum in Washington when he announced that he would confer the award on Karski. The second was a month later in the White House when the award was presented. This award led to the creation of sister foundations in Warsaw and Chicago to promote Karski’s legacy and promote Polish history in the US and overseas. “It is such exciting work,” exclaimed Urbanska, who served as president of the foundation until 2015.