Journalism Award Renamed for Beloved Alumna

Athena Pajer

As we say goodbye to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we honor Marybeth Drechsler Sharp, a former member of the Decaturian, who passed away on June 5 after an 18-month battle with breast cancer.

She spent her time at Millikin striving to improve Millikin and her experiences here were only the beginning of what she would go on to accomplish.

“What she took away from Millikin was this kind of love and passion for student experiences,” Dana Williams, also a former Dec member and Drechsler Sharp’s close friend, said.

Williams headed the effort to rename the award. The two became close after working with the Decaturian together and remained close after both graduated. Drechsler Sharp was even the maid of honor at Williams’ wedding.

“It was kind of a friendship almost decades in the making,” Williams said when she returned to campus this year during the Decaturian Homecoming Event to share Drechsler Sharp’s story with the young members of the Decaturian.

“What she took away from Millikin was this kind of love and passion for student experiences,” Williams said.

Many remember Drechsler-Sharp, originally from Oak Lawn, Illinois, as a beloved Resident Assistant at Millikin. She was also the oldest of three girls.

“She had this wonderful interest in music and she sang, so she liked to cover a lot of theatre stories, so she was kind of all over the place in terms of what her interests were both as a news writer and as a features editor. When I became the editor in chief, she became the features editor and she was wonderful. She had a great sense of organization and responsibility. I always knew she’d have her page done and on time.

“For an editor, that was a blessing because you could light her up and let her go and you knew you were going to get all kinds of fabulous things back,” Williams said.

Drechsler became somewhat of a beacon of optimism, telling the much-needed positive side of the student experience in an era of news that definitely did not uplift.

“We were barreling down a lot of sexual assault cases on campus and some things that had been mishandled and kind of a constant run of sexual harassment that wasn’t being addressed on campus” Williams said. “When you come to campus, you have this kind of idea that everyone has an open mind and you think about diversity in terms of students or experiences and what you can learn and discuss and when you find small-mindedness and you find discrimination, we find is suddenly rampant, right? It changes who you are.

“So, when you come in as a freshman it’s an all-new experience and you kind of come in wide-eyed say, ‘Oh, this is different.’ That’s where [Drechsler Sharp] was.

“To have that job and contain that amount of optimism and know it can be better and know that you want to move ahead and improve the student experience—she totally invited that.”

When Williams graduated, Drechsler Sharp, previously serving as editor for news and features section, became the Editor in Chief. She often visited Williams in D.C. until Drechsler Sharp graduated and moved to D.C. herself. There, she met her husband, Sean Sharp, and continued her path towards helping both students and educators, eventually becoming executive director for the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education in 2012.

“She took everything she learned and everything she experienced and who she was as a young person and she moved it forward and made positive changes not just in terms of her educational experiences but just legions of others—and that’s who she was,” Williams said. “She just kind of paved that forward. I’m really proud of her and I miss her.”

Not only will her former Decaturian colleagues remember her fondly, but she represents what it means to be a student journalist. Her dedication to Millikin students and the other members of the Dec is something all members should – and do – try to replicate, generation after generation.