Alumna stays involved in Grinnell volunteering after relocating to Budapest

July 30, 2019 — When her employer, Ecolab, asked Maura Bartel ’98 to move from her hometown of Minneapolis to Hungary for a new position as director, Budapest customer service, Bartel was excited about the move.

But she wondered whether she would be able to stay connected with her alma mater while living thousands of miles away. While it’s been more complicated at times, Bartel has remained engaged with Grinnell College through Reunion planning, meeting with fellow alums in Europe, giving to the College, and serving as a co-class fund director with Rebecca Eilers ’98.

“Rebecca lives in the Twin Cities so we used to get together in person every couple of months,” Bartel says. “It’s harder to connect with her now, but serving as a class fund director keeps me in touch with what’s going on at the College.”

Another form of staying connected comes through her fundraising efforts where Bartel reaches out to classmates to talk about College projects and initiatives. She often leads by example. Bartel has made 26 different gifts to the College during the past two decades.

Maura Bartel ‘98
    Maura Bartel ’98

“I gained so much from Grinnell, from my friendships to my career,” Bartel says. “The skills I received at Grinnell in terms of critical thinking, scrutinizing, and analyzing, along with the collaboration and the discussion, made a big difference in my life. As I talk to other people about their own college experiences, it makes me feel that Grinnell is a really special place.”

Bartel received scholarships and financial aid to attend Grinnell and took part in the work-study program. “I want to give back to help others have the Grinnell experience, especially people who couldn’t otherwise afford it.”

In 2017, Bartel pledged to the fundraising efforts of the class of 1998’s 20th reunion class gift to name a common room in the Humanities and Social Studies Center (HSSC). The idea behind the class gift dates back to conversations with Eilers at a reunion planning session in Chicago.

In deciding to name a common room, “we were trying to think about what would appeal to a broad set of our students who had varying interests,” Bartel says. “Everyone has study space needs. I went a lot to the Forum. I had a friend who always went to a carrel in Alumni Recitation Hall (ARH).”

When the new portions of the HSSC opened in January, it didn’t take long for students to carve out their study areas. The common room named by the class of 1998 – which is located on the third floor of the North Pavilion – is a popular choice.

“We tried to generate some excitement around it with our classmates,” Bartel says about the common room. “It’s nice to have Reunion to point to when asking people to give. We did get some people to contribute who hadn’t given recently because they were coming back for Reunion. We also followed up with some other classmates after Reunion. I think the room helped people re-connect back to the College.”

Sarah Slack ’98, left, Jill Paulsen ’98, Maura Bartel ‘98, and Emily Martin ’98 smile for a group photo taken during their 20th reunion in 2018.
Sarah Slack ’98, left, Jill Paulsen ’98, Maura Bartel ‘98, and Emily Martin ’98 smile for a group photo taken during their 20th reunion in 2018.

Bartel studied economics and French at Grinnell. She played soccer for the Pioneers and remains attached with the soccer program. Post-graduation, Bartel played on soccer teams – some formally and others pick-up style – with other Grinnellians in the Twin Cities. She has also participated many times in the annual Labor Day weekend alumni soccer game at Grinnell.

“Through those games, I became friends with a lot of alumni that I didn’t go to school with,” she says.

After graduating from Grinnell, Bartel lived for two years in Washington D.C. before moving back to the Twin Cities. She was actively engaged with the Twin Cities Regional Network, attending several events and activities throughout the years.

She was director, North American customer service for Ecolab at the time. Ecolab is involved in water, hygiene, and energy technologies and services. The company also has a Europe customer service center in Budapest. Bartel now manages customer service associates who support order management, master data, and billing activity. They support 14 different countries and often do all the communicating in local languages.

“Living and working in Europe has been a great learning experience for me,” Bartel says. “Every day is different. Budapest is really central in Europe, so I have traveled quite a bit to take advantage of being near other European countries.”

Upon arriving in Budapest, she looked up in the alumni directory whether there were any other Grinnell alumni living in Hungary. She found two alums, and has gotten together with one a few times.

“If the College plans any future endeavors in Budapest, I’d love to be part of it,” she says. “I always enjoy interacting with Grinnellians.”

— by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

Class fund directors play a significant role for their classes as peer-to-peer development officers. For more information about becoming a class fund director, please contact Mary Zug, assistant director of annual giving, at or 641-269-4554.

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