Marcia Robbins-Wilf’s Passion for Education Fuels Her Philanthropy to Drexel
Marcia Robbins-Wilf believes in education. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from George Washington University, a master’s degree in Remedial and Developmental Reading from New York University, and a master’s degree and a doctorate, also in Remedial and Developmental Reading, from Yeshiva University. By the age of 28, Dr. Robbins-Wilf was teaching college, and over time she has taught virtually every grade level including pre-kindergarten.
To her, reading and literacy are paramount, and to symbolize that, since the 1970’s, Dr. Robbins-Wilf has collected hundreds of figurines of readers from around the world. “My figures are not just carrying books,” she says. “They must be reading.”
In 2000, Dr. Robbins-Wilf became interested in the innovative programs of what is now the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design. She provided the seed money that launched MAD Dragon Records and donated the label’s first recording studio. She continues to support the program. “I got more and more interested as we saw it coming together,” she says. “I thought it was a wonderful thing, and it still is.”
She also initiated and funds the First Fridays program at Drexel, which provides students with the opportunity to enjoy evenings of dinner, art, and culture in Philadelphia in the company of their deans and professors each month at no cost to them. To Dr. Robbins-Wilf, the rewards of the program are reciprocal. “It’s very gratifying to get letters from the students telling me how much they appreciate the experience,” she says. “The dinners are so nice, but it’s even better for deans and professors to talk with students outside of the classroom. They benefit just as much as the students do.”
In addition, she sponsors two annual scholarships for Drexel students who would otherwise not be able to graduate that year. “All these programs are different,” she says, “but all are student-teacher related. My heart is truly immersed in this. I love to talk about it. Everything Drexel has done has been great.”
Philanthropy comes naturally to her—she grew up in a home focused on giving back—and her love of education provides a channel for her generosity. Her father, Saul Robbins, founded the toy company Remco with his cousin Ike Heller in the 1940’s and sold it in 1964. “They were millionaires by the time they were 30,” she says. “My father never had an outlet—his outlet was his job. His only other interest was philanthropy.”
Dr. Robbins-Wilf married and had a son, Orin. Then in the 1980’s her divorce brought her to a crossroads. “I was deciding what to do with my life,” she recalls. “Teach? Full-time? Part-time? I decided to fuse philanthropy with education. This would be my legacy in life.”
So she embarked on a campaign for literacy, working with elementary school children. Later, she bought and operated a local nursery school, focusing on reading readiness. She counseled families of children with dyslexia and other reading and learning challenges, and she continued teaching at colleges and universities. For Seton Hall University’s Judaic Studies program, she trained instructors about the Holocaust so they could teach students about it, and she worked closely with Sister Rose Thering, the Roman Catholic nun who famously crusaded against anti-Semitism. Dr. Robbins-Wilf never accepts compensation for her work.
She supports many national and international causes, primarily Tzivos Hashem, benefiting Jewish children worldwide. Through that organization, she established the Marcia Wilf and Ira Yavarkovsky Children’s Medical Clinic in Zhitomir, Ukraine. In recognition, she received the Joseph Papp Humanitarian Award in 2002, one of many honors she has garnered for her work. She is a founding member of the Board of Overseers of Stern College for Women and Chair of the Board’s Academic Advisory Committee. She lectures to ESL (English as a second language) students, and she supports the Skin Cancer Research Foundation, a project of her fiancé, noted dermatologist Perry Robins.
Dr. Robbins-Wilf also has developed the “Advancing Women in Leadership Roles” workshop to empower women and help them understand what it means to be a leader. She will teach the workshop at Drexel next fall.
“As part of the class, I ask my students to look at people they admire and list the steps it took for them to become leaders in their fields,” she says. “I want them to understand that you don’t have to be rich or famous. The point is that everyone can be a leader.”
Clearly, Dr. Robbins-Wilf’s exemplary leadership in philanthropy and education is a lesson in itself.