Professor invests in the next generation


Higher education is an advantage that Deborah Habel takes very seriously.

She grew up hearing the story of her parents' perilous journey — how the German invasion of Poland during World War II resulted in them being interned in prisoner-of-war camps as teenagers, how after they were liberated they both made their way to the United Kingdom to study engineering, how their last names put them near each other in seating charts, and how borrowed pencils led to a courtship and marriage.

By 1958, John and Margaret Lewakowski had made their home in Detroit, where John worked in the auto industry and Margaret raised three kids. When Deborah was 7, her mother began taking classes at the WSU College of Nursing. "I sat outside classrooms while she worked toward her degree," Deborah says. "It was my first brush with higher ed."

Deborah remembered those days, and her parents' sacrifices along the way, when she joined the Mike Ilitch School of Business faculty in 2014. "It dawned on me that I wouldn't be in this position if my parents had not made that fateful decision to pursue their education in the U.K.," the accounting lecturer says. "Now I see students coming from all over the world to study in Detroit, and I want to help support their efforts."

Together with her brother Tom, Deborah has established endowments at Wayne State with funds from their parents' estates: a College of Engineering scholarship in honor of their father and a College of Nursing scholarship in honor of their mother.

Deborah says, "My husband Mark and I don't have children of our own, so estate funding is the best way we can provide for the next generation."

She began teaching the next generation in 2009, after a corporate career in accounting and enterprise resource planning. "I fell in love with the classroom," she says. "I love seeing the epiphanies when students understand the lesson."

When she was at Mott Community College in Flint, she had a student in his 30s who went "home" to a homeless shelter after class. "He was trying to retrain after losing his assembly line job," Deborah says. "It made me realize that the rug can be pulled out from under you at any time, and I wished I was in a position to help. Now I am."

A decade later, the Habels contribute to the W Food Pantry and HIGH Program to support students in dire circumstances. They also give to WDET and the CFPCA Theatre Department, and are working to endow a third scholarship at the Ilitch School.

The couple gives generously to WSU despite both holding degrees from other Michigan universities — though Deborah is currently working toward a Wayne State Ph.D. She encourages her fellow Warriors to follow suit. "I invite my colleagues to help in any way they can," Deborah says. "Whatever little bit you can spare can help someone get through a crisis."

Deborah says she takes inspiration from the slogan used by the National Association of Black Accountants —yet another campus effort she supports financially, via their on-campus high school summer program. "Their slogan is: 'Lifting as we climb.' That really resonates with me. We're all making our way up our own hill. We all can grab the hands of others and help them up."

Like Deborah, you have the opportunity to help others right here at Wayne State University. There are many deserving funds and many ways to contribute — join Deborah and give today. Start by learning about ways to give.

All impact stories

Related stories