Seth Statler ’83: Cultivating a seed of service in himself and others

Seth Statler ’83, director of government affairs at the National Fire Protection Association, believes that a meaningful life isn’t found in money, status, or objects. Rather, he said, it’s found through living a life in service to others—a deep-rooted value that grew increasingly clear to him throughout his time at Gettysburg College and in the years that followed.

Statler was first exposed to public policy early in his life as he grew up in Washington, D.C., and his father’s best friend, with whom his family frequently socialized, had strong connections in the congressional world.

“I didn’t always understand what he was talking about, but I remember thinking it was interesting and being drawn into how he, through his work, was having a positive impact on the world,” Statler said.

Situated near the nation’s capital while also offering a vigorous liberal arts and sciences curriculum with opportunities for co-curricular exploration, Gettysburg was a natural choice for Statler. He made many fond and meaningful memories as a Gettysburgian, including participating in a J-Term course on Congress and public policy, and having dinner after a lecture with John Anderson, a former Republican congressman from Illinois who ran an independent campaign for president in 1980.

Seth Statler headshot
Seth Statler ’83

However, it was the mentorship relationship he developed with now-retired Economics Prof. Ann Fender that was truly transformational. Fender further cultivated the seed of service within him.

“My first two classes with her were micro- and macroeconomics, and I was just fascinated. I think those two courses were part of what helped inspire me into my career and all my volunteer work,” Statler said. “It’s not what I went to Gettysburg thinking I would do. I thought I would get a good liberal arts and sciences education and a business degree and go into the business world, but Prof. Ann Fender helped me start to change that thinking. She challenged me to begin thinking about this path that might be more well-suited for me.”

In macroeconomics, Statler remembers learning about public policy; the roles of Congress, the president, and the Federal Reserve; and how what one nation does affects other nations, among various other related topics. For the first time, in Fender’s class, he considered the possibility of public policy work, which led him to apply for a Congressional internship the following summer.

Still pushing against the pull of public policy for a little longer, determined to build a career in business, Statler graduated from Gettysburg with an economics degree and went on to earn his Master of Business Administration from the University of Maryland. But during his last semester at Maryland, he decided to fulfill his internship requirement in a Congressional office, working for United States Senator Paul Sarbanes, who was also an attorney. Though Statler didn’t know it at the time, that one decision would shift his career trajectory forever.

Seth Statler and Charles Bolden
Seth Statler ’83 With NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on Capitol Hill in 2011

“I loved it, and I think the senator and his staff could tell I loved it because they made me a job offer—and I said, ‘Thanks, but no thanks. I’m going into business. It’s what I studied so hard for,’” Statler said. “But the senator was persistent. He asked me to try it out for one year. ‘We’ll have you work on business issues and some other things like military and fire service issues. One year, and after that, you can leave if you don’t like it.’”

That year came and went, and Statler never looked back. Since that day, Statler has not only had the incredible opportunity of working for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, NASA, and now, the National Fire Protection Association, but he’s also helped facilitate opportunities for others. One of his proudest accomplishments is authoring legislation that created the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, a congressionally-chartered foundation honoring firefighters killed in the line of duty and providing support to families of fallen firefighters—work which recently won him the “Do Good Award” from the University of Maryland.

Seth Statler accepting an award
Seth Statler '83 Accepting the University of Maryland’s Do Good Award in 2021

Reflecting on the past 30-plus years of his career, it’s these culminating moments of impact that propel him forward. They also make him all the more thankful for those in his journey who challenged him to listen to the pulls of his heart and lead a life of impact—from Gettysburg College onward.

Today, Statler remains an active member of the Gettysburg Network, developing mentorship relationships with countless students and paying forward the investment that our community made in him. Being involved with The Eisenhower Institute in particular, he’s proud to see the seed of service being cultivated in other students too.

“I have been so excited as an alumnus to see the ‘Do Great Work’ mindset be so central to what we’re teaching students at Gettysburg College. The college is facilitating that type of thinking,” Statler said. “In my lifetime, I’m not sure our country’s ever been more in need of good people like Gettysburg students to go into policy and be a part of change than it does right now.”

Learn about campus life at Gettysburg College and how our curious and dedicated students are constantly refining their skills and exploring new interests—always in an effort to find the most authentic and meaningful way to make an impact.

By Molly Foster
Photos courtesy of NASA, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, the University of Maryland, and Seth Statler ’83
Posted: 01/26/22