Alumni Profile: Elizabeth Marlow ’86

Elizabeth Marlow ‘86 is a caring woman with a bright smile and an unusual professional warmth. You would never guess from meeting her that she spends a majority of her time with criminals and ex-cons.

By trade, Elizabeth is a family nurse practitioner. Elizabeth (second from the left in the picture above) has more than 15 years of experience in primary, urgent, and mental health care. Like many nurses, Elizabeth is interested in helping people. However, the work she does goes far beyond the scope of a typical nurse’s job.

Working with Criminals

In 2009, Elizabeth founded The Gamble Institute, a community-based research and resource center for parolees. Elizabeth explains that her affinity for this work grew from her work with patients while first practicing in Bakersfield, a city with four jails.

I really liked them a lot as a group of people, and they really seemed to like me. We had a good working relationship as patient and provider….And the main question was, how were these people who I really like, and who present pretty well, and are kind of cool and funny, a sort of stylish population of folks, how could they be this way with me and then in this other way in the prison system? How does that happen?

Elizabeth has an unmatched knack for pairing empathetic, participatory medical care with data-driven research. This explains the breadth of her professional responsibilities, which currently includes clinical work at the San Francisco County Jail, researching and publishing as Assistant Adjunct Professor at the UCSF School of Nursing, and overseeing programs at the Gamble Institute. Some may think Elizabeth must struggle to balance several demanding positions. In truth, everything Elizabeth does is driven by the same purpose: helping others live their own life of purpose. When asked if she would ever consider cutting back in some way, Elizabeth responded hesitantly, “I would maybe give up one day a week at the jail.”

The Gamble Institute's Open House, 2011

With a youthful fire, Elizabeth insists that “We can change the system!” Although, she admits, “It’s much harder than I thought it was going to be.” However, difficult challenges do not deter her. She continues with conviction:

One of my big motivations and drives is to at least change the conversation. How can we put all of us out of business and help people live healthy, sustainable lives outside of the correctional system? And there are a lot of ways you can attack that. Mine is through community-based participatory research, working with people, getting them intellectually stimulated, getting to see that they can actually see beyond the confines of their world.

Working both one on one with clients in the jail and working systemically via research and the Gamble Institute, Elizabeth truly is changing the system. Countless inmates have benefited from her medical care, and now nearly 400 men have received training, counseling, mentoring, case management and/or recovery support at The Gamble Institute.

A Life of Service

While she feels that she has a natural bent for doing good (e.g., she was in the voluntary 200 Hour Service Award Club in high school), Elizabeth reveals that Athenian’s high academic standards and culture of positive change contributed to her career choices and success.

Elizabeth's yearbook page, 1986

The community service [requirement at Athenian] for me was a really big deal….I had such a good education there. It set the bar so high in terms of my own expectations for myself….I think that’s my whole belief that “I can change the world!” I really believe that still. I believe that I can be part of creating some kind of systematic change to make things better for people. And not just accepting that this is how it is, but really trying to think differently. [It was] not just the education I got at Athenian. The reading I was exposed to, the people I was exposed to, the teachers, the opportunities that I had there, really were what raised my expectations that I have for myself and the work that I’m trying to do.

Naturally, Elizabeth compares her early upbringing to that of the men and women she encounters in the jails. Unlike her clients, Elizabeth enjoyed the freedom to be herself in high school. “The school itself created a culture where all ideas are valued and all people are valued. And the students bought into it….That was a big part of my experience, just feeling like I could be myself [at Athenian].” Elizabeth wistfully wonders how many of the people she sees in her work would have avoided a life of crime if they had had the privilege of the intellectual stimulation, compassionate mentoring, and peer acceptance she experienced at Athenian. The well-rounded, fulfilling life she leads is the dream she has for the reentry population. Elizabeth also notes the exposure to “really good books” as an integral part of her schooling. In comparison, she encounters many men and women who are illiterate, and that many more who know how to read but have never discovered the joy of books. A large portion of Elizabeth’s vision for the future of The Gamble Institute is providing exposure to art and literature, so the reentry population can realize that “their brains actually work and are valued.”

The Gamble Institute

Currently, the Gamble Institute operates three programs: Super Tuesdays, Rollin’ Reintegration, and The Leadership Team.


Super Tuesdays combines technical and soft skills with the Parolee Power Works! Computer Literacy Course and Family Connections, a nonviolent communication training and mentoring program.

Rollin’ Reintegration is an intensive counseling and case management program for parolees.

The Leadership Team is a parolee-led leadership program that focuses on empowerment.

The Gamble Institute is still in its infancy. Elizabeth describes her vision of the Institute to be a more holistic venture. Ideally, the Institute would provide an education component, a knowledge creation aspect (participatory research), a substance abuse program, and a revenue-generating piece that would offer employment opportunities. In the immediate future, The Gamble Institute is looking for one more board member, a financial literacy class leader, and people to help with job preparation skills. If you or someone you know are interested in helping expand the reach of The Gamble Institute, please contact Elizabeth here.

Elizabeth’s experiences stand as a shining example of the outcomes the Athenian mission statement promises to its students: “The Athenian School prepares students for the rigorous expectations of college and for a life of purpose and personal fulfillment. Athenian goes far beyond excellent college preparation by inspiring students to become life-long learners and confident, successful adults. Students at Athenian develop a deep understanding of themselves, extraordinary skills for achievement, and the compassion to make a positive difference in the world.” Elizabeth admits to being prepared for college and has proved herself a life-long learner as well as a successful adult. Her ease with others reflects her own self-understanding, and her compassion has shaped her every action. Clearly, Elizabeth is living a life of both purpose and personal fulfillment and we are lucky to have her as a part of our Athenian community.

Connect with Elizabeth Marlow on LinkedIn here.
If you’d like to learn more about The Gamble Institute, click here.

Photos from