CEW Scholars Make Their Mark in the World

 As we prepare this newsletter, CEW staff members are also notifying over 45 U-M students that they are recipients of 2011-2012 CEW scholarships. Our scholarship winners typically are nontraditional students who have had breaks at some point in their educational progress. On the surface, one might expect these students to be less likely to complete their educations, given lives complicated by families, illness, work responsibilities, changes in life situation, and so on. The Center has found, however, that a slightly higher percentage of our scholars complete their degree programs than do UM students as a whole. As the following examples illustrate, CEW scholars’ persistence and success is also evident in their achievements beyond the classroom.

Shani Allison, a 2009-10 Irma Wyman Scholar, completed her master’s degree in Engineering Management while working at Ford Motor Company. This year, the Engineering Society of Detroit awarded Shani the 2011 Outstanding Young Engineer of the Year Award “for outstanding contributions by an engineer under 35 to the benefit of the engineering community.”  This recognition follows her selection as their 2010 Distinguished Service award winner. Shani works as a program management analyst for Ford Motor Company, overseeing the planning and executing of complex systems and projects related to a global small SUV program.


Barbara Neri was an early CEW Scholar, receiving her award in 1978. She has gone on to become an acclaimed dance and performance artist. As part of her Elizabeth Barrett Browning Project, Barbara has played the title role a number of times. Most recently, she wrote a play that brings Blanche of Tennesee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire into the 21st century. The play, Unlocking Desire, is being staged in Detroit and will run for nine performances between September 23 and October 8 at the Marlene Boll Theater at 1401 Broadway, Detroit. For dates and ticket information, visit http://www.barbaraneri.com/williamswing.html (or phone 734 878 2542.)

Zilka Joseph, who won an Elsie Choy Lee Scholarship in 2008, is now the Academic Affairs Program Manager at U-M’s Center for South Asian Studies and a poetry instructor for Springfed Arts-Metro Detroit Writers. Zilka was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and her poems have appeared in publications such as Review Americana, Gatronomica, Cutthroat, and Cheers To Muses: Contemporary Works by Asian American Women.  

Her first chapbook, Lands I Live In (www.mayapplepress.com), was nominated for a PEN America Beyond Margins award, and her forthcoming chapbook, What Dread, was a semi-finalist in Finishing Line Press’s New Women’s Voices contest. (http://www.finishinglinepress.com/NewReleasesandForthcomingTitles.htm)

Zilka is currently writing new pieces for continually evolving collaborative projects called “India: A Light Within” and “The Wisdom of the Lotus”–an interdisciplinary experiment with a photographer and Indian classical dancer. The collaborative work has been exhibited and performed at several venues, and some of the work was recently published in India: A Light Within (www.blurb.com).

Zilka will be doing a reading and book signing of What Dread on Friday, Oct 21, 2011, at the Lido Gallery, 33535 Woodward Avenue, Birmingham, MI.


Another Elsie Choy Lee Scholar, Beili Liu (2002), has garnered numerous awards and prizes in her field. Beili, born in China, now lives in Austin, where she is an assistant professor of art at the University of Texas. She says, “I am a Chinese American artist and work primarily with process-based installations. As a Chinese-American,

I am more intrigued by the similarities and connections that I observe of various cultures than their differences. I believe that it is my responsibility as an artist to bring attention to what we share that is often overlooked, rather than to focus on the divides between.”

Beili won third place in the Grand Rapids ArtPRIZE 2010 with her installation Lure/Wave, which was customized to the space where it was displayed. In 2009 she was named Artist of the Year (3D), an award sponsored by the Austin Museum of Art and Austin Visual Arts Association. She has forthcoming gallery shows in London and Oakland, California next year. (Lure/Wave Photo by Kathleen Vandervelde)

A Community Of Scholars 

In Spring, 2011, CEW staff members conducted focus groups and interviews with some of our past scholars, in order to learn the perceived value of receiving a CEW Scholarship and to assess how we might strengthen the program. In addition to the importance of receiving critical financial support, one theme that emerged in these conversations was that being selected as a CEW Scholar made the scholars instantly feel part of a community to which they want to remain connected. Many were particularly interested in giving back or paying forward. In response to these comments, CEW has created a closed LinkedIn group called University of Michigan CEW Scholars. If you are a CEW Scholar, we invite you to join this new online community.