Approximately 80 faculty members and alumni gathered in the Michigan Union Saturday to celebrate the scholarship fund in honor beloved mentor to students of color, Mary Stewart, as well as to honor three individuals who have demonstrated support for students of color on campus.
The Mary Stewart Scholarship Fund was created last year to celebrate Mary Stewart, who has served as the events services coordinator at the University of Michigan for the past 43 years. During her career, Stewart has mentored hundreds of students including to many students of color in particular. The scholarship, which is part of the Leadership, Excellence, Achievement and Diversity Scholars Program, is intended to help recruit Black students to the University.
Staff members Sharon Burch, Elizabeth James and Gwendolyn Bush were honored at the events as the inaugural Difference Makers Award honorees for capturing Stewart’s spirit in promoting a more inclusive campus.
In her remarks, Stewart said the scholarship fund was launched because of her recognition that financial means plays a key role in determining whether a student attends and stays in school.
While she urged attendees of the event to donate to the scholarship fund, she also reminded them of the importance of mentoring existing students.
“Even if you can’t give, it’s just supporting of the Black students on campus, and we need that badly,” Stewart said at the event. “We need to support our students.”
Sharon Burch is the director of undergraduate recruiting initiatives, which works to build an incoming class of talented and diverse students. Burch has also served as an adviser and student leadership developer in the College of Engineering for 33 years.
Elizabeth James, another recipient of the award, is a program manager in the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies.
Gwendolyn Bush, the final honoree and the only female to hold the role in Divisional college football programs across the country, is currently the only female member of the Michigan football coaching staff. She also serves as a mentor to African-American female students and has been involved with reinitiating the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, a historically Black sorority, on campus.
University alum Mike Muse, who created the Mary Stewart Scholarship Fund with fellow alum Glenn Eden, praised the honorees for aiding minority students. Though they noted the scholarship fund has grown over the year — currently, the fund has $100,000 in commitments — Eden and Muse said there is more progress to be made.
“We shouldn’t just be happy with $100,000,” said Muse. “We should have more because we are the Michigan Difference.”
During the event, James Corey, executive director of development at the Alumni Association, said 477 students qualified for the group's LEAD Scholars Program, which aims to support prospective students of color come to campus, but were not granted scholarships because of the lack of funding.
Stewart also emphasized the impact she believes scholarships like the LEAD Scholars Program can accomplish in terms of promoting diversity and helping students in need.
“I always felt the hardest part was seeing a really good student come in and saying ‘I can’t go on. I have no more money,’ ” Stewart said. “There’s nothing worse than that.”
University President Mark Schlissel, who attended the event, said funding scholarships like Stewart's and the LEAD Scholars Program are important for supporting talented students.
“There’s nothing more important than providing scholarships to talented students, but the reason I wanted to come is Mary has influenced the lives of so many students through multiple generations, and I just wanted to say thank you to her,” he said.
Bush echoed Schlissel’s statements and praised Stewart for her work with minority students, saying she believed it was important for students of color to have advocates and role models who support them.
Speaking of the female students whom she mentors, Bush said, “When they learn of the role that I have and the importance that I have in football, it’s encouraging to them. And they need to see a woman in my position, you know, doing well, striving and making a difference.”