Belinda Willburn Nelson

“I was surprised at how invested the Center was in helping me through. I got the sense that the people who work here were really invested in me being successful, and invested in my overall wellbeing as a woman coming back to school. It stood out to me that they really care about me and they want me to do well.”
Belinda Willburn Nelson
Belinda Willburn Nelson

Belinda Willburn Nelson was in her thirties and the mother of a five-year-old girl when she first climbed the stairs to the Center for the Education of Women. She was a graduate student at the University of Michigan, with a recently completed bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Wayne State University and a vision for a nontraditional academic career. “I was always interested in working with the community,” she recalls, “and seeing how the University can work with the community.” Belinda applied for the joint PhD program in Social Work and Psychology at Michigan upon the encouragement of her undergraduate advisor. “I got accepted into the joint doctoral program, and I was scared to death!” she says. “I thought, ‘I can’t do this,’ but my advisor convinced me that I could.”

As the mother of a young child, Belinda was also worried about leaving her family and community in Detroit. “I was reluctant to uproot my daughter,” she remembers. But Belinda’s concerns soon dissolved: “We moved to North Campus,” says Belinda, “and she loved it. It was the best decision that I have ever made, to put her in that environment, a very diverse, international, multicultural environment. It was probably the richest experience she ever had.”
Belinda recalls getting a scholarship from CEW. “I was very proud,” she says. “I was surprised at how invested the Center was in helping me through. I got the sense that the people who work here were really invested in me being successful, and invested in my overall wellbeing as a woman coming back to school. It stood out to me that they really care about me and they want me to do well.”

Belinda describes CEW as a welcoming space. “I was older than most of the people in my classes. I didn’t feel bad about that, but I knew that I was different. I was at a different point in my life and my development. But the good thing about CEW, it just didn’t make me feel that I was that different.”

Belinda stayed in touch with CEW counselors as she progressed with her career and sought to achieve her goal of bridging the gap between the academy and the community. Her persistence and clear vision have brought her success: now a faculty member at the School of Public Health’s Center for Managing Chronic Disease, Belinda has been a part of several community-based research and outreach programs, such as one that addressed the needs of children with asthma at HeadStart in Detroit. “I was able to keep one foot in the community and another in academia, which is what I really wanted,” Belinda says. “That’s the balance for me that I really like.”