“When I got my fellowship, the funding affirmed that my voice and what I offered mattered. It was the first time I applied for something at University of Michigan and received it. After that, I started to reach out and apply for things. Applying for my fellowship was the first daring act of my career.”
Three years after Dr. Ximena Zúñiga came to the United States to earn her PhD in Adult and Higher Education at University of Michigan, she found herself in need of funding. Dr. Zúñiga heard about the CEW+ Scholarship Program from peers and a faculty member mentor at the School of Education who encouraged her to apply. As an international student, Dr. Zúñiga did not think she would receive a scholarship. “As a foreign student, you know you’re going to be on your own. You go to class, but you don’t really reach out to others—you stick to your own little space,” she explained. “When I got my fellowship, the funding affirmed that my voice and what I offered mattered. It was the first time I applied for something at University of Michigan and received it. After that, I started to reach out and apply for things. Applying for my fellowship was the first daring act of my career.”
For Dr. Zúñiga, her fellowship and connection to the Center provided more than financial support. “I received my fellowship at a very challenging time,” she said. “CEW+ was very helpful in terms of counseling and advising. I was very active in the Center’s international women’s group. From 1983 to 1985, CEW+ was my second home. I was struck by how the Center supported female, international students.”
While Dr. Zúñiga considers applying for her fellowship her first daring act, it was far from her last. In 1988 she accepted a teaching position in the Women’s Studies department, which eventually led her to a program coordination position working with undergraduates where she was instrumental in co-developing U-M’s Intergroup Relations program. Dr. Zúñiga was a founding mother and director of the Intergroup Relations program, a prestigious program that continues at the University today.
In 1995, Dr. Zúñiga accepted a lectureship at University of Massachusetts Amherst where she has since been a professor in the Social Justice Education department in the College of Education for 25 years. A 2020 recipient of the American College Personnel Association Lifetime Achievement Award, Dr. Zúñiga teaches students the importance of and how to have dialogues across race, gender, sexuality and class differences and the value of reaching across the divide. She is a lead researcher in studying the impact of intergroup dialogue and recently studied the impact of engaging faculty and staff in intergroup dialogues surrounding race, class, religion and gender and the powerful change that can be birthed from these conversations.
Since she received her fellowship in 1983, Dr. Zúñiga has continued to utilize the power of reaching out to others. “Many people, women especially, have some form of imposter syndrome. We think we don’t belong, or that we’re not supposed to be part of the conversation,” she expressed. “We have to reach out and encourage people to dare, especially as mentors. We have to encourage people to find mentors and mentor others, and create circles of mentorship that support people of all kinds—especially from marginalized groups.”
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