A First in Women’s Studies
Groundbreaker in Program at UMD Creates Its Inaugural Merit-Based Scholarship
Mindy Shapiro ’82 was a trailblazer in women’s studies at Maryland, earning the first undergraduate degree in the field, back when Maryland’s department was a young program.
Today, the self-described Jewish feminist and nonprofit leader is behind another milestone, making a $60,000 gift to create the first merit-based undergraduate scholarship in the Department of Women’s Studies.
Named for her late mother, Charlotte Brozer Shapiro, the endowed and current-use scholarship will go to women’s studies majors, with a preference to students pursuing Jewish or religious studies.
“The academic focus is not an end unto itself,” Shapiro said of future recipients. “It’s a step in the direction of doing good in the world for others.”
Shapiro looked up to her mother, who graduated from high school early and studied at UMD for one year, in 1949–50, before leaving to start a family.
“When I grew up, the messages were ‘make sure you look good’ and ‘you need to have a boyfriend and make sure you get married,’” Shapiro said. “My mom was such a role model, not only because she valued female friendships, but because of her bravery during her illness. So I learned about bravery from her as well.”
Shapiro says she wasn’t a strong student in grade school, but a women’s studies class at Maryland sparked her love for learning. A major did not yet exist at Maryland, so she created one with the help of the women’s studies and Independent Studies programs.
”Unlike any other time in my life,” she said, “I actually felt like the professors saw me as someone who actually was smart, and they nurtured me and I became academically successful.”
The scholarship recognizes the importance of women’s studies as an academic discipline, says Ruth Zambrana, professor and interim chair in the Department of Women’s Studies.
“Ms. Shapiro is not only giving students funds, but she’s also providing them with a sense of empowerment that she gained in women’s studies,” Zambrana said. “I think Ms. Shapiro’s story is inspiring for all of us as educators of this next generation.”
Shapiro’s mother never saw her graduate; she died of an aggressive form of cancer at age 48, when Shapiro was 20. Shapiro went on to earn a master’s degree in women’s studies and public policy from the George Washington University. She worked as a Hillel director in various locations for a decade, an experience she likened to women’s studies in that they are both about claiming identity. A founder of the National Women’s Studies Association’s Jewish Women’s Caucus, Shapiro remains active in contributing to women’s studies beyond campus borders.
“My career success and commitment to repairing the world are a direct result of what I learned at Maryland,” she said.