Navigating Circumstantial Barriers Through U-M’s Center for the Education of Women+

In this episode of Michigan Minds, Tiffany Marra, PhD, discusses creating systemic change to diversify enrollment and how the CEW+ supports the U-M community, and shares stories to explore during Women’s History Month. Marra is the director of the University of Michigan Center for the Education of Women+ (CEW+), ensuring that the center is addressing the needs of women and underserved individuals at U-M and in the community through career and education counseling, funding, workshops, events and a diverse, welcoming community.

Tiffany Marra on Michigan Minds

The CEW+ empowers women and underserved individuals by serving as an advocate and providing resources to help them reach their academic, financial and professional potential. Marra explains the various ways that the center offers support, including career and education counseling, scholarships and fellowships, emergency funds and more. 

“Our focus is on supporting nontraditional students at U-M and really figuring out ways to help them better understand their goals and values, and then help them reach their potential.”

Marra discusses the team at CEW+, which includes licensed social workers, advocacy and programming management and staff dedicated to scholars and fellows, all of whom offer specialized services, programs, workshops, events, and counseling. 

“One of our goals there is to create a scholar community where [community members] really feel a sense of belonging among their peers within the CEW+ scholar and fellow community.”

One of the common experiences that community members share, says Marra, is the feeling of loneliness, often based on their life circumstances. She shares examples of feeling like the only person who is going to school while raising a child, or being the caregiver of a family member. 

“Part of what we do, also through our words and through our actions, is to make sure that people know that there are other people who are in similar circumstances, not the same circumstances, but in similar circumstances.”

As director of the CEW+, Marra explains the importance of learning from the lesser-known stories during Women’s History Month. While it’s valuable to celebrate the achievements of significant figures, it’s also important to seek out the narratives about other people who aren’t as well known, but who have created change, advanced women’s rights or broken down barriers.

“There are all these other folks who are doing things in their communities, who are advocating for change, who are the first to be a CEO in a company, who are role models for people to follow after and making it possible for other people to see sightlines to careers, communities or ways of behaving in the world that may not have been considered in the past.”

Marra relates a personal experience, when she asked the women in her family about their history and what they’ve experienced. She emphasizes the value in understanding these histories at an individual or personal level. 

“We know the people who have been publicized, whose stories are broadly told, but there are often hidden stories behind that and that too is really interesting.”

"Our focus is on supporting non-traditional students at U-M and really figuring out ways to help them better understand their goals and values, and then help them reach their potential." Tiffany Marra, Director of the Center for the Education of Women+