Success Stories

Film alumna wins coveted grant

Melissa Bouwman works with West Michigan Center for the Arts and Technology student Arianna Sanders to create animation for an international group project.

Alumna Melissa Bouwman was recently named as a recipient of a coveted U.S. Department of Education Jacob K. Javits Fellowship. She is the second Grand Valley recipient ever to receive the award.

The purpose of the Javits program is to award fellowships to eligible students of superior ability, selected on the basis of demonstrated achievement and financial need, to undertake graduate study in selected fields in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Her award was one of only two given this year in the category of Television, Film and Cinematography.

The Javits award will fund Bouwman's graduate studies at the University of Southern California. The fellowship will pay her health and dental insurance, tuition at USC and provide a living stipend for the three years of her study to earn an MFA in animation and digital art.

Bouwman graduated Cum Laude from Grand Valley in 1994 with a bachelor's degree in film and video production; she was an Honors College student and received an Outstanding Student Award from the film and video program.

"All four years I spent at Grand Valley were crucial in my development as a person and a media professional," she said. "My professors, who later became my friends and colleagues, inspired me to dig deeper as a media viewer and producer."

Since graduation, she has worked as an educator, animator and video producer. Much of her work has been devoted to enrichment opportunities for underprivileged youth and young women, as well as media literacy education. She held a visiting faculty position at Grand Valley from 1999-2004, followed by a position as a digital arts instructor at West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology teaching an afterschool program for at-risk youth.

Throughout her education and professional career, Bouwman has devoted countless hours to sharing her knowledge through various workshops, festivals and projects. One project, which was completed just before heading to USC, was a unique collaboration between WMCAT and Grand Valley involving Grand Rapids teens in an international animation project.

Working with Bouwman and Deanna Morse, professor of communications, the students designed and created a two-minute animated segment inspired by a section of music. It was then merged with animations by other groups of students from Switzerland, Taiwan, Greece, U.K., the Netherlands, Norway and Japan. The Animated Workshop Group film premiered in Hiroshima, Japan, in August and will be screened internationally.

"I was privileged to witness the beautiful moments and creations that occur when you empower kids with the tools, technology and environment to allow them to tap their creative potential," Bouwman said. "I feel I owe much of my success to Deanna, who told me years ago about both the USC graduate program and the Javits Fellowship. At the time I thought both were pie-in-the-sky notions."

by Mary Isca Pirkola

This story was filed with the tags: Fellowships, Impressive Jobs, Undergraduate Alumni