Following the unexpected death of Whitten Maher, a JMU alumnus (’10) and former design editor and senior columnist for The Breeze, on Dec. 20, 2012, JMU started an annual scholarship for writing and design in his honor. Maher double majored in political science and writing, rhetoric and technical communication, so the scholarship, which is a minimum of $1,000 each year, awards deserving students who demonstrate a passion and talent for writing or design.
Ten years ago, Maher became the design editor for The Breeze. During his time at JMU, Maher won awards from the Virginia Press Association for his work. He was best known for his opinion column called “Gadfly,” which addressed national problems and explored hard-hitting questions. A committee of professors determine who will receive the scholarship at the end of each academic year.
“We put together a committee of faculty from disciplines across campus,” Kevin Jefferson, Whitten Maher Scholarship chair, said. “We’ve had political scientists, justice studies professors, SCOM and SMAD professors, librarians — people who are capable of appreciating the range of design and writing that identifies Whitten Maher’s work.”
All undergraduate students at JMU are eligible to apply for the scholarship. To be considered, students must submit written and design-based pieces to be reviewed by the committee. The submission must educate audiences through a civic purpose, promote empathy or seek to encourage populations who feel unrecognized or misunderstood, in an attempt to successfully reflect what Whitten Maher accomplished during his time at JMU. Previous winners have covered events such as the women’s march and police brutality in the U.S. The final day to submit a piece for the 2018-2019 academic year is Feb. 1. There are regularly more than 50 submissions a year.
“The scholarship is open to all majors,” Cindy Allen, instructor and internship coordinator, and committee member for the Whitten Maher scholarship said. “We’ve had YouTube videos, we’ve had poems and wonderful written essays. What we hope is that the cover letter that students submit with their project shows us that they’ve read about Whitten Maher’s life, and they understand that he thought it was important to be inclusive no matter who you are.”
The monetary benefits of the scholarship are applied to the following semester’s tuition costs. Additionally, the recipient is recognized at the WRTC annual awards banquet. Previous winners are often invited to attend this banquet to celebrate Maher and the newest recipient of the scholarship.
The scholarship encourages those in the fields of writing and design to keep practicing, while simultaneously providing exposure to Maher’s name and work. Although Maher was known for his writing, students with different majors, such as Kinesiology and Justice Studies, have also been awarded the scholarship.
“It was so exciting when I found this scholarship,” Abigail Mumma, a senior media arts & design and WRTC double major and recipient of the scholarship in the 2017-2018 academic year, said. “I thought, ‘This is finally something that looks like what I want to do with my life,’ and it’s encouraging to know that there are people out there that will support that and will encourage students to do that work.”
There are currently eight JMU students who have received the Whitten Maher scholarship, some of who have been able to meet Maher’s parents.
“Even if students aren’t going to submit their work, we deeply encourage them to check out Whitten Maher’s work,” Jefferson said. “It leaps off the page as compassionate, as thoughtful, as invested, as smart, and his personality and his vision are there and as vibrant as they’ve ever been.”
Contact Connor Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.