WCSU creates endowed scholarship to honor criminology professor
Benefit to support Fenwick/Schramm JLA scholarship fund to be held July 13
DANBURY, CONN. — Dr. Melissa Fenwick dedicated her work as a Western Connecticut State University professor and criminologist to the mission of preparing a new generation of students for careers in the justice and law enforcement system — and her vision will live on in the WCSU scholarship endowment recently established in her memory.
Fenwick, an assistant professor in the university’s Division of Justice and Law Administration (JLA), earned the respect of her colleagues and the devotion of her students during her six years’ service on the WCSU faculty prior to her death in December 2012 at the age of 38. Now her husband, Michael Damici, and her JLA faculty mentor, Professor Emeritus Dr. Harold Schramm, have joined forces to coordinate the founding of the Melissa E. Fenwick and Harold B. Schramm Justice and Law Administration Endowed Scholarship to provide annual grants recognizing student achievement in the JLA program.
A benefit reception and silent auction to support the scholarship fund will be held at 7 p.m. on Saturday, July 13, at St. Ann Melkite Greek Catholic Church, 181 Clapboard Ridge Rd. in Danbury.
Damici, an investigator for the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, recalled that he realized even in the traumatic first days following his wife’s death that an endowed scholarship would provide a fitting remembrance of her life and work.
“Melissa had a strong devotion to higher education and this university, and a deep commitment to her students,” Damici said. “She excelled in her own academic studies, and she held the students she taught to a high standard because she wanted them to excel as well. My hope in creating this scholarship is to provide as many JLA students as possible with the opportunity to pursue their dreams, even as we recognize and honor Melissa’s legacy.”
Once he had committed to establishing a scholarship endowment, he turned for advice to Schramm, the veteran JLA and English professor who shared his teaching experience and scholarly insights with Fenwick during many conversations while they shared a common office at the university’s Westside Classroom Building. Schramm also played a special role in Fenwick’s 2010 marriage to Damici, presiding at the ceremony by his authority as a justice of the peace.
“I reached out to Harry to get an idea of how the (Dr. Harold) Schramm Scholarship was started,” Damici said. That scholarship was established in 2008 to recognize JLA majors in the division’s paralegal studies program who demonstrated academic achievement and financial need. In the course of discussing options for setting up a scholarship in memory of Fenwick, Schramm proposed that resources from his existing program should be merged with funds raised for the new program to achieve the minimum $25,000 target set for securing an endowment sufficiently large to make annual grant awards.
“Harry held a very special place as Melissa’s mentor, and her name will always be linked with Harry’s in this endowment,” Damici observed. “I feel honored and blessed that Harry has offered to associate his name with hers in this way.”
Schramm expressed mutual admiration for Fenwick, whom he recalled as “a great teacher, a great scholar and a great friend. She was exactly what Western’s growing Justice and Law Administration program needed because she encouraged students to grow and held them to high standards, even as she nurtured them.
“It was a great loss when she died so unexpectedly,” Schramm added. “When her husband agreed that we should go ahead with this scholarship, I considered it a great personal honor, and I knew it would serve the greatest good for JLA students.”
JLA Professor and Chair Charles Mullaney said the new Fenwick/Schramm Scholarship will be awarded annually on recommendation of the division’s chair and faculty to a continuing JLA student who has maintained high standards of academic excellence and demonstrates financial need. “As the principal of the endowment grows,” he added, “we hope to expand the program to award several JLA scholarships each year.”
Mullaney recalled Fenwick, who earned her doctorate in criminology from the University of South Florida, as an emerging scholar and committed teacher who made a lasting mark on the JLA program.
“Young faculty members typically take a while to get their feet wet, but in her sixth year Melissa already was beloved by her students and was gaining a reputation at the university that stretched far beyond the JLA division,” he said. “In a program like ours that prides itself on bringing together academics and practitioners, Melissa Fenwick was an intellectual giant in her field — yet she also showed great humanity, she was as real and practical as they come. She exemplified the future of our department.
“In the classroom, she was a rigorous teacher,” he noted. “The students just loved her — she was warm, inviting, never threatening — but do not mistake that for a lack of rigor. I had the opportunity to review her performance during class sessions, and I witnessed a teacher who was tough but fair.”
Fenwick’s teaching and scholarly contributions in her field also will be remembered annually with presentation of the Dr. Melissa Fenwick Award for excellence in criminology studies to a graduating senior in the JLA program. Nicole Beaulieu, a Danbury resident who graduated in May, was named the first Fenwick Award recipient.
Damici described his wife, whose height measured a diminutive four-foot-nine, as a larger-than-life achiever who refused to accept failure in any pursuit, whether as a youthful soccer player, a gifted gymnast or a scholar. Her determination to succeed will continue to offer inspiration as he works with WCSU to build the Fenwick/Schramm Scholarship endowment fund, he said.
“When I started this, my philosophy was that I can best honor Melissa’s legacy if we help as many students as possible,” Damici said. “No matter how much time, work and energy it requires, I know that Melissa would want us to do this.”
For information or to RSVP for the July 13 reception and auction benefit, contact Damici at (203) 312-8160 or Michaeldamici@comcast.net. For more information about the scholarship program, contact the Office of University Relations at (203) 837-8486.
Western Connecticut State University offers outstanding faculty in a range of quality academic programs. Our diverse university community provides students an enriching and supportive environment that takes advantage of the unique cultural offerings of Western Connecticut and New York. Our vision: To be an affordable public university with the characteristics of New England’s best small private universities.