Retired Ambassador Ronald N. Weiser (BBA '66) and Eileen Weiser (MMus '75) have designated a $1 million gift to the School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD) in support of the School's career development program, EXCEL: Excellence in Entrepreneurship, Career Empowerment & Leadership. The gift will establish the Meta Weiser EXCEL Fund in honor of Ron Weiser's mother.
This gift to SMTD is part of a $50 million gift the Weisers made to U-M in December 2014 in support of six university units: The International Institute in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts; the School of Education; the Athletic Department; the U-M Health System; the University Musical Society; and the Stephen M. Ross School of Business. A portion of the $50 million gift was to be distributed at a later time. Subsequently, the Weisers allocated $1.1 million to the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy in October 2016.
The EXCEL program, launched in the fall of 2015, prepares SMTD students for influential and sustainable careers in the performing arts through courses, co-curricular workshops, ongoing mentoring, and financial support for student projects and ventures. In its first year, EXCEL awarded $40,000 in direct student support for entrepreneurial projects. Associate Professor of Music Mark Clague serves as director of entrepreneurship and career services at EXCEL, and Jonathan Kuuskoski serves as the assistant director.
The Meta Weiser EXCEL Fund will support workshops, residencies for guest entrepreneurs, student grants, and internships and/or scholarships. The funds will help connect SMTD students to alumni working in the performing arts who have built multi-faceted careers that bridge the gap between traditional performance careers and entrepreneurship. The fund supports activities that showcase students' talent through project-based, entrepreneurial ventures and direct interaction with successful graduates.
Thanks to this gift, EXCEL will be able to offer support to students who obtain unpaid internships with performing arts organizations. It will also continue to increase funding for student ventures, with the goal of reaching $100,000 annually.
"This transformative gift from Eileen and Ron Weiser will make our already flourishing EXCEL program into a national model of excellence in providing career training and entrepreneurship skills for performing arts students," said Aaron Dworkin, dean and Paul Boylan Collegiate Professor of Music. "We are thrilled with their interest in connecting current students to our incredible alumni, who can provide great insight into launching and developing successful careers across the full spectrum performing arts disciplines. EXCEL is a groundbreaking program that has been enthusiastically embraced by our students, and the Weiser's gift will allow us to expand it so that its impact is felt by every SMTD student."
"The School of Music, Theater & Dance's rigor, challenges, and joys prepare students well for lifelong employment or avocation in the performing arts," said Eileen Weiser. "EXCEL is designed to help students transition to a career: creating opportunities, finding mentors to help open doors and knowing what to do next. The fund is named for our beloved family matriarch, Meta Weiser. As Meta Carlysle, she was a child vaudeville performer, an ingenue in '30's movies, and acted in plays and TV commercials well into late life. EXCEL would have been her perfect cup of tea."
The EXCEL program serves undergraduate and graduate students of all disciplines, including performance majors in every area of music, theatre, and dance; design majors in theatre arts; and majors in music education, musicology, and music theory. In just three semesters, more than 200 of the School's 1,100 students have enrolled in EXCEL's credit-bearing arts entrepreneurship courses, which are integrated with SMTD's performing arts management minor and the cross-campus entrepreneurship minor. More than 300 students have received individual career counseling, and more than 800 students have attended EXCEL workshops. In addition, many renowned entrepreneurial artists have participated in the program's "EXCELcast" video podcasts, and in seminars and Q&A's, offering insight and advice on how to forge successful performing arts careers.
About Ron and Eileen Weiser
Vice Chairs of the U-M Victors for Michigan campaign, Ron and Eileen are long-time, loyal donors to the university, supporting a vast range of programs and initiatives, including the Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies, the Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia, and the Health System's Mary H. Weiser Food Allergy Center.
Ron graduated with honors from the Ross School of Business and Eileen earned her master's in piano performance from SMTD. Ron is a member of the advisory board of the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the Ross School and the advisory board of the university's Food Allergy Center. Eileen has served on the University Musical Society Board of Directors and is a member of the UMS Senate.
Professionally, Ron is the founder of McKinley Inc., a national real estate investment company in Ann Arbor. He served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Slovak Republic from 2001-04 and won a seat on the U-M Board of Regents in November; his tenure begins on January 1, 2017. He is also chairing an effort to create a new U-M Pediatric Brain Cancer Center to honor the memory of Chad Carr, the five-year-old boy whose courageous battle with brain cancer in 2015 inspired the Ann Arbor community.
Eileen is a past executive director of the McKinley Foundation and served eight years on the National Assessment Governing Board. She is in her second, eight-year term on Michigan's State Board of Education and has served on numerous other civic boards.
The Weiser gift supports SMTD in the university-wide Victors for Michigan campaign, which has a goal of raising $4 billion, including a $1 billion goal for student support. As a part of the Victors for Michigan campaign, SMTD seeks to raise $90 million, which includes $45 million for scholarship support and $10 million for faculty support. To date, the School has raised $86.7 million, or 96.5 percent of the goal, with more than two years left in the campaign. For more information about the campaign, or to make a gift to the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, visit the SMTD website or call 734.764.4453.