Liggett student named Distinguished Young Woman of Michigan

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published September 17, 2019

 In July, University Liggett School senior Maria Fields was named the Distinguished Young Woman of Michigan 2020. Fields received $1,400 in college scholarships and will represent Michigan at the Distinguished Young Women National Scholarship program in Mobile in June 2020.

In July, University Liggett School senior Maria Fields was named the Distinguished Young Woman of Michigan 2020. Fields received $1,400 in college scholarships and will represent Michigan at the Distinguished Young Women National Scholarship program in Mobile in June 2020.

Photo provided by Distinguished Young Women

GROSSE POINTE WOODS — During the Distinguished Young Woman of Michigan 2020 competition in July, Maria Fields used the talent portion to address bullying.

For 90 seconds, the University Liggett School senior talked about the lasting effects that bullying can have on a person.

“I really wanted to focus on the internal conflict,” Fields said. “It can be a deterrent. You can stifle a person’s growth.”

This past summer in Canton, Fields was named the Distinguished Young Woman of Michigan 2020. She competed against five other young women from the state to earn the title. Fields received $1,400 in college scholarships. She also was named the overall scholastics, interview and self-expression scholarship winner.

“When I heard my name, it was kind of like a moment in time,” Fields said. “It was a major time of reflection. The fact you get scholarship money was a moment of being grateful for everything.”

Distinguished Young Women, formerly known as America’s Junior Miss, is a national nonprofit organization that provides scholarship opportunities to high school senior girls. Distinguished Young Women, or DYW, is a program that combines the opportunity to win college scholarships with a program that offers life skills training to prepare young women for the world after high school.

According to the DYW website, distinguishedyw.org, the program is held in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Young women participate in either their junior or senior year of high school. Local program winners, in states where locals are available, advance to the state level. All state winners participate in the national finals, which is held in Mobile, Alabama.

The website states that each DYW program evaluates participants in the following categories: scholastics, 25%; interview, 25%; talent, 20%; fitness, 15%; and self-expression, 15%. Fields said the participants’ test scores, academic activities and GPA also are considered. The Liggett student said the interview was her favorite portion of the competition.

“I like to talk, so that was definitely my favorite part,” said Fields, adding that judges asked about current events and information posted on resumes during the interview portion.

As the state winner, Fields will represent Michigan at the Distinguished Young Women national scholarship program in Mobile in June 2020. Fields will receive a two-week trip to Mobile provided by the program for a chance to earn additional college scholarships.

“I’m really excited,” Fields said.

State Co-Directors Jan Witte and Pat Hermatz said in a prepared statement that they are “excited to have Maria represent this incredible scholarship program at statewide functions throughout the year and at the nationals in Mobile, Alabama.”

Fields said the state competition in July included a week’s worth of activities in which she got to know the other competitors. Two host families in Canton sponsored three girls each for the week.

During the week, the competitors visited several spots in the state, including the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, the Jiffy Mix factory in Chelsea, a Merrill Lynch office and a pharmaceutical laboratory. The young women also volunteered at a pregnancy center and visited a Kiwanis Club.

Using her scholarship money, Fields has plans to pursue engineering, possibly at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

“That’s my top choice,” she said.

She’s also interested in attending law school and in politics.

For several years, Fields has been involved in different nonprofit organizations. When she was 11, she founded Generate Real Opportunities and Wonder, or GROW, in which she offers tutoring help to younger students. Fields also does the annual “Give A Book Grow A Mind” book drive.  

“Maria started a book drive for younger children, in which we collected over 300 books. She and I took boxes of books to Project Healthy Community in Detroit, where Maria read to the students and helped them with their homework,” Liggett Assistant Head of Upper School Shernaz Minwalla said in an email. “Maria and (a) few other volunteers had a similar experience at Alternatives for Girls, a women’s shelter that holds after school programs for young girls.

“She has been a member of our student commission since her freshman year and has initiated several projects to help those in need — including book drives, coat drives — and for the past couple years, she’s coordinated a group of Upper School students who work on reading once a week with our Lower School students,” Minwalla said.

“Maria’s passion for helping others is strong, making her an excellent role model for her peers. (She) is a delight and an amazing student to have at University Liggett School,” Minwalla said. “She is the kind of student any teacher would love to have. She is poised, articulate, creative, motivated, thoughtful and engaged throughout the school community.”