Sandie Schulze, who retires this year on December 31, 2020, was the inaugural employee of the African Studies Center (ASC). Months before I was installed as the first ASC Director, Sandie was hired to help bring ASC into being. One can appropriately think of her as the ASC’s midwife. Sandie has worked at U-M for 15 years, 13 of which were spent with ASC. As ASC’s program coordinator, she held primary responsibility for coordinating ASC events (of which there were on average ~20-25 per year) and caring for the needs of our 162 UMAPS scholars to date—ensuring their visas were processed, their arrivals coordinated, their housing, IDs and library privileges secured, their stipends issued, and their overall needs met. What would the ASC be today without Sandie Schulze? Thankfully, we will never know. She leaves a large and lasting imprint on ASC that promotes deep commitments to community-building and hospitality (typically involving not-merely-adequate-but-tasty food as well as fun social outings), the expansion of knowledge in wonderfully unexpected directions, and an insistence on quality and kindness in everything we do.
We are sorry to see Sandie depart the ASC, but perish the thought that she may retire to a quiet existence in Chelsea to read and putter in her garden. Putter in her garden, she will, but as a Master Gardener-in-training through Michigan State University. For this illustrious title and the certification it affords, Sandie is in the process of completing extensive coursework, plus 40 volunteer hours cultivating and beautifying the landscapes of area parks and rest areas along interstate highways, contributing to the care of trees, shrubs, flowers, and vegetable gardens. (As an interesting aside, she said that on the first day of class in January, her instructor declared: “And we’ll not be talking about marijuana at all!” because the program is funded by the federal government).
Sandie also ran for public office in this past November 2020 election and won!!! She ran for the Democratic Trustee position of Sylvan Township (in the Chelsea public school system) and secured her seat. In an interesting twist of fate—especially notable in these deeply divided partisan times—she actually ended up completing the term of the Republican Trustee from July to November because the person holding that position was tapped to serve as Township supervisor. He appointed Sandie to serve out the rest of his trustee position term, despite being a Democrat, on account of her prior experience serving on the Ypsilanti City Council 20 years ago (as well as on a number of boards and commissions). She has a four-year term, which —along with her Master Gardener responsibilities—will keep her busy!
Sandie will long be remembered for her exacting attention to detail in organizing ASC events. She threw herself into the position by learning about African food—“I’m all about the food!”—and realized that U-M Catering loves challenges. They are trained chefs who tire of doing cheese and crackers plates, and love doing research and trying new dishes. So Sandie’s attention to caterers and her willingness to ask them to provide us with dishes inspired by African cuisine resulted in reliably delicious and innovative menus that generated rave reviews.
Sandie will also be remembered for her generous spirit and the warm welcome she extended to UMAPS scholars, answering their every query and attending to their needs during the application process, the notification process, the visa application process, the planning and arrival periods and their residencies here. Asked about this, she said that she “aimed always to make the UMAPS scholars’ transition to the US as painless as possible.” We laughed while remembering the arrival of the first UMAPS cohort in February 2009 and how it was a painful arrival despite our best efforts, with the poor scholars (you know who you are!) arriving in the midst of a freezing cold blizzard. Sandie, Devon, and I had spent one evening at Meijer’s purchasing sheets, towels, blankets, and other necessities for those intrepid UMAPS pioneers. We ran into then-director of the International Institute Mark Tessler, out for a late-night grocery run, to our mutual amusement and his amazement at our multiple carts overflowing with items. It was too much for one person to do, so we tackled it as a team. Now, however, thanks to Sandie’s efforts, it is much easier to facilitate the UMAPS transitions because of all we learned over the years and Sandie’s talent for continually improving procedures and adding new insights to the Scholars’ handbook. Her philosophy: “You figure things out so that it’s not a horrible experience every time you do it!”
At the reception for UMAPS scholars that President Schlissel hosted at his home in 2018, he asked Sandie what qualified her to work in African Studies. Sandie recalls that she responded: “Well, it’s a new thing, and I do better in those situations. It forces me to use my imagination and scratch around to find answers to questions no one has ever asked and make it work.” In reflecting on her upcoming retirement, she said, “It’s hard to believe how many years I’ve been at the ASC. When you’re so busy, you don’t notice the passing of time. One day I looked in the mirror and realized that everyone I’d been to high school was retired but me.” We will sorely miss your presence, your smile, and your warm embrace for all who pass through the ASC, Sandie. Enjoy tending the gardens of our state and tending to the needs of your constituents in Sylvan Township. They are fortunate to have you caring for them, as have we.