A new scholarship program established with the UW-Eau Claire Foundation will grant full tuition to four UW-Eau Claire string musicians each year and create a rare professional development opportunity for undergraduate students interested in the performing arts.
According to Kimera Way, president of the Foundation, the Eileen Phillips Cohen String Scholarship, created by Eileen Phillips Cohen of Eau Claire, is not based on financial need.
"The scholarship is designed to attract and invest in the best of the best musical talent," Way said. "It also reflects the L.E. Phillips Family Foundation's deep commitment to the University Symphony Orchestra and honors the work of orchestra conductor Nobuyoshi Yasuda."
"I have not seen anything like this across the nation except at the graduate level," Yasuda said. "This program will allow us to attract quality musicians who have a passion for music and who want to be challenged at the highest level."
Recipients of the scholarships will be awarded full in-state tuition and become principal players in the Eileen Phillips Cohen String Quartet, a distinguished ensemble that will represent the university at special events and in touring performances. There is the potential for the scholarship to cover a full four-year degree. The fund criteria provide that students can be eligible to receive the scholarship for multiple years.
Kaitlyn Witherspoon, a sophomore cellist from Monona, has been selected for the first scholarship. Witherspoon, who is studying with Tulio Rondón, assistant professor of violoncello, won the music department's annual concerto competition as a freshman, plays first chair in the orchestra and has emerged as a leader in the string division.
"Kaitlyn was incredibly experienced when she came to us, and she is an incredibly focused musician," said Yasuda, who serves as director of orchestra and coordinator of the string division at UW-Eau Claire. "Kaitlyn is always eager to learn. She is an amazing person and a talented musician. There was no question in my mind that she was qualified for this award."
Witherspoon, who began playing the cello in third grade, is looking forward to being joined by other musicians.
"I love string quartet music so I'm really excited about this," Witherspoon said. "I am so grateful for this opportunity because money is always an issue when you are a student, and I am hoping to buy a new cello. It will be such a big help."
Cohen is a former member of the University Symphony Orchestra and has previously funded other music scholarships.
"I have appreciated Eileen's support of this orchestra all of these years," Yasuda said. "Without her love of music, none of this would be possible. She is very special, and it is my goal to create an outstanding string quartet for her."