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When Nanz Aalund needed to buy supplies to help her toward a Masters of Fine Arts degree in metal at the University of Washington, she found out a little can go a long way.

This story first appeared in the January 27, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The Seattle-based jewelry designer and Women’s Jewelry Association member had decided to go back to school, but as a working mother, money was tight. So when the WJA’s scholarship program came through with a $500 grant, she was able to get what she needed to complete her pieces.

“I was incredibly grateful for receiving it because every little bit helps,” she said. “I did some research and WJA was the only jewelry organization offering scholarships for jewelry design and manufacturing.”

The WJA’s scholarship and mentor programs are an important part of the organization’s mandate, said Gillian Schultz, WJA scholarship chair and vice president of Metronet Safe & Sound in Chicago. “The program has great value, it adds to the professionalism of the individual and the industry, which is extremely positive.

On the scholarship side, money for students has been given out for the past 17 years as a way to help female students with their jewelry studies, with scholarships of $500 to $2,500, as well as one $5,000 scholarship given in honor of the late June Herman, who had been an active member of WJA. This award was given for the first time in 2001. In 2002, the prize was awarded to Chih-Wen Chiu, a native of Taiwan, who is a student in the jewelry studies program at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

“WJA’s Scholarship program is consistent with its mission to empower women to achieve their highest goals in the jewelry, watch and related industries,” Schultz added.

Last year, a new grant program for WJA members was started to help those who are already in the industry and want to continue their education, even if it’s not on jewelry-related subjects.

“I was quite vocal about starting a grant program for the last five years,” Schultz said. “I am a believer in constant and never-ending improvement.”

In October 2002, $500 grants were awarded to 15 people, one for every WJA area in the country. Some chapters were so impressed that they increased the grant fund for their own members and gave out several extra awards. Funds for the scholarships are raised from a silent auction of donated jewelry and other specialty items, a well as from the contributions of individuals and companies who support the program.

But, money isn’t everything. Sometimes information, advice and contacts are what are most needed and that’s where WJA’s mentor program comes in.

Joy Toback-Galicki, the organization’s mentor chair and vice president of Myron Toback Inc., said when women are just starting out in the industry and don’t know where to turn, having a more experienced member steer them in the right direction can be valuable.

“It can be intimidating to be a woman in a still-male-dominated industry,” she said. “It’s not just building up confidence, it’s educating and sharing the experience you have with these young women. They really don’t know where to begin. It’s about everything in the business, from how to do markup and how to find stones to finding someone to do a rendering or a casting.”

Toback-Galicki mentors five women, while other committee members take care of several others. She’d like to see more established women take the time out to help these bright women, she said, because it’s about giving them a chance.

“They so eager, they’re like sponges,” she said. “They just want to soak up everything you have to say.”

Sheryl Jones, a New York-based jewelry designer, has absorbed a great deal since getting involved with WJA four years ago and being mentored by Toback-Galicki.

“She has been amazing,” Jones said. “It’s nice to be able to narrow down such a large organization and find someone who you can talk to and bounce ideas off. She makes it a priority, even though she has a busy schedule and it’s been tremendously helpful for someone like me who is a complete outsider.”

For Jones, the philosophy behind the program is important and she hopes to pass on what she knows to others someday.

“I think it’s great that the women who join WJA know the power of passing on information,” she said. “You get as much as you put into it.”

Schultz hopes that even more will be “put into it” in the coming year. “We’re hoping to award 20 scholarships and 20 grants in 2003,” she said. “That’s a nice goal for our anniversary.”