Expanding Creative Horizons

How a CMU scholarship opened doors for an aspiring graphic novelist

By Sarah Burke

Zeja Z. Copes wears many hats — researcher, artist, writer, leader and thriving CMU scholar.

“My time here at CMU has pushed me forward as a critical thinker in ways I couldn’t have expected,” she says.

Zeja received the Ethel Murdock Kirk and Mary F. Murdock (A 1921) Scholarship, which paved the way for her to study art and creative writing at CMU. Without this support, Zeja says Carnegie Mellon would have been out of reach for her family.

“It’s hard to put into words just how important this scholarship has been to me,” Zeja says.

This year, Zeja also received a summer undergraduate research apprenticeship from CMU’s Undergraduate Research Office. The program provided course credit for her to write and illustrate an original fantasy graphic novel set during the Cold War.

“Working on this project allowed me to bridge my art and creative writing practices,” she says. “My research advisor, Jeff Hinkelman, is an excellent resource and has granted me a lot of freedom and autonomy over the course of this project.”

Beyond her research project, Zeja has been expanding her creative horizons at CMU by studying art history for the first time and discovering a new love of oil painting.

Zeja takes her education one step further by engaging with programs that support other students, shaping their experience at CMU. She serves as a member of the Basic Needs Working Group, which established the CMU Pantry and is improving emergency aid practices at the university.

She’ll also be a mentor this fall for Tartan Scholars, a new program that empowers high-achieving first-year students from low-income backgrounds to excel at CMU.

“I wish I’d had a program like this as a freshman transitioning to college,” she says. “I’m deeply excited to connect with incoming students and share my experience with them so they can be successful here, too.”

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Carolyn Hess Abraham
College of Fine Arts
Associate Dean for Advancement