Kristin Kumagawa ‘23 and her service dog Mailie.

For Kristin Kumagawa ‘23 (Communication Studies and Public Relations Major, Disability Studies Minor), the pathway to winning the NBCUniversal Tony Coelho Media Scholarship was a surprise. “I took PCST 239 (People with Disabilities in Politics and Society) by chance,” she remarked about her journey.

Dr. Art Blaser, who teaches the course and is the Director of the Disability Studies minor, asks students in his courses to apply to be his assistant for the following semester. During her interview for the position, Dr. Blaser informed her of the scholarship upon finding out her major. “I like taking on big changes in my life so I decided to apply,” she recalls, and after an interview process and standing out from the crowd of applicants, she shocked, only herself, by winning.

Dr. Blaser attests, “One of the greatest joys of teaching 239 is being able to expose students to the reality that with disability comes not only disadvantage and discrimination, but also opportunity. Kristin’s scholarship, named for Tony Coelho, is an example of this.” 

The NBCUniversal Tony Coelho Media Scholarship is offered to undergraduate and graduate students with disabilities who are interested in pursuing a career in the communications, media, or entertainment industry. Tony Coelho was a former United States Representative from California and the primary author and sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Each recipient receives $5,625 to help with the costs at their current university.

Kumagawa, a self-described “theatre kid,”continued her passion of production set design at Chapman. “Being on set with a service dog  (Kumagawa was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in 2014) is not a ‘normal experience’ but people become more aware and being in the spotlight changes things and brings awareness,” she asserted.

“As someone who considers themself to be disabled, I am always nervous to see new movies or shows that are supposed to involve disability because while it may be representation, it may not be accurate,” she noted. “Hollywood is infamous for preferring non-disabled actors over disabled ones, but at the same time, it loves to profit off of our stories. If you are writing about disability and don’t have experience with it, I think there is an obligation to inform yourself and involve disabled voices.”

When asked the dreaded “your plans after graduation” question, Kumagawa replied with shining positivity. “A big goal of mine is to be [in] production or management while integrating accessibility and be an advocate, but I also see myself working with kids and teaching on the side. I just want to continue to be creative and have the confidence to go with the flow.”

Despite where “the flow” may take her, it should come to no surprise to Kumagawa if one day her name appears in the end credits of a production.